Sunday, November 17, 2019

Cripples with no Crippled Friends

I’m always at least a little suspicious of cripples who have absolutely no crippled friends. Maybe it’s not fair, but that’s how I am.

I get suspicious in the same way I do when I see things on television where there’s a live audience, like late night comedy shows or sporting events. I never ever ever see a cripple in the audience. Even when the camera pans the cheering crowd, there’s never the slightest hint of a cripple.

I imagine daytime talk shows and game shows are pretty much the same. I don’t know. I can’t bring myself to watch them—not even for research purposes. But it’s hard for me to believe that of all the people who show up daily to be in the audiences of these shows, there is rarely if ever a cripple among them.

There has to be a conspiracy at play. It must be someone’s job to be on the lookout for any cripples that happen along and then actively turn away or otherwise dissuade them, perhaps for aesthetic reasons. But that wouldn’t work for some massive event like a football game. You can’t turn that many cripples away. You can bet there are mucho cripples in the crowd of every sporting event you see on TV. So how come you never see any featured in the hundreds of seemingly-random crowd shots on camera or the Jumbotron? The only exception I ever saw was when this guy scored a touchdown and he ran over and gave the ball to a cripple in the stands. But that doesn’t count because that player tricked the camera operator into showing a cripple.

So I’m suspicious that there's another conspiracy going on because this can’t be a coincidence. It seems like whoever is calling the camera shots has to be consciously avoiding showing anybody who’s obviously crippled. If you can’t beat ‘em, ignore ‘em.

That’s how it is with cripples who have no crippled friends. If a cripple wants to find other cripples to hang around with, it’s pretty easy to do. So I figure they must be making a conscious effort to avoid associating with other cripples, perhaps for aesthetic reasons.

And that makes me suspicious.

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Friday, November 8, 2019

The Ignored Man

I hear a lot of cripples, especially those who just became crippled, lament how when they go out in public, they often feel “invisible.”

In all my decades of crippledom, I can’t say that I’ve ever felt that way. Cripples are really the opposite of invisible. We stick out. If there are 50 people going down the street and one of them is a cripple, who’re you gonna notice?

But I know exactly what these cripples who say they feel invisible are talking about. They’re talking about those situations like when you’re out and about with a vert (which is short for vertical, which is slang for people who can walk.) And some other vert starts talking to your vert instead of addressing you, as if you’re not even there. Like maybe you’re getting ready to board a plane and the vert that’s checking people in says to your vert, “Do you have the boarding passes?”

That kind of shit happens to me all the time but when it does I don’t feel invisible because I know goddam well that I’m visible as hell. It’s not that the vert doesn’t see me. It’s that they’re trying to pretend that they don’t see me. I don’t feel like I’m invisible. I feel like I’m being ignored. I’m not the invisible man. I’m the ignored man.

It’s the same insult by a different name. And I also don’t feel insulted when people stare at me. Hell, I don’t even notice if people are staring at me or not. Maybe nobody does anymore. I don’t know. But I do notice when people are trying real hard not to stare at me. Because once again they’re trying to pretend I’m not there. They pretend like they’re looking at something really fascinating, like their phone or their feet or their fingernails.

When verts try to pretend I’m not there, I ought to run over their feet. That should get their attention.

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Thursday, October 31, 2019

My Amazing Display of Courage

What makes me nuts more than just about anything else are those news stories about cripples who rise from their wheelchairs and walk across the stage to receive their diplomas or walk down the aisle to get married or that kind of stuff. It's so insulting.

There ought to be a law where any journalist who puts out a story like that has to face a firing squad. And they can’t get out of it by blaming it on the editor or producer who assigned them to do it. You can’t just throw up your hands and say, “I was only following orders” and expect immunity when you commit an atrocity. Complicity is as damaging as instigation.

The crippled protagonists of these stories are always gushingly praised for showing such great courage. But how come it never works the other way around? How come there’s never a story about a cripple who bravely rolled across the graduation stage or down the aisle in their wheelchair? Because that takes a helluva lot more courage. Everybody’s expecting this cripple to spend a zillion hours working out in the physical therapy gym just so she/he can rise up and take a few halting steps so everybody else can applaud and cry soap opera tears of joy. And that cripple has to have the balls and self-confidence to say fuck all that. I’m not ashamed to be crippled.

This summer I was invited to be the commencement speaker at the state boarding school for cripples from which I graduated in 1974, which I call the Sam Houston Institute of Technology (SHIT). I call it SHIT because the quality of the education was so dismal that I am perhaps their greatest success story. How sad is that?

At the time, I was just breaking in my new blower, which is what I call the attachment that enables me to operate my motorized wheelchair hands-free by inhaling or exhaling into a straw. I got it because it's becoming increasingly difficult for me to drive my chair with my hand, especially in cold weather and on inhospitable outdoor terrain. I thought about using my hand to drive up the microphone, since the graduation was indoors in a flat, smooth gym. But then I said to myself, “What the hell are you thinking?” This was my chance to be an antidote for that horrifying brave walking cripple cliché. So I drove up to the microphone using my blower.

I doubt that I’ll get married again but if by some strange twist I do, I’ll damn sure go down the aisle using my blower. And if I ever win the Nobel Prize or anything like that, when I come up to make my acceptance speech I’ll proudly use my blower.

Before I gave that commencement address, I should have sent out a press release about how a local cripple was going to display his amazing courage at a graduation by using his blower. But I'm sure nobody would’ve covered it.

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Tuesday, October 22, 2019

Because I'm a Grown-ass Man

I hear a lot of cripples who live in nursing holes (not a typo) talk about how they can’t even go out of the premises without first getting permission from some dumbass doctor.

And it blows my mind to little pieces. If it was me, I know what would eventually happen. I’d just roll out of the front door one day and soon someone would track me down and say, “Hey, why are you leaving without getting a doctor’s permission?” And I'd say, “Because I’m a grown-ass man!”

But I’m not naïve enough to think that would be the end of it. Because I also hear people who live in nursing holes talk about if they break the rules they might get put on restriction, which means they’re not even allowed to leave their rooms.

And that not only blows my mind to little pieces, it dumps the pieces into a blender and purees them. So surely I would be hauled back to the nursing hole and restricted to my room as punishment. And thus I’d feel duty-bound to venture out and soon someone would say, “Hey, why aren’t you in your room?” And again I’d have to say, “Because I’m a grown-ass man! What part of grown-ass man don’t you understand?”

But I’m not naïve enough to think that would be the end of it either. They would surely haul me back into my room and barricade me in or chain me to my bed or something. And so I’d have to sue them. I’d line up some lefty lawyers to represent me and they’d prepare a diligent document citing all the various civil rights statutes the nursing hole is violating by treating me like I’m 10 fucking years old. But forget all that stuff. I would want the document to simply say they can’t treat me like I’m 10 fucking years old because I’m a grown-ass man. What more justification do I need?

It’s not that I ‘m some big badass ready to take down Goliath. It’s just that of all the things I value most, at or near the top is my status as a grown-ass man. If I had to write an essay entitled What Being a Grown-ass Man Means to Me, I’d say that first and foremost it means not needing to get some asshole’s permission to do a simple little thing.

Sometimes cripples think they’re never going to reach that point. But I earned that status a looooooong time ago, goddammit! And I can’t imagine giving it up without a helluva fight.

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Sunday, October 13, 2019

Those John Jacob Jingleheimer Schmidt Cripples

I really reacted harshly to that John Jacob Jingleheimer Schmidt cripple I knew way back when. But at the time I felt an urgent need to make it clear I wasn’t one of them.

I was a teenager at Jerry Lewis cripple summer camp. One of the more famous crippled campers was this guy who got up on stage every year and sang John Jacob Jingleheimer Schmidt. That’s what made him famous. It was a big tradition. And everybody loudly and gleefully sang along. It was practically mandatory.

But I sat there silent with a pouty scowl on my face. I refused to have anything to do with this patronizing display. And I avoided coming anywhere near that John Jacob Jingleheimer Schmidt cripple. I didn’t want to be seen with him. I wouldn’t want anyone to think I condoned such behavior. The problem with cripple summer camp was that everybody in charge was a vert (which is short for verticals, which is slang for people who walk.) The verts that were famous at Jerry Lewis cripple summer camp were famous for being in charge. But if a cripple wanted the spotlight, we had to get up on stage and sing a sing a silly children’s song. It was a microcosm of oppressive society: the verts are always and forever in charge of a world where cripples pass the lonely day away singing children’s songs. It was infantilization, cultural castration!

It was all I could do to keep from heckling the John Jacob Jingleheimer Schmidt cripple off the stage. I’m surprised I didn’t demand equal time and then went on stage right after him to read enough of my dark, nihilistic, teenage poetry to smack the sugary aftertaste right out of everyone’s mouth. I wanted to lead the Jerry Lewis cripple summer camp revolution, where the cripples overthrew the verts and took charge! And if I was the head of the cripple junta calling the shots at summer camp, the first thing I’d do is outlaw any goddam utterance of John Jacob Jingleheimer Schmidt. Or, better yet, I’d make some vert sing it.

There are still many John Jacob Jingleheimer Schmidt cripples around today, or many variations on the theme at least. But I don’t feel threatened by them anymore. I don’t feel the need to emphatically distance myself from them or silence them. Times have changed. First of all, I’m not a teenager. I don’t have to turn my nose up at everything like a finicky cat to prove I’m cool. But mostly, things are much better for cripples than they were back then. In those days we were much more vulnerable in the wild and we couldn’t afford to show any sign of weakness.

But since then, cripples have gotten out and about a lot more. We’ve even taken charge of a few things. So a lot more people have dealt with enough cripples to know that we’re pretty much like all other humans in the sense that some of us love singing John Jacob Jingleheimer Schmidt and some of us don’t. We don’t have to constantly prove it.

Would I get up on stage and sing John Jacob Jingleheimer Schmidt today? Hell no. Would I sing along? Probably not. But I wouldn’t consider it my sworn duty as a cripple not to.

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Monday, October 7, 2019

Barred from Bars

I went to a bar and had a frustrating epiphany. This bar was newly-constructed and a lengthy section of it was about half as high as the rest of it. There were removable chairs at that section instead of high stools.

In other words, that section of the bar was intentionally constructed at cripple height. I could roll right up to that section and sit at the bar. And I got real excited about it because even though I go to bars a lot, I never sit at the actual bar because they’re all about chin high for me. So I just find a table and get served there. And seeing this cripple-high section of bar made me realize how passively I’ve accepted this callous exclusion.

It also hit me how particularly heinous this bit of exclusion is. It has taken a terrible toll. There are some things I have been excluded from for which I believe I am better off, such as churches and Catholic school and military service. But just think about how many important cultural transactions and negotiations take place at bars—everything from sealing business deals to getting laid. Think about all the classic jokes and tales that are told at the bar.

But bars naturally exclude a lot of cripples. They are built at inhospitable heights because, well, that’s the height we’ve always built them at, dammit. It’s tradition! We don’t notice the dearth of cripples at bars because we don’t think of bars as places where cripples want or deserve to be. We don’t think cripples are interested in things like sealing business deals, telling and hearing classic jokes and tales and getting laid.

When I saw that cripple-friendly stretch of bar, I wondered how much of life I’ve missed out on by being excluded from bars. I felt a strong wave of grief. I thought about people who suddenly become crippled and how they mourn lost abilities. A lot are sad because they can no longer walk or stand or whatever. If that was me, I’d probably be most sad about no longer being able to sit at practically every bar.

But rather than stew in paralyzing bitterness about it all, I vowed to take action. What I really should do is get together with like-minded cripples and form an organization with bar access as the only item on our political agenda. We’d picket every bar without a cripple friendly stretch until they all capitulated.

But that takes a lot of time and energy. So what I think I’ll do instead is spend a shitload of time drinking at this bar with the cripple friendly stretch, partaking of bar culture. That’ll keep me busy for a good long time. I’ve got a lot of catching up to do.

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Sunday, September 29, 2019

To Bitch, or Not to Bitch

I want to write a cripple version of Hamlet, where Hamlet says this:

To bitch, or not to bitch, that is the question:
Whether ‘tis nobler in the mind to suffer
The slings and arrows of outrageous fortune,
Or to bitch
And by opposing end them. Or maybe not.

Because the thing is, although I bitch all the time, I never set out intending to bitch. I never say to myself, “What a gorgeous gift of a day. I think I’ll go find something to bitch about.” Lord knows if finding something to bitch about was the goal of each day, my ambition would be easily fulfilled. Every day I pass some place I can’t get into. Each day would be as challenging as playing tic-tac-toe.

So if I stopped to bitch about every little thing that deserves to be bitched about, I might not ever make it off my block. And fruitful bitching, beyond the token bitching that we all do at some point to some poor powerless boob on the front lines of customer service, requires investing a lot of time and energy. Like for instance, the last time I went to the convenient store downstairs, the aisles were so crowded with cardboard pop-up displays that I couldn’t fit through without knocking a bunch of shit over. I bitched to the clerk, who shrugged. I demanded contact info for the manager, which the clerk wrote down and handed to me. But did I ever follow up? Hell no! Who the hell’s got time?

If I bitched every single time I should, I’d be super stressed out all the time. But when I don’t bitch every single time I should, I’m still super stressed out. Because I know that if I don’t bitch, when someone in the future bitches, the person they’re bitching to may well say, “Nobody ever complained before.” And I fucking hate when that happens to me. Like for instance again, I went to this lefty political event a this bar that hosts a lot of lefty political events. I heard this venue had two whopper steps on the entrance so I called but they told me don’t worry, there’s a ramp they put down and wheelchair cripples roll right in all the time.

But when I showed up the ramp was just two planks that were way too short so it was steep as hell. How any cripple got up that ramp without popping a vicious wheelie and wiping out was a mystery to me. So I bitched. And the owner of the venue said, “We’ve been doing this for 18 years. Nobody ever complained before.”

That’s what I mean. That’s why I feel an obligation to bitch. Sooner or later, somebody’s gotta do it.

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