The days of me tromping around on the stage of Life bellowing toward the heavens, “Give me a break!”
are over. On Sunday last I not only got the break I’ve been demanding for so many years, I got two
breaks. And as Life would have it, they came about totally unexpectedly.
My truly wonderful wife and I were walking the pretty-damned-wonderful dog in the late evening, and we
decided, since it was a cold, clear night, to go a few extra blocks. Near the center of the block, on our
side, the sidewalk disappeared and I suggested, “Let’s go across the street, it’s probably safer over
there.” As we approached the sidewalk my foot landed on the mist-slickened surface of a manhole cover
and the long bone of my left leg turned inward to the right and my left foot collapsed off to the left and I
came crashing to the pavement. Somehow I knew immediately that I had broken my ankle. What I didn’t
know was that I had broken it in two places.
When my startled wife saw me sitting in the street holding my dangling, unresponsive foot in one hand, I
told her, “I think I’ve broken my ankle.” As she reports it, and as I remember it, I was perfectly calm at the
time. “I’ve just broken my ankle; see if you can get some help, please.” It was one time in my life when
my normal high-strung, near-hysterical approach to every tiny inconvenience might have made some
sense, and I’m sitting there on the cold pavement, an idle duck casually adrift upon a placid pond.
By chance a Chinese woman was coming out of her house and she lent Sylvie her cell phone to call an
ambulance. A young man stopped his car to see what the small crowd was about at that hour and why
some old man was sitting in the street. He got out and looked, asked a couple questions, then went back
to his car to get me a blanket, tossed it at me and said, “Keep it.” He paused. “I really gotta go,” he said.
Then, like the Lone Ranger, he was gone.
When the ambulance arrived it was being handled by two kids of the Justin and Jason generation,
though one of them was named Josh. They seemed relatively indifferent to my pain, my comfort, and my
concerns about how my wife and the dog were to get home. They gave me commands and demanded
answers to a variety of questions. They stuck me in the back where I pleaded one more time that my
wife and the dog could get a lift in a homeward direction, but no dice. My dear wife and the dog would
have to fend for themselves. I was locked in back there with Justin or Jason and he told me with great
beaming pride about each of the glorious skateboarding injuries he had sustained. He’d broken his
ankle four times. This rib, that elbow. He was quite proud of his own stupidity. I’m sure his adoring
mother was quite proud of her little man as well.
At some point during the trip he called me a tough guy.
Before I left the hospital, five hours later, with my leg in a cast, two doctors, some unspecified clipboard-
bearing male and a nurse had all looked at me at one time or another and declared me a tough guy. It
was a nom de guerre which carried over to the doctor who re-set my ankle and put a permanent cast on
it two days later. He called me a tough guy too…at which point I tried to get a look at my chart to see if
someone had written those words on it in bold print somewhere. Just for the record, I’m not a tough guy;
I just don’t take all the pills doctors broadcast so eagerly, and I don’t surrender to the knife if still
conscious or living.
Day Two: I had already called everyone I could think of to say that Christmas gifts would be delayed due
to this broken ankle when Sylvie turned to me and said, “If blind women came weave baskets you can
certainly wrap a few gifts.” We are a gift giving people and nothing short of death will prevent us from
doing our duty in this utterly meaningless matter.
An aside: One time many years ago I made a futile attempt to convince people whose lives were already
full of useless goddamned junk that the exchange of useless goddamned junk with other people whose
lives were also already completely full of useless goddamned junk was idiotic. I stood in the business
district handing out flyers which stated my case. (I was young at the time.) And what I was doing caught
the attention of a Chronicle reporter (Dwight Chapin) who then interviewed me and wrote a kind, fairly
representative article about my idiocy. (This was long before I met Sylvie.)
So, one time, in reference to that—I forget how the matter surfaced, but—my dear wife says to me, “I
can’t believe you launched a campaign in an attempt to destroy Christmas.”
I said, “I didn’t launch a campaign in an attempt to destroy Christmas. I simply tried to convince a few
people who have too much goddamned useless crap in their lives that giving more goddamned useless
crap to others, who then feel compelled to give them some goddamned useless crap in return, is silly.”
“Well, you know what my view is on that,” she said.
“Yes, I know what your view is on that. Your view is that people should be able to accumulate as much
goddamned useless crap as they might ever want and exchange it with others should they so desire,
without criticism or interference of any sort from people like me.”
To which my very dear wife replied, “Precisely.”
And this is why I love not only my wife, but our marriage. Other wives in other marriages would have
taken that opportunity to mess with their husbands in one completely unnecessary, pain in the ass way
or another. But, not my wife. In our marriage we are entertained by the other’s weird, somewhat
misguided, point of view on those matters in which we maintain a kind of unique clarity.
I don’t think the honeymoon is entirely over, because she continues to wait on me with a concerned look
in her lovely eyes, but I think we’re both pretty tired of this broken ankle thing already. (Day two, day
I can’t do a thing but sit around with my foot up, writhe in continual (and by that I mean relentless) pain
and look on helplessly as I slowly begin to understand why the houses of invalids are always such an
embarrassing goddamned mess. My nightstand, which usually holds a photograph which captures my
dear wife and her adoring husband, a little needlepoint she did for me in a similar frame and a peculiar
little bronze lamp with lily-shaped embroidered Victorian shade, now holds all of that as well as a letter
from I can not recall whom, a telephone, two remote controls, several small scraps of paper with
undeniable but indecipherable pith scrawled awkwardly upon them, some pills my delightful mother-in-
law gave me which I refuse to take (cause I’m a tough guy), an unopened bill of some sort, and the
spoon that I used last night to eat yogurt. Next to me on the bed, is, curled up nicely, a cat, and the case
with my ukulele upon which now rest an address book, a case for my reading glasses, two good books
(one by E.B. White, the other by Admiral Lord Cochrane), an empty plastic water bottle, a used paper
napkin, a cup with a used fork in it, and something which, because of the light, I can not determine the
nature of though I’m sure it has a reason for being there.
We have 6 weeks to go, and already I have the pallor of a poet.
A few days have passed and now it’s Christmas.
I wandered out on my crutches to the office to sit for a while with my good wife and to employ the skills I’
ve developed over the last few days at wrapping gifts with only one useful ankle. I’ve gotten pretty good
at it and managed to wrap one nicely framed opera poster, one small cast iron pig and a glazed white
ceramic bowl with a pewter pill box resting inside upon a bed of freshly shucked walnuts, without causing
myself any further injury. Although I have rejected my friend Bruce’s advice—he saw this as an
opportunity for me to sit around in cafes with my crutches, a cup of coffee, three days’ growth and a
knapsack, scowling at people and grumbling--my fractured ankle has not turned me into a sweetheart.
The very few and lucky guests I’ve come into contact with all seem surprised to discover that a broken
ankle hasn’t rendered me more amiable and a great deal more chatty. People who have never spoken
to me before want to hang around and talk about it; they smile sweetly as they prod me for details. I
know the response they’re expecting. I’m supposed to shrug it all off with wit and charm—but I can’t. Or
Nonetheless, this event has given me some time, at last, to think epic thoughts…
not that I will.