Switched Off

CHARLES GARABEDIAN is a painter in Los Angeles. This isn’t him. Our CHARLES, 35, is a legally blind father of one living in mid-Missouri. He wears a logo-less off-black American Apparel baseball hat and a “Best Show on WFMU” T-shirt illustrated by Michael Kupperman. His shorts, manufactured by the great outdoor company Gramicci, are khaki. He holds a waxy-tasting to-go cup full of slightly chilled unsweetened iced tea sold to him by a young woman he’s not so legally blind he can’t tell was scowling. The iced tea cost two dollars.

CHARLES GARABEDIAN: A few months ago I had a rogue eyelash — maybe a few — that started pointing the wrong way. Every time I blinked they would scrape painfully across my eye. This led to a corneal abrasion, and the Dennis Lubbe Eye Institute prescribed antibiotics. These came in the form of eyedrops, suspended in a tiny bottle that I kept rattling in a tiny white cardboard box. About a month ago I decided to go off the medication that I was using to treat my macular edema

SPRIGHTLY NYMPH: Is that related to the corneal abrasion?

CB: Nope. It’s related to my RP tho

SN: RP = yr degenerative retinal condition, the thing that has made you so legally blind

CB: Yes. The medication I was taking for the macular edema was giving me tinnitus and I figured out I could take eye drops that don’t induce tinnitus instead. I have to take them twice a day. This morning I rummaged in the Zabars tray that once held the Babka & Rugelach Crate that the celebrated children’s book author sent us on the occasion of the birth of our son

SN: And which you purchase for your friends whenever any of them have children

CB: The experience of eating gift-rugelach through a thick veil of exhaustion was indelible.

SN and CB both imagine the words indelible and inedible anthropomorphized, wearing black jeans, and making out in the back of a rock club in Manhattan in the early 1980s

CB [cont] And the Zabar’s mug and crate stick around as a memory not just of the author’s generosity but also a form of solidarity: other dads, other babies, have been through this too

SN: I hate the pseudo-embattled rhetoric of new parents. It’s not that hard! People are dying!

CB: What are you talking about, it is super hard

SN: Oh yeah OK Fine

CB: So last night before watching the season finale of Silicon Valley

SN: A really funny and well-written show

CB: I administered the eyedrops upstairs and left them there. Then this morning I went to look for the drops downstairs and half-remembering that they were upstairs was confused but lazily gratified when I found them in the Zabar’s crate downstairs. So I went ahead and administered the drops into mine eyes. Then, later this morning, I was upstairs and what the–

SN: You found the drops.

CB: Upstairs. This was wrong. They were downstairs five minutes ago. So I looked at the little rattling cardboard box

SN: And it was the antibiotics.

CB: Yep. And the scary part is that I can’t remember or I don’t know if these last three weeks when I’ve been administering antibiotics or when I’ve been taking the topical Dorzolamide or accidentally alternating days or what. I wasn’t even aware I had two bottles going.

SN: You’d forgotten about the existence of the antibiotics.

CB: The boxes and bottles are identical.

SN: I think you’ll be OK. Antibiotics can’t hurt you.

CB: Thank you. It might explain why the Dorzolamide hasn’t been working. I think the danger of antibiotics is more like developing antibiotic resistance which is scary but whatever.

SN: I’m curious to see if you’ll notice a difference in your vision after taking JUST the dorzolamide for a few weeks starting now

CB: I hope so, because these days I’m seeing the world through a vaseline-smeared sheet of plexiglass you guys

 

Grainwaves

DOCTOR: Linda

LINDA: Herry

DOCTOR: Linda

LINDA: I checked out thirty books from the library today but I didn’t bring any of them home.

DOCTOR: What books? Why so many?

LINDA: I’m writing part of a master’s thesis this summer.

DOCTOR: About what?

LINDA: Just a fat fake scholarly elaboration of this Transom article from 2010.

DOCTOR: That sounds interesting!

LINDA: Yeah, I’m having fun researching it. The fake

DOCTOR: Hang on that’s the second time you’ve said “fake.” I think it’s become a tic. What do you really mean? Instead of fake, think of a more genuine, a more authentic

LINDA: [Seething] Why say both genuine and authentic? Is there a difference between the two that requires you to use both words?

DOCTOR: [With dignity and reserve] I merely used both words for emphasis.

LINDA: I’m sorry. My worst enemy had a baby last night. I just got the email announcement.

DOCTOR: It’s OK. I know you’re going through a lot.

LINDA: You mean my eyes.

DOCTOR: Yeah. Do you want to talk about your eyes?

LINDA: OK. They’re fucked.

DOCTOR: Ha. How are they fucked?

LINDA: I was taking Acetazolamide

DOCTOR: —a generic of Diamox, a standard diuretic used for glaucoma patients —

LINDA: —and also commonly prescribed for cystoid macular edema, which I have.

DOCTOR: A swelling in the retina. Which is itself a common complication of retinitis pigmentosa (RP).

LINDA: Yup. The RP is the main event — that’s the degenerative retinal condition that’s inexorably eating my vision from the outside in

DOCTOR:  At your diagnosis, at the Jules Stein Eye Institute at UCLA, when you were a teenager, I asked if you could see stars. You said no, and I knew it was RP.

LINDA: You asked if I could see stars in the night sky. It felt a little creepy. That you knew I couldn’t see stars. like you’d asked me, “Do you have a fantasy of being reborn as Frank Whaley’s character in Career Opportunities (1991), locked in an after-hours Target, rollerskating and making out  with Jennifer Connolly for eternity?”

And I was like…”uh, yeah. No, I can’t see stars.”

MSDCAOP EC005

CAREER OPPORTUNITIES, Jennifer Connelly, Frank Whaley, 1991, (c)Universal Pictures

DOCTOR: RP often first gets diagnosed in teenagers as night blindness.

LINDA: That movie (and, let’s be real, Jennifer Connelly) made a strong impression on me when I first saw it. I was probably 11.

DOCTOR: What made you think you had RP?

LINDA: It must have been… I don’t know. 2000, 2001. People were already Googling their ailments by then. Or, I guess, Yahoo!ing their ailments.

DOCTOR: Webcrawling across their pain.

LINDA: Ha. That phrase

DOCTOR: I just thought of it! I love riffing with you!

LINDA: Ha. That phrase reminds me of Chris Burden’s TV Ad, where it says “through the night softly.” he bought a TV spot on national television

DOCTOR: He’s the performance artist famous for the piece where he crucified himself to a Volkswagen.

LINDA: Right so he bought a TV spot on national TV where it shows him crawling through glass with his hands tied behind his back and then it says through the night softly

All this talk of my night blindness, kind of reminds me of this Chris Burden piece.

DOCTOR: Was it that painful?

LINDA: not at all. I mean that’s the thing unless you count walking into things (which hurts) or feeling sad or worrying you’ve passed it on to your son

DOCTOR: RP is genetically marked in some people but many with the condition have no record of it in their bloodline

LINDA: But it’s not painful. The Burden connection is more about the way I went through the world at night, and now the way I increasingly do during the day. Softly, at pains. But also something about the way that Burden has uhhh burdened himself with this difficulty himself. he’s not being tortured — he’s going through the night softly for an artistic reason.

DOCTOR: Cut that pun but my question is why do you think of the blindness as self-imposed?

LINDA: More that i have to perform it, that blindness becomes a sort of performance art. The cane really creates that feeling: when I unfold my cane, with a flourish, the social situation is transformed so fast it’s like Chris Burden just walked into a room and started doing one of his pieces. Of course I’m exaggerating

DOCTOR: At the time of your diagnosis you still drove a car

LINDA:  I still drove back then — even at night! Kind of unbelievable to me now. At first it was really only noticeable when I was like running through the woods with my drug-friends after dark

DOCTOR: But over the years…

LINDA: It’s gradually degenerated. Anyway I was living in NYC for a year recently

DOCTOR: You were in that one-woman show on Broadway.

LINDA: Grainwave.

DOCTOR: That got great reviews, didn’t it?

LINDA: Uh, it was a finalist for the Pulitzer. Yeah, we did well.

DOCTOR: What was it about?

LINDA: I adapted Dwight MacDonald’s Against the American Grain and sort of did a mashup with that and “The Star-Spangled Banner”  

DOCTOR: “Amber waves of grain”

LINDA: Right and there was also a thread about brainwaves

DOCTOR: “grain waves”

LINDA: Yep and one of the characters was the lovable fascist Walter Starkie whose autobiography was called The Waveless Plain 

DOCTOR: I thought it was a one-woman show. “Characters”?

LINDA: And I  performed the whole thing in a Lieder style inspired by Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau who  Roland Barthes writes about in  “The Grain of the Voice,” his wonderful essay on the linguistics of sound.

Fischer-Dieskau’s recordings are played at loud volume at various times throughout the piece

DOCTOR: Wait didn’t you say it was a one-woman show?

LINDA: It took a lot out of me. Also Terry Eagleton has a book of essays called Against the Grain and he’s a character in it and so is an eagle that my mom made out of felt and I did the whole thing buried up to my waist in raw barley

DOCTOR: But so you said you stopped taking the Diamox?

LINDA: The Acetazolamide.

DOCTOR: Why?

LINDA: Well I was taking it because I had the swelling in my macula and that was fucking with my central vision

DOCTOR: you also have cataracts

LINDA: which are super treatable but I don’t want to fuck with surgery until it’s absolutely necessary because my vision is like a little scrap of parchment that I have been carrying with me through the wilderness

DOCTOR: the wilderness of, say, Cormac McCarthy’s The Road

LINDA: Sure. Or maybe a YA adventure book à la Hatchet

DOCTOR: OK

Hatchet

LINDA: And I think of someone with otherwise healthy eyes getting cataract surgery they’re worried but also if something goes wrong there’s a lot more…uh… parchment left over for them even in a worst-case scenario

DOCTOR: Whereas you have just this tattered soft decaying square that you’ve worried over and sweated through and pissed on and so on through the King Lear style Tempests

LINDA: seriously, the literary references here are a bit much what is going on

DOCTOR: I dunno just feeling my oats

LINDA: right so I’m understandably wary of laying my precious little square of fabric out on the operating table. so when I’m living in NYC i finally decide to go see a retinal specialist which i haven’t been to for years because I figured what’s the point there is no treatment for RP

DOCTOR: At least not for someone with as much vision as you have left but recent developments such as the Argus 2, an artificial retina

LINDA: Right sure but I’m a few years out from needing one of those and it just recently became commercially available and anyway the specialist on Gramercy Park looked at my eyes and was like jesus I don’t know how you get around — i had folded up my cane when i arrived so he didn’t know i used one? — and told me I was legally blind and could collect disability and then said the good news is you have this swelling which we can treat with Diamox. So  I’ve been on that  for a year or so and the only side effect I noticed was that it makes beer and most carbonated beverages taste bad

DOCTOR: which is a shame because you love craft beer!

LINDA: yeah, woe is me. but then i started having tinnitus. which for a person who’s gradually but inexorably going blind tinnitus is really fucking scary. because I was just imagining myself once i’d lost all my vision,  sitting there in the dark with my family nearby reading books that i’d only know the titles of if I asked them and not being able to quite make out what they’re saying because of the painfully loud ringing in my ears

DOCTOR: jesus

LINDA: and then one day i was re-googling my ailments and remembered that tinnitus is a listed side-effect of the drug

DOCTOR: motherfucker!

LINDA: so I stopped taking it right away and then really quickly and dramatically my vision went to shit. like a new level of shit. it took about a week off the acetazolamide, and  suddenly reading got really hard. as did moving around, even familiar places. chances of knocking over my son went up by 40 percent. asking if anybody had seen the thing sitting on the table in front of me became a daily thing.

DOCTOR: ugh

LINDA: so anyway i found an alternative treatment which i’m trying but i’ve only been on it like 2 weeks and I’m not sure if it’s working yet or not

DOCTOR: what’s the new drug called?

LINDA: spousal love

Commencement

[Ruffles papers at the dais]

In conclusion, here at the outset

[deafening applause]

[group of deaf students applaud]

[group of students wearing shirts that say Jesus Gave me Tinnitus applaud inaudibly]

[group of highly politicized roll-carts roll by, somewhat audibly, as if of their own volition. As though they are operating under their own control. Sentient roll-carts? Some blue, some black, some brown, some green. The roll carts do not have eyes, though they be sentient. Aye]

and so as a lunch-time option, I will suggest, it is of vital importance that snacks be “factored into the equation.”

[A tropical fish, who had been gazing with deep inattention at the square of linoleum floor framed by his idly hanging flippers, now slowly and deliberately looks up at the speaker. His attention has been piqued. What’s this about lunch? Snacks? ]

A snack isn’t what we make it. Even if it is we who have made the snacks. I’ll often make a snack for myself, mid-afternoon, as though a dog left alone at home had the ability to open the fridge, unscrew bottles, spread nut-butters with nut-butter knives…

[A very pink fish is lost in her own reverie. She imagines a chocolate laborador, left home alone, unscrewing a jar of peanut butter, dipping in a long blunt knife, and spreading the peanut butter across three saltine crackers. It is, needless to say, an erotic fantasy. The fish is transmuted into a feline. The feline is transmuted into an unopened tin of sardines. The tin opens itself, with a great deal of volition, and begins snacking upon itself, heartily, its lips — such as they are — smacking.]

And so women. And so men. And so students of the region, who are gathered and fed and assembled and educated here, under these eaves, under this aegis, be-chancelled by this bewitching chancellor–

[The Chancellor, whose name is R. Bowen Loftin, gathers himself up in a great mawkish burst of plumage, then shits himself into a garbage pail; exeunt.]

And so, at the outset, or in conclusion, the class of 1999 now leads you, seniors, graduating class of 2016, into blinkered victory. I hope you’re OK. I hope you all inherit a great deal of money and then squander your inheritance on graduate education and activism and travel and charity. And love. Squander everything for love, my children. Because love is the most pragmatic tool you can wield in the economy into which you’re graduating. And I needn’t remind you that all of your love is concentrated in your genitals.

Delicate Squint

CAL: Five hours of sleep.

HERA: Four.

CAL: Three hours of sleep.

HERA: Two.

[A cool cat swiffs itself across the linoleum, wiping it clean but leaving a trail of black hairs]

CAL: An hour of sleep.

HERA: I’m changing my major. From philosophy to social justice.

CAL: Social justice is a major?

HERA: What I mean is, I’m dropping out of college to become an activist.

CAL: Why?

HERA: Because reading Henry James all day isn’t helping address income inequality in this country.

CAL: Neither is writing angry blogposts about income inequality. Or standing on the streetcorner arguing with Republicans about income inequality.

HERA: It’s better than nothing. And also you are cynical. Political change in America is possible. People change their minds.

CAL: No they don’t.

HERA: Be serious.

CAL: I am being serious!

HERA: Well, I have to finish cooking and then I need to do some online banking.

CAL: Can I help?

HERA: No.

CAL: OK. Let me know if you need help.

HERA: I will.

CAL: Thanks. OK.

HERA: All right.

CAL: See you soon?

HERA: [Does not answer. Performs several online banking tasks. Cooks an arpeggio of salad. Fantasizes about a field mouse turning on a hot spit. Fantasizes about being Cal’s waitress at a fancy restaurant she also owns and is the head chef for. She hands him the menu, her hair in adorable sweaty strands adorning her face. Cal looks down at the menu and reads, half to himself, “Roasted Field Mouse.” Their eyes meet. This is love. This is scintillation. This is mutual attraction. This is Vermont in the 1980s.]

CAL: [Approaches a donut. Purchases it. Eats it in half-furtive bites from his open jacket pocket. Looks down to see he has paws. Big blue CGI family-friendly bear-paws. He has had five hours of sleep. He is perennially, perpetually “on deadline.” He will tell people he’s “on deadline” even if by that he means he needs to go to the pharmacy by this evening or else he’ll be unable to pick up his prescription without re-ordering it.]

[Cal once helped name a craft beer. It’s called PawPrint Blue Stout. He often orders it when he drinks at the Lathe.]

LATER THAT NIGHT, AT THE LATHE

CAL: [His voice thick with the foamy syrup of a fresh PawPrint Blue Stout]: I got five hours of sleep last night.

When Is It Too Late?

A: Help! I’m curious when it’s too late.

B: Do you mean you’re curious when it’s too late? Or you’re curious when it’s too late?

A: Help!

B: Calm down. We have an audience [Gestures to the audience.]

A: [Gestures to B’s gesturing]

B: Mocking me?

A: Mocking you?

B: Aleatoric birdsong

A: Harpsichord deathmonk

B: [Holds her tongue]

A: [Peacefully abides within a privileged suffering]

B: [Blows another imaginary deadline]

A: [Participates in careless riffing]

B: [Subscribes to a community newspaper with at least one racist reporter]

A: [Eats a great deal of Japanese bean-crackers]

B: [Watches Daniel Radcliffe rap a Blackalicious song on Jimmy Fallon on YouTube]

A: [Hurts himself with a mental needle]

B: [Farms out some stuff to a Little League of refreshment-and-freelancers]

A: What was your question during the Q&A?

B: I asked if a certain compound phrase the short-fiction writer used in her story was hyphenated

A: Cos you were trying to picture the phrase, how it was printed?

B: It changed the meaning for me, whether it was hyphenated or not

A: What was the phrase? How did a hyphen change its meaning?

B: Well OK It didn’t change it dramatically. Or… even … like… semantically. It was more of an aesthetic thing.

A: Like a blind guy at the opera who wants to know what color are the buttons on the Colonel’s vest

B: Exactly so

A: —B, the colonel’s buttons were orange

B: What sort of orange?

A: Brass— in a child’s imagination

B: Why does a child’s imagination turn brass orange?

A: The child has never seen brass, but the child does have a sense for what brass is, kinda generally, and so his imagination bronzes it

B: Bronzes the brass?

A: The brass is bronzed by the child’s imagination

B: Talking to you feels like passing a school of eels and neckties and their hybrid offspring through an eternal dishwasher: loading it up, running it, sitting near its quiet warmth during the dry cycle, unloading, beginning again with the fresh neckties and eels and their hybrid offspring, loading them in, draping them over the rack, pouring in the detergent, starting it up, sitting down, sliding over during the dry cycle, over and on and on and over again and on. Is what speaking with you today and most days feels like

A: Oh B, My dick is limpid

B: u mean limp?

A: No, limpid, which means “totally clear, un-dark”

B: it’s a bright cock?

A: Right, bright. Filled with natural light

Help Decks

There’s a problem in the garden partition; it’s not the stupid’s fault for being stupid. I don’t try too hard. Failure gathers in the bleaches of my belly. Sara, blending into the evening, marches along the low garden wall, worrying her outfit’s straps while she considers the problem… and Sara wants to know: What problem? And, actually, what partition? When you were with the woman who hired you to check out her typography (in a city, in a women’s room), it bleached me. I made a joke about a person who eats a dinner designed for an animal. “The omnivore’s dilemma: What if you ate Fancy Feast for dinner instead of all that old tuna salad?” I must have understood it as a joke because then I said, “Just kidding.”