Tuesday, June 19, 2018

Iron Man

Greg and I pulled up to the drive-thru ordering board at White Castle. We placed our order. We drove up to the window and paid. The young woman took the money, gave him change, handed him the white paper bag and said, “I gave you both the senior discount.”

At first I was offended by her presumptuousness. How dare she accuse me of being a senior, even though I am! Shouldn’t she at least card me first? But I soon realized what a silly attitude that was. Why should being called a senior make me feel insulted? And what terrible offense did this young woman commit? She gave me something for a little less money.

And the more I thought about it, the more I felt blessed to be at White Castle receiving the senior discount. I thought about all the doctors who examined me as a kid. I don’t think any one of them would have bet a dime that I’d live past age 30. And here I am today not only an old crippled man but an old crippled man who is still healthy and hearty enough to be able to eat White Castle food without getting the shits or anything!


That’s a feat worthy of Guinness World Records consideration, don’t you think? I know strong young people in the prime of life who can’t endure the rigors of digesting White Castle. Call me Iron Man!

I have a birthday coming up soon and I think I’ll celebrate by having lunch at White Castle. And I’ll invite the media. I’ll put out a press release: Crippled senior demonstrates his amazing vitality by eating lunch at White Castle without feeling any of the infamous consequences, except the inevitable buyer’s remorse. It’ll be one of those inspiring public interest stories, like when a 90-year-old man runs a marathon.

The reporter sticks a microphone in my face after asking me the obligatory question: What is the secret of my longevity and resiliency? I have a one-word answer: “Orneriness!’’ I was fortunate to inherit my mother’s ornery gene.


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Tuesday, June 12, 2018

Billy and His Pinkie Toe


Nursing home abuse and neglect? Call us!

That interstate billboard made me wonder whatever happened to Billy and his pinkie toe. Billy was a quadriplegic in a nursing home. The skin on his pinkie toe was so badly broken down that the toe had to be amputated. I hooked him up with a law office like the one on the billboard. It wasn’t hard to find one. There are lots of law offices like these advertising on interstate billboards and on commercials during reruns of television shows like Rawhide.

In a way, Billy was fortunate. If you’re a quad looking to sue your way out of a nursing home, an infected pinkie toe is probably the best way to go about it. Quads don’t have much use for their pinkie toes. So I bet if you asked a quad which body part they’d sacrifice to be able to sue a nursing home, that’s the one most would choose. But it also cuts the other way. The nursing home’s lawyers can say, “Oh big deal. He’s a quad! If nobody told him his pinkie toe was missing, he wouldn’t even know it was gone. His pain and suffering is zero and that’s exactly what his compensation should be.”

The nursing home’s lawyers were playing that game with Billy’s lawyers so I don’t know how much money Biily ultimately received. But his infected toe wasn’t the worst of it. He was abused and neglected in far greater ways. Every time I saw him, he was in bed, alone in a dim room with a window that had a scenic view of a brick wall. And the nursing home took all his Social Security money, leaving him 30 a month. How abusive is that? And even if anybody ever did bother to get him out of bed and into his wheelchair, if he wanted to go anywhere outside of the nursing home he would’ve needed a doctor’s permission to do so, even though he was a grown fucking man! And don’t get me started about the food!

But if I’d tried to hook Billy up with a lawyer to sue the nursing home for that kind of abuse and neglect, it wouldn’t have been so easy. You can't sell a jury on that stuff. I’ve never heard a lawyer on one of those Rawhide rerun commercials say, “Are you in a nursing home? Do they leave you in bed all day? Do you need a doctor’s permission to go outside of the nursing home even though you’re a grown fucking man? And don’t get me started about the food! If you’ve suffered from this kind of abuse and neglect, call us!"

I’m sure the abuse and neglect referred to on the interstate billboard was of the pinkie toe variety. I don’t think Billy ever collected a cent for his real pain and suffering.


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Monday, June 4, 2018

On Cripple Do-it-Yourself Gadgets and Service Animals


I don’t have much interest in elaborate cripple do-it-yourself gadgets and service animals. I’ve always felt like they we’re more trouble than they’re worth.

For every obstacle there is out there in the world, somebody will try to invent a gadget to empower a cripple to overcome that obstacle alone. For instance, when I was a criplet, I remember occupational therapy sessions were they had me fiddling with various gadgets designed to empower me to put on my own socks. There were rods with various hooks and clamps on the end. There were specially designed socks with elastic extension loops on them.

But then I’d go home and have my mother put my socks on me, just like always. I felt the same way about going to occupational therapy as I did about going to church. It didn’t have much relevance but I did it anyway because some adults told me to.

Most cripple do-it-yourself gadgets aren’t very versatile. They tend to serve one purpose only so in order to take on every obstacle I encounter I’d have to lug around hundreds of gadgets. And who wants to do that? Besides that, theses gadgets usually cost a zillion buck a piece. So fuck it. My philosophy has always been if I can’t do something myself, I’ll get someone to do it for me.

That’s why I never seriously entertained the idea of getting a service dog. I love the hell out of dogs, but there’s very little a service dog can do for me, except maybe pick stuff up off the ground. I’m not going through all the effort and cost of maintaining a dog just for that. I’ll get a human to do it.

But then one day there I was, caught up in the inevitable situation where my cavalier attitude toward self-sufficiency would come back to bite me in the ass. I was rolling through downtown Chicago when lo and behold, there on the sidewalk in front of me was a ten dollar bill!

What would I do? I couldn’t bend down to pick it up. If I’d taken occupational therapy more seriously, I would probably be equipped with a picker-upper gadget just perfect for this occasion. Or if I had a service dog, I could probably say, “Fetch it, boy! That’s a good boy! Now put it in daddy’s wallet.” And I wasn’t accompanied by another human either, which was probably a good thing. Because then there would’ve been an ethical dilemma. Whose ten dollar bill is it? The spotter or the retriever? I would’ve felt compelled to offer to split it.

And when there’s free money there for the taking, nobody can just move on and leave it for the next guy. Well maybe you can, but I can’t. I don’t have that kind of fortitude.

Ah but never fear. You know me. My middle name is Resourceful. So when the next pedestrian came by, I said, “Excuse me. Can you help me? I dropped my ten dollar bill.”

He picked it up and handed it to me. “Thank you ,” I said. “ Clumsy me.”


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Tuesday, May 29, 2018

The Inspirational Fire Hazard

There was a guy sitting alone at a table at the public food court of the U.S. Capitol. He had gray hair and a gray beard growing wild. He wore dingy blue jeans. And when various people past, he stood and gave them an unsolicited, urgent warning about the coming insurgency and counterinsurgency. Everybody hustled by and ignored him.

Meanwhile, I sat a ways down at a table with other wheelchair cripples. And a no-nonsense food service worker, whose job title must have been enforcer, approached us making a shooing motion with her hand. “You all gonna have to move,” she said. “All these wheelchairs are a fire hazard.”

We ignored her and eventually she went away. I thought she would return with cops to taser and or pepper spray us, but she never did. Or maybe she tried but we finished our lunch and left before the cops got there.

But the whole thing illustrated for me how differently the uncrippled majority treats different types of cripples. I wondered why the cafeteria Gestapo woman didn’t tell the guy ranting about the insurgency that he, too, is a fire hazard. Because he’s crippled, just like me. He’s crippled in the sense that he’s built funny, which means he doesn’t easily fit in.

So then I realized that there’s one thing cripples like him have on cripples like me. They don’t have to put up with people calling them fire hazards. I really hate that fire hazard shit as much as I hate that inspirational shit. I bet cripples like him don’t have to put up with that shit either. I bet nobody sees him ranting and says to him, “It’s good to see you out and about today, buddy! I really admire you.”

The uncrippled majority is so fucking weird. One person’s inspiration is another person’s fire hazard. And another thing I hate is that pity shit. I’m sure the counterinsurgency guy doesn’t get any of that either. I’m sure nobody takes it upon themselves to drop a dollar in his lap. No doubt it’s a lucrative strategy for a street beggar to pretend to be physically crippled. But it probably has the opposite effect on the bottom line if a beggar pretends to be schizophrenic.


So maybe I should be jealous of that guy and cripples of his tribe. They aren’t subjected to a lot of the shit I hate most. I should want to trade places with them. But who the hell would want to do that? All in all, I’m sure cripples like them are treated way more shitty than cripples like me. The uncrippled majority feels a lot less guilty about locking their kind up for not fitting in.

So now I’m even more confused about the where I stand with the uncrippled majority and how I should feel about it. The uncrippled majority is so fucking weird.



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Sunday, May 20, 2018

Cripple Bonding Events



A lot of times, when crippledness invades a person’s life, that person will take something they loved doing before they were crippled and try to make it accessible for other cripples to do. Often they put together a non-profit organization and hustle up a bunch of volunteers and have a big bonding event where cripples get together and do that thing. It’s their way of coping. It’s part of their healing process. They focus on the positive side of being crippled and try to get others, especially young cripplets, to do the same.

Like for instance, if a bungee jumper becomes crippled, he/she might organize an extravaganza for wheelchair bungee jumpers. The volunteers tie bungee cords around the cripples’ ankles, push their wheelchairs up to the cliff and dump them out.

I’ve seen a lot of hunting lovers who organize bonding events for crippled hunters. Cripples roll around in these motorized hunting wheelchairs that have tank treads for tires. And the wheelchairs are painted camouflage. And cripples have hunting rifles mounted on the chairs. They look like some sort of crippled militia. Even if I liked hunting, I’d be afraid to take part in one of those cripple hunting trips. I’d be afraid that, just my luck, one of those Big Foot bounty hunters would see me rolling through the woods in one of those chairs with tank treads and he’d sneak up behind me, throw a net over me and then whoop and holler about finally catching the big prize!

These events don’t have nostalgic appeal to me because I was born crippled so I never went hunting or anything like that so I don’t miss it. But I try to focus on the positive side of my crippledness in a different way. I try to pause every now and then and remind myself how fortunate I am that there are some things I can’t do.

I’m especially grateful for those things I can't do that get me off the hook for doing shit I don’t want to do. Like when I was kid, being crippled gave me a good excuse not to go to church or Sunday school. My uncrippled peers were so damn envious. And later on, being crippled was a guarantee that I wouldn’t be drafted. And my uncrippled peers were even more envious.

Hell, even today, being crippled gives me any excuse for the saying fuck everything and collecting Social Security if I want to.

If I was going organize a cripple bonding event, I’d gather a bunch of cripples to not do something together. Like maybe while everybody else is in church, we’d all go hang out somewhere, anywhere, just so it’s not church.

It would remind us that inability, not ability, is what really matters.


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Thursday, May 10, 2018

Viva Greg Smith

Baseball reminds me of Greg Smith. In the 1990s, Greg created a cripple-themed, syndicated radio talk show called On a Roll. At its peak it was aired on 70 radio stations across the U.S.

In the early 2000s, I was his producer. We brainstormed about show topics and guests. Sometimes we went on the air together. It was big fun.

Greg was an enormous Chicago Cubs fan, even more so than me. One day we were talking about the hundreds of hours we’ve spent throughout our lives watching baseball on television. And Greg says, “When they show shots of the crowd, have you ever seen anybody in a wheelchair?” I didn’t have to think about that for long. The answer was no.

That was a keen observation on Greg’s part. I’m sure there are cripples at every major league ballgame. There have been others besides me at every game I’ve ever attended. So why did we never see them on television? The only explanation was that whoever decides which crowd shots make it on the air was consciously avoiding showing any cripples. What else could it be? I don’t think there was a memo from the baseball commissioner’s office stating, “Under no circumstances are you to show any cripples in your crowd shots.” No, it was more likely that there was a subconscious consensus among broadcasters that aesthetically-pleasing shots of fans having fun at the ballpark don’t include any cripples.

Greg wrote, “My parents have shared with me their reflection on a day when televisions were ‘black & white,’ but that phrase didn’t represent the people ‘inside’ the box. When the first black people came on television, it was a big deal!

“Families rushed to gather around the tiny, blurry picture in festive mode. It was a great thrill for them to see people who looked like them represented for the nation to see. Television became a major catalyst that paved the way to the explosion of African American culture’s current status as a vital part of pop culture.

“In order for people with disabilities to develop the social confidence to reach our full potential and put our spin on pop culture, we need to be seen on television. That’s a prerequisite first step.

“Are we not shown on TV because we’re too repulsive? Ugly? Deformed? Misshapen? Depressing to non-disabled viewers? Would we make people grab their remotes and turn the station?”

So Greg started an initiative called ADA Fan Cam. He asked crippled baseball fans to send him pictures of themselves at major league baseball games so he could use that to
pressure the brass at MLB headquarters to show crippled fans in the stands at games on July 26, 2015 and to have all broadcasters acknowledge that day as the 25th anniversary of the signing of the Americans with Disabilities Act.

The good news is MLB acquiesced and on that day people watching games on television all over the country saw crippled fans in crowd shots and heard announcers honor the ADA.

Greg said, “This is a huge step. Now maybe it will be normal to see a fan with a disability once in a while during a ballgame.”

But the real bad news is that Greg died the following June, just a few months before the Cubs won the damn World Series! MLB broadcasts did not show crippled fans or commemorate the ADA on the next ADA anniversary day. And I’ve watched a lot of baseball games since then and haven’t seen a cripple in a crowd shot. Apparently the 2015 ADA celebration was all just tokenism.

So I guess in order to honor my buddy Greg’s legacy by being seen on television at a ballgame, I’m going to have to run out on the field naked. (Maybe I’ll wear the cap of the home team.) That seems like the only way to get the camera crews to stop ignoring me.

It won’t be easy. Any uncrippled mope only has to jump over the wall if they want to run out on the field. I can’t do that. So I’ll have to pretend like it’s a make-a-wish thing—my greatest fantasy is to circle the bases during the 7th inning stretch.

That way, security will escort me onto the field. I’ll need an accomplice—somebody to whip my clothes off me quick once I’m on the field. That person will probably be promptly arrested. Police often do that when I’m out protesting with other cripples. Instead of arresting us, they grab the closest vert (which is short for vertical, which is cripple slang for people who walk.)

But it’s all for a great cause. With his ADA Fan Cam Campaign, Greg got a lot of people thinking about cripples and who we are, even if just for a minute or two. Now it’s time to take it to a new level.



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Tuesday, May 1, 2018

Desegregate the Special Olympics

I looked in a thesaurus in search of antonyms for the word special. The most humorous ones I found are humdrum, mediocre, ordinary, run of the mill, no great shakes, undistinctive, everyday, unexceptional and routine.

I did this because this year is the 50th anniversary of the Special Olympics. Thus, I’m looking for a contrasting word to describe those other Olympics that come around every four years. Should I call them the humdrum Olympics? That’s funny but not accurate. It implies that those Olympics are boring compared to the Special Olympics. How about the mediocre Olympics? Inaccurate again. It suggests that those other Olympics are athletically inferior. That’s the problem with the word special when applied to cripples. Suddenly it takes on the opposite meaning. It becomes kind of an insult.

I guess I’ll call them the regular Olympics, for lack of a better word. It’s been a nice run for the Special Olympics. The Special Olympics has created a higher level of understanding, many people say. Maybe so, but now it’s time to create an even higher level of understanding by merging the Special Olympics with the regular Olympics.

Every regular Olympic competition ought to be required to include a Special Olympian. And I don’t mean Special Olympians wrestling each other. No way! I mean regular wrestling Special, mano a mano. And none of this condescending shit either, where the regular wrestler puts on a big heroic act and lets the Special guy pin him. I’m talking about full-out, testosterone-fueled, genuine wrestling. And if the Special guy gets thrown into the audience, well then we’ve created a higher level of understanding. That’s what it takes sometimes. Creating higher levels of understanding ain't easy. And if the regular guy gets thrown into the audience, even better!

Or we could require the regulars to engage the Specials on the Specials’ terms. Like let’s make all the basketball players get in wheelchairs. Then watch all those leaping superstar regulars like LeBron bumble all over the place while the real cripples zip around and make them dizzy. Who’s so fucking special now?

Or it could be a cooperative thing where a regular and a Special team up for the common good. Like luge could be done the same way some people do skydiving, where someone who has never jumped out of a plane is tied to a pro skydiver. The pro skydiver pulls the ripcord and does all the work and all the other person has to do is try not to shit their pants. Similarly, a Special Olympian can be tied to a regular Olympian on a luge and they can hurdle through the snowy channel together as one.

My point is there are a lot of ways to merge the Special Olympics and regular Olympics so let’s get on with it. Hey, this is 20-fucking-18! There’s no excuse for segregation.





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