Tuesday, March 24, 2020

Holed up Ruminations

Tim’s birthday party was a fine affair. His friends came over and decorated the party room in the basement of his apartment building real nice. About 30 people came. Lots of old friends. Lots of food. Lots of laughs.

That was way way back in those carefree days, when people wantonly mingled and hugged. That was two weeks ago. And now I look back on going to that party with the same consternation as if it had been a cocaine–fueled orgy full of unprotected sex. How could I have engaged in such reckless behavior? Will I soon regret it? Ollie was there. I ran into him a few months back at the Bulls game. He works in the stadium ticket booth. Holy shit! That means he comes in contact with a shitload of people! Was Ollie infected with the virus?

And Donna was there. She hugged me hard! Twice! On the way in and on the way out. Donna is a big time hugger so she might have been infected too because I bet huggers like her are among the most susceptible. Ollie and Donna are upstanding citizens who would never knowingly infect anyone, but that doesn’t mean a damn thing. I mean, the virus infected Tom Hanks for fuck’s sake, just to show us all that it will stop at nothing.

There was leftover pizza so I took it home and ate it. Holy shit again! How could I have been so cavalier? How many infected party guests touched that pizza or breathed all over it or sneezed in its vicinity?

But maybe I dodged that bullet because like I said, that was two weeks ago and they say that two weeks is how long it takes for the virus to get you if it’s gonna get you, maybe, so far as we know so far.

But what about the reckless behaviors I’ve engaged in since then? I went to the grocery store. How many infected people did I brush up against there? How many of them touched that can of beans I bought?

I’m not going to the grocery store anymore, but maybe it’s too little too late. Surely the virus hitched a ride into my home somehow. Why should I be any different from all those other poor saps that got infected? There is no God. The fact that Tom Hanks got infected proved that. Maybe I should call in some of those people who will give your home a deep cleaning. But what if they’re infected?

This is the kind of shit you think about when you’re holed up in the dark all day trying to hide from a virus.

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Sunday, March 15, 2020

Proactive Ramps

When I drive through my boyhood neighborhood, where there are blocks and blocks of working class family houses circa 1950s with square front lawns, I can tell where all the cripples live. Their houses are the ones with the crazy, winding wooden ramps on the front.

Because nobody builds a ramp on their house just in case they or someone who lives there becomes crippled or so some crippled visitor can get in. Hell, if anybody tried to put a ramp on their house just in case somebody might need it someday, the neighbors would probably think they’re crazy. A petition would probably start going around. If there’s a homeowners association involved, they’d probably fine the homeowner with the proactive ramp up the ass. Neighbors and homeowners associations can accept ramps as long as there’s a good excuse for them. But suppose Neighbor X builds a ramp on their house and so neighbor Y, as a display of sympathy that somebody who lives there is now crippled, brings over a batch of homemade chocolate chip cookies. And suppose Neighbor X then says thanks a lot but there’s nobody crippled living here. We’re just being proactive. Imagine how betrayed Neighbor Y will feel.

And the only time anyone builds a house from scratch to be fully cripple accessible is if a known cripple is going to live there. And that’s dumb because people become crippled every day. There’s a guy who lives upstairs in my building whom I hadn’t seen around for a while and then one day I saw a guy who looked exactly like him hobbling with a cane and his arm was shriveled up like he had a stroke. So I figured either he had a stroke or he has a twin brother who had a stroke. It turns out that sure enough, the guy who lives upstairs had a stroke, which is why I hadn’t seen him. And I said to myself well hell, I bet that guy’s grateful that by dumb luck he ended up in a building that’s cripple accessible. It’s a helluva lot easier adjusting to life as a cripple when you don’t have to call the fire department to haul your ass down the stairs every time you want to leave the house. The guy in who lives upstairs could be a spokesman for that.

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Tuesday, March 3, 2020

Free Beer from Jesus

Duke and I settled in at our table and ordered a pitcher of beer. At the other end of the room, there was a party of about 15 consisting of two adult men and one adult woman and a flock of kids of a wide range of sizes, ages and colors. Their table was crowded with pizzas and pitchers of soda pop.

After a little while, the two adult men and the oldest boy approached our table. “Excuse me,” one of the men said. “Are you two related?”

I knew what that was all about. They assumed Duke was my son. I get that a lot. People see a crippled old man like me out and about in public and their first conclusion is that my companion/assistant must be my nursemaid. But Duke sure didn’t look the part. He wasn’t dressed like a nursemaid and he was holding up my stein so I could drink beer through a straw. Nursemaid’s don’t do stuff like that. So once the possibility of nursemaid was ruled out, the next possible conclusion was that my companion/assistant must be my offspring. Who would hang out with and feed an old cripple just for fun?

“No,” I said. “We’re just friends.”

And then the man said, “Well we just wanted to let you know that Jesus loves you.”

Oh God! I get that a lot, too, when I’m out and about in public. I find it insulting because I assume the reason that person is singling me out to receive extra love from Jesus is because I’m crippled and I look sad and bedraggled to them and they think they’re making my day.

And then the man said, “And we’re picking up your tab.”

Duke looked at me and I looked at him. Wow! Free beer! There are fewer greater gifts in life! But I still felt a bit insulted. Strangers often pick up my tab, too, and when they do I assume they’re only doing it because I’m crippled and I look sad and bedraggled to them and they think they’re making my day. I always feel like I should reject their generosity and take advantage of this teachable moment.

But this was different. Like I said, I get that Jesus loves you stuff all the time, but no one ever backed it up with free beer. I also had an obligation to Duke in this situation. After all, this was his free beer, too. If I was going to refuse it, I needed a damn good rationale.

So Duke and I just said thank you. The Christians smiled satisfied smiles and returned to their table.

Duke clinked his stein against mine. “You’re a good wingman,” he said.

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Monday, February 24, 2020

My Rent-a-Cripple Dream Revived!

I’ve always wanted to start an escort service called Rent-a-Cripple. Because one of the few advantages of crippledom is you get to cut to the front of lines a lot. I go to a place like the DMV and somebody who works there will inevitably wave me right past everybody standing in line and straight up to the service window.

So I always thought I should rent myself and/or other cripples out as escorts for people who don’t want to wait in line. And now there’s stuff going on that’s giving me big incentive to get off my ass and do it. Some families of people on the autism spectrum are suing Disney. It used to be that when these families showed up at Disneyland or Disneyworld they’d get waved to the front of the waiting lines for rides and other attractions. But then stories starting flying around about how rich people were hiring cripples or fake cripples in wheelchairs to accompany them to Disney parks so they could cut to the front of lines.

Hearing these stories really pissed me off. I wasn’t mad at the perpetrators. I was mad at myself for letting them beat me to the punch with Rent-a-Cripple. I also thought about how those conniving Disney people may have cooked up the whole thing just to give them the excuse they needed to crack down on cripples cutting lines. They probably told the actors playing Mickey and Goofy that instead they had to play the roles of a fake cripple in a wheelchair and a rich person. I sure as hell wouldn’t put it past them to do that.

And sure enough, in 2013, Disney announced that instead of letting cripples cut lines, they would instead issue us all some sort of stupid pass that we could use to reserve rides etc. at certain times and until those times came we’d just have to hang around other parts of the park and wait. No more showing up out of the blue and demanding that everybody get the hell out of the way.

Well the families of autistic people who sued said all that waiting around wasn’t fair because some autistic people get agitated when thrown off their routines and the idleness might cause them to have a meltdown and make a big stink in public.

Well of course Disney has been fighting back with all its fancy-pants lawyers. But just last week one of the cases finally went to trial. Even if it loses there are a whole lot more cases in queue right behind it so sooner or later one of them ought to stick or maybe the flood of cases will make Disney give in and let autistic people cut lines again.

And that will open a vast new potential profit center for Rent-a- Cripple. I can subcontract autistic people to escort people who want to cut Disney lines. And if that doesn’t work, I’ll subcontract people who pretend to be autistic. I’ll have to give them some kind of training course, but that shouldn’t be too hard. I can just have them watch the movie Rain Man over and over until they get it down.

Hell, gimme a break! I’m just trying to live the American dream.

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Thursday, February 13, 2020

I'd Rather be Robbed

Larry told me he was riding the subway train and he got robbed again.

The first time Larry was robbed was about a year ago. When the train pulled up to a station and the doors opened, a youth who as riding in the same train car with Larry snatched away the cell phone mounted on Larry’s motorized wheelchair. His youth accomplice grabbed the wheelchair joystick and tried to drive Larry out of the door and off the train. Apparently that youth discovered that driving a motorized wheelchair is much harder than it looks because Larry says they quickly gave up on that part of the scheme and ran off the train with his phone.

The most recent robbery happened just last week. Larry got off the train and got on the elevator to go up to the street. Somebody got on the elevator with him. This guy wasn’t a youth. The guy opened the pouch hanging on Larry’s wheelchair and snatched his cash. When the elevator door opened the guy dashed out.

This wouldn’t have happened to Larry 30 years ago because 30 years ago guys like him and me couldn’t get on public transit buses and trains with our wheelchairs. The buses all had steps inside the entrance doors and hardly any subway stations had elevators. Back then, if we wanted to go anywhere, our only option was to call paratransit and a cripple van with a wheelchair lift would pick us up. But to try to book a paratransit ride, we had to call at 5 a.m. the day before. A thousand other cripples were trying to do the same thing at the same time so breaking through the busy signal wall was the first challenge. And if you did break through, all the ride slot might well be taken up so you were SOL. And if you were lucky enough to actually score an open ride slot, it might be two hours before or after you actually needed it because that was the only time slot available. And the cripple bus might well pick you up or drop you off two hours late. And there was nothing you could do about it.

Yep, back then, guys like Larry and me were so oppressed and marginalized, the prospect of being robbed on a subway train was a luxury, Back then, a lot of cripples bitched, protested and sued to get public transit access. But other cripples said they’d never ride the mainline buses and trains. It’s too dangerous, they said. People get robbed.

Well then the Americans with Disabilities Act was passed requiring public transit access. And 30 years later, here we are. But there still are cripples who say they'll never ride mainline buses and trains. It’s too dangerous. People get robbed. When they hear about Larry being robbed, they’ll probably say, “See, I told you so!”

I suppose someday I’ll get robbed like Larry did. I also have a cell phone and money pouch attached to my chair. And I’m sure I’ll be traumatized as a result, especially if some dickhead tries to drive my chair off of the train.

But I remember the frustration of being at the mercy of paratransit. Even if I just wanted to go a few miles down the street, I had to participate in a degrading lottery for crumbs. I remember how that made me fume, especially when I looked out of my window at the bus stop right across the street. I remember when I finally took my first mainline bus ride, like a regular fucking human being. I felt like I had wings.

So I can’t even begin to imagine being so traumatized that I would return to only riding paratransit. I’d rather be robbed.

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Thursday, February 6, 2020

What Does Equality for Crippled Assholes Look Like?

Okay so here’s an ethical dilemma for us all to chew on. Suppose there’s some superstar basketball player like LeBron James. And suppose, seated courtside in the prime seats, is a vicious heckler. And I mean this is the most foul-mouthed, offensive, sonuvabitch of a heckler anybody ever heard. Every time LeBron passes by, he spews venom. He talks about his mama.

So here’s my question: At what point would LeBron be justified going into the stands and throttling that person? But hold on before you answer. Suppose that heckler is a Down Syndrome person or maybe somebody who’s blind. Does that change your answer? Should it?

I know it’s hard to picture a Down Syndrome person or somebody who’s blind as a vicious courtside heckler. It’s like trying to picture someone who blind or a Down Syndrome person on a wanted poster. You just don’t ever see that kind of thing. But why not? It reminds me of that TV show that I never watch where the protagonist is a woman who is chief of police in Los Angeles. It makes me wonder why I can’t think of a real-life female chief of police. It’s not like women are inherently incapable of being chiefs of police. They just haven’t had the opportunity. They’ve been pressured to play a limited role. It’s the same way with blind people and especially Down Syndrome people. The only way Down Syndrome people are allowed to present themselves in public is as sweet and cute and lovable. They aren’t inherently incapable of being a vicious heckler or ending up on a wanted poster. They just haven’t had the opportunity. They’ve been pressured to play a limited role.

So imagine we live in a utopian society that so teeming with genuine equal opportunity that a blind person or a Down Syndrome person could end up on a wanted poster or heckling courtside as easily as anyone else. That brings us back to our ethical question: At what point would LeBron be justified going into the stands and throttling that person? Should he hold back just because the foul-mouthed asshole is crippled? Should he cut a crippled asshole any additional slack? If LeBron went into the stands and throttled a blind or Down Syndrome-having sonuvabitch, he’d probably be fined and suspended ten times harder than if he throttled a regular Joe. Is that fair? Isn’t throttling us without prejudice when we deserve it the proper way for him to show respect and solidarity for cripple equality? Or not?


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Friday, January 24, 2020

Shame and the Social Contract

This is the time of year when cripples are busily organizing all the cripple pride parades that will happen this summer in cities all over. Cripples put together floats and stuff like that and roll through the streets strutting their stuff. As parades go, they tend to be low-budget affairs. There aren’t any giant hot-air balloons shaped like Stephen Hawking or anything like that.

These parades are a good thing, though it’s too bad they're necessary. We wouldn’t have to publicly proclaim how proud we are to be who we are, if everybody didn’t think otherwise. It reminds me of that TV commercial where everybody talks about how wonderful it is to work for Amazon. Amazon wouldn’t waste their time and money making a commercial about how wonderful it is to work for them, if everybody didn’t think working for Amazon sucks.

I take part in the Chicago cripple pride parade every year. But I have to say that I’m always left feeling unfulfilled. There’s something missing. Our message of pride just doesn’t seem like it's having its full impact.

But I’ve figured out what it is that’s missing. There are no hecklers. Nobody feels threatened enough by what we’re saying to come out and try to shout us down. And that’s troubling.

Don’t they know how dangerous we are? I mean, when it comes to cripples, shame is an indispenable clause in the social contract. Society gives us a little space to move around and in exchange we have to act like it’s all sad wretches like us deserve. If it’s charity, we have to be ecstatically grateful for whatever is given us, even if it’s a dead pony. If it’s something like Medicaid, we have to stay forever broke and inert. Because if we’re not forever broke and inert we aren’t really crippled.

So you’d think that when cripples have the nerve to be proud of themselves and each other (in public no less), it would scare the hell out of at least some uncrippled people. If cripples can’t be shamed into submission anymore, it’s like giving them all that stuff for free. Then what? They’ll demand more and more and pretty soon they’ll take over!

I’ll keep joining the parade every year but pretty soon I hope I’ll see agitated uncrippled onlookers holding up signs saying CRIPPLES GO HOME. And maybe I’ll even get winged by a flying rotten tomato or two.

Won’t that be glorious? That’s when I’ll know we’ve really arrived.

(Smart Ass Cripple is completely reader supported. Purchasing Smart Ass Cripple books at lulu.com and filling the tip jar keeps us going. Please help if you can.)