Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Part 32 of "Miracle Boy"

Happy Thanksgiving to all!

I've been working on a new NPR commentary for the impending holiday season, and have set myself a personal goal of doing even more next year than I had the pleasure and privilege of doing this year. We shall see…

Meanwhile, my financial journalism continues apace (whatever that means).

And one of the three publishers passing judgment on my humble book proposal has given it a thumbs-down.  Yet I shall remain hopeful about the other two.  They have the new-and-improved version, which the naysayer didn't.

In other news, the excellent writer Mary Karr has come down hard on recent statements by controversial writer James Frey, author of A Million Little Pieces.  Who, in New York magazine, said something recently about the blending of fiction and nonfiction in modern literature.  Karr does not believe in confusing the two.  "Hey Frey: if you can't tell the truth and you lack imagination to make up stories, maybe scribbling just ain't for you," she proclaimed to her Facebook fans.

She's right, of course.  But honestly, memoirs like hers (Lit, Cherry, The Liars' Club), and the one I'm working on, are not biographies nor works of journalism.  They should not be taken for reporting indisputable facts.  A memoir is necessarily subjective--the author's version of events.  Right?  So what you read here is my take on what I remember … thus, it's highly filtered. 

And to make it more readable, I do try to use some of the techniques of a fiction writer.  So the pacing is artificial, that is, contrived as a work of art.  What's included and what's left out is artificial, too, in the sense that the decisions are based on my own sense of what's relevant or interesting.  But the situations depicted, and my experiences of them, are completely based on fact.  I haven't made up any characters or scenes.  Though, of course, anyone else who lived through these events probably has a completely different memory, interpretation, and story.  Does that make sense?

Anyhow, without further ado, here's the next installment –

It's the autumn of 1976. Jimmy Carter is running for president against Gerald Ford. I'm convinced Carter will lose, because who would vote for a Southerner with blow-dried hair? "Shake Your Booty" by KC and the Sunshine Band is the top hit. I'm trying to be into what's happening now, and swear off talking about Star Trek as if it's real, though some of the popular disco music leaves me cold. I won't pretend I'm Chief Ironside or even the much cooler Steve McGarrett anymore. I spent last year signing "Steve" to my homework papers at Walden, such as there were homework papers at Walden.

On the other hand, I don't want to be just Wheelchair Guy either. I like having a counter identity. If I can do something else—such as make my new classmates laugh—perhaps I can go from Wheelchair Guy to Funny Wheelchair Guy and, in time, to just plain Funny Guy.

I start doodling cartoons between classes and sometimes during classes. A few weeks later, the student paper publishes one. It's a caricature of Carter, Ford and—what the hell—Nixon at a fictional debate. Nixon says, "I am not a crook." Ford says, "New York, drop dead." And Carter says, "Anybody want a peanut?"

I'm doing my best, but I'm fighting impossible odds. I'm still fat and wearing an uncomfortable back brace that makes my clothes fit funny. I take to holding my bathroom needs till I get home, on the assumption I'm too old to ask teachers for that kind of help. On occasion I have accidents, concocting clever excuses and misdirection. "I spilled my drink!" Or "What's that smell? Did my chair run through dog doo in the park?"

Soon medical imperative blows my cover. The surgery. 
My curving spine has overpowered the pinching back brace. My weak muscles can't keep up. My back has nearly folded over itself. I look more like a beach ball than an almost-fifteen-year-old boy. And the orthopedist says the situation has become critical. Without surgery, and soon, breathing will become increasingly problematic as my body closes in against my lungs. I'll become unable to sit in a chair within five years. My parents have insisted on getting second opinions. Now three of New York's top orthopedic surgeons agree.

We pick Dr. David Levine of the Hospital for Special Surgery, which is on the Upper East Side. He seems the most responsive to questions, even from me, and I like his sunny manner. His penchant for bowties is either a plus or minus—I can't decide.

To prepare for next summer's surgery, I spend the better part of spring break in the hospital for tests. I'm given a private room in the pediatric ward. Disney characters are painted on the walls. Come on, I'm nearly fifteen!

Out my window you can see the East River. The hospital is on prime real estate! Mostly I like the small Sony Trinitron color TV on a pivoting gooseneck over the adjustable bed. I can't change channels myself, but at least I can pick what and when to watch and ask a nurse for help.

For five days I undergo a litany of tests—breathing tests, blood tests and so forth. I try to find the bright side, look at the nurses as sex objects, because that's what the cool guys at school would do, but I'm too busy taking it all in and being bored to float any pleasure.

While I'm there, Mom checks into New York Hospital, which is adjacent.

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