It was during my 4th-grade year at P.S 41 that it was determined that I could not see very clearly. I remember that I sat somewhere in the middle of the classroom, so not a great distance from the front of the room and the blackboard. Mrs. Clipper would often write a sentence on the board and ask kids to read what she had written. It went kinda’ like this when I was called upon;
Mrs. Clipper: “Donald, can you read what I just wrote on the blackboard?”
Me: “What blackboard?”
(Perhaps a slight exaggeration, but not by much. ) As I would squint, and try to move forward in my seat… but, could in no way see what she wrote. Mrs. Clipper clearly noticed my distress said it would be fine if I moved closer to the board to see. It was when I left my desk and moved to within six inches of the blackboard that my concerned teacher thought it was time to talk to mom. After school that day Mrs. Clipper walked me out of the school on to 11th street where my mom was dutifully waiting for me to come out. She had probably been there for two hours, you know, “just in case”. That was mom. Anyway, when she saw Mrs. Clipper accompanying me out of the building her normal smile turned to a frown. When we reached her, her first words were addressed to me.
Mom; “what did you do?? Are you in trouble? Were you talking in class”?
Me: looking blank and stupid because I had no idea why Mrs. Clipper was walking with me.
Mom( now addressing Mrs. Clipper; ) “ what did he do? Was he talking in class again? There will be no television for him for two weeks… !!”
Me: “ what? What did I do? I didn’t do anything.”
Now I’m looking pleadingly at Mrs. Clipper, wondering what I had done wrong. I had a tendency to do things wrong and then figure out what it was after I was punished, and taking television away for two whole weeks was the worst possible punishment. Mrs. Clipper smiled at mom and said; “No, no he didn’t do anything. He has actually been pretty good this week”.
What a relief I felt! In addition, I had almost received a compliment!. I may even get to stay up late tonight and watch an extra show!
Mrs. Clipper continued; “however, I do think Donald may need glasses”.
Wait … what? Glasses!! That can’t be. No way … that can’t happen! As Mrs. Clipper went on to explain the blackboard situation to mom, Their conversation became just a blur to my ears… all I was thinking was; “Glasses?’ This can’t be…I don’t want to wear glasses!”
Please consider a number of things that elicited this response. I was already “that kid” who was picked on/ bullied by the other, “cool” kids. I was called a “Mommas Boy”, a doofus and some other nastier things. Now, add glasses? Remember, This was “another time”. Kids with glasses were mercilessly made fun of and called “four eyes”. This is all I needed to be added to my already stunning resume’. I protested vehemently that I could see just fine as I gracefully walked into a fire hydrant that materialized out of nowhere. Mom gave me that “ poor Donny” look that I had seen many times previously, and it was then I knew … I was getting glasses.
The next day it was off to the optometrist on 14 street near Union Square. Obviously, they had to examine my eyes to determine the strength of the lenses that I would need. I’m sure most reading this knows the process well: during the exam, the doctor puts an instrument called a phoropter in front of your eyes and then he begins to ask which of the lenses in each of the many choices looks clearer. This damned instrument was as big as my head. I felt as if I were wearing some kind of Space mask similar to those I had seen in some of the cartoons I enjoyed watching. It didn’t start out well.
Dr.; “Ok, son before I start trying the lenses, can you tell me which of the lines on the chart in front of you looks clearest.”
Me; “ what chart?”( perhaps I did have a slight vision problem)
Doctor and mom exchange these pitiful glances that one would perhaps expect to see at a funeral home… NOT AT THE OPTOMETRIST! So for the next hour, we try different lenses that bring the wall chart into focus and actually allow me to read the letters on the next to the lowest line. My prescription is decided upon and now all we have to do is pick out the frames. This is the part that had me panicked; those ugly, large frames. Nothing close to fashionable, as are available today. I looked upon the selection with dread….. I was going to look stupid and my new name would be “ four eyes”, no doubt. It was here that mom comes up with one of the most blatant lies in history, yet I, a gullible 4th grader actually bought into it. She tells me, now get this, she actually tells me, that if I pick out a frame of a neutral color, no one will really notice them on my face. (If I had been older, I would have noticed the Optometrist quickly turn toward the window and look out unto 14th.)I bought the story hook, line, and sinker and picked out ugly, light tan colored frames. They felt as large as the Space mask I wore during the exam. All the while, mom assuring me the light tan color was almost the same color as skin so no one would really notice. The Optometrist never looked me in the eye again.
Well, in two weeks my “invisible “ glasses were ready to be picked up. Mom and I trekked back to Union Square to make sure they were adjusted properly and felt “ good” on my face. When I put them on, they offered me a mirror to see “how they looked”. It was a bit of a shock to notice that the huge frames and thick lenses did not at all seem “invisible“ to me. They looked awful! Mom quickly and assuringly told me it was because “I know they are there”. The Optometrist dropped his pen and never resurfaced. I bought into it again. On the walk home, I was amazed at how clearly I could see everything: the street lights, the store windows, the bustling traffic, the sky… everything had a new and wonderful clarity. I made sure I looked at the people we passed on the way home. Not one of them glanced my way or smirked as I walked by. Perhaps Mom was right! No one could see the light tan colored frames on my face! This may work out! I was ready for school in the morning… this was not bad at all! I was a bit nervous the next morning as mom walked me to school, but again, as the previous night, people passed me on the street without giving me a second glance. My confidence built. Mom walked me to the school entrance and I proceeded to the 4th-grade line where the other kids in my class were gathering. As I got closer, Adam B called out to the other kids;“ HEY LOOK! Donald has FOUR EYES!!!”Other kids joining in; “ FOUR EYES, FOUR EYES!!”Crap. I turned back to look at Mom, but apparently, she had dropped her pen…….