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In fifteen years everyone will have 20/20 vision, she said. That was how my girlfriend, Vera, introduced herself in the lobby of Laser One. I was waiting to get laser surgery for a half-price introductory special. $1000 an eye, but you had to get both eyes done. They made you sign a contract.
    My father was an ophthalmologist, but he retired when Bush became president, Vera smiled. She nodded at the Sports Illustrated in my hand and added: Now he plays golf everyday.
    When I went to visit Vera's parents a few months later, her father didn't look like an ophthalmologist, but more like an actor. He wore a silk scarf, quoted Ezra Pound, and as he mixed me a gin and tonic, made a joke about a Jew, a colored, and a woman. When he asked how Vera and I met I told him we both had laser surgery. He asked how my vision was. I said that one eye was still blurry. He told me not to worry, that it goes away with time.
    Vera was crying because we had been fighting about wearing shoes in the house and one thing lead to another and I said that her father was a racist. She said that he had been mugged when he lived in Detroit by a black man with a knife. He was a doctor for Godsakes, Vera shouted, throwing her tiny running shoes across the room. And this kid threatened to 'cut' him if he didn't give him cash. Wouldn't you be racist too? No? You wouldn't? Well, at least try and be understanding. For Godsakes try and be a little understanding.
    Besides you're dating me not him.
    On the precinct walls there were eighty-three wanted pictures of black males. Only two were white. See any of them around, the sergeant smirked. Crown Heights ain't a place for you. You stick out. Move somewhere else. Try the East Village or Soho. They have nice places there. The sergeant then walked over and bought Peanut Chewies from the vending machine. He lived in Jersey so I felt confident enough to say that I liked my neighborhood. Crown Heights sounded better than Hoboken, I joked, but he didn't laugh. He just ate his Peanut Chewies and stared at me.
    I went to go look for Vera and found her alone, sitting on a worn wooden bench with NYPD written on the back, her eyes dark like ripe blueberries. She was still shaken up. The boy, her mugger, was losing five to ten years of his life and she had something to do with that. She had clearly identified the boy, the kid who couldn't even read the Miranda warning. She had identified him and he was going to jail. To prison, she clarified, in case I hadn't understood the first time.
    Jail will ruin his life, Vera cried. He was polite. He only took my cash. Five to ten for eighty bucks. It seems
    He made choices the detective shrugged, a black, thick, caring woman who spoke with enviable confidence. Everyone makes their own choices, some choices eventually bring them here. He was a good kid. Middle class upbringing. Lives in a better building than me. Now his family is going to get evicted. They always evict felons. Well, not always, but usually.
    When we left the precinct the detective said they would reimburse us the eighty dollars. They have a federal program for that. Just fill out the application. My eyes are still blurry, Vera replied. My boyfriend will fill it out. Besides he's got better penmanship.
    Outside, Vera stopped on the steps and looked at me. I'm so scared, she whispered. So very scared. There were five other muggings tonight all by different guys. All different black guys. All the muggings were against women. All against white women my age and height and hair color. What do you think that means? Let's talk about racism, she said, her voice rising. You heard the detective. I am a prime target. I'm scared as hell. But...But...Yes, let's talk about racism. You and I. I'll tell you my fears and you tell me your philosophy. I really want to hear what you learned at that Liberal Arts school of yours Mr. Six-foot-hundred-eighty-pounds. Tell me. I'm very interested.
    Then, once we finish talking about racism you can tell me all about sexism.
    That night I threw out my rap tapes. For some reason the fact Eazy-E was a stick-up kid and Ice-Cube slapped "hoes out of habit" sounded different, the texture less playful. Sure, I was mugged once, Donna, our office secretary admitted to me on her lunch break, her Haitian accent richly texturing every syllable. I didn't go to the police. I probably knew the kids parents. Everyone knows everyone in my neighborhood. The police don't take that into consideration. They don't care about nothing. They would have locked the kid up.
    Donna was eating Triscuits and thumbing through the Daily News. I forgot to tell you, she said. Vera called, poor girl, she sounded so sad. You should be taking care of her. Donna tapped her newspaper. You read about what Giuliani been doing to my neighborhood? It's shameful.
    In her sleep Vera mumbled that she saw a shadow in the bedroom. Someone with a flashlight. There was no one there when I checked. I made sure all the windows were locked. The bag of rap tapes was still by the front door as I went into the kitchen to get a glass of water.
    When I got back into bed Vera told me she loved me, but asked me to respect her fears, to really ask myself if I loved her for who she was, to try and understand what it meant to feel that you were an easy target, and why, when she was traumatized, I lectured her about Eldridge Cleaver.
    When Vera went to the Grand Jury the only question they asked her was how much she made a year. When she answered, one of the jurors, a black woman dressed in a khaki work-suit, coughed as if she were choking down her surprise. And you're worried about getting mugged over eighty bucks someone whispered. Vera cried for the whole subway ride home and people stared aghast at me, as if I had caused the pain.
    They didn't ask me how I recognized him, Vera said on the walk from the subway stop. They didn't say how did you recognize your mugger in the lineup. If they had asked I would have told them. I would have said that I recognized him by the way his eye twitched when he laughed. I thought he was blinking at me, but he was just laughing as he took my money. As if he thought it were funny that I didn't stand up to him. That I was an easy target. In the lineup he did it again as he stared at me behind the glass. He was smiling and laughing, like he knew how it was tearing me up inside.
    Jesus, why did all this have to happen? she asked and looked at me as if I had known the answer all along.
    The next day I received a Special Birthday Card from My Friends at the laser surgery center. My birthday was six months away. I clipped the letter to the refrigerator door to show Vera, thinking it might cheer her up. When she came home I pointed it out and she just gave me a sad smile before going straight to bed, mentioning as she brushed her teeth that her birthday had been the week previous and she understood why I hadn't remembered. With everything going on, she said, I almost forgot myself.
    They say that I might have to wear glasses when I am sixty-five. They say that sometimes the laser procedure reverses itself. I see perfectly now, today, and that is what matters. The blurriness is gone. Vera occasionally has to use eye drops. We are both very pleased with the outcome. Laser surgery has given us halos at night, but that's to be expected. That's what the brochure says.




laser surgery

eric raschke