Snake Oil Essentials: The History and Science of the Much-Maligned Medicinal

Chinese Snake oil, from the erabu sea snake, has been a traditional remedy for arthritis and bursitis for hundreds of years, and seems to have been introduced to the U.S. in the 19th century when thousands of Chinese laborers were contracted to help build the Transcontinental Railroads–an estimated 180,000 emigrated to the U.S. between 1849 and 1882, according to Richard White’s book Railroaded.

The laborers “may have offered snake oil to fellow workers as relief for suffering long days of physical toil,” writes Cynthia Graber in a 2007 Scientific American article. She continues, “Richard Kunin, a California psychiatrist with a background in neurophysiology research, became intrigued with the idea of snake oil in the 1980s. He had been following early research on the importance of omega-3 fatty acids for health and it dawned on him that the much-maligned snake oil might be a particularly rich source.

Kunin thus went to San Francisco’s Chinatown, bought some snake oil, and had it analyzed alongside the subcutaneous fat of two species of rattlesnakes. He published his findings in a 1989 letter to the Western Journal of Medicine, but before we look at his findings, let’s see about these rattlesnakes.

Common in the American Southwest, the rattlesnake has been widely adopted into religion and ritual. In her classic book of anthropology, Patterns of Culture, Ruth Benedict describes the Hopi Snake Dance: “In the first set the Antelope priest dances, squatting, the circuit of the altar, and retires. The Snake priest repeats. In the second set Antelope receives a vine in his mouth and dances before the initiates, trailing it over their knees. He retires. Snake follows, receiving a live rattlesnake in his mouth in the same fashion and trailing it over the initiates’ knees.”

In another account at The Free Dictionary, the Hopi Snake Dance ends thusly: ” A priest draws a circle on the ground, the catchers throw the snakes in the circle, the Snake priests grab handfuls of them and run with them to turn them loose in the desert.” Neither account suggests the killing of snakes for medicinal purposes, rather, they are explicitly released.

That did not, however, deter enterprising nineteenth-century medicine showmen who seem to have fused the efficacy of the Chinese Snake Oil (supplies of which were probably easily exhausted) with the sacredness of the native rattler, added a giant dose of entertainment, exploited the great yawning need for cheap cure-alls in frontier America, and presto, you get Stanley’s Snake Oil, and Arizona Bill’s snake oil, and Wormer’s Snake Oil and Miller’s Snake Oil… There were a lot of them and although, as Wayne Bethard describes in his Lotions, Potions and Deadly Elixirs, “most of the old medicine show formulas contained no real snake oil at all,” they were nonetheless ubiquitous.

If we are inclined to scoff at the great popularity of the medicine show, we ought to first consider our own television shows that squeeze more than one pharmaceutical ad in nightly! Ann Anderson makes the connection clear in her detailed analysis of the rise and (supposed) fall of the phenomenon in Snake Oil, hustlers and Hambones. It’s a great read and loaded with colorfully dusty characters, but here’s one example to the point: “Arizona bill was an Indian medicine showman whose Welsh origins and British accent did nothing to damage his credibility. Billing himself as “The Benefactor of Mankind,” he wore fringed buckskins and long hair in the manner of an Indian scout. He told a story about being stolen by Indians as an infant and raised in their midst, all the while learning their miraculous herbal cures. His specialty was Rattlesnake Oil, a liniment that when rubbed on sore muscles would enable the most decrepit Indian warrior to keep on fighting.”

Arguably, the most famous and notorious snake oil was that of Clark Stanley “The Rattlesnake King.” Stanley had been a cowboy before he turned to peddling snake oil and paints a convincing picture of “life in the far west” before he gets to recounting the origins of his formula in his little book The Life and Adventures of the American Cow-boy. I would like to quote the whole damn thing, for one cannot help but be charmed by, for example, his defense of the “cow-boy’s outfit” against the people of the East who have the impression that it is worn merely for “show and bluster,” or the many lonely cowboy verse and lively cowboy dance tunes such as this one: “Gents chase and put on style, Rehash and a little more style. Little more style, gents, a little more style. First lady out to the right; Swing the man that stole the sheep, Now the one that hauled it home, Now the one that eat the meat, And now the one that gnawed the bone,” but I must move along to the relevant:

“After the round-up in the Spring of 1879 I started with some of my father’s best friends to the Moki [Hopi], Pueblos at Wolpi, Arizona, to witness the snake dance which takes place once in two years; there I became acquainted with the medicine man of the Moki tribe, and as he liked the looks of my Colt’s revolver and asked me to show him how it would shoot, I gave him an exhibition of my fancy shooting, which pleased him very much; he then asked me how I would like to stay there and live with him, I told him I would stay until after the snake dance. …I was so much pleased with the dance I decided to remain with them and see the dance again. I lived with the Moki tribe two years and five months, and during that time I learned their language and dances and the secret of making their medicines. The medicine that interested me most, was their Snake Oil Medicine as they call it. It is used for rheumatism, contracted cords and all aches and pains. As I was thought a great deal of by the medicine man he gave me the secret of making the Snake Oil Medicine, which is now named Clark Stanley’s Snake Oil Liniment.”

However much of Stanley’s story is true, I can’t say, but it bears a striking resemblance to those of other medicine showmen of the time. And, whether or not his original formula contained snake oil, by the time he came to making it in a factory in the East, there was not a trace of snake left, notwithstanding the rattlesnake holocausts: “I traveled through the Western and Southwestern States and met with unbounded success, and during the World’s Fair in Chicago in 1893, as an advertisement I made my Snake Oil Liniment in full view of the audience, killing hundreds of snakes which were shipped to me by my two brothers from my home in Texas.”

In 1917 his oil was analyzed by the government and shown to contain mineral oil, some fatty oil (presumed to be beef fat), turpentine, red pepper, and camphor. Stanley’s “secret formula” was actually very similar to others of its kind. “Miller’s snake oil formula, a popular remedy during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, rode the tail winds of snake oil’s reputation. Millions of bottles were sold, which contained camphor, turpentine, coal oil, paprika, carbolic acid, oil of cassia, eucalyptus, cloves, origanium, sassafras, and methylsalicylate, and they honestly said so right on the label,” writes Bethard, but of course not everyone labeled their ingredients because, before the Pure Food and Drug Act of 1906, they didn’t have to.

“The irony is, some of the old topical formulas actually worked on superficial aches and pains,” continues Bethard, who is a bona fide modern-day pharmacist. The typical snake oil formula resembles today’s over-the-counter liniments, which derive their analgesic properties from the same chemical compound that makes red peppers hot. In addition, camphor and turpentine, used since ancient times as decongestants and cough suppressants, are active ingredients in present-day cold products such as Vicks VapoRub, which, though I protested loud and long against my mother slathering it on me, did, I have to admit, work pretty well.

In other words, Stanley’s fakery was about false-advertisement, not necessarily efficacy. Blame for snake oil’s decidedly downward spiral may have been more diffuse if Stanley’s Snake Oil hadn’t enjoyed the unfortunate distinction of being singled out for analysis. In any case, the public turned quickly from buyers of snake oil to ridiculers of the same.

Stanley did not contest the findings and paid his fine of $20, but from that well-publicized moment forward, snake oil became synonymous with false cure and quackery, and the image was thence cemented in the public imagination with snake oil salesmen peddling their wares in the periphery of countless Westerns.

It may have been this universality that prompted Kunin, in 1989, to have the subcutaneous fat of two species of rattlesnakes (Crotalus viridis and Crotalus tigris) analyzed alongside the Chinese snake oil bought over the counter. The rattlers were trounced. As Graber puts it, “Chinese water-snake oil contains 20 percent eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA), one of the two types of omega-3 fatty acids most readily used by our bodies. In comparison, the rattlesnakes had only 8.5 percent EPA. And salmon, one of the most popular food sources of omega-3’s, contains a maximum of 18 percent EPA, lower than that of snake oil.”

This begs the question: in an age where omega-3’s are coveted and everywhere praised and gobbled up in fish oil capsules and flax seeds, how is it that snake oil’s reputation has not risen with this tide?

Graber suggests the answer may have something to do with the fact that, when Kunin’s article first came out in the 1980’s we were just learning the wide-ranging health benefits of omega-3’s, and despite the fact that several Japanese studies have supported Kunin’s original findings, the Japanese research is not widely known in America. However, one might argue that it is not easy to overturn an ideology, even with the help of science. Despite several stories inspired by Kunin’s findings–NPR’s Code Switch for example–the quackery of snake oil is far too engrained.

Perhaps the biggest problem Chinese snake oil faces is that, in the western mind at least, there is as yet no romance surrounding the Erabu sea snake and plenty around the American rattler. The old medicine shows did too good a job making snake oil synonymous with rattlesnake oil, and then with fakery by not even filling their bottles with the real thing. Still, I’m sure those red-pepper liniments packed quite a bite!

Never Be Sorry, a poem of sight and blindness

I Will Never Be Sorry
To have seen that jagged desert,
Encircled by horizon,
Topped with that great dome
Of exalted blue heavens above,
Or that lovely cool sliver of a moon.

And I will never be sorry
To have seen that ragged face
(that great last love
That blazed so quick)
Or to have loved it
With spit and fire.

And I will never be sorry
To have Seen these fucking butterflies–
Literally, fucking butterflies–
Falling from the sky
(It’s hard to fly when you’re fucking)
So they drop
Into the hand of one
Who will never be sorry she sees them
Drop dancing into the palm of her
And dance till they rocket apart.

Up and away
Into that close slab of sky,
Chipped away by these eucalyptuses–
These Eucalypti?
Whatever they are called,
THEY DO NOT BELONG HERE:
Australian trees on a Santa Cruz
Draw the monarchs from
God only knows where.

This is an impossible grove
With its accessible walks
And its stupid visitors hut–
Winds might yet blow it all away.

And on that ocean
Sit those natural bridges,
Carved out by a thousand years of pounding,
Had I like them
Energy enough and time
I would never, never,
Never be sorry.

* First published at Quail Bell Magazine*

Sewing Blind

[First published at Quail Bell Magazine]

My blind sewing adventure began about seven years ago when on a whim I searched for, and found, sewing needles at MaxiAids.com, a website that sells disabled people gadgets. As with so many of the great things that have happened in recent years to enhance my life as my sight fails, the technology inspired the activity and the activity inspired creation.

I bought two kinds of needles. The first I use all the time for general sewing they come in a rainbow pack of sizes, but each needle, from fat to skinny, share the ingenious feature of a slit at the top wherein you push the thread and it gets trapped by a little hook. The other needle is perhaps more clever but less sturdy and more prick-prone. It is called “Big-Eye” and this is not false advertising. The eye of the needle splits the slender flexible steel from one sharp end to the other. This is the needle to use for beading and the like because it is so skinny, but of course it tends to get bent out of shape with little provocation. With these two needles and my dress form, I have made all my best loved dresses.

Now, I’m not going to lie to you and say that nothing I’ve made has turned out a sequined monstrosity, or deny the sad existence of more than one vintage-lace carcass, seem ripped beyond all repurposefulness. But there are a solid handful that have been successful enough to garner many compliments and become staples of my performing life.

The Little Black (Furry) dress

One of my first major successes was the little black furry dress AKA the sexy teddy bear dress. If you want to be petted, this is what to wear to your next cocktail party! Because of course, in the end, it’s all about texture.

I whittled away countless hours of listening to epic novels while creating this one, which consists of individually knitted patches of black eyelash yarn sewn onto a dance dress. You can see it in action in the behind the scenes portions of the Proto Trailer for The Star of Happiness, my one woman show about Helen Keller’s time on Vaudeville. Yes, it’s true that Helen Keller spent four years performing on the vaudeville circuit, but that’s another story…

The burgundy corset Ensemble

Worn by Marie Antoinette in The Spectator and the Blind Man, my play about the very sexy history of the invention of braille, and removed by her over the course of her heart-breaking monologue, the Burgundy Ensemble has had a lot of performance wear. Come to think of it, it is not only my clothes that get repurposed. I refashioned Marie Antoinette’s monologue into a flash fiction piece called Nothing Can hurt Me Now, which has, I’m delighted to say also been published at Quail Bell! The burgundy corset dress also features in the short film The Kerfuffle in which I play Sam, a blind floozy who gets busted for two-timing a couple of amputees… Oh just watch it; it’s cute! Even my mother thinks so.

The materials at hand, whether tawdry or elegant, shiny or shabby, provide inspiration for my sewing creations. In this case, several gorgeous yards of butterfly and flower embossed satin, given to me by my best friend when I visited her in Memphis, presented the impetus. The ensemble consists of A corset top and skirt with enormous pockets. I put pockets in all my designs because girls should not have to be encumbered by purses! For the underskirts and halter ties I used some opaque burgundy curtains I’d purchase years before. (It is likely that Scarlett’s green “Curtain Dress” in gone With the Wind is a significant design influence!) Finally, in an adventurous mood, I bought a handful of rhinestone flower ribbon decorations on EBay which cost $2.50 and took three weeks to ship from China, but which worked perfectly as accents on the bodice and the skirt.

The top’s foundation, an old an unattractive corset , came into my possession during an unfortunate performance on a boat in which I did not win a certain “Miss Demeanor Pageant” despite my first round sweep and my lovely assistant Millennium, my black lab guide dog! Anyway, somewhere in the madness of the dressing room I ended up with someone else’s corset that became the shell for my corset top. I draped and sewed the burgundy satin over that top and over a little side zipped skirt that I used as the skirt base. You see, I am a very lazy sewer. I like to do the fun pretty draping designing stuff and the mindless stitching, but refuse to waste my time putting in zippers!

In fact, I think that even if I’d not lost my sight, I would not have kept up with the conventional sewing I learned in grade school. I could see quite well back then and, although I made a few cool things, the precision and patience of patterns and darts and button-holing was just not for me. So, oddly enough, I think that my blind sewing is something I’ve come to as a culmination of who I am as an artist and a blind person, not as an approximate adaptation of the former behavior of my sighted self. The spirit of blindness infuses everything I do and makes it, if not always better, at least more interesting.

The Crocheted Chimera

My 2015 outfit of the season is comprised of no fewer than seven clothing items from decades of life and death. It began with fashioning the lacey waist-cincher pocket accoutrement out of several items bestowed to me by my mother’s friend who died and left me all her clothes from her seventy odd years of collecting/hoarding. I fastened that odd device, which on its own looked a lot like a holster, to a knee length circle skirt to which was added the real bells and whistles of the ensemble: a gold-threaded crocheted wrap that, although very glamorous, had always been too scratchy to use. I wear the skirt with a lacey crocheted top kept from my long ago wild days in New Orleans whose sleeves were cut for the heat. But, hot as NYC summers may be, one must have some portable sleeves to beat the arctic AC. Et voilà, enter the slightly bell-sleeved black crocheted half sweater with iridescent threads that ties under the boobs.

The whole ensemble looks good enough that I’ve adopted it as my audition outfit. Good enough to prompt an ABC Primetime casting director to say when I walked in the terrifying audition room, “What a beautiful dress!” Good enough to momentarily disconcert her, and boost my confidence, when I said, “Oh thank you. It’s my latest creation.” Herein lays the joy of wearing clothes made by you when you are a blind person: it confuses sighted people, which is often just what’s needed to refashion perceptions!

Why Do NaNoWriMo?

I heard about NaNoWriMo for the first time a couple of weeks back while perusing an online magazine (Quantum Fairy Tales) and saw a post on why NaNoWriMo matters. What the heck is NaNoWriMo? I read the post and learned first what it stands for–National Novel Writing Month, and next what it is essentially about–discipline. The importance of planning, prioritizing your writing, and writing consistently among other writerly behaviors can all be practiced by participating in NaNoWriMo. I was intrigued . As the November 1st start date was not far in the future or in the distant past (as so often happens with randomly found blog posts), as to make waning excitement or forgetfulness stop me, I decided to do it. After all, the only requirement is that I write 50,000 words in the month of November which breaks down to about 1667 words a day. As a writer, I should be able to muster that (in the month of November and beyond), right? And besides that, I’ve got a novel idea just waiting to be birthed!
So tomorrow begins the challenge of writing a novel in a month–a short novel to be sure, but nonetheless a novel of at least 50,000 words–which is as the NaNoWriMo Wikipedia page tells me is the approximate word count of such notable novels as Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, Brave New World and The Great Gatsby. I believe also that it is the approximate word count of one of my all-time faves, Heart of Darkness but I have to check on that, hold please…
Oops, I was off! It looks like Heart of Darkness is really a novella of 30,000 words. Damn. Novellas are not given the respect they deserve. In fact I read on theNaNoWriMo website that 50,000 words is closer to novella length–most submissions for novellas suggest that 40,000 is the upper limit, but that novellas are less impressive and in the end, the point is that a significant swath of writing, novel, novella or something non-fiction or, gasp! Poetical, can be written in a month. Fifty thousand words sounds like a lot if you have a full time job or kids or what have you. However, when you break it down to one thousand six hundred and sixty seven words a day, it seems more manageable. And that is really the point. It is doable.
[Word count: 434]
Or not. Geez. It’s 10:14 AM on the scariest day of the year and I’m all dried up, finished. I got nothing. Shall I quit? Shall I give up this ridiculous task of writing 1667 words a day? I could legitimately procrastinate! For instance, I’ll start tomorrow. Tomorrow I can start writing my novel and that will be easier. I’ll not run out of things to say with that. Ah ha! I’ll tell you about my novel to come and thereby generate some more words. I’ll not give up!
Operation Second Sight, my science fiction spy novel, is the novel to be. I’ve been putting it off ostensibly because of the research involved. I would need to study spy craft, not just read le Carré novels as I’m wont to do, and I need to study some hard science about the eye, not just read up on future cures for my own eye disease (of which there are currently none), but also research the near-future probable and possible. There is also one other line of intelligence I have to research but it’s a secret since it relates to the twist in the novel, so SHHH!
Full disclosure: I have tried writing a novel before, but who hasn’t? It turned out that my novel was really just the retelling of a myth, which is not so marketable, and though nobody likes to write for the market, it is hard to get excited about something, which, in the writing world at least, seems rather overplayed and done. That said, several stories have birthed from Metamorphoses of Tiresias and, more importantly, it started me on the path to being a (fairly) diligent writer and submitter of stories, but I’ve not tried my hand at a novel again. In fact, I’ve been rather a chicken.
[Word count 737 (almost 50%!)]
Being a person who tends towards self-examination almost to a fault, I think (in order to fulfill today’s word count requirement, which, you may have surmised, looms large) I will (as such things seem to be all the blogging rage) make a list. My list pertains to the Obstacles I’ve found in my way of committing to writing my new (and sure to be best-seller) novel:
1 I love novels. I read a lot of novels. I read good novels and bad novels. I read plot-driven novels and character-driven novels, I read classics and just released, and so it often happens, that I read in order to avoid writing.
2 I read a lot of novels (see above), and so deciding what to write and how and in what way and with what gusto feels crushingly limitless.
3 This should probably be number one insofar as it is fierce, but on a daily basis, it is not always obvious: fear. Fear of failure in one’s own eyes or the eyes of others, fear that it will not be nearly so good as it had seemed in utero, fear that it will not get done and will remain a spirit trapped between worlds, left to wander and haunt the liminal space between idea and finished object. FEAR FEAR FEAR
[Word count: 972 (I surpassed 50 percent! I can do this!)]
4 Resistance. I steal this term from Steven Pressfield who is perhaps most famous for writing The Legend of Bagger Vance, but is known to me by his ancient-times novels such as Last of the Amazons. He wrote an entire book on resistance called The War of Art, a tactical guide to combatting resistance, and from which I could steal my entire list, but for which I will give him credit here. In particular, I take from him the idea of daily resistance, I might even say mundane or quotidian resistance. It’s the little things like starting to write in the morning, just like you are supposed to and then getting a phone call from a collections agency about your student loans in default, or starting to write, needing a drink of water, going into the kitchen, being aghast at the dishes piled in the sink and doing them all the while cursing all those inhabitants of the household who did not do their dishes. Starting to write and remembering that you forget to respond to an email, text, call, Facebook tag, IM, etc., etc., etc., and open the can of worms in question and drowning in the slimy critters that are modern communications. It’s also opening up your computer with the best of intentions and editing instead of generating new, or sending stuff out instead of writing, or looking at likely places to submit and all the other things that feel like you are promoting the well-being of your writing while neglecting the writing itself. This last is the most insidious because it may not even appear as resistance and, if you are a good editor, can take weeks away from your writing without even promoting guilt.
[Word count: 1265 (the home stretch!)]
As I near my goal for the day, I realize that this word count thing is very good for one important reason: after a couple hours of work, you have something to go on. I now have this silly article about writing and not-writing that I will post on my blog for no one to read (after much diligent editing of course) that I would not have had if not for what I will call the NaNoWriMo effect. And, it is 11:17 AM so now I have all kinds of time to do other things like research and read novels and pay bills, but the goal, having been met for the day, I can go about all these things with a lighter heart.
[Word count: 1391]
Shit. I feel like I just wrote my conclusion and I still have 310 words to go. Now what do I do?
Oh, I just realized I left out what is probably the worst and most crushing obstacle to writing a novel:
5 The worry that you are, in fact, not a writer. If you are writing every day–not editing, not submitting, not doing dishes and thinking about writing, then in a beautifully literal and unarguable sense, you are a writer. Though it may not satisfy your mom or dad or partner or best friend, though it may not even satisfy the dreadful cocktail question or what you are up to these days or even your own inadequacies of existential import, writing every day with the intent of manufacturing a certain amount of words that, as they grow in quantity are inversely less likely to have been written before or the likelihood of being written again, by you or anyone else, you make yourself a writer. And, as this optimistic rant must continue till 1667, I conclude thusly.
Writing in the literal putting words down on paper, of the chemically treated wood pulp or virtual varietals, is the ONLY thing that is in your control. You cannot bribe or threaten the editors at The New Yorker or Asimov’s or the Paris Review or AltHist, and you cannot, no matter how much you try, get anyone you love to read as much as you do or to care as much as you do about literature or writing (specifically your writing), and though you cannot will yourself into the hearts and minds of millions or onto lists of best-sellers or even to win a coveted prize or contest, YOU CAN WRITE.
[Word count 1689]
THE END

The Buffoon of Saint-Ovide, story of an eye

[Hospice Quinze-Vingts, 1772]

When the first fat coin smacked my face, I had to admit Monsieur might have been right about his crazy money making venture! Of course that wasn’t my first thought. My first thought was, “Ow, what the hell?” And my second thought was, “Shit! Where’d it go?” I wanted to look for it, but I thought that if Monsieur saw me groping around in the dirt for it, he’d be on my ass yelling, “Get back to your banging and scraping blind man!”
The scoundrel had got us to agree to divide The take fifty-fifty, i.e., He would get half and the ten of us would have to split the rest. So I bet you’re thinking, “Well now, doesn’t that sound fair.” And of course we recognized the bamboozle. After all, we’d be doing all the work, making asses of ourselves etc. But here’s the thing, it was his idea. I mean, how could we have known you people would be so easily entertained? The sighted have very strange taste!
Monsieur had also got us our costumes and instruments, such as they were. But he hadn’t warned us about coins being flung at our faces, so after the coin bounced off my face and into the dirt, I decided to do a subtle reconnaissance. It was a delicate operation considering the fact that I was supposed to be playing the fiddle with the stick or whatever it’s called, and all that scraping and banging and yelling and clapping made it pretty difficult to concentrate on the business of my big toe.
Now, I don’t want to give the impression that I’m used to a tranquil or meditative lifestyle. I mean, I live with three hundred blind people who are constantly bashing around and messing with each other. It’s not the Paris madhouse, but it sure can get crazy in here! Still, you cannot imagine how damn loud it was at the Saint-Ovide Fair that night. There must have been a thousand people, all going crazy for our blind buffoonery!
Anyway, while my big toe was still looking around for my coin, I heard Jacques (who was next to me), go “Ooph!” I guessed that he’d been hit with a coin of his own.
Then I realized he was crawling around in the dirt for it. “Holy horse manure!” I said to myself, “So much for subtlety. That guy’s as subtle as an elephant in a tutu. As subtle as that skinny, syphilitic whore with the oozing boob who calls herself Jubilee. As subtle as the paper spectacles rimming my blind eyes and the dunce cap with ass’s ears sitting on my head. As subtle as Denis, who suddenly starts braying like an ass. Seriously?! Does he think he’s singing? Amazing. The stupid crowd is eating it up. This is war!”
I was not about to be outdone by that clown, so I wagged my head a little and trotted in place like a dancing donkey. It worked! People banged their tankards and cheered. Encouraged, I wagged more vigorously and trotted with gusto, and yep, brayed out some bits of song too.
All of a sudden the coins came fast and furious, too many to count. For a few exhilarating moments I felt like I had found my calling. I would be an entertainer. Make a ton of money. Delusions of grandeur, as ridiculous as any of Jacques’s, who always comes home from a day’s begging, convinced that the grand lady who’d tossed him a penny would certainly adopt him as her blind pet project.
I don’t indulge in that kind of bullshit, and I’ll tell you why. Because just when you think you might be able to do something other than live with a bunch of disgusting blind guys who are so horny they rub against anything that breathes, and smell like piss and moldy cheese twenty four seven, just when you think you might be able to get a taste of some other life, that other life jumps up, smacks you on the forehead, and says, “Get real blind man. You will never amount to anything.”
Case in point: The coins were flying, high velocity, dropping all around. Excited and reckless, I bent over to do, I don’t know, some kind of spastic crouching jogging thing, and slammed my eyeball, such as it was, into the corner of the music stand in front of me.
The music stands had been set up in front of each of us with their sheets of music facing the spectators. Nice comic touch, eh?! But I’d forgotten it was there. Being blind is so marvelous.
Anyway, it really hurt. Started gushing. People laughed. But I couldn’t keep up the dancing donkey routine anymore. Besides, now all the guys were dancing. They’d realized it was solid gold. I heard later that Monsieur wanted more dancing as the crowd loved it, but by then I was feeling quite miserable, to say the least.
My mangled eyeball got infected, of course, and for the next six weeks I lay on my cot, certain I was dying. To add to my misery, the guys came back every night from the “Café of the Blind,” as it had been dubbed in our honor, with full pockets, whores, and massively inflated egos. They thought they were made, but I knew it wouldn’t last. And I was right.
After a month the crowds lost interest. Monsieur said thanks but he wouldn’t be needing their services anymore. He told them to run along back to their pathetic lives. (Our pathetic lives.) But at least they got that month. All I got was this stupid empty eye socket.

*First published at the dark and sexy Dance Macabre Online*