Surfing has been a gift—from my brother-in-law who gave me a board, and also, considering the time required, from my wife. When I paddled out into 10′ waves with the great poet of the sea Michael Klam last winter, with no hope of dropping down the face of one of those monsters, but only to watch other crazy people do it up close, I realized that this was my midlife crisis.
Every epoch in a life should come with a rite of passage.
Last Sunday I stepped on a Stingray by Scripps pier. I imagine that anyone who spends time in ocean water is bound to step on one and meet its defenses. A young French boy in my class, over the summer, skim boarding in the afternoon, found one in Coronado. I had to laugh, ‘I’ve been here 50 years and never and you only 2 weeks.. Ha.’ He was a very sweet young man with a love for action adventure and I’m sure he will collect scars like stories through his exciting life to come.
I know. I know. Shuffle your feet. Walking in and out of the water, I dutifully scraped my feet along the bottom to send any loafing stingrays out of my path. When I felt its tail whip around to the top of my foot, touching me like a slimy tentacle, I was in waist deep water enjoying a lazy Sunday morning. Michael Klam had brought his stand-up paddle board and I struggled to balance and rowed around. I could see stingrays in the water. So I knew they were there. A little later trying to catch a small wave I fell off the board in shallow water –THWACK! I knew exactly what it was.
‘That little bastard was setting me up for the sharks.’ Mr. Klam had seen a class of leopard sharks near the pier.
I went home. It was nothing. A scratch.
But the pain started building.
Pretty soon I was online looking for a course of action.
I soaked my foot in hot water, and that really did jam the nerves, blocked the pain. And I took a nap.
The next day was a little sore but no problem.
I had read online that some people experienced infections after not being able to remove barbs from the wound. The curse of decaying alien DNA and its bacteria.
Eight days later, around 3 in the morning my foot was itching so bad it woke me up. The foot swelled through the next day, and the flesh felt dry, dead and spongy. The wound weeped clear liquid like tears.
Friends online urged me to go to the doctor, so I called out of work and made an appointment at Kaiser. The young Doctor wasn’t from around here. He’d seen snake bites and a bear mauling, he said but no stingray wounds. So he sent me to a different Kaiser across town, and so we enter the copay vortex, which reminded me of a story from The Book of Books that I have nicknamed ‘Kafkaesque:’
From Jimmy Jazz’s The Book of Books #BoB #Kafka #Kafkaesque
The Castle • Franz Kafka
I fell off my bike on the boardwalk in Pacific Beach and injured my left wrist. My primary care physician said to make an appointment with a physical therapist. I called and they told me there were no appointments available. I’d found myself in a bureaucratic feedback loop. A mess of medical legalese. I emailed the doctor, explained the situation and asked Is this what Kafka was talking about? He responded I don’t know who this Kafka fellow is, but the radiologist in India hasn’t looked at your X-ray. I was flabbergasted. I looked around THE CUBE and saw I was alone. Horribly isolated and alone. I couldn’t share this anecdote with anyone. I remembered a girl in one of the other departments had studied philosophy, a temp, but found her desk empty. They said She is no longer with the company. Was I wrong to think there should be such a thing as common knowledge? I called Angela cause we watched that Steven Soderberg movie Kafka but she said Who’s Kafka again? Ok Ok, I don’t think cultural knowledge indicates intelligence. I’m sure my doctor knew plenty I didn’t, but don’t books, stories and ideas exist to connect us to other people? I remembered Ashley read The Hunger Artist in one of her classes. I knew she hadn’t read The Trial or The Castle or Amerika, but I decided to call her anyway. She laughed. Yes my daughter laughed and by laughing, saved my life. I wasn’t alone, overreacting or crazy. A few nights later Angela and I dined with Rochelle and Stephan. Rochelle met Stephan at Humboldt State when she was studying to be a botanist. They were literate people. He’d worked in a bookstore and she named her cat Pushkin. We drank a few beers, and fell into a comfortable silence, so I risked the anecdote. I related word for word my exchange with the doctor. Silence. Death. A grave. The !*#™¿@ crows and buzzards and jackdaws circled. Rochelle said Who’s Kafka? I looked at Stephan. He worked at a bookstore. He was from Austria confound it. A four-hour drive from Kafka’s Prague. He leaned back in his chair, puffed at his meerschaum pipe and patted his stomach. I read The Castle, he said without hubris, very quietly, as was his manner, which lead us to converse about things “kafkaesque” and may have pulled me out of another desperate ditch. The Castle is a perpetually modern novel, one that may never lose its flavor. I felt, while reading it, like I’d walked through a car wash, that the spinning bristle-brushes had scraped away skin and flesh, leaving my exposed nerves hanging from my bones like downed power lines. At least the buzzards wouldn’t have a place to rest. I told my anecdote to everyone. I couldn’t stop myself. Bill liked it and Tamara laughed with that laugh that makes you feel like everything’s going to be alright. Cecil must have appreciated it, because when I saw him at Voz Alta, he said Tell Lizz with Two Zs your doctor story. —He gave me six months to live, I quipped, which turned out not to be so funny, because Lizz said Oh, I may have ovarian cancer… I don’t think everyone should read the same books, but reading Kafka might help anyone who feels like a cog in the machine better understand the works.