Six-Eyes (or, Be Careful What You Wish For)

I've always been a bit pre-emptive when it comes to what others may perceive as flaws in me. Nothing wrong with a little healthy self-deprecation. I crack wise about my size before anyone has the chance and, while my often out-of-control beard elicits comments, I'm quick to point out that it covers a weak chinned visage that bears a striking resemblance to Mad magazine's Alfred E. Newman. People think I'm kidding when I mention that, at birth, I had the ears of a full-grown man. They were HUGE. This is not only documented in photos, but my childhood nickname of "Big Ears" wasn't a misnomer. They remain a salient feature to this day.

Before you think I'm being too hard on myself, let me divest you of the notion that I suffer from poor self-image issues. I actually like myself quite a bit. Aside from the fact that I wish I had more pronounced shoulders (the better to carry a camera bag with, my dear), I'm not unhappy with the total package.

I think it was in the 4th grade when I got the idea that wearing glasses would be cool. There weren't that many students at Westview Elementary with glasses, and the notion consumed me. I don't know if I thought required eyewear would lend gravitas to my lemon-shaped face and fruit bat ears, but I did everything short of praying that my annual eye check (at school . . . do they even do that anymore?) would require ocular intervention. Well, I got what I asked for and more. I took a letter home from school imploring my parents to take me to "the eye doctor." Few at my school had glasses, and I was to become the only student in the entire school with bifocals! While the glass lens themselves weren't the "Coke bottle bottom" variety, "lineless" transitional bifocals had yet to be invented, so suspended below my green-grey peepers hung little half-moons of magnification that were noticeable to my curious/cruel classmates who, for a short but intense season, dubbed me "Six Eyes."

I thought the frames the height of fashion. The 70s, with their groovy wire-rimmed glasses, were still a few years away, so my plastic graduated grey-to-clear frames looked pretty snappy. Thinking back, the only frames I thought were cooler than mine were my dad's Malcolm X numbers: bakelite uppers and metal lowers that, even before I knew of the African American revolutionary, managed to convey style and sternness in a way that worked with the eyes and mouth to, chameleon-like, compliment the wearer's mood. That a pair of glasses could look friendly one minute and confrontational the next was nothing less than astounding to me. Alas, my "eye doctor" had no such children's frames; I often wonder if my relationship with my father would've been different had we shared similar frames (literal points of view?).

A couple of events in the 80s and 90s cemented the choice of eyewear I continue to return to year after year. I was never really able to afford "prescription sunglasses," opting for "clip-ons" and "flip-ups" for most of the 80s. When soft contact lenses became affordable to the masses, I went that route, and I was free to follow my unrequited love affair with Ray Ban® Wayfarer© sunglasses. The classic frames had graced the heads of off-duty astronauts, and Elvis Costello's take on Buddy Holly was certainly evocative of this style. Wayfarerers became my sunglasses of choice. I loved the way they didn't really "work with," but, rather, in spite of the wearer's head. This was I'M WEARING GLASSES!, in bold, capital letters.

A trip to Boston in 1991 proved life-changing. I was in a Tower Records store and, at the time, Tower had an in-house publication called Pulse that followed the Rolling Stone magazine format, and while flipping through a copy, my eyes caught a picture and article that read, "Sister Double Happiness Inks With Sinatra's Label." In the band photo, one of the band members -- a full-figured boy like myself -- wore big black framed glasses, and he looked as cool as hell! Long story short (or, the subject of a future blog, perhaps), I bought the album, Heart and Mind by Sister Double Happiness (their Reprise Records debut), listened to it non-stop on the drive home, wrote a fan letter to SDH's lead singer, Gary Floyd, and took my Wayfarers to Pearl Vision where they popped out the sunglass lenses and replaced them with clear versions of my prescription. Gary answered my fan letter, and has since become one of my dearest friends. Though his glasses weren't Wayfarers (they were standard issue Navy black frames) and he long ago gave up the look, it has stuck with me. I only hope that Ray Ban continues to make the frames until I die, because, even though I have a few other styles of eyeglasses in my possession, I wear the Wayfarers most of the time.

The following summer I was walking through a trendy neighborhood in New York City with a NYC native/friend, and when accosted by a few of his acquaintences on the street, one exclaimed to me in what was either a compliment or a put-down (I'm not sure), "I see you're rockin' that Chelsea B-Boy look!" (whatever the hell that meant!).

For almost 2 decades now, I've fallen in and out of fashion with my eyewear, and you can bet that my will stipulates that I'll be wearing my Wayfarers when I'm laid out in my coffin for final viewing.


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