x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 29 July 2017

Wearing glasses looks like work, if you sell it right

My new reading glasses can be whipped off fast and tossed down on the desk in theatrical frustration, a drama that also, happily, looks like I'm doing work

After squinting my way through the past few weeks, I finally gave in and bought a pair of reading glasses.

Well, that's not exactly how it went down. I'm making it sound like a graceful transition into eyeglass-hood. It was not.

According to my colleagues, I've been cranky and irritable for months, filled with complaints about the poor lighting in the office, and I've shouted several times, irrationally, I now know, at the assistants for not keeping their computer screens crystal clear.

"Your screen is fuzzy," I growled at my assistant. "I can't read the script over your shoulder."

"I just cleaned it," he replied. Which was the truth, but was still a foolish thing to say. (The truth often is.)

Finally, one of the co-executive producers of my television show - a writer of sufficient rank to be unafraid of my temper - tossed me a pair of his reading glasses. "Try these," he said. "You've just had a birthday. It's time."

Sadly, he was right. The light in the office, it was revealed to me, was sufficient. My assistant's computer screen was perfectly clean. What wasn't working, apparently, were my eyes.

As I type this, I'm wearing a $6 pair of black reading glasses. I don't need the real kind - the ones you have to go to a doctor to get prescribed. I need what are called "readers" - they sell them at the drugstore in various strengths and in various styles, and they're cheap enough that it makes sense to buy them by the dozen and stash them all over the house, in various places in the office, and next to the bed.

I am now, officially, old. Happy birthday to me.

The strength, just to be clear, is the lowest available: 1.25x. So my eyes are old and tired, but not yet totally useless.

What people say to people with these kinds of glasses is this: "Wow! They give you gravity. No, seriously, they really look fine. In fact, you look kind of handsome. You have a face that's perfect for reading glasses."

What they think is: "Good Lord, you're old. Old and in the way. How sad."

OK, OK: this is just what happens to eyes that are in their mid to late forties - and it's really none of your business how mid or how late - and I know it's the result of years of reading and screen-staring and all sorts of things. I'm a writer. I've been peering at a computer screen for over 20 years. I'm not really complaining about getting older. But I am on the lookout for the perks.

We all know about the drawbacks of age. The Reaper, for one. But there are advantages, too. And if I'm forced to wear reading glasses, I'm going to leverage them to the hilt.

Reading glasses, when perched halfway down the nose and peered over, can be awfully menacing. I just discovered that, and have been trying it out for a week or so. Before my eyes deteriorated, it was a complicated operation to get whoever was talking to me to stop talking. Simply looking at them didn't do the trick. But I've discovered that peering at them, head in a half-tilt down, eyes raised, sends the message that whatever that person is now saying, they'd better stop saying it soon.

Also: the glasses can be whipped off fast and tossed down on the desk in theatrical frustration. That seems to indicate to everyone that I'm either about to say something useful, or I'd really like someone else to say something useful. Just the sound of the glasses hitting the script on the desk is enough, it was revealed to me this week, to get the younger writers on the staff to suddenly blurt out a funny scene-ending joke. Sometimes, fear is a perfect motivator.

What I've noticed is that all of this reading glass drama - the peering and whipping and dropping and putting on - creates a kind of beehive of activity that looks to everyone like actual work. Like writing. Like thinking. Like making decisions. When in fact it's just me manipulating a $6 piece of plastic with two magnifying glasses stuck to it, while thinking, mostly, about what kind of sandwich I'd like to eat at lunchtime. It's just me pretending to be engaged. I look like a person peering witheringly at something and demanding results. But what I am is an actor with a prop.

And that, I've discovered, is the chief perk of getting older. You may not have spent the past 20 odd years getting better at your job, or smarter at your craft, but if you spend a little time and get good at what actors call "prop work", you can buy yourself another four or five years in the business.

Until I get seriously old and it's time for a walking stick. Which I'm not sure you can sell quite as easily. Although give me time. Raised above the head in a threatening manner, I'm sure it could terrify an army of assistants.


Rob Long is a writer and producer based in Hollywood

On Twitter: @rcbl