The Shiner

I wore footy pajamas when I was a child. You know the kind. It was one of those fuzzy one-piece jobs, probably with a bear or a duck or something embroidered on the front. In any case they had these plastic feet that were slippery as hell; they worked OK on tile but, on carpet, they were like ice skates.

Well, every evening for years – probably ever since I could run – when I got my pajamas on, I would run to go kiss my father goodnight. And when I say run, I mean run pants-on-fire, full-speed from my bedroom through the living room, to make a flying (if not graceful) leap into my father’s lap.

Well, on one particular occasion, when I was around 5, I ran through the living room and rounded a corner, all sliding and running in place like a dog on the kitchen floor, went ass-over-tin-cup, and nailed my cheekbone on the corner of the coffee table. The crack could probably be heard by our upstairs neighbors. My parents stood, jaws-gaping, horrified as I sat there and screamed – my face turning red. Once they regained their senses, they comforted me and applied ice to my face but it was in vain. I was to get the biggest, bluest black eye you ever saw on anyone, let alone a little kid.

I looked like a dog named Spot and it lasted for a year. There must have been more photos taken that year than any other year, or perhaps it was just that those photos were my family’s favorites, because everyone had copies and, all my life, it seemed like I had that shiner in the majority of the photos of me that adorned the halls of my family’s homes. Years later, I’d be at the house of some relative I barely knew and ask where the bathroom was. Sure as shit, I’d pass that fucking picture in the hallway on the way to the can. It didn’t matter if it was a close uncle or some distant aunt that I never saw. Everyone had those photos. A fact, I believe, is still true to this day.

When my Mom tells this story, she emphasizes the fact that people looked at her strangely when they saw her with me at the grocery store or around town. “He fell!” she’d have to say to ward off suspicions of child abuse. She was an active member of the PTA and made a point of making sure as many people as possible knew the truth. I don’t blame her. It was a horrible sight.

It practically had its own personality. When it started to heal, it turned all sorts of magnificent colors – you know how bruises do. It looked like an oil spill with antifreeze in it. Man, that sucker lasted. My uncle, who was NYPD at the time, got a broken nose on the job that came with two black eyes. It happened around the same time I got mine, but I had mine longer. (I wonder if there are any photos of us together.)

Kids remembered me for it, too. Long after it was gone, kids from other neighborhoods I seldom saw would say, “Hey, aren’t you the kid that used to have the black eye?”

My friends would introduce me, “Remember Jim? He’s the kid that had a black eye when he was little.”

They’d reply, “Oh, yeah, I remember!”

It was more famous than I was. I should have named it. I had a distant cousin who, years later, smacked me on the noggin with a toy hammer and gave me a big bump that lasted a while. I think I’ll name it after him. Victor. There. It has a name now. My relatives can write it on the backs of all their photos. “Jim & Victor, 1976.” The famous black eye of Staten Island. My 15 minutes.

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