Do you remember Jack Elam? He was that great character actor who appeared in hundreds of motion pictures, mostly westerns, during the 50's, 60's, and 70's. Legend has it that he was a California accountant until his eye doctor told that he would have to give up his chosen profession or eventually go blind. So, armed with very little acting experience and one very noticable physical defect, he decided to try his hand at acting. It wasn't long before he hit it big in Hollywood and over the next three decades seemed to appear in every-other western film made. Oh, he was an excellent actor... always playing the gruff heavy or comedy foil to actors like John Wayne and James Garner. But most of all, the single thing that brought Jack Elam fame and fortune was, quite simply, "the eye".
Elam suffered from Strabismus, a condition in which the eyes are not properly alligned with each other. It typically involves a lack of coordination between the extraocular muscles ( the muscles along the sides of the eyeball) causing one or both eyes to drift inward toward the nose or outward in the direction of the ear. Most folks know it as crossed eyes, lazy eyes, or wal-eyes. In Elam, it was his left eye that canted perpetually toward his temple.
In my case, both eyes do it a little, but mostly my left eye. Yes, folks, I too suffer from that annoying condition called Strabismus. It started when I was a young man, only happening late in the evening or at night after my eyes became particularly tired or strained. But as I grow older, my ability to coordinate both eyes for the common good has grown frustrating and more than a bit embarrassing. My left eye tends to drift to the side without my knowledge at the most unopportune moments, bringing odd looks from folks and a mixture of fright and fascination from most kids (who lack tact and promptly ask me "What in the world is wrong with your eye, mister?). Fortunately, I have the ability to consciously realign my eye, but by then the damage is already done. People have branded me with the embarassing stigma of "crossed eyedness" and they're constantly watching for me to let down my guard and let it happen again. Which, eventually, it always does.
A few years ago, I didn't let it bother me so much. But now that my writing career is gaining momentum and I'm out in public at book signings and conventions, it bothers me more than I care to admit. When you're meeting your fans face-to-face, you don't want to be looking at them eye-to-eye with only one good orb, while the other checks out the coffee shop on the other side of the bookstore. Sure, it might seem to be appropriately spooky for a horror author to possess such an ocular defect, but it's no fun for the owner of that rambling eyeball. Of course, I could yank out a couple of my teeth and be affectionately known as "that cross-eyed hillbilly horror writer".... but I think I'll pass on that honor.
I've been assured by specialists that my condition is probably hereditary. A couple of my uncles -- on both sides of my family -- suffered from Strabismus, and my Grandfather Spicer most definitely did. I have an old tintype of Pappy made in the late 1800's, smiling into the camera, one eye centered forward, the other wandering out in north forty somewhere. My condition has grown so severe that I tend to drive with my right eye and allow my other to relax and ride shotgun... sort of like some goofy dog with his head hanging out the car window. Actually, this is potentially dangerous, since it screws up my depth preception something awful. So... I finally decided to do something about it. This past Feburary, I made an appointment with John Bond, a leading eye surgeon in Nashville and sought out a solution for this annoying condition. This coming Wednesday I'll be going under the knife (yikes!) to correct my Strabismus. Dr. Bond (with his father assisting him) will be working on my left eye (the worse of the two) and will be shortening two or three of the extraocular muscles in order to tighten them up and reallign my eye. He hopes that correcting the left eye will "bully" the right into behaving itself. If not, I'll probably have to have similar surgery on my right eye somewhere down the road. Of course, I'm not all that crazy about being put to sleep (the first time I've been put under in my 49 years) and having my eye cut on. My thoughts always go back to that cliched horror device of the patient being anethesized, but not completely so, and in the middle of the operation, his mind screams "No! I'm really awake!" while the scalpel draws closer, ever closer. Pardon me while I do a full-body shudder here...
Dr. Bond tells me that recovery time is swift. I do the surgery Wednesday, go back to have my eye patch taken off Thursday, and it should be a done deal. I'd appreciate your prayers and good vibes, since it's always sort of tricky whenever anethesia and surgery go hand in hand.
Ol' Jack Elam made a career out of his wandering eye, but, as for me, I believe I'll do what I can and take the straight and narrow path. Eye-wise, that is.