Which is exactly what Ed Sanders thought when he ordered them in the spring of 1964. Ed was just a horny young poet back then; and although he had a fat notebook full of empty pages ready to receive his blank verse, he had no receptacle, other than his hairy right hand, through which to relieve his innate horniness. So naturally, when he opened up his mailbox one day at two in the afternoon to see that his pair of X-Ray Specs had arrived, he smiled—that sideburn to sideburn smile.
“Ah, yes,” he said to himself, “the real fucky fucky.”
Ed immediately headed toward Washington Square Park which he thought would be as good a place as any to try them out. But on the way he had a thought.
“I’ll show them to Tuli,” he said, again talking to himself—in those days he was always talking to himself. “It’ll impress the shit out of him.”
The man Ed wanted to impress was Tuli Kupferberg, who at that time was already something of a fixture on the Village scene. Ed looked up to Tuli. Tuli was older, more experienced, and seemed to know just about everything.. But this pair of X-Ray Specs, Ed was sure, would take him completely by surprise.
Ed got to Tuli’s apartment and knocked. Wrapped in a brown army blanket and wearing a two day growth of stubble on his chin, Tuli answered the door. He’d just woken up.
“Look what I got,” Ed blurted out.
“What the fuck?” Tuli grumbled, rubbing the sleep from his eyes. He slouched over to get a closer look at the pair of X-Ray Specs Ed held out proudly with both hands. “So you got some fruity looking shades. Big fucking deal. I’m going back to sleep.”
“These aren’t shades, man,” Ed argued. “These are fucking X-Ray Specs. They’re the real thing, man—the real fucky fucky.”
“The real fucky fucky?”
“Shit, Tuli, you know what I mean.”
Tuli grabbed them and was about to put them on when Ed stopped him.
“Don’t look at me with those things,” Ed snapped. “Let’s go to the park. Let’s try looking at some gurls with these things.”
“Girls,” Tuli mumbled. “Oh, okay… gurls.”
Tuli got dressed, then he and Ed walked to Washington Square Park, the X-Ray Specs burning a hold in Ed’s shirt pocket. When they got to the park it was crowded: lots of people, lots of gurls. They sat on a bench facing the arch as the sun bore brightly down upon them.
“Okay,” Tuli said, “give them to me. I get to try them on first.”
Ed carefully pulled them from his pocket and handed them to Tuli. Tuli opened them up and with an exaggerated flourish put them over his eyes.
“Holy fucking shit!” he exclaimed. “Everyone is fucking naked! And that girl over there, see her? She’s got tattoos of flames shooting out from around her nipples. And that guy over there… he’d got two dicks. What a bunch of fucking freaks!”
“Lemme see, lemme see!” Ed shouted.
“No, wait. And that lady over there. She’s got a shaved pussy… nice… real nice… And that girl over there too. And that girl…”
“Let me see, let me see,” Ed yelled, trying to grab the X-Ray Specs from Tuli’s head.
Tuli pulled away and stood up, doing a 360 degree turn as he gazed all around the park.
“I have seen the best bodies of my generation STARK FUCKING NAKED!”
He pulled the X-Ray Specs from his face, bowed, then threw them to Ed, who immediately put them on. Ed looked all around. He looked up, then down. He looked around again.
“What the fuck? I don’t see anything. Everything just looks fuzzy and dark.”
He dropped the X-Ray Specs to the ground and was about to stomp on them when Tuli stopped him.
“Don’t do that,” Tuli said. “I think I can do something useful with those things.” He stood up. “Come on, Ed, let’s check out the situation here.”
Tuli led Ed around the park as he carefully studied everyone. Finally he pointed out a guy playing guitar.
“See that guy over there?” he said.
“Well, come on over. And play along with this. Or better yet, just keep quiet.”
When they got close it was apparent that the guy playing guitar was fucked up. Totally fucked up.
“Sounding pretty good there, kid,” Tuli said.
The kid, who seemed to be around Ed’s age, looked up at Tuli and widened his eyes.
“Oh… uh… thenks,” the kid said.
“Do you know what these are?” Tuli asked, holding out the pair of X-Ray Specs.
The kid studied them for a minute, squinting, then said, “No, whazzat?”
“These, my friend, are X-Ray Specs—the greatest invention of the twentieth century.” Tuli paused for a moment then added, “They’re the real fucky fucky.”
“The Real Fucky Fucky? Izzat so?”
“It is so. Me and my young friend Ed here have been in the park all afternoon checking out the girls with these things. Looking not only at their faces and their legs, but at their entire nude bodies. Because when you put these on, my friend, you can see right through their clothing.”
“It is so. Totally nude girls… Do you like girls?”
“Why, yes, shure, I do,” the kid answered, sitting up straight.
“Well, then, try these on. I think you’ll like what you see.”
Tuli gently placed the X-Ray Specs over the kid’s eyes. Before the kid could even begin to look around Tuli began to shout.: “CAN YOU FUCKING BELIEVE IT? Look at that beautiful girl over there with the polka dots tattooed all over her tits and belly. And that girl over there with the blue and yellow stripes tattooed all over her body. Looks almost like she’s wearing a dress, but she’s no, she’s NUDE. Totally NUDE!”
“Holy shit!” the kid exclaimed, his mouth agape.
“But don’t leave them on too long,” Tuli warned, pulling them off the kid’s head. “You have to let your eyes get accustomed to these glasses before you leave them on too long. But once your eyes get used to them you can wear them all the time.”
“It is so.”
The kid shook his head in amazement.
“Damn, those are some fucken great glasses. Where can I get a pair?”
“In Europe,” Tuli explained. “France, to be specific—you know how those French people are. They invented the French kiss, the French post card, the French tickler, and now this. But it costs the equivalent of about $300 on the French black market. That’s the only place you can get them.”
“Damn, I wish I could get me a pair.”
“Well, I can sell you this pair for $300.”
“Shit… I ain’t got no $300.”
“Oh, that’s too bad.” Tuli scratched his chin. “But hey, that’s a nice guitar you got there.”
“Damn nice guitar… I’ll tell you what. I’ll trade you this here pair of X-Ray Specs for that there guitar.”
“Well, shit yeah. Cool. Outtasight,” the kid said. “Here, take it.”
He handed the guitar to Tuli who promptly handed it to Ed.
“Thanks,” Tuli said. “And for you, my friend, your very own pair of X-Ray Specs—direct from France.”
He handed the X-Ray Specs to the kid as he and Ed started backing away.
“Don’t try them on again just yet. Better let your eyes rest for a few more minutes. Then just let yourself go crazy looking at those naked girls.”
“OKAY!” the kid shouted.
“Just think bare breasts,” Tuli added as he backed further away.
“And bare asses.”
Tuli and Ed quickly walked away. When they were out of the kid’s sight Ed turned admiringly to Tuli.
“Damn, Tuli, that was smooth.”
“It was nothing, Ed. The kid was totally fucked up. It was like robbing a crippled dwarf with a Sherman tank.”
“But still, it was cool.”
“Nope. The cool part’s coming up. Because now you’re finally going to get yourself some girls. Really naked girls.”
Tuli pointed to the guitar.
“With that,” he said.
“How’s that going to get me some girls?”
“Don’t you understand? Do I have to explain everything, Ed?” Tuli shook his head, amazed that his young friend still didn’t get it. “That’s a guitar. It makes music. And you know those poems you’ve been writing? Well, to tell you the truth, they don’t hold up very well by themselves. They won’t get you any accolades from the beatniks. And they sure as hell won’t get you any pussy. Which is where the guitar comes in.”
Ed Scratched his head.
“You mean, like, turn my poems into songs?”
“Now you’re getting it. Though now that I think of it you and a guitar isn’t quite enough. You’ll never make it as a solo act. You’re going to need a whole band.”
“That’s right. Shit, I’ll even help you out. I know a couple of other guys who can play. We can all be in your band.”
Ed shook his head.
“Still, I wish those X-Ray Specs worked.”
“You still don’t get it,” Tuli said, raising his voice. “You see, when you’re in a band, girls will undress for you. You won’t have to see through anything.”
Ed walked along in silence. They were on Sixth Avenue now, making their way back to Tuli’s apartment. Tuli looked straight ahead, thinking. He was always thinking. He began to walk more rapidly, rubbing the stubble on his chin, when he heard a voice a few paces behind him. A young voice. The voice of a kid experiencing his very first sense of revelation, his first understanding of the world and how it works.
“Oh… I GET IT!” Ed shouted to himself.
And on hearing this Tuli felt old, very old. And while Ed was having his first sense of revelation, Tuli was having his first real sense of sadness. He picked up his pace even more, then suddenly stopped until Ed was again walking by his side. After a moment Tuli smiled. But his smile was nothing like that of the hipster in the ad for the X-Ray Specs. It was nothing like the smile Ed was now wearing smugly on his face. It was an old man’s smile—the smile of a man who had found solace in knowing that no matter how old he got, no matter how weak and world weary he became, he would always remain a few steps ahead of his young friend.
Originally published in Crimes of the Beats, Autonomedia, 1998.