From the earliest of my school days at P.S. 72 in Maspeth, I was a well-behaved student, unlike the tough-guy Douglas Toth or weaselly Edward Weeks, who drove the teachers to distraction.
Eddie Weeks, of the notorious Weeks family, used to chew on his pencils, graphite and all. First Grade teacher, Mrs. Jones, incredulous, once asked him, “Don’t you ever get sick?” Of course, what was left unstated was her fervent hope that he would get sick and be absent from her class, for a few days at least, if there was a God in heaven. There was one instance when she was quietly bending down out of sight to search for a book on a lower shelf in the rear of the room’s library. The Toth and Weeks boys hadn’t noticed and, not seeing Mrs. Jones, assumed the class had been left unattended. They immediately jumped out of their seats and started to shout and bully their classmates. Mrs. Jones rose up like a Phoenix in a rage and the two delinquents finally got their comeuppance, for a change. The other children silently cheered. But I digress.
Whether it was because of, or in part, in spite of the fact that it wasn’t until Fifth Grade that my reading of the eye chart in the back of our classroom revealed that I was in dire need of corrective lenses, I couldn’t say. But what I can say is that wearing glasses from that time forward opened up a whole new world for me. During my waking hours I was wholly dependent on them. Seeing the scribblings on the blackboard suddenly had meaning – my God, there were words and numbers written there – the likes I had never realized before. I was able to participate in class discussions based on what I learned from those blackboard ciphers. My grades actually improved. Now, my 100% attendance awards meant something.
Years passed. My interests evolved. In college, I started to study photography under the tutelage of Gene Tulchin, Jay Maisel and Joel Meyerowitz. Some instructors said I had a “good eye,” the ultimate compliment. I could thank my glasses for that; without them the camera would be useless to me. Summers, I worked in a photography studio on Grand Avenue in Maspeth where I became proficient at reading negatives. Later, I would take my film to be processed and printed to my former employer’s lab. On one cold, dark winter’s evening, walking from my parked car, crossing the icy street toward the lab, it happened.
Stepping out from between parked cars into the middle of the street, I lost my footing, slipping on the ice. During my less than graceful, acrobatic fall through the air, my glasses went flying away from me. But where? On my hands and knees I slid on the macadam searching all around me for my glasses. They could be right there staring me in the face, but without them, I saw nothing. A car was suddenly moving toward me. This was alarming. With my blurred, impaired vision, I hoped the driver could see me better than I could see him. And what if he drove over my glasses, crushing them? I waved my arms furiously, with the dual purpose of avoiding getting hit and saving my precious glasses. Thankfully, the car slowed down to a stop and with the aid of its headlights I recovered the spectacles to my great relief and carefully re-established my footing. A horrific end was averted and I gained a new-found respect and appreciation for sight. Now, every time I press the shutter button I think – How wondrous!