I got my first pair of glasses at the age of eight, the price of being a precocious bookworm. The frames were made of red plastic with a brick design. I thought they were really cool.
At the time I was blithely innocent of the social repercussions that came with wearing spectacles. I’d never heard the then-popular maxim “boys don’t make passes at girls who wear glasses,” and even if I had, I doubt that I’d have understood the term “passes.”
By the time I was sophisticated enough to understand the complex cultural and social stigmas surrounding the wearing of glasses I was mature enough to realize that boys had problems of their own, and my glasses had nothing to do it.
Still, like many a socially awkward child, I took comfort from stories of the ugly duckling genre. Once you start to recognize the signals, you see Cinderella everywhere. And being someone with an overactive imagination, it was a short hop to the candy shop to convince myself that one day I too would fling off my glasses and dazzle the multitude. Or as least Dennis Crawford in the sixth grade.
I don’t know what became of Dennis, but for me life changed focus once I learned to wear contact lenses. This was back in the pioneering days of contacts, in the early ’60s, when many people were skeptical about the concept of putting a small piece of plastic on your eyeball. There weren’t any soft contacts. It was hardball or nothing.
Determined as I was to lose my duck feathers, I endured the discomfort and terror of the process. And lo, on the first day of high school I was able to walk into a classroom incognito. Suddenly I understood why Superman could fly. All he had to do was take off the damned glasses.
And for a while, I flew. Serenely soaring above the crowds I enjoyed a brief period of self-confidence that taught me a lot about the power of illusions and personal myth-making. Football players asked me out on dates. Guys who had looked right through me the year before started staring at me. It was a strangely empowering sensation.
But, like so many strangely empowering sensations, it wore off, and I found myself preferring the company of my old friends: my books.
These days, in the peculiar way of all fashion, glasses, once the trademark signifiers of the uncool, have become a trendy fashion accessory. Kids wear them unabashedly, movie stars sport them to underscore their intellectual appeal, people who don’t even need glasses wear them to add panache.
If only I had those red brick specs now.