I can barely see through my right eye. I’ll get to why in a minute.
You know how quickly accidents seem to happen? I’ve never been in a serious car crash, though I’ve been in a few funny ones.
Even though proverbs are a species of cliche, the reason they’ve stuck around so long is they often happen to be true. Haste makes waste. Pride comes before a fall. You know the drill. (Something my dentist loves to say.)
When I was a kid and I lost a tooth, my mom told me if I put it under the pillow at night, the Tooth Fairy would come and leave a quarter for me in the night. As I was a homophobic child, I asked if the Tooth Fairy was a gay guy who wore a suit made of human teeth. She told me this particular fairy, whose gender evidently no one had as yet ascertained, was not necessarily gay (not that she felt I was precocious enough for her to disabuse me of my homophobia), but was akin to Peter Pan’s friend Tinkerbell.
Having had wet dreams about Tinkerbell (maybe because her name sounded so much like “tinkle”), I was reassured by this explanation.
Sure enough, when I woke up the following morning and lifted the pillow, the tooth had been replaced by a shiny new quarter depicting the profile of George Washington before he became a bridge.
I was so ecstatic about suddenly having some money to put in my piggy bank, I even considered taking one of my dad’s hammers and knocking all of my teeth out so I could make some serious cash. But I didn’t want to be too greedy–besides, how would I know the Tooth Fairy didn’t have some sort of dental limit? Otherwise, she’d be buried under mountains of teeth.
After what happened yesterday, I almost managed to lose all my teeth anyway. Luckily, they’re all still there, even though my jaw still feels tight and slightly unaligned.
A couple of weeks ago, I was in a hurry on my way to work, so I barreled down the escalator in the bowels of the subway station, swinging my arms like an orangutan. I managed to clip the steel post at the foot of the escalator with the back of my left hand, drawing blood and curses. It was a superficial cut, however, so I didn’t let it cramp my style too much. On other occasions I’ve stumbled while rushing up the concrete staircase of a pedestrian overpass and grazed my palms and kneecaps.
The problem with living in Seoul is that once you leave your apartment, you never stop running around like a beheaded fowl. You literally go crazy as soon as you close your door behind you. Ask anyone who lives here; they’ll tell you the same.
Compounding matters, my wife always wants me to do things pronto if not sooner. Sometimes, after I’ve settled into the couch with a comfy book or in preparation for a sedentary nap, she’ll call me from the other room and ask me to get up and look at something she’s found on the internet.
“Bali!” she’ll say. (Directly translated, that’s “fast,” although “Get your ass over here!” captures the meaning more succinctly.
If I stand–or sit–my ground, we’ll privately enact World War III, and who has the energy for that? Wars also tend to be bloody expensive. So I’ll get up and see what’s so urgent, say, “Oh, that’s very interesting,” then trudge back to the couch to resume reading or vegetating.
Last night as I was riding the subway home from work she called me and asked if I wanted to meet for dinner. I said sure, told her where I was on the subway line, and we “hung up.” As a perfunctory gesture to stave off cardiac arrest, I’ve taken to walking up the subway steps, which is a decent work-out, considering the only other exercise I get is walking (all told, I probably average about an hour a day).
When I got to the uppermost floor within the station, I went to use the head. Jina called me and I told her where I was. Sometimes she’ll call me three or four times in the space of an hour. It’s maddening. Hardly anyone else ever calls me, so you can imagine how excited I am whenever the phone “rings.”
The plan was to meet at home and for her to prepare us dinner. Since I didn’t want her to get impatient, I decided I’d better hurry. I chose to run up the escalator steps, passing a woman on my right. As soon as she moved out of my way, I fell–hard–on my face. It happened so quickly I couldn’t tell what the blood was doing on the corrugated steel steps. I felt the impact in my jaw and right eye. If my mouth had been open, I would have felt a bit like that poor black guy ordered by Edward Norton’s white supremacist to open his mouth against the curb before Norton stomps on his head in the movie American History X. I staggered back to my feet and rode to the top to get off, greeted by some horrified looks.
A few nice people came up to ask me if I was all right, and I said I was. I touched my face and found that it was bleeding. Some blood dripped on my bright blue scarf.
“Would you like us to take you to the hospital?” one of them inquired.
“No, that’s okay. I just need to call my wife.”
When I called Jina, she freaked out. She asked to talk to one of the people who’d stopped to help me. I handed my phone to the young Korean woman on my right. They talked for a minute. The woman handed me the phone back.
“If you’d like, we could get a taxi and take you to a hospital,” said a Korean man who was with the woman.
I said that was okay, that I’d wait for my wife.
A German woman who’d been the first to assist me said she had to go. I thanked her, and invited the rest of them to leave, saying I’d be all right in the meantime. I thanked them all profusely for stopping to help me, touched by their kindness.
I called Jina again and told her I didn’t think I needed to go to the hospital. She advised me to take a taxi home, instead of taking the bus, but I opted to walk home instead, stopping at the convenience store to buy some eggs and yogurt drink. (Before that I’d gone to a market, but they didn’t have eggs; the cashier–a middle-aged Korean man–regarded me impassively.) The woman at the convenience store offered me the same horrified look as the Good Samaritans, blended with concern. I told her “Kenchanna, yo,” which means “Everything’s cool.”
At home, Jina got upset when she saw me. I went into the bathroom and looked in the mirror. I looked grotesque. There was a purple pouch under my right eye, along with some contusions on my nose and cheeks, plus a horizontal gash on the bridge of my nose where the rim of my glasses had bitten it before they got bent.
I remained calm as the injuries didn’t hurt much and let Jina be the one to engage in histrionics. I also wanted her to know I was going to be fine. (Initially, I’d been concerned about the impact on my teeth and jawline, but everything seems to be intact.)
After dinner we went to a drug store up the hill and the druggist sold us some pills to reduce the swelling, along with some kind of disinfectant to put on the cuts. She also recommended putting some ice on it, but I thought she said “some mice,” which I thought an unwise move. Finally, she gave me a white gauze eyepatch to wear while teaching, but I don’t think I’ll bother. Looking ugly is a great way to keep the students’ attention.
Not that I really had to go out of my way to do that.
The moral of the story is: slow down. Take your time. Stop and smell the roses, but preferably without falling on your face in the process. That way you’d just end up with a broken nose full of thorns, the next best thing to a broken heart.