In fall of 1968, at the ripe old age of twenty-one, I began my university studies as a freshman. Mother and Father were much relieved by this turn of events, as it represented a sudden departure from the bohemian preoccupations of Art School toward a more socially accepted, hence desirable, educational goal. They decided that the hallowed degree and husband-hunting grounds required a further attempt on their part to wean me from a clinging attachment to my bottom-of-coke-bottle-lensed horn-rimmed glasses. (They must have bought into that old saying of “men don’t make passes at girls wearing glasses”.)
Thus, on a sunny September Saturday morning, Father drove me to an opthalmologist’s office to have me measured up for the, then, brand-new technology of contact lenses. The doctor made the measurements, gave me instructions of the maintenance of said lenses and instructed on how to insert them and take them out without causing eye injury. The lenses would be ready to take home the following Saturday for lucky me to begin the new transformation from nerd to princess. On the way home, father took great pains to reassure me that I would suddenly become beautiful, that my brown expressive eyes would now be seen by all and sundry.
Once the contact lenses arrived, Mother and Father duly admired the flair and skill with which I could pop them in and out of my eyes. Truth to tell, taking them out was so much easier and felt so much better on the eyes. Imagine, if you will, placing glass chips into your eyes, where the introduction of such foreign objects cause eye irritation, red eyes, pain, and , as a by-product resulted in a constantly runny nose. According to the opthalmologist, wearing these for eight hours a day for four to six weeks is all it took to acclimatize the eyes to these inserted “beauty aids”.
It was during about week two of wearing these contact lenses that I finally had had it with getting used to them. On a sunny, windy early morning I parked the rickety VW in the D-lot student parking near the cow pens of the Agriculture faculty, schlepped my way a mile toward the Introductory Biology Lab Class. On the way, while I was admiring the streaming leaves windblown along the boulevard, suddenly some small speck landed in my left eye and began to cause tears to flow down my face. Fearing that the contact lens in that eye would wash away, I clamped my left hand over my eye and kept it there until I arrived at the lab building. My nose began running in earnest. I could hardly wait until reaching the safety of the women’s bathroom, where I tossed my book-bag on the floor and scrambled to the sink.
There I gazed on my raddled face in the mirror – a bleary, red-eyed and red-nosed Medusa reflection. Desperately contorting my eyes by stretching them with my fingers, I flipped out the contacts in turn and returned them to their plastic container, flushed the left eye with repeated handfuls of cold water, dried my face, combed my hair and slapped on my trusty glasses. Much, much better! Still, I looked as if I had had the weeps for several hours, sort of like Scarlett O’Hara after the burning of Tara, but not nearly so pretty.
Late to lab class, I had to endure the disapproving comment from a snot-nosed Graduate Student who was the Lab Instructor, as I made my way to an empty stool in the room. It was Frog Day. All of us sat, huddled at the tables in eager anticipation of how the lab would proceed. The lab guy had us pick partners so we could share a frog. This process was worse than pairing up for a high school Phys. Ed. dance class on the Polka, with far more serious consequences. What if the partner one selected, innocently and in good faith, was someone scalpel-happy and inept? The result would be far more dismal than having one’s feet trod on by a clumsy dance partner; marks for lab write-ups were at stake.
Ever a wall-flower, I waited to be picked as a partner, figuring that my wearing glasses would ensure me a serious and studious partner. And waited… Finally a really tall, well set-up, blonde jock type approached me. A real Tarzan in the blackboard jungle. He looked like he had been around the lab a few times, maybe even had failed several years of lab courses. Perhaps he figured that after having selected pretty, fluffy, blonde partners in previous unsuccessful Biology lab courses, maybe this time around he might pass if he chose a nerdish girl in glasses as lab partner? I though he might largely let me do my own thing and not boss me around in lab, so I assented. His name was Jim.
Once the pairing up of everyone had been accomplished, the lab guy fished a leopard frog from the tank nearby his feet and held it up like a trophy. The frog was alive, but sluggish, rather pretty, I thought, hanging limp in the lab guy’s hand barely swinging its long legs. “Get a load of that frog” said Jim, out of the side of his mouth. The lab guy demonstrated how to pith the frog so it would not feel pain. Then he demonstrated residual muscle action through remaining electrical impulses, even though the frog was brain dead. The frog’s leg retracted, strongly at first, and upon repeated stimulus the leg’s retractions quickly lessened.
“Come and get your frog!” ordered the lab guy.
Jim busied himself with inspecting his dissection kit as if he had never before seen a probe, forceps or scalpel.”You go ahead, bring the frog,” he suggested.
(Oo-kay, so it was going to be like that,eh? Me, Tarzan; you, Jane. What a prince!)
I sauntered up to the vatful of frogs and tried to find a likely candidate. They all looked pretty much the same. With the lab guy nearby and looking on with a supercilious sneer I resolved not to be squeamish and picked up a frog. Feeling rather sorry for it, I cradled it in my hands and patted it while walking it back to Jim and its fate.
Back at the lab table, Jim was intently studying the point of his probe.
“Here’s our frog,” I announced while making motions to hand him over to Jim. Jim held up his hands in a warding off motion as he backed away from the frog on offer.
“I have done this before, so you need to do it now to learn how it’s done,” said he holding out the probe. ” I’m not touching it!”
(Having previously attended at home-slaughtering of chickens and seeing a lot of blood, but never having personally delivered the coup-de-grace to any living thing, I was somewhat reluctant. After all, we were not going to eat this frog. I believed that it was only okay to kill an animal if one was going to eat it afterward.)
I took the frog back up to the lab instructor. There was a long line-up of frog-bearing freshmen ahead of me. The lab guy made disparaging comments about us being “pussies” as he pithed one frog after another in turn for us.
“That pussified partner of yours, that dumb jock, unable to touch a frog,” he gloated, as he did the necessities to our frog.
“Yeah, he’s a regular prince!” I offered as he handed me our limp frog.
I ended up doing all that had to be done to test the frog’s muscle responses. Jim just sat there gawping. A sinking feeling came over me as I realized that he was going to be a problem throughout the rest of the labs, for the duration of the course. Perhaps he mistakenly assumed that because I wore glasses and was a nerd maybe, just maybe, he might manage a squeaky pass through biology lab this time, especially if he could get me to do all the dirty work, or maybe all of the work.
And, what an unfortunate waste of a frog’s life! I could not wait for the lab session to end. End of lab meant end of dealing with Prince Jim, until the next lab session.
Later, on the weekend, mother phoned to inquire how the wearing of the contact lenses was going, if courses were going well and if I had met any interesting young men there.
I reported that wearing the contacts was going to be a problem and maybe they were unsuitable for me being very uncomfortable to wear.
I also told her, “well, I met a prince, but frankly I would rather pith the prince and kiss the frog!”