I reached for a pair of glasses this morning, and then wondered why. Not why I was reaching for them, since my eyes seem to be worsening by the day and without them I couldn’t read the words in three recently-uncovered comic strips drawn by Charles Schulz.
It scarcely mattered, in the grand scheme of things, that I couldn’t read the words, because these three strips and four others, which appear to have been a 1950s pitch to his syndicate for a second comic strip, this one featuring adults, including possibly a grown version of Lucy, weren’t funny (and his own syndicate turned him down, so as far as we know, these seven strips were it), but there was the part where I wanted to read them, so I reached for a pair of glasses.
But why, exactly, did I reach for a pair? They are clearly one item — all the pieces come together to form a whole. Yes, I see the two lenses, and the two stems, but don’t you see the nose bridge linking it all as one? It’s not like you have a pair of monocles — a duocle, which would be singular even if there were two discrete pieces.
If you had a pair of pears, you could give them to your au pair, who in turn could give them to your pair of charming children. For a long time China wanted you to pare your children down to one, to curb overpopulation, but now that the entire world, teeming with perhaps eight billion people, is somehow facing a population crisis of a different kind, China has made some policy changes. In 2015 the pair of you were allowed to produce a pair of children, and now, big news, you can add that monocle as well.
Yes, you are now permitted, in China, to have as many as three children, a policy change that caused stocks of companies producing products like strollers to soar, despite the part where parents are continuing to produce single children because the cost of child care is unbearably high and they can’t afford that second child, let alone a third.
Families may find themselves without much choice in the matter, anyway, since word on the street — that street being the internet or the TV, I forget which — has it that men’s sperm counts are dropping rapidly, perhaps even faster than my once 20-20 vision, and America could be facing a sterility crisis by 2045.
But I cannot solve for you this morning this eight-billion-person underpopulation crisis. I am still stuck on this pair of glasses I reached for.
Had I been in the kitchen and reached for a pair of glasses, you would assume I was expecting company, and you would expect the two of us to each drink from a separate glass. Under the new “third child” policy, I might be willing to share my glass with select people, but my larger point is that in some rooms of the house, a pair means two while in others it means one.
In my bedroom, for instance, I will put on a pair of pants, with two legs and two sets of pockets all held together by one seat. But I will not put on a pair of shirts, despite two sleeves, unless it is cold and I am layering. Why is this?
No matter how I try to frame it (har), the things I set in front of my pair of eyes come in the plural: a pair of glasses, or eyeglasses, or even the spectacle of spectacles. But if we think pre-covid, Zorro only wore one mask over those same two eyes. (Well, not the same: I am not Zorro, no matter how you squint to see the similarities.)
In fact, after he was done being the Lone Ranger, who wore one mask across both his eyes, actor Clayton Moore took to wearing a pair of really dark glasses across those same eyes to stay in character for his fans. For some reason the Ranger franchise took umbrage at Mr. Moore for continuing to wear a mask, so he defaulted from one to the pair, even though the same amount of facial territory was being covered. And what would it really have mattered to those Ranger people if one fading actor wanted to recall his glory days for his fans?
The things I slide my legs into — pants, trousers, dungarees, jeans, leggings [this may be a thing for European men, according to my bike race that ended yesterday, but fear not: I take a vow here and now to never wear leggings] — all default to the plural. Socks make sense, as do shoes: the two of them go on two different feet. A pair of socks for a pair of feet.
I can choose to wear one shoe off, one shoe on, but it’s darn near impossible to wear one pant on, the other off. Because there is no “other.” They’re all part of the same unit. You could, I suppose, just stick one leg into the pants and walk around holding the second leg, but unlike your stray shoe that has been left behind, the entirety of the pants is coming with you.
So it is with glasses of the eyeglass variety. You can, in fact, snap your glasses in two and attempt to keep wearing them, but the first thing you’re going to do is to reach for tape to make them whole again.
For a long time my sister Terri wore a pair of glasses when it was really only one eye that needed the corrective assistance. She might have looked quite fetching in a monocle, but no one ever suggested that as an option. Maybe her one prescriptive lens would have qualified as a glass, no es.
Look at how odd that reads, though: it is a glass half-full. Or only half finished.
I guess I am stuck with the nomenclature assigned long before I got here. So even though it is apparent that I have a pair of problems I can’t see my way clear to — my eyes are failing and I don’t know why I can’t be singular about it — I just need to pull myself up by my own bootstraps (which originally meant the exact opposite of what it does now), along with my pair of pants, my pair of socks, my pair of shoes, my shirt with its pair of sleeves and my pair of underwears. Oh, wait . . .