I started wearing sunglasses in my early teens – not to look stylish, or to be in with the ‘cool kids,’ but because the sun is bright and hurts my eyes. Normally I just buy cheap sunglasses because, well, I am cheap. Given the number of times I sit on/step on/drop/lose glasses it’s best not to invest too much into them. I do like polarized lenses because they reduce glare. I rarely get those – well we’re back to being cheap again.
When anyone comments about my sunglasses I say, “They’re just a cheap pair I picked up when I broke my last ones.” I see no reason to tell them that my last pair was a cheap pair too.
I do remember my favorite sunglasses. They were a pair of Navy pilot’s sunglasses and I got ‘em from a real Navy pilot name Gordon. I wore them for years, until they were so scratched, bent and otherwise damaged to be useless. I was about fifteen when I got them.
Gordon was a friend of our family and had been in the Navy about 20 years when I first got to know him. One weekend I got a call from Gordon’s wife asking if I’d like to come over and do some yard work for them – I was offered actual money to come over and help. Being the enterprising, money loving youth that I was, I was there before she hung up the phone. At the time, I earned the lofty sum of $2.00 per hour for yard work, plus lunch, if I had to work all day and she had a full day’s worth of work. As I recall, I ended up getting $18, two sandwiches, a bag of chips, an apple, three bottles of coke and half a bag of cookies.
The other thing I got was a pair of sunglasses. While Gordon was paying me, he launched into his standard speech about how he had started working when he was twelve, how much he admired a hardworking youth and ended up asking what I was going to do with my new-found riches. I knew better than to suggest I was going to blow the money on movies, candy, burgers and Mad Magazines so I said that I needed a new pair of sunglasses, since I had sat on my last pair, and broke them.
Turns out he had an old pair of pilot’s sunglasses he wasn’t using and he gave them to me. They were great – think of the sunglasses worn in the movie Top Gun, they were just like that. I wore them everywhere, school, church, friends houses, the movies… My friends wanted to know where I got them and I’d tell anyone who’d listen that the were Navy fighter pilot’s sunglasses, from a real Navy fighter pilot.
Now that was a tiny bit of a lie. Gordon was a trained pilot and while he had gone to fighter pilot school and had flown a fighter jet, he wasn’t a fighter pilot. In reality he had washed-out of fighter school and was sent to fly P2s (and later P3s) sub-chaser aircraft. When I knew him, his flying days were mostly over, and he was, as he would say, “flying a desk.”
So, it would have been more correct to say the glasses were given to me by a pilot who once flew a fighter trainer. Given enough encouragement Gordon would tell stories about fighter pilot school and how he washed-out because failed the rendezvous test twice – normally with a long explanation on how hard it is to rendezvous with other aircraft when flying at mach 1.5 and suggesting that his teachers decided he’d be fine rendezvousing with something slower – say a submarine.
Those sunglasses are also part of the reason I never joined the Navy.
When I turned 18 and was considering my future, I decided I wanted to get into electronics. My parents didn’t have enough money to send me to college, so I was mostly on my own for funding and had narrowed my choices down to a local technical school that would give me a student loan or joining the Navy. The draft had ended a few years before so the recruiters were more than happy to spend lots of time talking to me.
My father wasn’t happy that I was considering enlisting but decided that it was my decision and he didn’t pressure me not to sign up. Instead he went the other way to make sure I had all the facts I needed. He encouraged me to talk to all the services (expect the Marines, father didn’t think I’d make a good Marine) and every one of his veteran friends. Then one day father suggested that I should call Gordon.
Well, I did. I have to say that for a career Navy guy Gordon wasn’t all that enthusiastic at the thought of me enlisting but did his best to help. He arranged for me to come on base to get a tour. I wore my sunglasses, We had lunch at the officer’s club and Gordon talked a little about his experiences. I mentioned to him what the recruiter told me, that I’d have to sign up for six years to get the training I wanted in electronics and computers.
To which, Gordon said, “Yes, that’s true but remember this, while they will guarantee you entry into all those electronics schools, should you fail at any one, you’re still in the Navy for six years and you could find yourself scraping barnacles off battleships.”
When I got home, I told my father about the visit. Then my father said, “I am going to say this just once. The decision is yours of course. Now, I am not telling you to be a coward, but when Uncle Sam needs you – he’ll call.”
Uncle Sam never called and the tech school cheerfully handed me loan papers that launched me into the world of high-tech.
I don’t really know what finally happened to those sunglasses, but whenever I think of them, I think of Gordon and the path I didn’t take.
Till next week,