Sunday, April 22, 2012


Elizabeth was born cockeyed. No disrespect intended to her state of mind. She has a common vision defect which causes her left eye to wander occasionally outward.

It's a pretty subtle thing, and I never even noticed it. Pam did, though, and when we went to the pediatric opthamologist, he just said, "Oh yeah."

The condition is called strabismus. Its common name is "lazy eye," but according to Wikipedia, "Other names include 'squint,' 'crossed eye,' 'google eye,' 'boss eye', 'cock eye', 'wonk eye', 'cod eye,' 'derby eye,' 'waz eye,' and 'wok eye.'

Nobody wants to hear any of those from the other kids on the first day of school, but the real reason for getting strabismus treated is that it impairs depth perception, which leads to clumsiness and lack of confidence. Worse yet, the brain may begin ignoring signals from the wayward eye entirely, effectively leaving it blind.

Under doctor's orders, we tried patches and then drops as a means of blanking out or fuzzing up the good eye and forcing E's brain to exercise the muscles around the troublesome one. None of that worked, so last week we bit our lips and took our tiny one to the hospital for surgery. The doctor had explained he needed to loosen the muscles on the outsides of both eyes to make it easier for the brain to align them.

I drew the short straw and went into the operating room to be with E until she was knocked out. We were both cool until the anesthetist put the mask over her face and she began to struggle and cry. My job was to comfort and restrain her for the seconds it took for her to go to sleep.

Those were some of the hardest moments of my life. She was so small and so scared, these people were strangers, and she trusted me. When her eyes finally closed and she relaxed onto the table, I choked out an incoherent "Do your best" to the masked marvels who were already going to work and hurried from the room feeling like I'd let everybody down.

The whole thing only took 45 minutes. The doctor told us it went perfectly, which was good to know because her eyes were shockingly bloodshot and she was now a bit cross-eyed. In the post-op exam a couple of days later, the doc said this was exactly as it should be. The loosened muscles will grow stronger in the weeks ahead and pull both eyes back to center.

He also said something else. "My team does 20 of these procedures a day, and they were really impressed with the way you and Elizabeth handled yourselves in the operating room. You really made an impression on them."

I am proud of us both. Even better, as you can see above, she's still smiling at me.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Bottomless Grief

Walking my cousin Judy around lower Manhattan Sunday morning, we found ourselves close to the 911 Memorial. You used to have to reserve a time slot for a visit weeks in advance online, but now your chances are pretty good of getting a ticket on the spot. Judy lives in Rhode Island and hadn't seen it yet, so we got on the short line and went in with her.

For all the agita that marked the process of deciding what should be done at the site, the memorial now seems inevitable, as if this had been the only way the fall of the towers and all it meant could have been commemorated, though of course there were certainly other possibilities that could have turned out just as well or maybe better. This is the one that was chosen and built, and the one visitors now include among highlights of their time in New York.

The picture above shows what used to be the footprint of the North Tower. It's now a square pit with water cascading from its rim into a pool far below, then flowing into a second smaller square chasm whose depths can't be seen from ground level. There's an identical downward fountain on the South Tower footprint.

The designers certainly must have had some specific intentions for what visitors would think and feel as they stand around the edges and watch the water fall and flow into the darkness. But in a memorial as vast as this one, I expect the most lasting impressions are random and personal.

It was windy on Sunday, and strong gusts played hard across the face of the cascades, turning their vertical streams into rhythmic horizontal waves of spume that sent clouds of fine white spray over viewers on the downwind side. As John Lennon is supposed to have said, "Life is what happens while you're busy making other plans."

Pam noticed that if you reach down below the stone barrier where the names of the dead are inscribed, you can put your fingers into the water before it begins its descent. "Touch it," she said to Judy. "It feels like you're touching the movement of the universe."

Sunday, April 8, 2012

Safety in Numbers

I'm used to being asked by friends and relatives if I feel safe. I live in New York City, though not for much longer. I'm moving to Puerto Vallarta on Mexico's Pacific coast.

People who don't live in New York tend to think it's a nice place to visit but they wouldn't want to live there, even though annual reports on crime statistics for decades have ranked New York among the safer cities in the country.

And even fellow New Yorkers look askance when I tell them about our plans for moving to Mexico, where drug wars and kidnaping seem to be the leading industries if you go by what you read in the news. They ask if we have any concerns about security, though what they're really asking is what can we be thinking.

But what I've noticed about the most murderous criminal outbursts in my own country is that they don't happen on the darkened streets of New York or any of the other biggest cities.

They happen on quiet college campuses in Oakland or in Blacksburg, VA. On a military base in Texas. In a high school in a predominantly white Colorado exurb.

There may have been a time when such locations would have seemed remote from the alienation, poverty and social disfunction that used to seem like the root causes of violence. But that's not how I look at them now. I see them as insular, culturally monochromatic places where there is enormous pressure to fit in and measure up.

I think you're less likely to find yourself ducking for cover to avoid becoming a victim of random mayhem in a place where oddness, ugliness, incapacity and failure are taken for granted as readily as their more comely opposites.