“Whether he is a sinner I do not know. One thing I do know, that though I was blind, now I see.” — John, 9:25
My grandfather grew up in a small village in Eastern Europe and this was one of his favorite stories:
A peasant comes to the village wise man and he is very upset. “My house is far too small for my family. It’s dark and small and smells of cabbage but I am too poor to afford a bigger one,” he complains.
The wise man strokes his beard for a minute and then says, “Do you have any chickens?”
“Of course I have chickens,” replies the man. “What sort of self-respecting Eastern European peasant do you think I am? I have six chickens and a rooster.”
“Bring them into the house and let them live with you,” says the wise man.
“What? That’s insane…,” the man says. “Chickens in the house?”
“Do it. Then come back in a week and tell me how things are going.” says the wise man and turns back to his book. The peasant leaves, grumbling.
A week passes. The peasant bursts into the wise man’s house. The wise man, not looking up from his book, says, “Well, did it work?’
The peasant explodes: “Of course not. It’s a disaster! There are chicken feathers and chicken droppings everywhere. And the house is even more crowded! We’re miserable.”
“Do you have a goat?” asks the wise man.
“A goat?” fumed the man. “Well, yes, we have a big, smelly goat.”
“Excellent. Bring the goat into the house. See you in a week.”
The peasant leaves, shaking his head with disbelief. He’s back five days later, frantic. “What have you done to me? My life is a nightmare. The goat ate my wife’s best babushka, the chicken have taken over my Barcalounger, and our house smells like a Warsaw subway men’s room.”
“Excellent,” says the wise man. “Your cow — bring her in next.”
“The cow? The COW?! She’s huge! I doubt I can even get her in the front door.”
“Do it.” The wise man dismisses him with a wave of his wrinkled hand and returns to his book. The peasant, his face turning an even more dangerous shade of vermillion, stalks out, cursing under his breath.
When he returns, his hair is dishevelled, his coat is spattered with chicken droppings, a goaty smell emanates from his overcoat, and cow dung’s on his boots. He doesn’t complain, he just stands there, broken, tears cutting a path down his grimy cheeks. The peasant is clearly at his wit’s end. The wise man looks up and smiles. “Very, verrry good,” he says. The man gulps back a sob. A chicken feather drifts out of his beard.
“Now,” says the wise man, “For the most important step. Take all the animals — the chicken, the goat, the cow —and drive them out of your house. Get them all out.” The peasant merely shrugs hopelessly, then turns and shuffles out of the wise man’s house.
The next day, he’s back. He’s transformed. His eyes gleam, he stands tall, his energy has returned. “How is your house then, eh?” asks the wise man, a twinkle in his rheumy eye. The peasant grabs the wise man and kisses his leathery cheeks. “We drove out the chickens, the goat and the cow and now … it’s huge! It’s a mansion! It’s clean and bright and we are so happy. At last! You are a genius!”
Anyway, that’s my grandfather’s sort of story. It came to mind yesterday evening as I sat in the bleachers behind home plate and watched the Brooklyn Cyclones lose abysmally to the Aberdeen Ironbirds. I had one hand cupped over my left eye and a smile as broad as the peasant’s on my face.
Five hours earlier, it being a close and muggy afternoon, I had taken my Kindle and a single dachshund to my bed for a nice Saturday afternoon nap. I’d had a fairly rough night’s sleep, and was a little wracked with self doubt, missing Jenny in LA, and just generally feeling unnecessarily sorry for myself.
I awoke an hour later, groggy and sweaty. I had been sleeping face down and I was especially bleary-eyed. I staggered into the bedroom and splashed on some cold water. I saw a big crease running down my face, from my forehead to my cheek. My vision still seemed bleary so I splashed on some more cold water. I looked out the window and I could not focus on the view. The vision in my right eye was really blurry. I covered my right eye and everything seemed fine but when I did the same with my left, the buildings down West 3rd street would not get sharp. I rubbed it some more. No change.
I waited. Ten minutes. Then half an hour. No real change. Clearly I had done something awful to myself in my sleep. I had been lying on my eyeball and somehow strained it or compressed it or worse. My hypochondriacal monkey had several helpful suggestions. Maybe my vision would never come back? Maybe I would be permanently blind in one eye? Maybe I’d had a stroke?
Jack and I left to catch the F train to Brooklyn to meet my sister, her husband and kids at MCU stadium to watch the Mets minor league franchise play Baltimore.
The ride to Coney Island from the Village is about 45 minutes long and I spent a lot of it in a minor sweat, my bowels liquid with worry. The monkey kept me company. Wouldn’t it be ironic if just as you decided to focus on art full time — you couldn’t focus at all? Maybe you’ll have to wear an eye patch? Maybe you’ll end up with a guide dog? Now you can really do blind contours! Ha, ha!
The train comes above ground once you get to Brooklyn and I kept alternately covering my eyes to peer into the distance. As we reached Avenue X, now an hour and a half after I’d woken up, things maybe, possibly, seemed to be improving. If I just used my right eye, it slowly began to focus on the housing projects in the distance. Then if I uncovered both eyes, it took a minute for them both to adjust. It was wonky but it was changing.
We got off the train on Mermaid Avenue and proceeded immediately to Nathan’s to fortify ourselves with some medicinal hot dogs and fries. I kept testing my vision. The Cyclone, the Ferris wheel, the boardwalk, came into view. I could see details of the half-clad bodies on the beach. Folds of sunburnt flesh, bad tattoos, back hair, varicose veins, details that now looked gorgeous to my worried brain. I realized that the waving blob by the stadium was actually my sister and my nieces. Over the course of the first few innings, I saw the team’s mascot transform form a fuzzy, white shape ( a snow man? An ice cream cone? A thumb?) into a giant-headed seagull, prancing around the diamond.
By the time the Cyclones started to lose badly, I was agog at how beautiful the evening looked. The sky was lavender and fuchsia. The parachute jump was wrapped in a delicate skein of twinkling lights. I could read the signs on the bumper car track, count the bulbs on the scoreboard, see every kernel of popcorn on that large man’s lap near first base. Brooklyn was the most beautiful place on earth and I was, yet again, the luckiest man alive.
17 thoughts on “Short story long.”
I love your rendition of this old tale. I seriously doubt they had a Barcalounger in Kiev or Palvala, but that’s ok! You made your point well! The drawing and all its lines of detail is terrific! Glad your vision retuned to normal. Careful how you sleep next time!! You might put your eye out if you’re not careful!! My grand mother used to say! ;-).
What a great story! More, more, more is our middle name, our goal, what we want, want, want. Why can’t we be happy with what we have, where we are, where we’ve been, and where we’re going. Thank you for the reminder to appreciate everything this Labor Day.
Fun is fun until someone loses an eye.
Wonderful! The Grandpa story is terrific! Enjoy seeing your world! So glad the Monkey was wrong about the eye! Toss him a banana and draw, sketch, fling paint!
Glad you’re ok now..btw, didnt know your grandfather is Chris Christie…
I am glad your eyesight is better (for you and us!) and loved the old story and how you related it to your situation (scary!). Aside from wondering what my studio looked like before the chickens, goats, and cows walked in, I am reminded of mid-semester photography class back in college in the late 70s. I took a two-week photo course in cold grey winter, shooting pix in b/w, then spending hours in the darkroom printing black and white images of the cold grey winter. After four hours in the darkroom I went outside and to my surprise, the midwestern winter scene had become glorious technicolor in comparison to what I had been working with. A revelation!
Julia Donaldson and Axel Schleffler did a lovely version of this tale.
Glad you are Ok. Bad Monkey.
You are funny Danny. This summer spent a lot of time in swim pools with family and friends gatherings. I couldn’t help it. The same happened to me, blurred vision because of the chlorine in my eyes. It was a good thing though, it was an excuse to not sketch and being lazy for a looong, looong summer break. Good to hear your vision is back….so mine.
Great story! Beautifully told, saw the image before me….!
I used to tell that story to my students when I was a teacher – such a great moral in it. Of course your version is much more amusing – and current! 🙂 Another great post!
Haha, that’s a good story. I always like all these old tales grandparents tell us. I feel like they’d be good to tell to little kids, and it keeps them alive I’ve had that same experience with the eye. It happened right after I woke up. I thought I was going blind. 😀
So glad you’re eyes are okay. Don’t sweat it that you did the right thing going full time as an artist/mentor. I think that the people here are in no doubt that you have a talent for encouraging others. It’s a gift.
My blindness story is from back in art college. A mirror smashed and the glass splinters flew everywhere, including some into my eyes. I couldn’t open my eyes and had to go to hospital. Fortunately the splinters had done no permanent damage and the doctor managed to carefully remove some small shards.
My eyes were perfect again as soon as she took the pieces out. Funny how you don’t know what you’ve got till you lose it.
Great stories, Danny. The old man story is missing a punch line though that I was waiting for… His house no longer smelled like cabbage. LOL! I like reading your posts–you illustrate as well with words as you do with the pen, reminding us all that, we’re all very much the same.
Thanks for letting me see that yes I do have it all..
I find my vision gets really blurry and is slow to recover when I spend a lot of time looking at my Kindle screen.
Just read your story to my son. Amory, who I am visiting out in Portland, Oregon for the week. When I first walked into his apartment I was secretly dying to go out and get him things…basic things like throw rugs, flowers, an extra chair, more forks. He liked your story. Amory is a minimalist, and it can worry me, but after spending time with him, I am always so relaxed. He has the day off so he is sitting here playing his guitar and I am reading emails and planning on painting something for his wall. The timing of your posting was a good reminder.
I had two tears in my retina a couple of years ago, and I will never take my eyesight for granted again.
You inspired me to google minimalism, and i found the following:
Q: What is minimalism
A: It’s a way to escape the excesses of the world around us — the excesses of consumerism, material possessions, clutter, having too much to do, too much debt, too many distractions, too much noise. But too little meaning. Minimalism is a way of eschewing the non-essential in order to focus on what’s truly important, what gives our lives meaning, what gives us joy and value.
Q: Isn’t minimalism boring or too sparse, with nothing in your life?
A: This is a misconception about minimalism — that it’s necessarily monk-like, empty, boring, sterile. Not at all. Well, it can be, if you go in that direction, but I don’t advocate that flavor of minimalism. Instead, we are clearing away all but the most essential things — to make room for that which gives us the most joy. Clear away the distractions so we can create something incredible. Clear away all the obligations so we can spend time with loved ones. Clear away the noise so we can concentrate on inner peace, on spirituality (if we wish), on our thinking. As a result, there is more happiness, peace, and joy, because we’ve made room for these things.
Q: What are the benefits of minimalism?
A: There are many. It’s lower in stress. It’s less expensive and less debt. It’s less cleaning and maintaining. It’s more enjoyable. There’s more room for creating, for loved ones, for peace, for doing the things that give you joy. There’s more time for getting healthy. It’s more sustainable. It’s easier to organize. These are only the start.