A Wind My Words Can Ride On

Tuesday, June 25, 2013 | 0 Comment(s)

Jon Gosselin now lives in the woods.  Yes, that Jon Gosselin.  He lives in the woods as in, he used to live in an apartment but the paparazzi found him there and  things got bad enough for him that now he lives in an undisclosed location in the friggin woods.  A man who became "famous" for having 8 children has been driven to campfire living and child-support payments.  While he is suing his ex, Kate, to get their children off the continuing reality show "Kate Plus 8," he wouldn't mind appearing on "Dancing with the Stars" in the future.  He lives in the woods.
The Supreme Court made the decision today to throw out working legislation that was put in place to combat the myriad of obstacles that have been put in front of minority voters over the years.  In the dissenting opinion, Justice Ginsberg actually said that by revoking this piece of the Voter Rights Act we are dooming ourselves to repeat history.
My gay friends have been stuck watching the Live SCOTUSBlog (not that it isn't an amazing site!), just to find out the schedule of the Supreme Court proceedings and decisions.  With this information they then get to tune back into this one live blog to find if their country has decided whether or not they deserve equal rights, or has instead decided to reschedule the announcement of said rights.
The storms are getting worse.  You have to be seeing this too.  I've said it before and I'll say it again: We are living in the first scene of all of those disaster porn movies where the Earth is destroyed.  We are in those first scenes where everything seems just a little off.  Those early moment when the characters notice they've been having more  monsoons and tsunamis than there used to be.  Hurricanes and tornados have become a seasonal weather pattern in some geographic areas, instead of sporadic occurrences.  And instead of investing in utilities like solar-power to curb this rising tide (pun intended), we have started fracking into our air and water supply in search of "clean natural gas."

The good news, for me, is that I used to have a fear of what would happened when the sun burns out.  That particular doomsday scenario has been assuaged by the strong belief that while the Earth itself may make it until supernova, I see no possible trajectory where the human race is still living anywhere close to that point in "future history."
I realize that this is some pretty grim stuff, but I promise I'm not writing about it to bum you out.  These four vignettes are really just the tip of the iceberg.  It seems that similarly apocalyptic news reports are being released daily.  The United States is searching for the "spy" Edward Snowden, while conveniently sidestepping the irony attached to the fact that what he did was disclose that the United States is spying on its own citizenry.  A leopard was killed in Indiana, while not being native to this . . . um . . . continent.  (No "registered' leopards have been reported missing, whatever the hell that means.)  And don't confuse this leopard with the red panda that went missing in D.C.  Facebook's been giving away our user information for a few years now . . .  Gassings in Syria. Protests in Turkey. Revolt in Brazil.

I'm just writing all this stuff down because it freaks me out in a very real way.   Perhaps not each individual story, but the sum of all their parts.  I am scared by the way America's political landscape is moving.  I am scared watching our nation ignore the obvious warning signs that global warming is not a future problem, but a present present.  I am scared that we will still be busy worshiping the famous and beautiful when the smog rolls in and coats our towns and lungs.  I am scared to what ends the wealthy white lawmakers will go to in order to protect their institutionalized advantage in our ever-growing multi-colored America.

Mostly I'm scared that I'm the only who is experiencing the world like this.  While intellectually I may know that if the Daily Show exists, I must not be totally alone in these feelings, I can't help but feel that I am not the majority.

So I scream to you my reality, at the top of my fingertips' lungs, and I hope to catch a breeze.  A wind that my words can ride on.  My letter to the people, pleading with them to chose whether or not the madness in my mind belongs to me, or is merely the crystal clear reflection of an insane world.

Scenes from the Bar: Tourists

Monday, June 10, 2013 | 0 Comment(s)

The students have left this 5-college town, and things are getting back to pleasant.  A few more warm weather days and I will be reminded why I love living in Amherst.

Of course, as with any place on the map, there needs to be some influx of revenue to the area when tuitions aren't keeping it afloat.  And that's when the tourists arrive.  They roll in from New York and New Jersey (pretty exclusively), and try to experience enough craft fairs and B&B living in one long weekend so that they can "feel country" and potentially tell their pals back in the city that they have a place they go "up-state."

As you may have guessed from my smearing of the previous paragraph with negative connotation, I'm not a fan of the tourists.  Somehow a small army of inconsiderate 19-year-olds doesn't piss me off hardly as much as the deeply imbedded sense of entitlement you get from the white, 50-something, 212'ers.  they are here for "faux" country living, but they still want (they would say 'need') the micro-details of their soy, gluten-free, turn-down service, taken care of for them.

Last week I had a pair of these well-pressed pricks drive the wrong way up a one-way, and then pull a 300-degree jack-knife turn, just to beat me into a parking spot that was directly in front of my car going the correct direction.  Classy.

At the bar, this absentmindedness borne from having others cow-tow to your every need, comes across even more disastrously.  I give you: "Quintessential NY tourists at a Western MA bar:  A true story"


1pm.  The couple at the bar orders drinks, and begin to chat to each other.  The wife beckons me over.

Wife: We are looking for a place to eat . . .
Me: Let me grab you a Lunch Menu.
Wife: No, no.  For tonight . . . (she doesn't end any of her sentences.  She let's them trail off with the expectation that I will not only take care of her needs, but additionally finish her sentences for her.  I hate this.)
Me: Oh, no problem, I'll grab you a dinner menu to look at.
Wife: Nooo . . .

And here's the most annoying moment.  Not only does she not finish that sentence, but she is sending out body language that implies . . ."Nooooo . . . somewhere . . . nicer."

I would understand if that is what she was looking for.  If she said, "How bout something a little fancier,"it's not like I wouldn't understand not wanting bar food for dinner.  But she wants me to cut in and suggest that she wants something fancier.  She wants me to interpret her as "better than this place" and suggest restaurants more to someone of her standing.  I think that she is barely good enough for this place (you know, the one she came into and ordered a beer from), and refuse to disparage my establishment for her false sense of prestige.

I don't reply to her hanging, "Noooooooo…"  She is put in the uncomfortable situation of finishing her own sentence . . .  and it's not . . .  going . . . well . . .

Wife: Nooooo . . . how about a seafood place. 
Me:  Well, there are a number of good sushi places in the area?
Wife:  Nooooo (I swear to you she started every sentences with a rolling 'no') . . . On our way in we saw a harbor, so we thought there might be a nice seafood place . . . some place with fresh fish. (I hate how she says the word 'fresh')
Me: You saw a harbor?

A quick geography lesson for all of my non-Massachusetts readers.  I live in the town of Amherst, which is about a 15-minute drive away from its sister city, Northampton.  These two locales are most permanently separated by the Connecticut river.  And while the CT river is nothing to scoff at, you can see across it, and therefore while there are slips for boats to dock on the river, none of these areas are what you would call a "harbor."

Me: Where did you guys come in from . . . because you know that we're pretty land-locked, right? 
Wife:  New York, via 91 North. There was a harbor by the water.
Husband:  Well . . . there were boats docked . . .  (he also isn't ending his sentences, but I'm pretty sure that his lack of punctuation has less to do with being accommodated and more to do with trying not to sound contradictory to his wife.
Me: Yah, that is just a small dock area.  Unless you are dropping in from Google Maps, zooming straight down into this area, I don't think you're gonna find any harbors nearby (yes I actually said this).  Not enough business with the lack of large water sources.  

The husband is chuckling.  He appears to enjoy his wife getting a taste of her own smarmy medicine.

But now, the locked horns of preconceived notions and misunderstanding so intertwined, a graceful exit, for either of us, seems impossible.  So I cave.

I tell them some of the local fine dining options.  She takes the olive branch from my lips and stops asking such stupid questions.

They tip a colossal 50 cents for their two beers, and I die of shock at their lack of gratuity and graciousness.

In John Deere We Trust

Wednesday, June 5, 2013 | 0 Comment(s)

On average, there are worse people to trust.  I grant you that.

But the ease with which we, as drivers, put our very lives into the hands of those who operate tractors and various other tractor-like mobile metal reaping machines, is somewhat appalling.  

If you are one of my NYC of LA readers, tractors are these big wheeled modified trucks that are used in the production of food; such as corn, pumpkins, and even hauling fecal matter!  Here's a picture:
This is a cute kid's version:
Here's a scary looking one: 

Hopefully now we are all on the same page.  

When these mechanized beasts end up traveling on normal-person roads, they simply can't keep up.  Literally.  These bad boys top out around 35 (I'm pulling that number from the depths of my buttocks), but they usually go a crisp 25 for safety.  And that can be extremely frustrating for anyone who has to get anywhere.  Sure we understand, fundamentally, that there is nothing that we nor the tractor driver can do to change the nature of physics and a clogged drain.  But damn that shits annoying.  

And the tractor drivers know it.  So when they see that no oncoming cars are speeding at us, and this is an extremely loose definition of 'us', they make the universal exaggerated crawl stroke of an arm motion which means, "Go on and pass me."

The second that arm starts to motion, I gun the engine.  There is a line of twenty-five cars bumper to bumper behind me and I'm already minimally 15-minutes late.  

Thirty seconds later and I've passed my white whale.  It was an entirely unremarkable incident that occurs multiple times every day, and especially this time of year when farmers are tilling and re-tilling and doing other farm-related verbs to the soil.  

If that tractor driver ever got it wrong . . .  though I imagine it is easier to be certain of oncoming vehicles seated as high up in the air as they are.  But if they even just saw that car coming at the last second, and tried to turn their crawl motion into a halt-hand . . .  It would be extremely bad news.  Cars pushing up from behind you, the whole thing seems vaguely out of a middle school educational video about the importance of using arm signals while biking, or making sure you say know to drugs lest you be doomed to the same fate as those poor mangled kids who forgot to use their arm signals while biking. Thankfully, I can't recall a signal incident of tractor related vehicular fatalities.  And that really is a credit to farmers, because we commuters rally forward like reinforcements rushing to support the surge.  We may check, double check the flashes on our cell phones, but passing on the left is debit card only: No checks. 

So, the take home message here is support your local farmers.  Not only do they spend their lives producing sustenance for the rest of us, but they casually save our lives on the road every day.

Eyemagedon: How I Became a Cyclops, Part II

Monday, June 3, 2013 | 1 Comment(s)

"Honey, I can't see out of my right eye.  Like, the world is a Monet painting, but blurrier.  When I say I don't want to drive at night it's because I see 4 headlights for every one car.  And.  It's really scary."

The majority of the times you hear the words "really scary" paired together, it will either be an adult exaggerating danger to a child, or a child interpreting her reality in a tone which changes r's to w's.  "It was weally scawy Momma!"

When one adult addresses a peer with this phrase, however, the tone is decidedly less tongue in cheek.  Adults are rarely scared.  Mostly because we have developed a vocabulary which allows us to call our fears different, less in-your-face, labels:  Insecure, depressed, anxious, nervous, panicked, intimidated . . .  To admit outright fear is not only the admission of something deeply vulnerable within us, but oftentimes it's accompanied by the feeling that we lack any matter of control over the situation.  Which we almost always do.

When I told my wife I was blind in my right eye, I was both vulnerable and helpless.  I felt relief in sharing the burden of my current handicap.  Being in darkness is difficult, being in the darkness alone is equal parts lonely and terrifying (two additional substitute synonyms for "scary").  It felt so good getting this crap off my chest, so I called my parents next.  Told them.  I finished off "going public" with an email to the rest of my family.  The message was "I've been keeping this all to myself, it's been unhealthy, I'm telling you all this now so that I can't keep it to myself even when I want to in the future."

For what it's worth, getting support from loved one's is only half the battle.  Allowing yourself to be supported is the other half.   Two different things.  Both difficult.

My wife took a personal day to come with me the doctor the following Monday. It is decisions like these that set the words 'I do' aglow in my heart, where they are inscribed.

The ocular surgeon's waiting room was large and decidedly like a hospital waiting room.  Faux-nice padded chairs in lines, with magazines set up at mathematically calculated distances.  Neat, efficient, cold.

The staff used a closed piece of frosted sliding glass to separate the nurses room from the waiting area. They didn't open that little window unless you full on knocked.  My wife, who politely took a phone call related to my health insurance out into the waiting room, was left hollering at the glass trying to get back to me, while being full on ignored by the woman directly opposite her.  I do not like frosted glass.

In the examining room, the first nurse I interacted with was also extremely matter-of-fact and wasn't really grooving with the nervous joke making I was throwing her way.  More eye charts.  Left eye could still see wonderfully.  Right eye, nada.  She then handed me a eye covering which looked like a flat plastic cooking spoon, except that it had tiny holes in the flat round part on the spoon end.  Through those holes I could magically read the letters on the bottom of the eye chart.  I COULD SEE!!!!

"Good," the nurse said, and carried on with her medical progression.

I waited a few beats and asked, "Um . . . if it's not too much trouble, do you mind telling me why I could see with that last eye covering."  This time I tried to inflect my voice to convey "how the hell are you not explaining to me what just happened.  I just saw out of my friggin blind eye.  TALK TO ME DAMMIT!!!"

She seemed to get the hint and realized the lack of consideration she was paying the other human in the room.   She explained that the holes in the patch work as a pseudo-cornea, focusing the light towards the back of my eye.  The fact that I could see with the patch meant that nothing besides my cornea was malfunctioning.  In other words, with a new cornea, I would be able to see again.  "That," she said, now deciding to editorialize, "is good news."

I am relieved to tell you that the surgeon himself and the nurse that worked with him were extremely personable.  All surgeons, in my experience, have a certainly "my shit don't stink" attitude.  Plastic surgeons extend this air of invulnerability into the absurd when uttering phrases such as this is the "cleanest procedure" or "the prettiest surgery" which attach positive adjectives to gruesome modifiers.   This haughtiness, I'm convinced, is necessary to their job.  When you spend your life cutting into other human beings, you had best believe in yourself, both to protect you emotionally from the reality of your profession and also to convey that self-assurance to your patients so that they let you do your job to them.

In the case of my surgeon, it seemed that considering the delicacy and vulnerability surround the eye as an organ, he had folded over his self-confidence into trying to make sure his patients are informed about what the hell is going on, as he prepares them for sharp objects to come exactly where you don't want them to go.

He looked at my eyeball.  He made the comparison of my cornea to a Dali painting.  He told me that he wished I hadn't gotten Lasik, as that procedure thins the cornea, which is part of the problem I'm having. I asked him if he didn't mind adding some hindsight lenses as long as he was in there.  He got the joke.

I asked questions, he answered them as best he could.  The takeaway message was that my other doctor, the one who had sent me here, was the cornea specialist. This doc, he was the "muscle."  He felt the procedure of sewing my lids together could only help my problems, and it was totally reversible, so we might as well do it right now.   Taking a deep breath, I agreed.

I was brought into the surgical room.  It appeared more like an extremely well sterilized dental-office room, replete with mechanical reclining chair, than the rooms you see doctors preforming heart surgeries in on TV.  I even got a bib.  '

"I'm gonna scrub down your face now, said the nurse, it will itch a bit, but after I put this stuff on, there is no more touching your eyes for the rest of the procedure."

She said this like I was currently rubbing away at myself when really I was arm-at-my-side focusing, already trying to meditate myself into a comatose trance that I would only later realize to be an absurd self-delusion.  This was not the type of procedure that allowed mental exit to one's happy place.  The scrub was iodine based and while it did leave a feeling of having your skin coated in a very thin layer of wax, it wasn't too irritating.

The chair was reclined.  I assumed the position as the surgeon came in the room.  This was happening, and it was happening now.  The doc wheeled his chair beside me.  I kept wondering when they would give me the happy pill.  Where was the assistant to administer the "amnesia causing drug" that I was sure would be part of this protocol.  I mean, if they drugged me out to stick a camera up my ass (colonoscopy), I had to assume at least the same courtesy for sticking needles in my eyelids.  Sure, said drug might prohibit me from writing up the details of the upcoming procedure, but I would take this literary hit without complaint.

It is fair to say that, considering the length of this post, said pill was never administered.  If they had comment cards in the lobby, mine would have read, "Thanks for your understanding and expertise during such a difficult time.  But seriously, you NEEDS to give me stronger drugs next time you bring that sharp ass shit near my eyeballs!"  I still lack a cogent explanation for why this never happened,

"Ok," said the doc, "it's important that you say completely still from now on."

"No shit Sherlock," I didn't respond.

What happened next gave me nightmares for the next 3 nights, so, please take that as a warning for what follows.

I did not know the order of operations for this eye surgery.  With the doctor wheeling his chair close, I felt a hot pinch in the corner of my right eye.  Instead of releasing, this pinch transitioned quickly into sharp pain that, in my meditating head, felt as if a scalpel was filleting open my upper eyelid like a piece of fish.  The pain was close to unbearable.  It was not so acute as to cause a full bodily system shutdown, as I was lucky enough to have already experienced back when I slipped a disk in my back (mercifully they knocked me out for that surgery).  It was more of a 'scream for your life' pain that you see tied-down prisoners on TV writhing around as a result of.

I pictured my bloody eye hanging open and, inside my mind, inside my meditation cave, I cried.  I had no words for what was happening, but my surgeon was not suffering from the same vocal paralysis.  He started chatting me up.  He started talking to me exactly like dentists do right after they fill your mouth with gauze, fluoride, and suction tubes.  I couldn't respond.  I couldn't even make sense of the situation, picturing my bloodied face being addressed as if I still looked human.

Then he said, "OK, that was the top lid, now we are going to anesthetize your bottom lid."  

My mental picture of myself changed.  They hadn't cut me open yet.  The experience up until this point had been the insertion of the Novocain needle, and the feeling that my lid was being filleted was, in reality, the excruciatingly ironic pain of my eyelid being numbed.

As the second needle entered my lower lid, and the doc continued to ask me questions that required full sentence answers, I managed to squeak out, "I'm concentrating."  I'm not sure if it was the weakness of the strand of voice that floated out of me or the embedded message regarding my immediate need for the doctor to shut the fuck up while making eye incisions, but he seemed to finally get the message his silence in this instance would be golden.  I'm pretty sure he 86'd the small talk.  However, I may have have just completely stopped listening.

Knowing that the hot poker entering my eye was not, in fact, a knife, provided some small measure of comfort.  This tiny bit of insight (ocular pun!) held forefront in my mind, my conceptualization of getting my bottom lid numbed was a bit different than its upstairs neighbor.  The needle was pushed along the entirety of the upper crease of my bottom lid like a shower rod through its curtain's rings.  Then, its tunnel forged, the needle was drawn back out the entrance of its newly made cave.

"That's the worst of it.  I promise," said the doctor, realizing that I was still somewhat rocking in the chair like a character out of Awakenings.  For the most part, he was telling the truth.  In a world where mental illness is considered less than more readily observable maladies, the worst was over.  My lids chocked gumdrop full with Novocaine, I wouldn't feel much psychical pain for here on out.  My brain, sadly, wasn't similarly spared.

Minutes later when they began sewing, and I watched the thread pulling away from my eye as if I were a pillow being embroidered, I didn't really have the option to feel nothing.  And though I was shielded from the pain of the experience, I could still feel the floss as it tugged its way through me.  I tried to detached myself from what was feeling increasingly traumatic, but I couldn't close my eye.  And looking away also wasn't an option.

Even without mind-comforting drugs, it is still difficult to chronicle the emotional sensation of eye surgery.  The best description I have come up with so far is thus:  Having someone cut into your eye feels extremely extremely personal.  Somehow your eyes, when manipulated in such an extreme manner, feel like proxies for your soul.  And when the surgery begins, it is as if an extremely sharp knife is resting directly on the unmarred surface of your heart.  You are not punctured, but every cell in your body capable of feeling has turned its ribosome eyes towards the potential energy of the precariously balanced blade.  Even the tiniest movement will surely nick a vital ventricle.  You may not be dying, but you have never been so acutely aware of the fragility of your mortality.

A moment later a streak of blood splattered across my decreasing field of vision as if it were a Dexter advertisement.  While my gut told me this was a normal part of eye surgery, every other instinctive piece of my mammal-hood went into temporary shock.  The sewing procedure continued, iteratively, closing my abused cornea behind my pincushion eyelids.  The world to my immediate right disappeared in a haze of helplessness.  I remained seated, mostly upright, my remaining eye glassy with a liquid which usually resides deep inside my heart, protecting my soul from the ruthless and unforgiving nature of a world which will doubt you relentlessly.  But now, soul temporarily punctured, it has come gushing to the surface, one last heartfelt protest before resigning itself to the insanity of its reality.

And then it was over.  I took a few minutes to recalibrate, but once back on my feet, it was a matter of minutes before my wife and I were at the car, preparing for the ride home.

My head was still spinning.  The pace of life felt as if it had lapped my ability to make sense of it.  I asked my wife if we could take a second to sit in the lawn adjacent the parking lot and just talk for a second.  I needed to tell her what had just happened, as if someone hearing my previously muted words  out-loud might somehow cauterize the helplessness I was currently drowning under.

Twenty yards later, I sat myself down among the lush green strands of the well-manicured lawn outside a Connecticut medical facility, and I cried blood for twenty minutes.  The vampiric streaks imprisoning the right side of my face in crimson bars.

On a day spent grappling for my own sanity, crying blood was the first moment that finally made sense.

Portrait of the Artist with One Eye Closed