Eyeglasses, I Say

January 7th, 2009 by Harrumpher Leave a reply »

Most American men seem to believe if they put on the most minor variation of eyeglasses that they have joined with Elton John. A light wire frame? Wild!

You can cut me a super-thin slice of that.

As my favorite optician (and personal frame scouter) told me, “Americans have no sense of style.” Another, a Gen-Xer woman said of her frame suppliers, “They only give us crap.”

Ray-Ban yellow framesMe? I wear dull suits and almost fit in with the funereal New Englanders in clothes.

For glasses though, I’ve worn them since I was in elementary school. Back then I had a choice of brown or tortoise shell. Even back then, I knew they were dull, unnecessarily dull.

So it was with deep delight that I feel into a junkie/supplier relationship with a frame maven. Oddly enough, it came through a drearily dull insurance agent. We had just moved from Manhattan to downtown Boston and he stopped by as part of a family trip.

Old Al recommended the optician he’d visited since attending college here. That would be Gopen Optical on Kneeland Street in Chinatown. We did and were initially surprised to meet Jews instead of Hindus. The Shwoms, father and son, Sydney and Leonard, had bought the business. Moreover, Len had set his heart on being an optician from age five — no cowboy, rabbi, firefighter, industrialist or professor, rather dispensing optician. He lives the dream.

My wife was soon jealous of the relationship. I was pretty firm and specific about wanting fun and good-looking frames. I would arrive solo or with family members and invariably Len would say, “I found some frames I’ve been holding for you.”

I wanted dark green enamel, red wire rims, whatever, he’d find them or bring out his own treasures. He’d convert funky sunglasses frames for my progressive lenses. We’ve been a team for a lot of years.

When he couldn’t find the type of heavy, deep yellow I wanted, he suggested I hit the internet. If I could find the frame and buy them, he’d make my lenses fit. With a bunch of clicking (fun for a frame freak), I found Italian-made Ray-Ban frames (5032-2027). The delivered air-freight price from Rome was $117 through United Shades. Not only was it what I wanted, it was even cheaper than Plain Paul frames. Haar.

Also wearing glasses from childhood, my wife endured the inevitable cat glasses of the 1950s and suffered through a similar drought of choices. Women have always had a greater range with glasses, though not as much as with clothing and shoes.

She’d ask why Len sussed out magnificent frames for me and not for her.  It was plain to me that he enjoyed my joy, that he liked outfitting my face as much as I reveled in the next find. She, like most folk, wanted the exact same as she had or something a tiny bit different. Those folk are too open to negotiation and compromise.

A few years ago, Syd died. Len was suddenly exhausted as an optician. He sold the business to two employees, who opened a sort-of Gopen as Two Opticians in South Boston.  They’re competent and nice enough guys, but they aren’t about to meet my ocular needs, much less squirrel away frames just for me.

Not long after he closed the Kneeland Street spot, Len did me a glasses favor for old-time’s sake. He adapted another pair of those sunglasses, this time black wire instead of red. He used his brother’s glasses shop…definitely as a favor for old time’s sake. I had called him at home and lured him into the act.

So, you can imagine my delight when I got a postcard in December, reading “WE’RE BACK !!!  A NEW GOPEN OPTICAL.” Len apparently couldn’t take it and settled in Dedham Square next to the theater with the Museum of Bad Art — its original men’s room location.

Len is a pro when it comes to lenses, frames, fitting and such. He’s no one’s alpha geek with a computer though. He kind of has a website, but it’s only a splash like a business card.  You must go see him. He’s worth the trip.

I biked down to see the location one Saturday and found the need a week later. My yellow frames (in the pic) just snapped in the extreme cold.

We had a good and long reunion. His daughter is the age of my youngest son, so we could catch up on families too. He couldn’t get what I had, but he fell into our old ways. He ended up with a trip to the basement and returned with a dark blue number that fit my old lenses (with a little grinding).

As I learned in New York, it’s important to have a relationship with your green grocer. I’ve transferred that particular skill to the Haymarket, where I’ve gone as long as I’ve visited Gopen. Some stall guys will say, “You don’t want the oranges today,” or “These apricots are just right,” to me.

I can definitely say it’s also important to have a relationship with your optician. Also, to all you guys out there, don’t be so damned timid. If you wear glasses, you have them on all day every day. Get real. Have fun.

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