Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Going Under

The Granada Hills High School "Highlanders" chose the McLean tartan. Only a few members of the marching band were allowed to wear kilts, sporrans, and flashes. I took great pride in it, although I was a Russian Jew and the closest I had come to the highlands was the corner of Chatsworth Street and Zelzah Avenue, where palm trees and burger joints dotted the landscape.

I wore the kilt around town just to call attention to myself. I wore it to the store, the dentist, on cruise nights on the Sunset Strip, and to the pancake house. If I could, I would have worn it to synagogue.

I was certain it underscored my manhood. Matt Garbutt had a Falcon station wagon and after football games, I'd ride in the back deck, my naked legs hanging out the open window toward following cars. There were jokes about what we wore underneath, but none of us would tell.

In the fall of my senior year I wore the kilt to Dr. Abraham's office. The doc was a fully paid member of one of the twelve tribes of Israel and, like myself, had no prior experience in man skirts. At the end of the appointment it was decided that I had a lazy eye that would require surgery. The procedure was scheduled and off I went to parade my uniform about Ventura Boulevard.

The operation required a mild sedative. In those days, strabismus surgery had to be performed without anesthesia so the patient, gazing consciously at spots on the ceiling, could let the physician know if the adjustment to the muscle was on target. Only then would the anesthesiologist deliver the knock-out drug.

To begin, the anesthesiologist injected my eye socket with a numbing solution, making six or eight insertions around the orbit. They burned like iodine. When the doctor had successfully moved my eye out from its setting to reach the muscles beneath it, the pain was absolutely intolerable. It felt like he was pushing a screwdriver into my eye. Worse, I could see everything through my good eye, reflected in the mirror the surgeon wore on his forehead.

"Just a little longer, " he said. I was wriggling in my restraints and the nurse put her hand on my shoulder. The dots on the ceiling seemed close and in focus through my tears. "A little more," he said, "you're doing great."

The pain shot back into my skull and down my neck, and I cried out. At that second, Dr. Abraham lifted up his mirror and peered at me.

"What do you wear under that thing, anyway?" he asked.

For a moment we were laughing. And just after that, the full anesthesia hit like a sledge and I passed into the heather.

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