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The Expressionists: The Intimate Craft of Making Eyes
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I saw a man with an artificial eye when I was younger, and it bulged out of the socket. Normally, when the eye rests in the socket, if one turns his head to the left or right, the eyes move involuntarily. This individual’s did not. It scared the heck out of me, and I’ve had a phobia ever since. Your site alleviated the majority of this phobia. Also, when you take your eye out, is there a “popping” or “sucking” sound?

—Posted on losteye.com

A fake eye is not round, though movies would have you believe so, with those eyes that pop out at inopportune moments and roll embarrassingly across the floor. A fake eye is thin and curved like a brooch, concave like a contact lens. It is much thicker than a contact, and taller than it is wide, but it weighs almost nothing, like a leaf of gold. If you drilled a hole near its edge, you could wear it around your neck on a delicate chain. When you take it out of its socket, which is easy to do by pulling your lids out of the way, there is no popping or sucking sound. The process is as noiseless as removing an earring.

Fake eyes used to be round, back when they were made of blown glass. But a glass eye—a true jewel, often spectacular in its luminosity—filled the empty eye socket imperfectly, like a Ping-Pong ball in a cup. It was also fragile, sometimes bursting into shards when the wearer went, say, from the cold outside into a warm room.

A fake eye today won’t explode because it is made of acrylic. You can walk from a meat freezer into a sauna and the eye won’t be hurt—not even a noticeable crackle of expansion.

That acrylic is hard, unbreakable except from extreme trauma: a direct hit with a hammer, a bullet, the steering wheel of your car if you should plow into the concrete pillar of an overpass. You can go tap-tap-tap on an acrylic eye with your fingernail or a pen if you want to prove to people that it’s really fake. It sounds more like click-click-click.

You might actually need to prove that inauthenticity, because a fake eye today has the good distinction of almost never looking fake. A wearer of one does not have his eye spin in his head like Harry Potter’s Mad Eye Moody. He often doesn’t even have that eye stare straight ahead while the real eye darts around, á la Peter Falk or Sammy Davis, Jr. A fake eye today is unlikely to give anybody a phobia.

In the three years I’ve had an artificial eye, no one who didn’t know I was getting it has seemed to suspect a thing. Not one curious gawk or squinty stare while trying to figure out what might be wrong.

Instead, I’ve gotten comments like this from the cashier at the grocery store:

“You have beautiful blue eyes,” she said generously.

“Thanks,” I said. “Can you tell which one is fake?”

She was confused, and then guessed wrong. I tapped my eye with my fingernail to let her hear the click.

Each year, 17,000 or 18,000 people in the U.S. lose an eye. The list of ways in which eyes get destroyed is, of course, long and gruesome: construction accidents, cancer, hockey pucks, fist fights, diabetes, golf balls (don’t look up when someone yells “Fore!”), rakes, racquetballs, rosebushes, pop-bottle rockets, and the clichéd but still dangerous BB gun.

The man who made my eye told me of one patient of his, a woman in her early 20s, who was leaving the house to go for a drive and asked her dad to toss her the keys. It was a gentle toss, but she missed the catch.

Another eye-maker told me of a guy gored by a steer; of another who yanked a poster off the wall of his bedroom and had a thumbtack hit him in the eye; of a kid who was running with a candy...

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