Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Eye of the Storm, Part 2: Under the Blade

I weep the tears of the just man.

So there I was, dear reader:  strapped down to a hospital bed in a Taiwanese veterans’ hospital.  I mean, c'mon, who hasn't done that?   My neck was held fast in a medieval device that would have made Burgess weep manfully and I felt that old familiar tugging in the depths of my soul that one always gets when someone is pulling the tendons (totally medically accurate term according to google) in your eyeballs across your face, with everyone staring down at me and talking in Chinese, when a thought occurred:

This is pretty fucked up right here.

But I digress.  How did I get there?  Why was I the only Westerner in a Taiwanese hospital?  And what kind of idiot would get extensive eye surgery done at a facility where he couldn’t communicate with anyone in case something goes horribly wrong? 

I was, and proudly am, that idiot.

Long story short, I wanted to take a crack at fixing my eyeballs up (read the original tale of woe here).  For years I was told there was nothing that could be done.  My brain was too old, too set in its ways, like a neurological Archie Bunker with a sweet skull couch.   Last year, however, my mother mentioned a book to me (Fixing My Gaze) which, while not changing my life like getting an Atari 2600 back in the day did, gave me a glimmer of hope.  Armed with that, and a spate of new research done by doctors who, unlike my childhood version, are not useless ghouls, I looked into possibilities. 

Turns out these days, in some cases, case studies have shown that surgery, along with therapy, could help alleviate or even (sometimes) cure lazy eye and other similar conditions.  Being how I was in Taiwan at the time, I took a chance and found the only doctor in the country who was qualified to perform the surgery on adults.

She was a very nice lady who spoke no English but had a nurse who could translate, haltingly.  I had to go through five different examinations to determine my fitness for the surgery.  In a funny moment, after examining my scar tissue from the original procedure, she was so angry that she wanted my old doctor’s number so that she could scold him, as the translator put it.  She was shocked that I hadn’t stayed in touch with my sawbones from 25 years ago.  Apparently, he hadn’t even done the first (long delayed) surgery right, as the large amount of scar tissue built up would make it nigh impossible to anchor the tendons (I’m a lover, not a doctor) sufficiently to cure my condition.  She could help strengthen the alignment though, straightening the eyes at least a bit over the course of three surgeries.  I dove right in, Pete Rose style.

So that is how I spent my last thanksgiving in Taiwan.  It was a morbid day (not as much as it was for the turkeys, I am sure).  In lieu of happy conversations around a food laden table, I could hear the weird sucking noises of the tube thing sticking out of my face, the random beeps and boops, the dripping, and the odd wooshings one associates with operating rooms the world over.

The operation was simple, at least from my perspective (see what I did there?).  She would ask me to move my eye as far as I could to the left and hold it there by saying “please, now, Masho (My name means "horse doctor" in Chinese.  Kick ass.), left, please. Now, stay.  Okay.  Keep stay.”   This, by the way, is why I had to be awake for this procedure.  I would comply and she would then pull the tendons to the right and urge me to “fight her.”  Thus followed the most terrifying game of tug o’ war I have ever played.  It felt like my eyes were on strings- I could feel them grinding along the back of my skull.  Seeing my area of vision moving on someone else’s command also played havoc with my equilibrium.  It didn’t hurt, but was creepy as hell. 

This was followed by clipping sounds and a slight loosening sensation in my face.  She would shine a light, throw some drops down my gaping eye hole, hook up the blood vacuum (hardcore!) and repeat.  After a few hours she moved on to the next eye and the whole thing started over. 

The whole ordeal lasted five hours, with a short water break (and, oddly enough, a foot rub).  It went pretty smoothly except for the painkillers.  They gave me these shots (in my eye- oh god IN MY EYE) to numb them.  It worked as well as can be supposed but they had to keep reapplying it and I was worried they would run out before we were done.  I brought that up as they were tying me down and they did their best to reassure me.

“Masho, if pain, you say pain.  Okay?  What you say?” 

“I say pain.” 

“Oh, very good, Masho!”

So, soon after we started on the second eye, it happened.  A sudden burning, like a small sun going nova behind my right eye.


The burning flared up and exploded in my head- it felt as if Chris Christie was trying to eat his way out of my face.

“Um, pain?  PAIN.”  I am pretty sure I started squirming, but was strapped in.  I didn’t yell though, cause Taiwanese hate that, those mellow bastards.

They began hurriedly talking amongst themselves.  My limited Chinese led me to understand that they had no more anesthetic in the room and they sent a girl running down the hall to get a refill.  Meanwhile I was in a very small, very localized, pit of hell.  I tried to move my hand up to my face but it was tied down. 

I tried to blink but my eyes were wired open.

My stomach was heaving.  Through the blur, I saw the upside down face of the doctor.  She looked down at me, winked (I think- I dunno, could have been my eye trying to escape) and placed a finger on my forehead.

It was cool to the touch. 

She pressed down gently.

“Shh.  No pain soon.”

Oddly enough, that actually helped for a second, long enough for that sweet, sweet needle to plunge back into my eyeball.  

 Oh, you sexy, soothing son of a bitch.

After that they gave me a shot every five minutes or so, just to be safe.  I like to think it was because I was so tough the drugs didn’t work on me, but it was probably my lack of Kung Fu Rage.

When I got out of the hospital that day I was wearing bandages on both eyes, rendering me blind.  This made paying my bill ($215, which is the cost of either a great steak dinner in Kinshasa or five Thai prostitutes), hailing a cab, and explaining where I lived all very interesting.  Getting home was an adventure (I was woefully unprepared and, due to a miscommunication, had no one to take care of me or make sure I didn't die for the first two days after surgery) but at my apartment the building guard walked me upstairs, opened a beer for me, put it in my hand, and led me to my couch.  I will never forget the words he left me with as I sat in my dark world, the beer bottle warming in my hand.

“Do not pour beer into your eye.  That bad.”

The wisdom of the sages.

To read part 3, click here!

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Eye of the Storm, Part 1

Eli is a young lad whose acquaintance I have been privileged to make this year.  He’s a little guy, like 4 or 5 or 10 or whatever (I am terrible with ages) and has the kind of indomitable spirit and good will that, in a more just universe, would have made him an ideal spokesman for breakfast cereals.  As it is, he has starred in many of my blog posts (check here and here to catch up if you’re a new visitor to the RAGE CAGE- man, I need to make t-shirts).

We have a lot in common, this Lilliputian fellow and me: we both love the Smurfs, Legos, Toy Story, super heroes, dinosaurs, and trivial minutia about the above mentioned froths.  We also both share a physical quirk, known where I grew up (the greasy backwater known as New Jersey) as Crazy Eye.

This, of course, isn’t the scientific name or anything. Eli has a condition known as refractive amblyopia, whereas I was born with an ailment I believe was called “Holy shit what’s wrong with your eyes?”   Regardless of jargon, what they boil down to is the tendency for one (or both, in my case) eye to wander off and do its own thing whenever it wants, regardless of consequences or the will of its owner.  Kind of like Chris Farley’s character from Tommy Boy, or Newt Gingrich during the last Republican Primary.

Not the most fun thing to have, in any event, and it has definitely made it hard for me at times to be covered with women, as is my usual idiom.  When I see what Eli’s parents have done, however, I know he won’t have the same issues as I did growing up.  Not only have they been on top of this since day one, they have given him a kick ass eye patch.  And trust me, young blood, chicks dig pirates. 

If I wore that I would just look like a hung over didicoi.  Those bastards.

He is in good hands- he has cool Harry Potter hipster glasses also, which I’m super jealous of.  I’m happy for him, and happy that his parents have taken such early, important steps to help correct this.  My eyeballs have always been a sore subject for me, though, and it’s hard not to hang out with Eli and wonder what might have been, if my own folks had been more motivated to sort everything out.  Make no mistake, dear reader.  Behind these chiseled good looks, leather pants, excellent sense of rhythm and shirt tearing lays a vulnerable boy who has (literally) never been able to look the world in the face.  It’s one of the main reasons every picture of me is usually a kind of half profile.  My publisher (click here, oh god the plugging) rejected my proposed author photo because she said I looked either drunk, or insane.  When I told her about my condition she agreed to allow me to rock the profile- haven’t got her to approve the thumbs yet, though.

As far as I have been able to unravel through my extensive research (consisting of a few phone calls and some back and forth with eye doctors over the years), I was born severely cross eyed.  I’m sure I have seen pics of this as a kid, but have no real memory of it.  I probably looked something like this:

Man, what a great movie.  Remember the "Puttin' on the Ritz" dance?

The thing with eye problems, as most people know, is they have to be fixed early (hence Eli and his eye patch/therapy action).  Unfortunately for me, mostly because most of my life has never made much sense, my parents decided to go to the one eye doctor in Jersey who was a complete idiot.

As far as I can determine, this wunderkind advised them to wait on any sort of therapy or preventative measures during my younger days when, you know, intervention would have been relatively easy and made sense.  I should probably make it clear that I don’t blame my parents for this, as this was back when people trusted doctors implicitly, in the same way my students trust online forums now.  Nonetheless, due to this early inaction, it wasn’t until I was being bullied in elementary school that I received surgery to correct the cross eyed condition.  This led to my eyes being uncrossed but leaving me in the clutches of a double strabismus.  Sad to say this was not, in fact, one of the greatest tag team wrestling moves of all time.  

Not a double strabismus.

What it actually means is that both of my eyes have a tendency to wander and I only use one eye at a time.  Further surgery was needed to correct this (this was an expected side effect of the first procedure), but my parents decided to stop it there, I assume at the advice of the eye voodoo doctor.  Why, you ask, dear reader?  I’ve always wondered that, myself, but never really brought it up until recently when I decided to take matters into my own hands, as it were.  Here’s the closest answer I have: Last year, as I was looking into this and trying to fix things up (see future blog for details- it’ll be gory, promise), I asked one of my parents the reasoning behind this, and they said (after some of the technical babbling the doctor had fed them) “we thought it’d be okay because you were a boy.  A man can still get married looking like that- if you were a girl it would have been different”.

He's even sexy when he's annoyed.  Gorgeous bastard.

Growing up with this hasn’t been easy- while for the most part I’m okay with it now, it always finds ways to seep back into my life, like that annoying person from high school who sends you Facebook requests every two weeks. 

Most of this is, of course, due to idiots. 

One huge difference I have found in my travels across this storied planet is the wide variation in cultural norms, in so far as acceptable conversation topics go.  For example, in Asian countries, it is perfectly okay to call someone out on their weight.  “Oh, you are getting fat.”  Or, “You should eat less, you are too fat.” This is not only acceptable, but considered to be helpful.  Of course, saying that to someone in the States will probably result in being stabbed in the neck by a beer battered snickers bar.  In America, though, for some reason it always was okay for people (and I mean adults here- kids are excepted because, well, kids are mostly sweaty, sticky bags of questions) to come up to me and ask me about my eyes.  Or tell me about my eyes, as the following exchange shows (feel free to role play this at home, it makes the blog interactive!):

SEXY LADY WITH THOSE AWESOME BOOTS- Hey, man, can I ask you something?

ME- Oh, hey.  Sure.
I toss my hair back and flex mightily, straining the boundaries of both my shirt and time itself.

SEXY LADY WITH THOSE AWESOME BOOTS- So, you know, there’s something wrong with your eyes. Did you know that?

ME (deadpan) -Yes.  I know.

STUPID WHORE WITH JACKASS SPACE SHOES- I mean, it’s really hard to see what you’re looking at.  You know?  Are you looking at me, or that spot in the corner?

ME - At this point, the spot in the corner.

True conversation (minus the flexing) - Cowgirl Bar and Grill, Santa Fe, 2005

I also have fond memories of a girl I dated in college who would often interrupt my conversations at our shared lunch table (there were about 10-15 of us usually) to say, loud enough for everyone to hear, “It’s REALLY hard to tell who you’re talking to.  Because of your eyes.” 

After a year of that I should have taken the hint.

While this might have ended on a rather somber note, not to worry: In the next part of this sordid tale, I will write about some funny stories related to my crazy eyes and the life path they have set me on, those googly bastards.

To read Part 2, Click here!

To read Part 3, Click here!

Monday, April 16, 2012

Adventures in Babysitting, Part 1

 Keeping it real.  By the way, the picture on the mug is my face.  Greasy.

I have been many things in my time- writer, rocker, wrestler, movie star (check out Chasing Amy for my star turn- so good), sex symbol, world traveler, itinerant vagabond . . . I could go on but am running out of both nouns and the patience of my readers.  Anyways, I have done lots of strange things over the years, mostly involving scorpions and small explosions, but my day job, the thing that makes my lifestyle possible, isn’t often discussed. 

For those who don’t know, I have worked the past 11 years (dear God) as an educator; for the previous decade I’ve been a molder of minds, a steward of the future, building a new world one shoddy lesson plan at a time.  This mostly involved the teaching of English, Literature, Math, and occasional Elbow Dropping to students ranging from grade 6 to grade 12.  It has led to some fine moments and memories, interesting circumstances, a few lawsuits (gotta love IEPs, haha), and, much to the shock of myself, almost nothing resembling Stand and Deliver. 

On average, it’s been good times, and has given me many stories which I will probably end up sharing with either you or the authorities at some point.  As a warning, most of these involve choking, underage cleavage, emergency room trips, and shotguns.  Are you intrigued? 

What better time to start than now?

Something happened this morning that exemplifies what my life as teacher is like.  Of course, being a man of the people, I wanted to share it with all of you, especially the Russians (side note- according to the blog stats, my ramblings are most popular in Russia, with more than half my readership coming from there.  Strange, creepy, or sexy?  You decide!)

This morning, dear, sweet, and (hopefully) monetized reader, I returned to school after my epic trip to Paris (recounted here!).  It was wonderful: very relaxing, with a surprising lack of monkey knife fights.  Reflecting upon my recent adventures, I was in a reasonably good mood upon arrival at the classroom this morning.  As I was puttering around, trying to remember what I had been planning on doing with my kiddos today, the door opened and one of my 7th graders walked in.  It was  a beautiful Kinshasan day- The sun was shining, gunfire had receded pleasantly into the background, no mango attacks, birds were chirping, and those weird lizard things were making that noise that weird lizard things make, kind of a cross between a phlegmy cough and angry Yiddish.  I turned towards her and waved.

She paused.

After a moment she looked at me.

She threw her bag on the floor dramatically.

“Why didn’t you die in Paris?” 

She then shook her fist towards the heavens and ran out screaming.

And that, dear reader, is why teaching is awesome.

A parting note:  I have attached a picture below.  It’s a poster a student made for me in Taiwan last year, whilst we were working on Haiku poetry.  Enjoy.

Maybe the kid had a point.

Saturday, April 14, 2012

French Fried!

Discussing the finer points of Thuganomics at the Louvre.

I am back from Paris, dear reader.  The city of lights, tall monuments, and kick ass fingerless gloves.  It was a wonderful time, filled with many sights, sounds, smells, and occasional jokes about accents (mostly mine).

This might sound strange, sexy audience of mine, but it’s been probably about 4 years since I have had the opportunity to walk on a sidewalk that wasn’t either rotting away, covered in food stalls, or blocked off by  drunken Spaniards.  Emboldened by the inherent freedom in not having an open sewer line three inches from our feet, my girlfriend and I (I think if I call her my lady friend in the blog one more time she’ll cut off my legs) walked through Paris and explored all its delicious, butter coated nooks and crannies.  In the interest of not boring you, as I am more of a lover than a travel writer, here are the top three highlights from the trip:

1)  These people love their memorials.  I think we walked by a statue, plaque, tomb, or random victory arch every thirty feet or so.  Either the French have astonishing ethnic memory, or they’ve driven their masonic kink to Caligulan levels of decorative madness.  Looking at a French building is like gazing into a Doric clown car; they must take bets on how many square feet of naked Greek woman they can fit on every surface in town.  I lost track of the amount of times I saw Aphrodite burst forth from a clam whilst clutching the side of a shoe store.    It was great.  Most of the time I felt like I was walking through the cover of a kick ass Meatloaf album.

I'm pretty sure this was a GAP. 

2)  The food.  Oh dear God the food.  Maybe it’s because I’ve lived in Asia for so long (where the cake is, indeed, a lie) but I haven’t eaten like this in recent memory.  Everything tasted like what I would imagine Jesus to taste like if he rose again as an entree.  An example: I got a chocolate cake the other day.  When I cut into it, warm liquid chocolate poured out onto the plate and directly into my heart.  Think about that.  Chocolate with chocolate inside.  The mind shudders at the implications.

3)  The catacombs of Paris are one of the coolest things I have ever seen.  There, under the streets, lie six million skeletons lining the walls and arranged in strange patterns (with the accompanying poems about death carved into the crèches alongside).  Its dark, chilly, a bit claustrophobic, completely surreal, and a powerful way to confront both the sanctity of life and the inevitability of death.  And, when you climb the stairs to leave, a McDonalds is right there.

French tourist attraction or Xasthur album cover?  You decide!

The best part, of course, was being able to go there with Erin.  Not only did she put up with my puns, she actually went on a quest to get wine and cheese, and came back with Gummy Bears for me.  Because she knows I’m classy like that.  It’s often strange to travel with someone for the first time. You never know what quirks, night terrors, or jimmy legs that person will bring to the relationship table until you are unable to run away without getting hopelessly lost.  This trip went really well, though, and when I saw her this morning she didn’t have the requisite post trip rage in her eyes, so I assume she was happy with the whole experience.  Considering the last two times I have been dumped in a relationship, it happened literally the day after our first extended trips as a couple (cheap plug- read about it in my upcoming memoir, Three Women Who Ruined My Life and Then What Happened:  A Comedy of Terrors, hopefully coming out late 2014- click here for details!  Oh god cheapest of the cheap plugs!) I think things are okay- although I might avoid her until lunchtime just to be sure.  Needless to say I feel pretty lucky to have her, considering that what I bring to a relationship can be summed up by torn clothes, heavy metal, wrestling, and an encyclopedic knowledge of 80’s cartoons. 

Oh, and Gummy Bears in Paris rock.

Friday, April 6, 2012

Paris Rage!

God, I hope Cthulhu is still there.

So today I fly off to Paris for a week, delicious readers.  It shall be a fun adventure, filled with good times and flaky pastry action.  I am already working on some wonderful puns to use during the trip which I think my travel companion will surely enjoy.

I am excited about going.  It'll be nice to be able to walk outside again without worrying about machine gun nests, bat attacks, mango bombs, hop ons, and gaping holes in the street.  I haven’t really given much thought to the trip, other than a general sense of “lookingforwardtoitness”, until today.  This morning an intrepid colleague asked me what I was most looking forward to.  It took  me a while to come up with a suitable answer that didn’t involve cheese, wine, croissant vests, or a vague reference to crippling malaise.

I think the problem is that everything I know about France has been gleaned from three sources:  Agressor (kick ass death metal band, Symposium of Rebirth blew my mind), the movie Better Off Dead, and that one episode of The Simpsons.  So, when asked to paint a picture of French life I can confidently say that all French women are excellent skiers who can rebuild the engine to a 67 Camaro in one day, using a socket wrench and screwdriver.  They also mistake “tentacles” for “testicles”, which will be fun at parties.  As for the men, from what I can gather they tend to work at Euro Disney, worry about wine for their children, and perform kick ass death metal versions of the Conan The Barbarian theme.

In addition,  I have heard vague rumors about some paintings and so forth, so that’ll be good.  I will dutifully report back on my findings.  Check this space for updates.  In the meantime, you can read about my last travel adventure here.  Click on it and be mesmerized.  Unless you're French, you sneaky bastards.  You'd probably find a way to use it against me.

Vive La France, indeed.