I stand atop Arthur’s Seat in Edinburgh, Scotland. We have defeated this meagre peak, but it feels like our own personal Everest. Our memories are still full of other, more dire hikes, and the fact that we have completely surmounted this obstacle within a morning makes us feel strong, and proud. We are mountain men. We are kings of this earth. We have never been more powerful, more suave, more in touch with the universe and ourselves. We stand at a precipice and look at the glory spread before us, a Lego landscape in the middle distance: it all looks so small, so beneath us. I feel like a goddamn Viking.
A strong wind picks up, and rips the sunglasses off my stupid, preening face. They fly majestically on the gale for some distance and then begin the downward arc, sloping on their parabolic path, catching rocks and roots and caves along the way. They land somewhere I will never find them, lost to the wilds of Scotland, to some moor or loch or gently rolling hill, and I feel slightly less smug than moments before.
I never feel quite so proud or into myself as when I’m wearing a pair of sunglasses. I have an inflated sense of what sunglasses I can pull off, which is to say, I think I can probably manage any of them. Style and colour and make and material don’t matter: aviators, wrap-arounds, blue, polkadots, stripes, metallic, plastic, congealed pigs blood. My head is enormous so hats are out, and I dress in the fashion of a grizzly bear doing a reasonable impersonation of Mr. Rogers. Cool sunglasses are generally the only thing I have faith in. They give me a sense of being together, of being with it, a sense of debonairness. They are my only refuge, and I take my refuge in style.
As is a custom in my personality, I have seized upon this tiny modicum of self-assurance, and it has grown fat and powerful in my character. I put on a pair of sunglasses, any pair, and I am John Shaft. I am James Dean. I am Fonzie, and Beatrix from Kill Bill, and Bruce Willis during most of his career. Do those people and characters even regularly wear sunglasses? It doesn’t even matter: I look so cool that my metaphors and similes don’t even need to make sense.
While in Bali I searched for sunglasses through an enormous rack of ultracheap Rayban knock-offs. I settled on a pair, white frames with splatters of colour, but was warded off when a friend reacted passionately against them. Pressed, he remarked that these sunglasses were the typical style of one particular guy that we all hated back in Korea, a man that was kind of the personification of the word douchebag, a Webster’s dictionary mobile app in human form. To wear his genre of sunglasses, my buddy implied, or to reference him in any way would likely put me in his same category of reprehensible suckitude. A vortex would rip open in the universe, and I would be drawn into the enormous, inescapable gravitational pull of that guy’s earth-shattering crappiness. I put the sunny-gs back on their rack, but in the back of my brain, lodged deep into all of the caustic, self-involved cores of my arrogance, I thought, I could pull those off. I’d re-establish those glasses as the least douchey of all!
Perhaps this highly inflated sense of capability in the realm of ocular fashion explains why my sunglasses never last more than about a month on the outside. I sometimes wonder if the Greek gods are very real entities, terrible and great and ever watchful, and still turning into swans and bulls and showers of gold to get up ladies’ skirts. They exist in this modern era and must punish hubris via irony, the only method for learning that modern people will truly accept, as a good lightning bolt or a plague of vermin always comes across as passé and old-world. And these Greek gods must be punishing me.
If that also sounds pretty self-involved, then you have no idea how many sunglasses I have lost or destroyed, nor in the calamitous methods they in which they are taken away from me. Sunglasses have been stolen from me while I slept, some slipped gently from my very face. Some have fallen out of my pocket and onto airport luggage conveyer belts, where they were carried off and also crushed below the weight of so much Samsonite. Numerous pairs have broken on my face, frames and lenses and little tiny screws popping out and flying in every direction. Still others have been torn from my face by ocean winds, sucked into the watery depths by Poseidon.
In Thailand, I sat in the back of a pickup truck that sped through tropical countryside, and the wind ripped the sunglasses off of my face. They soared nearly 500 feet (we were speeding, it was incredibly dangerous, also thrilling) before slamming and shattering impressively across the hot asphalt. Me, my two friends, and two German strangers watched them clatter down the road as we sped off into the distance.
You guys, I once had a pair of sunglasses knocked off of my face into the path of an elephant. Said elephant then crushed the sunglasses under its mighty hoof (paw? hand? phalange?). It had a look in its eyes that said, “Yeah, what are you going to do about it?” An elephant, you guys. An elephant.
Not that this has tempered my deep self-satisfaction with sun-glasses, but it has taught me to be relatively unattached to them. I bought a pair I particularly enjoyed in southern Vietnam, all black, and Faith reported that I looked like one of the Blues Brothers (she meant it as the highest compliment). I wore these with such great pride, with an absolute strut in my walk, a surety in my self, my personality, my great contribution to the world. These were the coolest sunglasses I had owned, and I felt relatively confident I could trundle around with just them and no clothes and still maintain my suave sense of confidence.
I knew that calamity would befall them, and soon, if only to match the heights reached by my ego. Pride goes before a fall, and it felt like a strong fall would be required. The glasses were taken from my snoozing, prone form while on an overnight bus to Dharamsala, India, the home of the Dalai Lama. Also when I woke up, I had managed to completely rip open the crotch of my (only!) pair of pants.
And so with every new pair I buy, I prepare for some degree of tumult. A rise and fall. I ready myself for the swelling of my ego, for my self-absorption to become oceanic. And I also know, too, that the decline is coming, that my hopes and sense of self will be dashed, that the universe will look upon my face, will look upon my stupid perfect sunglasses, and whisper, “No.”