Friday, January 21, 2011

Black Eyes

Being night blind, Alaska’s long winter nights don’t jive particularly well with me.  However!  On the bright side, it stays bright late into the summer evenings and early summer mornings.  All the sun’s essential benefits which get missed in winter must be replenished with all speed and desperation during the short window that is the Alaskan summertime.  On sunny nights, in lieu of a house party, we’d gather along Cook Inlet’s shoreline, burning bonfires and drinking beside the slowly setting sun.  Gravelly sand and mudflats comprise the Anchorage coastline, which is sprinkled with rocks and boulders, seaweed, driftwood and other flotsam and jetsam.  Though the cops tried to bust them up, many a “beach party” was held on Point Woronzov, and with pallet fires and cheap beer, it could look pretty Santa Cruz on a warm summer evening.               

One night on Point Woronzov sticks particularly well with me.  It was a typical bonfire with Shep, Michele, Fred, Oatzy, JD, and assorted others.  On this occasion, a man I didn't know constantly jabbed at me about my eyesight, laughing when I tripped over driftwood and being a general dick.  I tried ignoring him, and my friends repeatedly told him to knock it off.  So I’d trip on a beer box, and he’d giggle with delight.

“Dude, are you retarded?  That beer box is right there!  I think you should get glasses!”  He’d wave his hand in front of my face, or he'd hold a near my ear, out of my periphery, as if he was conducting his own visual field test.

“Dude, you really are blind!  That’s hysterical!”

I didn’t see what was so hysterical.  

“You better stop,” Oatzy warned with a cautionary laugh.  “You really don’t wanna piss Dave off.”

I endured the stranger's taunts until eventually it was time to go home.  I put out the fire and trotted down the beach to catch up with the others, periodically tripping over rocks and driftwood.  All of sudden I was stuck in the sternum by what felt like a rock.  It knocked the wind out me and nearly knocked me off feet.  As it turned out, it was an unopened can of beer.  I scurried over beach debris screaming “Who threw that?”  Not surprisingly, the stranger responded that he had, so I  threw him to the mud in a blind rage.  Shep and JD jumped in to drag him out from under me, and Oatzy grabbed my armpits and threw me backward onto a tree trunk which had washed ashore centuries before and was basically petrified.  My body wrapped backwards around it like a contortionist in the shape of a crescent moon.    

The stranger ran off as the fellows restrained me, flailing and snarling at the man to come back so I could crush his skull.  He did not, and the rest of us headed up the eroded hillside to the parking lot.  Adrenaline and alcohol slam-danced in my brain as I lugged two half-wracks of Milwaukee’s Best Ice up the steep, sandy hill.  As fatigue cut it, it soon occurred to me how badly my lower back hurt.  

“Dave, just forget about the beer!” my friends called down from the parking lot, so I jettisoned it and clawed my way on hands and knees over the crumbling slope giving way beneath me.  It was a painful ride to Shep and Michele's house, and the other’s got pizza while I was too smashed and bashed up to think about eating.  Fred lived next door, and offered me his floor.  By this time I was entering paralysis.  Fred helped me out of my pants, which is not as great as you might suspect.  No offense to Fred.

“You gonna be alright, Dave?”

“I guess so, but goddamn my back hurts,” gingerly descending to the floor. 

“You sure you're gonna be ok?”

“Yeah, it’s no big deal.  Just need to sleep it off.”

“Ok, well, goodnight.  I’ll be heading to work in the morning at six.  Just make yourself at home.” 

If my home had been a Katherine wheel I would have been more comfortable there.  I spent the next hours in the most intense physical pain of my life.  I say this with neither hesitation nor hyperbole.  To move, to roll over, took ten, twenty, thirty minutes of preparation for a pain so searing I sometimes cried out, albeit mutely as I lacked the strength to surpass a whimper.  Fred slept, and unfortunately he arose and went to work during a brief respite from sheer exhaustion.  Had I been awake like I was for nearly the entire night, I'd have been liberated.    

Sometime after Fred left, I awoke to the sound of his cat, Guinness, scratching the aluminum screen door.  Much worse than fingernails on a chalkboard, the soundtrack to my suffering lasted hours.

"Fuck off, Guinness," but Guinness couldn't hear me and wouldn't have given a crap either way.  Worse yet, I’d gone to sleep with a full belly of beer, and my kidneys burst at the seams, shooting pulses of unimaginable pressure against the insides of my lower back, while the pain on the outside of my lower back throbbed inward to my kidneys.  I tried to piss myself, but couldn’t.   

I had died and gone to hell.

If I can just get to my knees I can crawl to the bathroom. 

Deep breaths and cold sweats as my paralysis kept me stapled to the floor.  The slightest movement was incomprehensible. 

My fucking back is broken, I know it.  I gotta get help.

But I had no voice.  My mouth was sand, encrusted by the dehydrating effects of too much Milwaukee's Best Ice.  My tounge felt so brittle it might snap off in mouth.  Breathing was difficult enough, and a cry for help was out of the question.  

By around 11AM, and with an all-in approach to my escape and survival, I clawed my way to my feet and stumbled to a wall.  Completely blind and swooning under the the pain, I staggered along the wall to the bathroom.  Unable to stoop to open the toilet seat, I used the sink.  I couldn’t stand on my own, and I didn’t know what to do.  As I emerged from the bathroom into the kitchen, wondering how I was going to get help, a jovial Shep bounded through the front door, as Guinness slipped in ahead of him. 

“Good morning, Mr. Armstrong!  We made breakfast!  Coooooooome n' git it!”

Near tears, “Shep, I need to go to the emergency room right now.”  I stayed upright by clinging to the bathroom door frame with both arms.     

Shep, who is now a successful chiropractor, would hear nothing of it.  Only the finest medical attention for his buddy.  This was a job for conservative, chiropractic care, and though it was Sunday, Shep was determined to track down my Hippocrates.  I might have argued for the ER, but I’d have accepted a dentist if I thought he could assuage the pain even a little. 

 “Ok, Davy, I tried a dozen chiros and I finally got one who answered his page.”  Shep and my friends eased me into the backseat of Michele’s vehicle and we drove a few agonizing miles to a one Dr. Throckmorton’s office.  He was dressed in shorts and a hot pink tank top advertising a local radio station.  He’d been gardening.  

He diagnosed that the transverse processes on my 4th and 5th lumbar were cracked and bent out of kilter.  He twisted me back into kilter and the pieces into their proper places.  

"Now it's time to take it easy and let the bones heal like you would with cracked ribs," he ordered.  As I mended, I regularly visited Dr. Throckmorton for follow-up adjustments.  I eventually recovered.  

Oatzy feels bad about it to this day, but he shouldn’t.  His intentions were good.  All’s well that ends well, and I’m glad not to be in a wheelchair.  Craig’s sister is in a wheelchair.  She was sledding with friends on her eighteenth birthday and went over a bump and landed exactly wrong on her backside, breaking her spinal cord.  Craig told me the doctors had said that if she’d been leaning one centimeter in any other direction she would never have thought about it.

Other people win the lottery.

And most of us just try to get trhrough somehow.  Sometimes things can really make you angry.  And we tend to feel overwhelmed to such an extent that we find it difficult to live alone.  We find each other.  And the cosmic lottery needs more ticket holders, so we must reproduce ourselves.  Is this spectacular?  Perhaps, and we aim to find out.  So we fall in love and some people marry, as Adam did in the winter of 2003.  

A group including Craig, Abe, Wolf and two guys I’d grown up next door to named Pete and Luke threw Adam a bachelor party at Bernie’s in downtown Anchorage.  We lounged on couches and the married guys gave advice, while the unmarried bemoaned Adam’s inexplicable decision to enter perpetual monogamy.  We drank Long Island iced-teas into the night, and Adam and the others headed to a different bar.  Pete, Luke and I remained to finish our last Long Islands before driving to midtown to meet up wth the rest of the crew.  When we left, we did so en masse with a dozen other random customers.  We squeezed through the narrow entryway when someone to my rear shoved me forward and I lunged into the person in front of me, who, in turn, pushed back.  Drunken reflexively, I thrust my palm forward and hit the person in the head.  I’d aimed for the person’s back, but she was only five ft tall so I instead popped her upside the head.

Her boyfriend was later described to me as a “skinhead-looking guy.”  Out on the sidewalk, he snatched the glasses off my face and winged them into the night sky above powdery snow.  Immediately we hit the ice, fairly evenly matched, half wrestling, have slugging each other with our fists.  Luke scrambled to pry us apart, and Pete jumped straight into the fray—which was helpful because Pete has a black belt in something I'm not sure what.  Trapped in his death-grip, the skinhead guy literally tapped out, and Pete let him up.  With my glasses having been flung into oblivion, I was even blinder than usual, and the mayhem crescendoed with shrieks from Skinhead Guy’s girlfriend.  Fists flew through darkness as Luke, Pete and the bouncer scrambled to keep the Skinhead Guy's posse at bay, screaming “He’s blind! He’s blind!” as the girl's legs kicked wildly in the air at me.  

"Blind?  This asshole punched my girlfriend in the face!"

Despite the melee I managed to explain to Skinhead Guy what had happened.  Curiously, he calmed himself as I spoke.

“Dude, I got pushed into her..."

He stared at me.

"I didn’t mean to hit her in the face…"

Still staring.

"Everyone was pushing and shoving…"


“She pushed me back--”

His forehead interrupted me on my nose and upper row of teeth.  We hit the ground again, and SG was again subdued by Pete and Luke, and I by the bouncer.  A cab pulled up and SG and his girl and retinue jumped in, hissing threats of cops, lawsuits, and kicking my ass.

In truth, Luke, Pete and I were definitely concerned the cops could be swinging by, and it was time to leave right then.  So we bolted and with all my drunken fury I sped up D Street to 7th Ave for about 30 ft before smashing headlong into a stop sign.  So I stopped.  

When I woke up, Pete and Luke, helped me to my feet and into the getaway car.

We met Adam and the others at the next bar and headed for the men’s room to clean up.  My face was fucked, lips streaming blood and a knot the size of my elbow on my forehead, sticky and stinging.  Amazingly, my nose wasn’t broken by the head-butt.  As we washed up, Pete kept droning on about the blood stains on his new, white shirt.

“I’ll buy you a drink, man.  Thanks for saving my ass.”

“You’d do the same for me.”

Sure I would, but who else gets in these situations?  Without Pete, Luke and the bouncer I could have really gotten thrashed.  What the hell was the matter with me?  Why was I so aggressive with everyone around me?  Was  I just unlucky?  Was this just to be expected from someone who drank as much and often as I?  Would this have happened if I’d had my cane?  If I was sober?  Everything in my life was getting worse and worse, and the fact that I was so angry made me all the angrier.  Did this have anything to do with RP?  Was I “lashing out” or was I just a violent drunk?  The bouncer concluded so, and for years I was 86’d from the establishment until such time as he no longer worked there.


  1. A guy in shorts and a pink tanktop fixed your broken back by twisting it? That is almost as bad as going to Dr. Lawrence Jacoby for treatment of your mental problems.

  2. That first story is a classic, Dave. We've all had some heinous next-morning experiences, but that one tops them all. As for my bachelor party, I'm just glad no one was arrested.

  3. Yeah, Adam, I totally agree. What a mess that was that night. I'm glad no one got arrected, and I am glad you and Anna got married. So it all worked out, right :) ?!

  4. But why is it you always seem to end up battered and bruised at/near weddings?

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