Circling Chicago

February 23, 2005

Circling Chicago

I just finished reading Idiom Savant: Slang as it is Slung by Jeffrey Dunn. It wasn’t a good book. Dunn fooled me by putting the best section first. There should be an expression for this, one that means front-loading the good stuff. It could be applied in various contexts, including romantic relationships (“watch out for her; she’s a front-loader”).

The one section I liked covered the slang of nurses, doctors, and hospital staff. In a footnote on the first page, an anonymous nurse apologies for the callousness of the slang, saying that such expressions are “a defense mechanism that protects us from being overwhelmed by a sea of pain and suffering.” Indeed.

A few favorites:

  • bury the hatchet v. to sew up a patient with a surgical instrument mistakenly left inside.
  • circling the drain adj. close to death, lingering.
  • cut and paste v. to surgically open a patient, find that there is no hope for treatment, and sew him up again without delay.
  • gone camping adj. in an oxygen tent.
  • loose change n. a nearly severed limb that will require amputation.
  • waiting for the train to Chicago v. close to death, in spite of the best medical efforts. “He has his bags packed and is waiting for the train to Chicago.”

That last one raised questions. Why Chicago? Also, what city do Chicago nurses say instead of Chicago?

Later I realized that this expression could be combined with circling the drain to create the hybrid Circling Chicago, which would not only mean “approaching death” but could serve as a handy euphemism for foreplay.

February 1, 2005

Broken

Below are photographs of my retinas. At K’s insistence I paid an extra twenty dollars for them. They show the back wall of each eyeball photographed through the pupil. The small light-colored circles are optic nerves, and the cluster of filaments emanating from the nerves are blood vessels. Evidently these photos reveal that I do not have glaucoma and that I’m willing to spend twenty dollars to indulge K.

my retinas

What happened was, my glasses broke. Sadly I saw this coming. Last week I noticed a crack in the right temple, just in front of the piece that curves around the ear. The next day I visited a half dozen optical stores, hoping to get the temples replaced. Everywhere I went I was told the same thing: we don’t keep old parts for repairs. This was a lie; I could read it in the eyes of the people I spoke to, several of whom gave me a sad, shifty look that I understood to mean, “Forgive me, my job is making me do this.” In truth no one wanted to blow a chance at a sale by admitting they keep spare parts to fix glasses under warranty.

Without glasses I’m close to helpless. My left eye is worse than my right but both are really bad. True story: At seventeen I broke my glasses but decided to go to work anyway, blindness be damned. On my way there I walked into the pole of a No Parking sign. Then at work (a Roy Rogers: “Round up that Double-R Bar, partner!”), I saw a mouse scurry past my foot.

“A mouse!” I shouted.

It was a hamburger bun.

My only backup glasses are my prescription sunglasses, which I’ve always regretted having bought and have never worn. This morning I dug them up and put them on, which plunged my apartment into dungeon-like darkness. I tried turning on all the lights, including the one above the stove, but this made little difference. Worse, my sunglasses felt weird on my face which made me disoriented and cranky.

After two hours of online research and calls to optical stores, I arranged to meet K at the Lenscrafter on 32nd Street. I choose this store because the woman there was friendly and because it was the only place that stocked my prescription.

Everything went fine at first – K helped me pick out frames and we managed to have fun in the process – but then as I was about to pay, the saleswoman glanced at my new prescription and said it would take two weeks for my new glasses to be ready. My left eye, the really bad one, had gotten worse (-10.00 in “sphere,” up from -8.75) and so the new lens would have to be special-ordered.

Having anticipated this or something like it, I dangled my broken glasses before the saleswoman and said, “I can’t wear these for two weeks: the broken end will dig into my skin. If you can’t fix them, I’ll have to take my business elsewhere.” The saleswoman looked at me, looked at my broken glasses, then looked at me again. Finally she stood, took the glasses from me, and said she would see what she could do.

This gave me a chance to tell K what she didn’t know, which was that prior to her arrival, the same saleswoman had claimed that Lenscrafters didn’t keep spare parts. So by threatening to take my business elsewhere, I was forcing the saleswoman to either tacitly admit her lie or forgo her commission. I figured the commission would win out and that my glasses would be repaired, but either way I had nothing to lose because my threat was a bluff: I would buy my new glasses at Lenscrafters regardless.

K believes I was right to lie, having likely been lied to. That’s how I felt at the time, but now I’m not so sure. Is it right to humiliate another person to get what you think is due you? K believes the saleswoman wasn’t necessarily humiliated (“this is how business works,” she said), but that, in essence, is my point. The thing called “business” perverts us.

When the saleswoman returned with my glasses, I saw that their shiny new temples were a different color from my old temples, but not so different that anyone would notice. I tried them on as the saleswoman, no less friendly than before, made sure they fit right. I’m wearing them as I type this.