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The Pointy Eye

December 1, 2009

In 1998 I was diagnosed with Keratoconus during a time in my life when I didn’t need anymore bad news. Karatoconus is a coning of the cornea and generally thought to be genetic.

Back up. Let me first tell you about the day I noticed my left eye was making my right one do all the work.

I was downtown LA chilling at the public library writing a story entitled “Show of Hands” when I first discovered something was amiss. I had spent the morning banging out the story, which is how I spent every morning before heading to the family shelter where I worked as a House Mom.

I remember everything about that day. What I wore – a baby pink pow pow (my word for polyester due to its combustible reputation) knee length skirt, (the great kind frequently found at thrift stores usually made by a company called Briggs) white tank top, white fun fur vest, gold go go boots, about a million thin gold bangles and a Mr. T assortment of dainty strands of pearls. I pulled the look together with giant squarish tortoise shell sunglasses with upside down handles, (the kind usually procured during a post club visit to a gas station) a metallic gold Hermes knockoff – which in its previous incarnation probably saw the inside of many a luxury cruise cabin – and fierce entanglement of jet black store bought Chaka Khan flowing tresses. Don’t get me started on the make up. Too late. Bare face, powered on brows and MAC’s long ago discontinued “Epic”, a color which kind of resembles the look of lips usually found on a DEAD BODY.

And that was my version of Dress Down Fridays. I’ll let you absorb that for a moment.

Anyway, I had gone outside – remember, I was at the downtown LA public library – to read printed pages of the story and smoke a cigarette. (Benson & Hedges Ultra Light Menthol 100s, my preferred brand mostly because most people in CA would rather lick an ashtray than bum a menthol and because the box was cool) Since my sunglasses were serving as a headband I had to squint in order to read the pages. I scrunched up my right eye and noticed vision in my left eye was distorted. Undeterred, I scrunched up my left eye and went about my business, though somewhat shaken by my discovery.

There were two symptoms I always experienced which directly related to my not-yet discovered condition: watery eyes and a tendency to squint when reading text. I attributed the watery eyes to allergies and the squinting to general quirkiness. Among my collection of nicknames – MeMe (as in ME ME ME ME ME), DJ, Little Potato, (that’s a great story which I should write about one day)The Wicked Witch of West Los Angeles, Switchboard and Peaches – I was called “Squinty” by a wino who hung out in front of the library most mornings. The last one – observed by a person who barely seemed to notice anything about me except the five dollar bill I often gave him – should have tipped me off.

Oh, I need to give these dashes a rest.

Here’s an excerpt from the story “Show of Hands”:

We broke up nine months after we started dating. I had to bail her out of jail for reasons which she never fully explained to me, and only then did I realized I was dating a psycho. This was not helping my writing or my self concept or enhancing my already lackluster reputation. I dumped her. She threatened to have her cousin cut off my thumbs. I threatened to have her arrested and sent back to jail. She and her cousin came to my door one night pounding and screaming. “FUCKING DYKE. OPEN THIS DOOR.” I was so glad I’d ordered the Ab-roller. I flung open my door brandishing it like some medieval torture device, screaming the only Spanish I knew, “VOY A LA PLAYA!” like some battle cry and they both took off running and never came knocking on my door again. Several days later downstairs neighbor asked me why I’d been in the hallway screaming “I’m going to the beach.” I told her it wasn’t me.

Clearly with this kind of literary prowess who has time for vision exams. What, with many Erika Lopez knock off stories waiting for their turn on the computer screen each day the doctor was just going to have to wait. I haven’t read this particular story since submitting it to a fiction class in college. I guess I showed the inner critic who was boss that day.

It would be several months later, while working as an office manager at a Christian lumberyard and a weekend shelter house mom in Big Bear before I decided to finally have that eye exam. I had run through all Kubrick films and all the Sharon McCone mystery novels the public library there had to offer. While spending my days picturing Cher playing Sharon McCone was infinitely entertaining, I needed my vision screened as I had failed my driver’s eye exam and was too much of goodie goodie to swerve my whip outlaw style.

Also there was the matter of a gifted computer. Look, people, this was late 1998 and gifted computers didn’t do much of anything but take up an awful lot of space and accidentally delete precious, possibly award winning prose. I blamed the computer for my inability to see the text and its lack of knowing that sometimes when really excited about a hot turn of phrase the cord would mysterious liberate itself from the outlet.

Mistakes were made.

The eye doctor’s office was sandwiched between Kmart and a laundromat which machines were really clothing chutes to hipster thrift stores. To test my theory I washed a load of cool shit and came up short. Then I washed a load consisting of Tweety Bird PJs, bleached out sweatpants and various t-shirts two wearings past raghood. None of that shit went ghost. I wrote off my $2.75 loss as research, comforting myself with the idea I might some day present an academic paper on my findings.

No such paper was ever written.

The eye doctor looked a little like Roger Waters, a fact driven home by the Muzak version of “Wish You Were Here” playing in the waiting room. The tiny, sterile waiting room had hard, plastic chairs and back issues of Ladies Home Journal. Issues so old the stars touting their tips for keeping Hollywood marriages hot and fresh had since gone to pen such articles as “How to keep your divorce acrimonious and profitable”.

Long story short: He made the diagnosis then sent me to a specialist where it was later confirmed.

Keratoconus – a disease I can barely pronounce – brought glasses and a hard contact lens into my life. In college it brought me the nickname “Pointy Eye” complete with laser like sound effects, heat seeking capabilities and amazing powers to seek, seduce and destroy. (according to legend) And at some point (hopefully NEVER) it’ll roll me into an operating room for a cornea transplant.

So far I’ve upgraded lenses, sobbed hysterically every time “surgery” is mentioned, reverted to stealthy squinting and blamed it all on the unforgivable tiny text.

As a writer and absolute LOVER of all printed materials – even those asbestos pamphlets postmarked from Pueblo, CO – I am wondering what I will do if surgical intervention is the only option. I am wondering how I’m going to stop thinking about things I don’t want – like ham handed jockish surgeons bearing down on my eye ball with a scalpel – and start savoring the stuff I love – like ham handed jockish surgeons bearing down on me. (just kidding)

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7 Comments leave one →
  1. redlami permalink*
    December 1, 2009 11:28 am

    Keratoconus does sound like a mega-villain from a superhero saga. I’m glad that so far he hasn’t zapped your ability to fashion fabulous prose. You should definitely go easy on your eyes, though — by getting someone hot to read for you.

  2. badhedgehog permalink
    December 1, 2009 12:34 pm

    “a laundromat which machines were really clothing chutes to hipster thrift stores” — splendid!

  3. December 1, 2009 1:45 pm

    “And that was my version of Dress Down Fridays. I’ll let you absorb that for a moment.”

    Absorb it, I did.

    You’re my new hero.

  4. hsofia permalink
    March 24, 2010 12:20 pm

    I loved the laundromat to hipster thrift store image.

  5. October 6, 2010 2:18 pm

    I read this once, but I’m glad I read it again. Then again, when I have ever regretted re-reading a classic Snarky story?

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