Friday, October 14, 2011

A Brief History of Broken Noses


According to legend, Jack Palance died with the longest recorded string of broken noses in recent history: twenty-one times, starting with his failed career as a boxer and then as a stunt-man and famous cowboy actor. He also broke some pretty famous noses of his own, notably that of Marlon Brando. Male model and margarine spokesman Fabio was riding on a roller-coaster when a pelican slammed into his face, shattering his manly schnoz. Paula Abdul tripped over her chihuahua.

I mention these merely to make the point that we cannot control our surroundings, that fame and fortune are no better defense against destiny than fear or strength or protective headgear. Whether it be the brick wall of a YMCA gym, a hurled beer can, the elbow of an anonymous booty-dancer, or the fist of a wrathful woman, there will come a day when it has your name on it, or at least the name of your nose. All you can do is duck, and if that fails, at least stay awake until the concussion wears off.

Personally, my fifth broken nose came recently when I lost an argument with a concrete porch on St. Patrick's Day – I would say you should see the other guy, the standard one-liner, but the other guy is me too, the part of me that attracts flying objects and non-constructive criticism. That's five times in thirty years, which averages out to once every six years. Looking at it that way, my odds seem pretty good on any given day. Once it happens again, I can relax and, if not literally breathe easy, at least focus on breathing. Pain is great for putting things in perspective, but so are painkillers.
The standard experience, at least as far as mine go, is this: Darkness.
Then, as the fog lifts, you become aware first that you're on the ground. You wonder where all the blood is coming from. Then the steady throbbing begins, lights flashing in front of your eyes, pretty swirling colors dancing on the periphery. I'll admit that three of my five have involved alcohol – if this is the case, there's way more blood, but much less pain, at least at first. The fun begins when you stagger to the bathroom and have to reassess your face. If you can stand it, you'll need to snap the nose back in place. “Snap” isn't a euphemism either; there is an audible, gristly crunch that you can feel behind your eyes, in your teeth, that creeps down into your bowels.
After that, the worst of it is explaining what happened over and over to every clown on the street with nothing better to worry about. It becomes difficult unless you have a really good story prepared, something involving mountain lions or berserk skinheads or renegade pelicans. Anything undignified will only compound the humiliation if you're forced to repeat it 500 times. If you can get away with it, make something up; if a bunch of people saw it happen, all you can do is own up to it and quietly wish the same on them.
Once the soft cartilage is broken, it weakens, making the nose more vulnerable. I imagine that this holds true with each breakage, creating an ever-increasing cycle. Barring some sort of life-style change, you'll be more and more prone to it. You can retire from boxing, but retiring from life shouldn't even be an option. They say once you get hit by lightning, you'll attract it, but does that mean you should stop going outside? No, but you'll probably look at “outside” a little differently.
Maybe this is what I'm trying to say: the only way to live is to stare your life in the face, accept that it may not ever be as pretty as it started out, and snap it back into place when it's pointing the wrong way. Clean your blood off the ground, change your shirt, take a few days to sit on the couch, and then get back on the horse. At the rate it's going, once every six years, I will have to live to be 132 to break Jack Palance's record. The odds may slim, but you gotta play to win.

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