I will never be cool enough for Oberlin. This I’ve known, instinctively but without reason, since the beginning. This Winter Term I gratefully fled to the warm, sheltered suburbs of Cincinnati, spared the agony of trudging through an unpopulated campus, nose hair frozen, wearing long-underwear. I retreated to the blond complacency of suburbia, comforted by just how well I stuck out in a land of corduroy and suede. But last Sunday I snapped out of it: confronted by face after distinguished face, I finally understood why I’d never quite be awkward enough in this town.
I don’t need glasses.
Horn-rims at the Feve, cat-eyes at the ’Sco, Buddy Hollys in English class, frameless in politics. In the cafeteria I was bewildered by the variety I saw. In the gym, more so. (How could spectacles withstand the sweat?) Has the guy serving me green-beans always looked so... intellectual? Have all of my friends always seemed so jaded? So Daria/Garafallo-esque? Am I the only kid on campus who cannot count upon this geek-chic accessory among my artillery of hats, scarves, earrings, ironic tees and vintage shades?
Poor eyesight has got to be the luckiest deformity anyone could be born with, and at Oberlin, it’s abundant. It results in guaranteed expensive accessories that your parents have to pay for, a badge of nerdiness, of sophistication, an excuse for and claim to those socially awkward years which we all suffered through during the throngs of pubescence.
Choosing to wear glasses over contacts is the ultimate statement of not caring, or perhaps of caring about your eyesight more than your looks. And not caring about your looks means, well, that you look good enough to get away with not caring about your looks. This is cool beyond anything I can achieve. I mean, I’m writing a style column. Obviously, I care way too much.
Beyond the image of not caring, glasses lend an air of sophistication, of mystery (are your eyes bigger or smaller than they appear?), of vague alternativeness. Basically, whatever you look like, your glasses project something... different. Altered. Better. And often, as in the extreme cases of Urkelness and late ’70s revivals that look as though they were actually found in someone’s parents’ closet (a phenomenon which can be seen with increasing frequency on this campus) they project the distinct impression of affected unaffectedness.
If eyes are the windows to the soul, glasses are the window dressing. (For those of you born after 1955, the window dressing is basically a window display that looks all fancy but masks what’s really in the store.)
I realize now that I’ve always been vulnerable without this line of defense. Without glasses, I’m exposed, wide open. Every unfortunate misgiving, insecurity, un- checked glare and stare leaps off my face: no irony, no emo.
Curious about possible anecdotes for my unframed state of being, I bought a
pair of fakes that would have made Lisa Loeb proud. It was no use: I looked like
a wannabe secretary in a cheap ’90s porno. I would have to brave the
ice-caked sidewalks of Oberlin unaffected and unarmed, mournful of my 20/20