—an early story of Will Shakespeare
They say that when somebody goes into school wearing glasses for the first time everybody will want to try them on, and nine out of ten will say “My God, these are strong!” They’re right too, that was how it happened when we all tried Billy Shakespeare’s new glasses on. But I wasn’t one of the nine. I was the tenth. I was the one who tried them on and took them off, said nothing, and went on saying nothing for a while. I was the one who suddenly saw everything crystal clear, and tried to avoid realizing what this meant.
I took them off, I said nothing and hoped nobody would notice my agitation, and it seemed all was well. I couldn’t possibly need glasses. Could I? One thing was quite certain: I didn’t want glasses. The last thing I wanted to be was a four-eyed geek. That wouldn’t appeal at all to the guys I wanted to hang around with and (I may as well admit it) fool around with.
Billy’s glasses would be a nine days’ wonder and I could keep my head down. It worried me a bit for a few days, maybe nine, and then I began to forget it. I tried not to notice that I always went for the seat nearest to the TV screen. It came natural to me to play up in class, and all the teachers kept me up front. No, I had no problems. No, my eyes were fine. No, I didn’t need specs. Then my parents started to talk about driving lessons.
That was why Billy Shakespeare had had to get glasses: he’d gone for driving lessons and failed the vision test. I got hold of the Highway Code and read it: “you MUST be able to read a vehicle number plate from a distance of 20.5 metres (67 feet—about five car lengths) in good daylight.” Five car lengths—but how big should the cars be? Minis? Jaguars? I began to read car numbers at every opportunity: this one was OK, that was out of range, but how far was 20.5 metres? This time the worry persisted; my birthday was approaching and sooner or later the moment of truth would come. I’d better see if I could check it out a bit more thoroughly. The opportunity came sooner than I expected. I was crossing the school sports ground when I spotted three cars parked on the far side; all I had to do was walk towards them till the numbers came in focus and then pace out the distance; I was pretty tall even then, and still growing, so I reckoned I could cover about a metre with each step. I walked towards the cars, watching the number plates...still nothing I could decipher...now I could see the letters and numbers, but not make out what they were...ah! That was more like it, and I began to count my long paces...three more and I realized I hadn’t had it quite right, start again...twelve, thirteen, fourteen! Hell’s bells, even if my paces were a full metre each I was nowhere near reading a number plate at the required distance. I had a problem; how to get out of it, that was the question. Suddenly I realized somebody was watching me; squinting, I could make out that it was Peter Fraser, the best-looking guy in my year and the one I really wanted to impress. He was a tall slim black lad, with the most beautiful hands I’d ever seen: long, with long fingers; no wonder he was a brilliant pianist and organist. I tried to think of an innocent answer to the inevitable questions, but apparently they weren’t inevitable after all; he nodded and turned away. The previous question remained though: what was I going to do? The choice seemed to be between getting glasses before the lessons started and waiting till I was asked to read a number plate; the only other possibility was not worth considering: I could talk my parents out of my learning to drive.
A few days before my birthday the subject came up again. “You’ll have to get your provisional licence,” said my mother; “And then we’ll book up the driving lessons.”
“Yeah,” I said. “Uh, there is a just a bit of a-a problem. I think maybe I-I need to get glasses before I can drive.”
There! It was said. But why had I dissolved into tears? I stammered out the answers to the obvious questions—and before I had dried my eyes and collected my thoughts my mother was on the phone, and I had an appointment for an eye test the following day, Friday, after school.
All day I was like a cat on hot bricks, and when school finished I had to give my mates the slip—there was no way I wanted them to know where I was going and what I was doing. I said I had to go to the bog and not to wait; shut myself in there for ten minutes, and then emerged into a quiet street and caught the bus to the opticians. I looked carefully in both directions, but there was nobody around that I knew—not as far as I could see anyway! — and nipped smartly in.
I found myself in a good-sized shop. Everywhere there were racks of spectacles, or rather (as I discovered) empty frames. At the far end was a counter. Squinting into the blur, I realized there was a girl sitting there, so I walked towards it.
“Can I help you?”
“I have an appointment.”
“New patient? Right. Full name?...”
Address...date of birth...doctor’s name...ever had glasses before?
My answers to all the questions were typed into the computer.
“Right, the optometrist will be ready for you in a few minutes; the previous patient is still with him. You can take a seat if you like—or maybe you’d rather browse along the racks of frames; try a few on if you like.”
I didn’t feel like trying to sit still; I was all of a fidget. So I wandered around, looking at metal frames, plastic frames, round frames, oval frames, oblong frames; but I felt ridiculously shy about touching them. Eventually I plucked up my courage and took down a pair of heavy black frames and tried them on. They were a tight fit—and in any case I had no intention of wearing anything like that; if I had to have glasses I wanted them to be unobtrusive, so that anyone glancing at me might not notice them. I had just picked up a thin oval wire frame when the receptionist called me. I dropped them guiltily and hurried over to the desk.
“Mr Falstaff is ready for you now; will you come this way?”
I felt as if I was about to throw up, but I stumbled into the consulting room where Mr Falstaff was waiting. He was a stout youngish man with a pleasant face.
“It’s Andrew, isn’t it? Andrew Tudor? All right, will you just sit in this chair? So what brings you here, Andrew?”
I stammered something about vehicle number plates.
“Right, so you want glasses so that you can get a driving licence.”
I quite surprised myself by saying firmly, “I don’t WANT glasses at all, but if I can’t drive without them I suppose I’ll have to have them.”
“Fair enough. Do you mind telling me how long you’ve known, or guessed, that your eyesight isn’t so good?”
“Right you are. This guy in my class got glasses three or four months ago, and when we all tried them on I found everything was really clear through them. That’s when I first began to wonder.”
“But you didn’t come and see us right away? Foolish vanity, but very common. Never mind, you’re here now, and I expect we can get you seeing clearly and driving safely without much difficulty. Let’s just have a look into your eyes.”
I don’t have to describe the process to anyone who’s reading this. Enough to say that after looking through the ophthalmoscope he told me I had “a good healthy pair of eyes, just not very good at long distance work” and the phoropter produced a result of -1.25 in each eye—“just a small degree of myopia—that’s short sight—but enough to make you a danger on the roads.
“Now listen, Andrew,” he went on; “some optometrists would tell you you must wear your glasses all the time. I’m not going to say that, because I know you’ll please yourself whatever I say. I am going to tell you it would be good sense if you did, and better sense to wear them whenever you can’t see clearly without them. Just one instruction: you must not, repeat NOT, get behind a steering wheel without them. Is that clear?”
I promised that much; what I was intending was to wear glasses for driving and nothing else—the fear of being uncool, a four-eyed geek, was still a major worry, and cool guys, I thought, don’t wear specs. Billy Shakespeare did, and he wasn’t exactly a geek, but he was such a little queen...
I left the consulting room, and now came the business of looking seriously at the racks of frames and trying to find something I could bear to wear to drive. I was determined that on the occasions I had to wear the things they shouldn’t be too obvious, and eventually I found a pair of oval frames in very thin gold wire, very light and flexible. The dispenser fitted them on my face, took some measurements, and spoke to the technician in the lab. “Look, I’m really sorry,” he said when he came back. “Yours is a standard prescription and we’d normally have your glasses ready in an hour or less. But we seem to have used all the -1.25 lenses we had in stock; so we’ll have to get them from another branch; they’ll be here tomorrow and you can collect them any time after eleven.”
Fair enough...as I had no intention of wearing these specs I was in no great hurry to get them, so I caught the bus home and started on the weekend’s homework.
In the morning I had some things to do in town, and in due course I found myself near the optician’s and, with a sudden return of the previous day’s nerves, I pushed the door open. As I squinted into the distance there was something different about the figure at the desk...it was a guy, not a girl, but it looked vaguely familiar...when I got close enough the blur cleared and there was Billy Shakespeare grinning at me through his glasses!
“Good morning, sir,” he said. “Can I help you?”
“What the fuck are you doing here?” I responded.
“I might ask you the same question, only I know the answer. I’ve got your glasses in a pigeon hole behind me.”
“I dare say, but what are you doing here?”
“It’s my Saturday job. When I got these,” he touched his specs, “they were advertising for a weekend assistant, and I got the job. The pay isn’t great, but I like the work, and it’s good experience, because I want to train as an optometrist when I finish school. I’m surprised you’ve held out so long though.”
“What d’you mean, held out?”
“I was watching when I got my glasses and you all tried them on. Nobody else noticed, but I saw the shock you got when you found how well you could see with them; I thought, ‘She’ll be in specs in a few weeks,’ but, same as I say, you’ve held out longer than I thought.”
“Well, it’s only because I want to start driving lessons that I’ve come now,” I said. “I don’t think I’ll need them for anything else.”
“Oh come off it! Your eyes are worse than mine, you’ll be far more comfortable if you wear them all the time. Do you know what you look like squinting into the distance like this?” He took his glasses off and screwed his eyes.
“I don’t want anybody at school to know I need glasses—but I suppose now you know the story’ll be all round...”
“Excuse me!” he went very red and drew himself up to his full five foot six. “I know you think I’m a great girl’s blouse, and maybe you’re right; but as far as I’m concerned you aren’t here as a school friend, you’re a patient of this practice, and your business is confidential. Otherwise” (with a cheeky grin) “I might be telling you who else in our class has got specs he won’t wear in school—somebody else that got a shock when he tried mine on.”
“Oh really? I wonder who that was.”
“Never mind. Look, do you want these specs or don’t you?”
“I don’t, but I suppose I’ve got to have them.”
Billy took a little packet out of one of the pigeon-holes and unwrapped the contents—my glasses. He took me and sat me down at a table in an alcove with a mirror on it, cleaned the glasses with a cloth, and fitted them on my face.
“There now; how does that look, and how does everything look?”
I had to admit the specs looked OK on me, and I liked the clear distance vision, but I was determined.
“OK. Well, I’ll just fetch a proper dispenser to check the fit and everything; hang on a minute.”
In no time at all the dispenser had checked the frames, made a small adjustment and pronounced them ready for the road. All that remained was to pay the bill. Billy gave me the receipt and a case for my specs, and with one last urging to “wear the things and enjoy the view” I was on the way home to lunch.
I was as good as my word—almost. I got my provisional licence and the driving lessons began. Apart from a tendency to oversteer at the beginning I made good progress. I conscientiously put my specs on as soon as I got in the car—and just as conscientiously took them off again the moment I got out. I didn’t wear them in school; but was it my imagination or was it getting harder to see the board? One evening at home when we were watching TV my mother said, “Look, you make a better door than a window; do you think if you put your glasses on you could sit back a bit and give the rest of us a chance?” I took the point, and after that the specs went on for the telly as well. Once or twice I forgot to take them off and went around the house with them on, once for nearly an hour before I realized and snatched them off—I didn’t want my eyes to get used to having the help of the lenses, and it took them time to get back to seeing as well as usual (which, let’s face it, wasn’t too well).
The driving lessons took their course; I enjoyed driving (and I had to admit I enjoyed seeing where I was going) and I was getting quite proficient. One Saturday afternoon, just before I was due to sit the driving test, I pulled up outside the driving school at the end of my lesson and got out of the car. I still had my glasses on, and was just taking them off when another driving school car pulled up and a tall black guy got out, I could see that much, and there was something familiar about him, so I quickly put my specs in their case and turned away, but a familiar voice hailed me: “Andrew! Hey, Andrew!” I turned back and squinted into the blur. Sure enough, it was the lovely Peter Fraser. With my heart in my boots I walked towards him, only to discover when I got close enough that he was wearing glasses too, with black oblong frames—and he looked cooler than ever. “Hey man,” he said; “I was right, wasn’t I? I did see you wearing specs? When you got them?”
“Oh, I’ve had them a while; I only use them for driving.”
“Yeah, same here, but it’s getting to be a real bitch trying to see without them in class. Only, like...”
“‘Nobody makes passes at boys who wear glasses,’—or so I always thought.”
“Aw, stuff that for a lark. Go on man, put them on and let me have a proper look at you.”
Bemused, and still a bit reluctant, I pulled the case out and put my glasses back on, and the landscape sprang back into focus.
“Look man, that’s real cool. Wear them in school and the boys’ll all be after you. The girls too, maybe. You are what is known as a sexy spexy guy.”
“Hark who’s talking; you look great in glasses too.”
“Hey, tell me something: that day I saw you in the playing field. Were you checking your vision?”
“That’s right; I was terrified you’d ask what I was up to.”
“Only, I’d done the same thing five minutes before. I thought you might have seen me, and then I thought, supposing that guy needs specs too, and I got to thinking about what you’d look like in specs, and hoping I’d see you in them one day, and now it’s happened! Hey, what’re you doing right now? I have a video I want to watch while my folks are out; how’d you like to watch it with me?”
“Sounds good to me.”
The video was “The Boys in the Band”, a classic gay black comedy. every character a different stereotype. As we sat together, both happily bespectacled, drinking Pepsi and laughing at the fooling of the characters on the screen. I realized with a start that Peter’s beautiful long black fingers were massaging my knee. If that was the game I was only too willing to play it; I responded in kind, and he gave a low moan: “Man, that feels so good...”
Gently, very gently, we stroked each other’s thighs. Two pairs of jeans began to bulge. Suddenly he turned towards me, took my face in his hands, and kissed me full on the mouth. Our glasses clashed; a pause while we took them off, and then a long, long, deep kiss. Eventually we came up for air and I gasped, “Gee, I never did that before!”
“Me neither, but it’s great!”
“You can say that again!”
Instead, we did it again.
By now there was only one possible end to the episode. Of the possible ways of getting there, we took the simplest and safest.
“D’you know something?” said Peter. “We’re a pair of faggots.”
“D’you know something?” I answered. “I’m glad to be gay. Er, would you feel like doing it again sometime?”
“Sure, once it’s with the same sexy spexy guy.”
That reminded us: we’d both had glasses on when we arrived. Looking around, I found Peter’s first and put them on; the clarity was stunning.
“Hey, how strong are these?”
“Minus 1.25 both eyes;” meanwhile he’d put mine on, “and it seems like yours are about the same.”
“The exact same prescription; isn’t that cool?”
“Cool as a cucumber! I reckon we might have some fun in school.”
“You planning to start wearing them in school?”
“Well, why not? The only reason I didn’t was I thought they might put you off me.”
“Now you come to mention it...”
“Tell you what. Monday morning we go in without them as usual, put them on in first lesson, keep them on all day. That’s our coming out.”
“Spexy coming out or sexy coming out?”
“Interpret how you will, kid, interpret how you will.”
So it came about. On Monday morning we trooped into class, bare eyed as usual. When the teacher started to write equations on the board, we glanced at each other and simultaneously took our glasses out and put them on. A gasp ran round the class; I could see Billy Shakespeare was grinning (and I couldn’t have seen that before). Work went very smoothly after that.
At the morning break we were surrounded by curious classmates who wanted to know the story. We told them as much as they needed to know. Then, of course, they wanted to try our glasses on. One after another, they said, “God these are strong,” or words to that effect. With one exception. Arthur Wesley, a new guy that term, put them on, went white, said nothing, took them off, passed them on, and went on saying nothing for quite a while. I looked at Peter. He looked at me. We both looked at Billy. We said nothing either. We could wait.
After all, all the fretting we had done (and Arthur was starting to do) really was MUCH ADO ABOUT NOTHING.