By Michael K. Todd
The Captain had already lost his right eye to a detached retina in 2008, partly because he failed to recognize it for what it was. (It did not help that the eye doctor initially misdiagnosed this.) By the time surgery occurred it was too late, as the retina detachment was total.
Concurrently, the Captain’s remaining “good” eye was crippled by a severe cataract back then, creating a bit of a dilemma. With no Job, no Cash and no Hope, he had to come up with something to stay afloat, so he resorted to jury-rigging, an art he became exceedingly efficient at maintaining his antique 1960 Chevy
“Double Eagle “ since 1969.
To continue functioning as a caricaturist, the Captain sandwiched two “Goodwill” eyeglass lenses together – giving him just enough vision to see facial features – until a powerful -13.50 lens arrived. Health insurance was useless (and still is, considering hefty co-pays.) After a 2004 cataract procedure, an insurance company backtracked until they found an optometrist who originally detected that cataract. Declaring it a “preexisting condition,” they refused to pay the assessed $20,000-plus costs.
Having already been taken down by the sabotaged sale of a magazine the Captain once published – it was never fully paid for or closed on due to a legal conundrum wrought by the buyer – the near-blind caricature artist had few choices, and even less money…he also had a daughter to support, so the show had to go on. Survival became THE main challenge.
Life became a series of blurs for the Captain. With nose to the table, he could still see detail, but various website projects wound up on back burners due to difficulty at reading, researching, etc. Driving was out of the question, and if the Captain dropped an eraser, it became almost impossible to find – often ending a studio session abruptly. He could not even see himself in his own mirror.
Ironically, his blurred vision helped break down faces into the most basic shapes, ideal for caricaturing, and because he was now forced to draw with his left eye only, “right brain” connectivity actually improved his work.
Glass patio doors became a major nemesis however…especially when they were closed.
Blind as a bat, the Captain nonetheless became an instant hit with women at caricature events. He could barely see wrinkles, thereby making everyone look 2o years younger in his drawings. As the cataract worsened, he conducted facial anatomical study, finally learning how to draw a skull – foundation for any face – not to mention muscles and other structural facets. As in sight reading vs phonics, the self-taught Captain learned to draw via sight and memorization, not anatomical structure. All that changed.
But it was not what the Captain saw; it was what he could not see that had dogged him for years. He had no clue.
The cataract was getting worse, however, and the Captain, fresh from a January 2014 Orange Bowl caricature event, predicted in a Facebook post he’d never draw at the Orange Bowl again with “these eyes.”
That post proved eerily prophetic as two days later, “the dark curtain” began to descend without warning over his remaining eye, like storm clouds on a horizon. His last retina was detaching, and detaching fast, and Dick Kulpa knew he had less than 72 hours of sight remaining. Captain Cartoon’s ship was sinking.
TOMORROW: A Miracle in Miami