How to get over shame of black eye: get two

July 18, 1998|By ROB KASPER

THE DARK SIDE of getting a black eye is that it doesn't do much for your public image. Unlike a milk mustache, which, thanks to a clever advertising campaign, has become a sign of celebrity, a black eye is still regarded as public proof of bad behavior.

Sporting a "shiner" makes you an easy target for wisecracks. "So you got mouthy with the wife and she let you have it?" quipped a lifeguard at my neighborhood swimming pool as I floated past him.

I had gone to the pool to soak in the cool waters, to escape the rough-and-tumble world, to heal and hide. I figured there were two reasons my black eye wouldn't be noticed. First, I thought I could conceal it under a pair of sunglasses. If you wear dark glasses on the job, people tend to think you are either a movie star or Mafia wannabe. But if you sport a pair of shades while lounging at the side of pool, you fit right in.

The second reason I felt my black eye would go unnoticed was that I was wearing my swimming suit. My physique, as my teen-age sons are constantly reminding me, needs work. They regularly suggest that I should join them in their hard-body workouts of lifting weights and grunting. I have declined the invitation.

So I surmised that when I appeared in my swim trunks there would be so many gruesome body parts on display that a mere black eye wouldn't draw much attention.

I was wrong on both counts. My sunglasses turned out to be smaller than my black eye. That was because these sunglasses were stylishly skinny. They were a Father's Day gift from my sons, who got them to replace the "embarrassing," "ugly" sunglasses I had been wearing.

The old glasses had bright green and orange frames and very large lenses. Their Day-Glo frames made them easy to find when they were sliding around on the car floor. But the kids were aghast this spring when I showed up on the sidelines of their school games wearing sunglasses that were so out-of-it, they made their teammates snicker.

A day or so before Father's Day, our older son accompanied my wife to an emporium selling chic shades, and picked out appropriate eyewear for his dad. In fashion terms, the old man's sunglasses had a makeover.

My new sunglasses had silver frames and sleek, geometric lenses. I later learned they cost close to $90, which is about $85 more than I had ever spent on a pair of sunglasses. Until then, most of my sunglasses were free -- giveaway items I got for buying a tank of gas or a ticket to an Orioles game.

These new sunglasses did look good, but they were kind of skimpy. They didn't cover up much. In particular, they didn't cover up the bruise under my eye, a contusion that had the same shape as the state of Florida. The lenses covered the top, or panhandle of the Florida-shaped bruise. But the bottom, from Orlando on down to Miami, poked from underneath the lenses. This meant that rather than covering up the black eye, my sunglasses seemed to highlight it.

Moreover, my ruse of distracting attention from my eye by displaying body flab didn't work either. It was late in the swimming-suit season and apparently pool-goers had grown accustomed to seeing flab. A black eye, however, was new.

So despite my attempts at subterfuge, many people spotted the shiner and asked me, "How did you get that black eye?" In answering them, I employed the traditional tactic used by people forced to explain an embarrassing incident. I lied.

The truth is, I got the black eye from a stray elbow in a basketball game. I ended up improving the story a bit, saying I hit my eye on the rim while executing a reverse slam dunk. Few believed that version of events, but it did tend to cut off questions. The longer the black eye lingered, the more determined I became to turn this shiner thing around. Instead of trying to hide it, I wanted to emphasize it, to make the "black-eye" look something that worked to my advantage.

I got my chance early this week while coaching third base for a baseball team that my 13-year-old son plays for. Ever since I was a small boy, I have longed to wear "eye black" -- the black, waxy material that some professional baseball players put on their cheekbones underneath their eyes. The bands of eye black are supposed to cut down on sun glare. But more important, they make a regular guy look like a big-time ball player.

On my way to my kid's game, I stopped at a sporting-goods store and bought a $4 stick of eye black. Then while sitting in my car in the parking lot of the Linthicum-Ferndale baseball fields, I flipped down the visor, looked into the mirror, and started blackening. When I finished, I had not one, but two black eyes.

I can report that in my new dark-side state, I experienced no sun glare. That might be because the game was played in twilight. I can also report that our team, the Roland Park Rangers, narrowly defeated a team of spirited lads from Gambrills, 7-6.

Some analysts of the game credited the victory to David's strong pitching, and to timely hitting by Andy, Will and John. I tend to think it was the eye black worn by the third-base coach, who looked so frightening he scared the winning run home.

Pub Date: 7/18/98

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