SLACKJAW by JIM KNIPFEL
July 15, 2012

Creepy Blind Stare

 

This is all nothing but a bunch of cheap and wild speculation on my part. I admit that from the beginning. In formulating this column I’ve done no historical research, I’ve talked to no eye doctors, and I’ve interviewed none of my fellow blindos. Still, best as I can figure it, there are three basic reasons—beyond a simple desire to strive for that Joe Cool look—why blindos wear sunglasses. Call it three practical reasons, even if fashion sense trumps them all.

            First, for some of them (depending upon the nature of the specific condition) sunlight is not only useless, it’s extremely painful. Exposure to light without some kind of protection can be agonizing. Wearing shades is a simple way to prevent all that unseemly crying and screaming every time they go outside.

            Second, like the red and white cane, it’s a signifier, a semiotic tool, a warning to the dullards and the half-wits that the guy stumbling down the street bumping into trees and garbage cans isn’t merely drunk or stoned, but blind. (Unless of course he’s just a really cool guy who’s drunk or stoned.) Morgan’s seen messages from people online (the aforementioned dullards and half-wits) who say they wouldn’t believe someone was blind if they weren’t wearing shades. They might recognize the cane, but without the accompanying shades, the cane is nothing but a fashion accessory.

            Yeah, these are the same people who are electing the president and sitting on juries. But that’s a whole different ball of hair.

            Finally—and this one is most important—wearing sunglasses is an act of common courtesy. It’s a way to avoid inflicting that creepy blind stare on the people around you. You know what I’m talking about. That stare, the eyes wandering this way and that while not focusing on anything, can be quite unnerving for some people. Covering up those lost, hopeless eyes is just the polite thing to do. In those cases where the blindo in question is blind as the result of some serious physical damage to the eye, the sunglasses are even more imperative. A creepy blind stare is one thing, but that gross empty socket is another story all together. Eww, right? Who the hell wants to look at that when you’re trying to eat your corn fritters?

            I have several pairs of shades here, from the big, thick wraparound kind to a sleek Italian-cool horn-rimmed pair I picked up for ten bucks at a drugstore a couple of years back. While I usually carry a pair with me most days, I rarely wear them for reasons that I think are just as practical.

            First, while I do find bright sunlight painful, I’m in a weird position. I can still make use of light and shadow even if I can see no detail, and even if the light makes me wince. I use that light and shadow as a secondary navigational tool. When I wear shades, even shades that aren’t that dark, I find myself in complete darkness again. I figure I’ll be there soon enough as it is, so I don’t need to put myself there artificially.

            The most important reason in my case for not wearing shades, however, is that I prefer to inflict my creepy blind stare on people. Most of them, oblivious, self-absorbed bastards that they are, deserve to be unnerved, and dammit, I’m just the man for the job.

            A couple of people I like have commented that I don’t have that creepy blind stare. I explained to them that after being able to more or less see for about the first twenty-five years of my life, I know how it works and I can play act when talking to someone I don’t want to make uncomfortable; I focus in on the voice and aim the eyes a few inches above it. It makes for a pretty good facsimile, even if I can’t really see them. Of course if I do want to make them uncomfortable, look out. Those eyes’ll start rolling around in their sockets like nobody’s business.

            It occurs to me that this all adds up to another one of the few advantages of blindness. See, I never much liked talking to people, even when I was a kid. And having to look them in the eye was a kind of agony. I hated looking people in the eye, so rarely did. It had nothing to do with shyness—I just didn’t want to be talking with them. This of course did not improve my social standing much.

            Fact was, starting at some young age, it struck me that most people looked exactly alike. They sounded alike too. This perception only grew stronger as time wore on. Compare the actors in a movie made in the 1940s with one made in the last fifteen years. See what I mean? Doesn’t everyone in the new movie look alike? And the voices! Gah! They’re all the same. I can never tell who’s talking, or why. So why look at them? Why talk to them at all? It reached the point where I felt like I was talking to the same goddamn person all the goddamn time, and they never had much of anything to say. I’m sure the shrinks have a name for something like that, but it’s irrelevant.

            But going blind, see, was a two-fold plus on this point. Not only do I now have an excuse not to look at the people I’m talking to, I also have a simple means to make them want to go away and leave me alone. And no one can accuse me of being a rude asshole without looking like an even bigger asshole themselves. What a great position to be in.

            At some point down the line when the light no longer plays a viable role in day-to-day navigation I may take to wearing the shades, but that’d just be for the Joe Cool effect. Plus it would give me the element of surprise. When forced into conversation with some moonpie I could whip off the shades with a dramatic flourish while making a point, and send them scurrying with the ol’ googly eyes.

            Yes, I think I’m looking forward to that.

 

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