Sunday, February 7, 2016

The Motorcycle Accident

Ever been in a serious car or motorcycle accident? Were you seriously injured? Don't be shy, speak up...

The $500, Honda 550K.
Note full face helmet on sissy bar.
The physical trauma, sense of mortality, the sounds and smells at the time, the one just forgets about an event like that. Being grievously injured poses an immense physical and psychological hurdle to clear after the accident. Hearing about it is usually pretty boring, like someone telling you about a dream they had. So here's my boring story...

I bought my first motorcycle when I was 20, a used 1978 Honda 550. I paid $500 for it. I went to a bike shop to buy a helmet; prices ranged from $50 for a basic brain bucket to $250 for custom painted racing helmets. I asked the salesman how much I really needed to spend. He shot me a condescending look.
"How much is your head worth?"
I returned a cheapo helmet to the shelf, and picked up a weighty full-face model that had a small scratch on the visor; it was half price. Wish I could find that salesman now and thank him...

I kept the bike in a friend's garage upstate. I rode it weekends, on well-paved, bucolic roads that wound around scenic lakes and reservoirs near the border of New York and Connecticut.

I upgraded to a second-hand 1980 Suzuki 850 that been suped up with a carb jet kit, racing exhaust and a custom paint job. I had it shipped to the west coast when I moved to Los Angeles.

Everyone told me a motorcycle was a mistake in Los Angeles. When I argued that I was an experienced rider, they said it didn't matter; it was a city with too many cars. No one looked out for bikes. Guess who was right?

I lived in Venice Beach, four blocks from the ocean. I had finished a sushi dinner with a friend near downtown, and was riding home down Lincoln Boulevard, Venice's main drag. I crossed an intersection as the light turned yellow. A 17-year-old driving his uncle's car was stopped on the side street. He saw the cars stop at the red light, and proceeded through the intersection, not seeing me.

From the corner of my eye, I saw a flash of white light from his headlight. There was an impact, and then I saw earth-sky, earth-sky. That was my body flipping through the air. Then there was nothing.

The GS 850. 
I woke at the bottom of a swimming pool. Somehow I could breathe in the tranquil water; I was looking up at a warm light, with soft music playing. I was incredibly warm, relaxed, blissful.

An annoying siren and flashing light invaded my reverie. I came to and looked into the bluest eyes I'd ever seen--a paramedic staring down on me, with a worried look on his face. I realized I'd been in an accident, was lying in the middle of the street, probably injured. Always wondered how long I was unconscious...

An involuntary, agonizing groan escaped me when they put me on the stretcher. My shoulder was broken. A crowd was on the sidewalk, watching. I looked into the eyes of a woman with a horrified look on her face. In the ambulance, I told the EMTs, "I can't move my legs, but my dick is killing me. That's not good, is it?"
"No, it's not," one of them said.
I could wiggle my toes, though, so I knew I wasn't paralyzed.
"So how's the wife and kids?" I asked him.

I had been riding with my legs stretched forward, feet resting on illegal pegs attached to the roll bar. Upon hitting the car, my body slid forward and slammed into the gas tank, splitting my pelvis and severely bruising my privates, which later turned psychedelic shades of purple and yellow, to the marvel of doctors, nurses, friends and anyone else who wanted a peek. The rearview mirror caught my right leg, tearing it up and causing nerve damage which remained for several years. Ultimately. my head and left shoulder slammed into the pavement. I separated my shoulder, but as that salesman surmised, didn't crack my head open. Somewhere in the crash I broke my right thumb as well.

I spent the entire night in the emergency room getting x-rayed, cat-scanned, poked and probed. When asked what happened, I coudn't remember anything except a white light; they feared a concussion, and taped my head to the gurney so I couldn't move. At 6 am, a male nurse came in, looked at me with pity and asked if I was in pain. I nodded slowly. I was also exhausted.

"Would you like something to put you to sleep?"
I nodded again.
He gave me a shot of Demerol. Immediately I felt a rush flood through my veins, like warm honey. I figured heroin probably felt this way. I also started to turn green.
"Do you feel nauseous?"
I nodded again.
He gave me another injection, and just as rapidly, the nausea vanished. Now I just felt wonderful. Within three minutes, I was out cold.

I woke up in the critical care unit. A day or two later they rigged a steel triangle on a cable over my bed. With the four working fingers of my right hand, I could pull myself up and adjust my position, since I couldn't move my left arm or my legs. My first visitor was a hospital lady holding a clipboard, asking for insurance. I explained that I didn't have any.
"Then how do you expect to pay for this?"
"The accident wasn't my fault. I'm sure whoever hit me has insurance."
She pursed her lips. "Let's hope so, Mr. Sabatino."  She turned on her heel and left.

Every two days she would return and ask the same question.
"Any news on the insurance? No? I think we should move you to a county hospital. It'll be less expensive."
I was at the UCLA Medical Center in Santa Monica, an excellent hospital. I still couldn't move my arm or legs, was on a drip feed and hadn't experienced a bowel movement yet--parts of my body had shut down, still deep in shock. They were still debating whether to operate on my pelvis; a doctor told my family he didn't know when I would be able to walk again. I really didn't need the added stress of worrying about payment.

Ultimately, I spent 12 days in the hospital.  A pelvic specialist came in and said he thought my pelvis would close up and heal on it's own, which it eventually did. A hand surgeon sewed up my shoulder; I never had problems with it again, although my softball glory days as a centerfielder were over. The police report put the blame squarely on the driver; insurance poneyed up a cool hundred grand. My lawyer took $25,000 off the top, bargained down the hospital bill to $30,000, leaving with me $45,000. I put it in the bank and forgot about it for several years; it never seemed real to me, since I didn't earn it.

I never met or heard from the guy who hit me. I held no grudge against him, it was an accident, and I made a full recovery. But he could've at least apologized...

Saturday, December 26, 2015

Lights From A Camera

I wanted to post my favorite personal photo of all time on Facebook for my daughter, with a "Merry Christmas!" caption. I only have an old print, so I took photos of it with my smartphone. To my dismay, the camera flash 'ruined' all the photos. I took a closer look before binning them, though, and decided I liked these better.

The Hand of Fate

Logo from a screenplay I wrote a million years ago...

Sunday, November 22, 2015

The Choice to be Grateful

Reading the NY Times on a Sunday morning, I came across a sort of  Thanksgiving screed..., written by one Arthur C. Brooks.

I submitted the following to the comments section. I have changed/added some of the phrasing since then, but the essence is unchanged:

I've found gratitude to be a product of age...I'm 53 years old.

 A few examples...
--I'm still alive, watching the sun rise and set each day. A number of my friends, family and acquaintances have died from drugs and alcohol, accidental death and disease.
--My innumerous blunders and failures have made me grateful for the lessons they have taught me; my successes have been gifts to be savored.
--Kindness shown to me and offered to others have become self-evident in the joy and richness they reward me with.
--Loving deeply, employing quiet meditation, and living in peace with others has allowed joy to naturally seep into my life
--As the superficial pleasures of shiny objects fell away, I could not fail to see and appreciate the intense, awe-inspiring beauty of plants, animals, mountains, sea and sky. Simply gazing at the beauty and absorbing the bounteous energy of a nearby tree has turned around many a day in my life.
Gratitude, which also includes preservation--of the gifts of nature that literally nurture us--clean air, water and earth--are not only keys to enriching our life, but also giving forward to those that come after us, creating an unseen harmony with all that exists, both inside and outside us.

Friday, November 13, 2015

Nature's Flashlight

Oh, mystical, magical moonlight
Nature's Flashlight
What size batteries do you take?

Bathed in your celestial light
No instruction manual
In different languages
With lots of typos

Tides recede before you
Who holds your receipt?
Where is your remote?
Is there a limited warranty?

Ineffable, untouchable
Rarified and untariffied
No coupons
No markdowns
Crappy space junk!

Monday, January 12, 2015

Top 10 Infinite Items For Teens

1. Household items like paper towels, toilet paper, shaving cream, shampoo and conditioner...
2. $20 bills in dad's wallet
3. Gatorades in fridge
4. Gasoline in car
5. Mysterious kitchen-cleaning elves
6. Pairs of sneakers needed
7. Fertility (for additional baby brothers/sisters)
8. 24/7 parental car service
9. Clean, folded towels within reach of shower
10. Weird people staring at them at any given time

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Little. Tiny. Moths.

No use dallying, equivocating, soft-shoeing, or hiding the truth with high-falutin' phrases...just gonna spill it.
plodia interpunctella in your pantry
Plodia interpunctella.

This summer I had dozens--if not hundreds--of moths living in a camouflaged sleeper-cell in my house.

Daily they alit without fanfare on a low ceiling, patiently waiting for me to grab the nearest fly swatter and smash the living bejesus out of them. Didn't just buzz in from outside...there was obviously an exogenic source, from somewhere in that dark, dank, Hobbit-like lair.

Yes, the food pantry: that self-same breeding portal where unloved soup cans and jars of weird pickled stuff go to expire and die.

I suspected trouble in the grains. Perhaps the randy procreators were fornicating in one of the expensive, gorpy cereals my children tentatively tasted and passed on (Lucky Charms and cereals with similar hauteur were always consumed in less than a day).

Maybe they birthed in our luxurious assortment of exotic nuts, expiration dates spanning geologic eons. Or from the tumultuous assortment of Far East pablum, milled exclusively for people with no teeth—exorbitantly priced pouches of organic couscous, bulgar, quinoa, fair trade lentils, millet and ho-hum sorghum.

The crackers could be guilty…my son's tried-and-true method was to knock off nine-tenths of a sleeve, bequeathing the remaining also-rans to posterity. Quite the selection: multigrains in reassuringly simple, geometric shapes; flavorless standards like Melba toast and water crackers; gluten-less flatbreads, some really old matzohs, carbon dated back to the Dead Sea scrolls. And of course, all the alternative snacks that were a healthy decision to buy, but entirely too boring to eat: rice cakes, veggie/banana chips, dried mango slices…

Perhaps the moths were sugar junkies, sired and bred in the innercity, ghetto section of our cupboard: adolescent bughood in the tawdry glare of powdered Nesquik, oil barrel-sized iced tea mix, talcy brownie mixes, caustic cupcake powders and chemical-laden cake compounds.
big ass ice tea mix
Refreshing, economical and packed with nutritional larvae.

Let's not forget the poorly clasped, colicky bags of seeds and supplements...failed and forgotten saw palmetto, pumpkin and flax to supposedly aid my 50-year-old prostate; scary sesame seeds, stored in plastic bottles that could double as swimming pools for toddlers if sawed in half; suspicious looking black, beedy-eyed celery grit. So many possibilities...our pantry was a virtual Sodom and Gomorrah for licentious, horny anthropods.

Not only moths thrived in this utopian ecosystem. On the pantry floor sat open bins, where aggressively sprouting potatoes busily rooted themselves into the fiber of worn linoleum. White, yellow and red onions merrily formented, with orbiting TTBs (Teeny Tiny Bugs) hovering overhead in fetid clouds. Killing field cloves of garlic tragically imploded in on themselves, recoiling into their own hoary skin, living proof of the horrors of fision--well, maybe not, but still--totally gross. All of these aforementioned alien tuberisms sported an added grace: brownish ooze--a viscous goo possessing the most noxious smelling odor in the known universe.
dispose of sticky ooze promptly
Leaving the scene of pantry waste disposal.

Whatever object that ooze touched was cast out immediately, far from home and hearth. I dumped tasteful, fake-antique crates from Williams-Sonoma; revered nesting bins from Bed, Bath and Beyond; pretty clay bowls snuck past customs agents years ago...

So why not don a fashionable Hazmat suit, employ a mean-ass, contractor-grade garbage bag and throw away absolutely everything? What do you think I am? Some kind of wasteful, ugly consumer/ part of the problem/children are starving somewhere/landfill-loving maniac? Maybe one of those sundry items wasn't infested. Throwing away perfectly good food is a sin. Just ask my mom...

Saturday, October 4, 2014

The Problem Solver

Everything was gone from my house--all our crap from the first two floors, overflow items from the vacant basement apartment, plus ancient stuff from a 70-year-old attic...even detritus from the backyard shed. But there was one implacable object that wouldn't budge.

The upright motherfucker that a pro piano tuner had years ago declared untunable and unworthy of further investment. It was my mom's favorite inanimate object of all time, but really--unsentimentally--it was literally the 400-pound beast in the room.  I needed some added muscle to get this sucker out of the house.
<img src="Bronx-piano.jpg" alt="Bronx piano" />
That yellow harp inside can break a man.
When I moved out of the house a month earlier, I hired immigrants standing outside Home Depot; they walked out on me. Two Ecuadorians: one tall, around 30; the other perhaps a little older, short and chubby. They wanted $130 each, but I wouldn't budge...$100 for five hours of labor--two of those hours being travel time. After 10 minutes of haggling, they agreed to take the hundred bucks. They hopped in the 16-foot rental truck, and we were off. I was relieved; I could only afford the truck for one day, had taken a risk on unknown labor and besides, the forecast was for heavy thunderstorms. It looked like it was going to start pouring any second.

I speak pretty decent Spanish, and tried to make conversation on the way to my house, asking where they were from, how long they'd been in America and how they liked the Bronx. They merely looked down, muttering curt responses. Finally, I gave up. After all, I didn't have to be buddies with these guys. That's when they started complaining...

"I don't know, Señor Charlie...not a lot of money...."
Their attitude and overall shitty vibe was starting to irk me.
"We haven't even started yet! Stop complaining, we made a deal."

I showed them the work to be done. After making two trips down the steps with bureaus, the tall one said, "We can't continue for less than $130."

I looked him unflinchingly in the eye; I didn't like these guys at all. "I'll go right back to Home Depot and get two other men. I'm not paying you any more money."

The chubby one handed back the gloves I had lent him. The tall one said, "We want to work tranquilo."

They walked off without another word, leaving my daughter's chests of drawers in the middle of the sidewalk, the heavens about to open. I stood there in absolute shock, watching them disappear down the street. On the drive over, they had been discussing how far we were from the subway...I figured that's where they were heading. There was no easy way to get back to Home Depot...they were going home, probably to watch soccer on satellite tv. They never had any intention of doing real labor on a Sunday.

How I made out the rest of my moving day is an inspiring testament to perseverance, strength and sheer will--in other words, it's boring--so let's revisit the friggin' piano...

<img src="trash-piano.jpg" alt="trash piano" />
Awaiting the grim reaper/NYC sanitation dept...
I wasn't thrilled about another go with immigrants, so I tried the opposite route--hiring not only legal workers, but specialists. I called a piano company in the South Bronx that had a moving department and warehouse for storage and disposal. They wanted $500 to take it away, even though I told them they didn't have to be polite with the instrument, could throw it down the stairs for all I cared. Didn't matter to them. $500, dead or alive...

The next day I was back at Home Depot, but with a different purpose...

I explained to the guy in the rental department about the monster in the living room.

"Know what you need?"
I shook my head. "A guy with muscles bigger than my head?"
"A problem solver. Know what that is?"
"A guy with both brains and muscles bigger than my head?"
"Sledge hammer. No messing around with one of those."

I pictured myself clumsily swinging the  crude tool, launching splintered shards of wood into my calf muscle. However, the chain saws on display were sleek and powerful...

A half-hour later I had the chain saw at the ready, waiting to tear into the tender flesh of polished mahogany. Once I touched saw teeth to piano there was no going back. The instrument would never play Chopin or Chopsticks again. I pushed the thought out of my mind and squeezed the trigger. The deed was simultaneously effortless and brutal--in less than a minute the piano was cleaved in two.

I examined the remains. The upright part of the piano contained a cast iron harp, which held the strings taut. It was machined into the backing with about 30 screws, most of which refused to budge. The sucker was still too awkward and heavy for me, even with the hand truck I had rented. The beast had gotten the best of me.

I was standing outside beside the keyboard half, a defeated look on my face. My neighbor pulled up in his van, asking what was up. He took pity on me, calling his 22-year-old son and bringing over a furniture dolly from his garage. Together the three of us grunted, groaned and coaxed the upright spine down to the street, step by step. When we dropped it on the pavement, it emitted one last, cacophonic crescendo...

The long arm of the memory.
I cried a little on the way home, thinking about how much my mom loved that piano. But I did keep a memento...