Friday, January 21, 2011

Oprah's Death Squads

My sister called me with the terrible news. The day we’d dreaded had finally arrived.

“Oprah’s doing a cripple show!” my sister said. This was way back before Oprah was Oprah. She was host of a local show called A.M. Chicago. But before Oprah was Oprah, she was still Oprah. We knew what everybody knows today, that the only kind of cripple Oprah will ever have as a guest is the super heroic cripple.

My sister had tickets because she worked at Access Living, the center for independent living in Chicago. Access Living is run by cripples for cripples and they do a lot of activism. “Somebody’s got to go and be in the audience,” my sister said. Someone’s got to go and keep the super heroic cripple stuff from getting out of hand.

If you’re wondering what’s so bad about being super heroic, well, how would you like it if everywhere you went, everybody expected you to act super heroic? It gets real oppressive real fast. But to be fair, those people who always expect cripples to be super heroic are easy to please. They think every little thing we do is super heroic, like eating breakfast. Somehow, in spite of the obstacles we face, we still manage to find the strength and courage to eat breakfast.

My mission was to be the living breathing counterbalance to the super heroic cripple. It was a mission I was reluctant to accept because even back then I feared Oprah’s death squads. We all knew about Oprah’s infamous secret police and their sworn allegiance to upholding her image. If you crossed the line with Oprah, they might take you down.

But someone had to do it so I went down to the little gray studio at Channel 7. There were cripples of all shapes and sizes lined up to get in—people on crutches,Down Syndrome kids, deaf, blind. It looked like fucking Lourdes!


Oprah proudly announced the theme of today’s show: People Who Have Overcome Horrific Odds!

The first guest was a woman with no arms. They rolled a video montage of the woman driving a car with her feet, changing her baby’s diapers with her feet, doing with her feet everything the fully-limbed do with their hands.

The audience was so smitten by this courageous woman that I wondered if I was the only one here who was educated in segregated gimp schools. I met tons of people with no arms at the gimp schools and the one I remember best was an ass hole bully, a thalidomide kid named Paul. All he had was one finger growing out of each shoulder. But he could kick like a mule so he liked to kick people just for laughs. He kicked me in the knee once and it hurt like a sonuvabitch. Paul did everything with his feet too—fed himself, lit and smoked cigarettes, shuffled and dealt cards. He even gave people the finger with his middle toe. In the face of horrific odds, he still managed to find a way to flip people off.

That’s what I’ll say, I thought, if Oprah brings the microphone my way. I’ll say: “I knew a kid with no arms and he was an ass hole.” Guest 2 was in the spotlight. There was nothing obviously crippled about her. Her face was a little discolored and taut like she was wearing a mask. She had been burned in a fire but she still had the strength to be out and about in spite of her obvious scars.

There was a kid with a burn-scarred face at one of the gimp schools too. His nose and lips were smeared like he was wearing a nylon stocking over his head. But why was he sent to the gimp school? He could run and jump and see and hear. He was sent to gimp school because he scared normal people. But whose problem was that, his or theirs? Maybe those who couldn’t take it should have been sent away. Without the hypernormals around trying to make us, the obviously scarred, feel ugly, going about our daily business wouldn’t have to be a super heroic feat.

The audience was so worked up to a state of hallelujah by the enduring spirits of the overcomers that I gave up my goal shifting the tide. I felt like the harried protagonist of every zombie movie who just wants to escape before they make him into one of them. But Oprah was working the crowd. The woman in an Amigo scooter next to me was seized by the rapture and was waving her arms to flag Oprah down! Oprah approached! The camera swung our way! I was panic stricken! I might be seen! My smart ass friends will never let me live it down! But I couldn’t flee! I was landlocked in a sea of cripples!

So I ducked!

If they ever rerun that show, you’ll see in the background behind Oprah a man in a wheelchair bent full forward with his hands clasped behind his head like he’s bracing for an atomic blast. That’s me.

During the commercial break I got the hell out. It caused a major disruption because a lot of cripples had to be uprooted but I said I had to go to the bathroom bad so they moved.

So far I’ve eluded the death squads. And now that I’ve published this, if I disappear, you’ll know what happened.

(Attention Oprah fans. Address hate email to We've hired extra staff to handle the flood and brought in dogs specially trained to sniff out letter bombs.)


  1. As always, my soul is both laughing and dying a little. I love it!

  2. Mike, it was pretty superheroic of you to sit through a superheroic cripple fest without anyone being harmed.

    I want to get your opinion on something I ponder occasionally and can never quite figure out. When Pres. Obama, or any other politician, runs for public office there is a lot of focus on their "personal story" and it usually takes some pretty commonplace scenarios and makes them superheroic. President Obama is biracial, how superheroic. President Obama and Pres. Bill Clinton grow up in single-parent families and still make something of their lives, how superheroic. Bill Clinton grows up in Hope, Arkansas and can still speak in complete sentences, how superheroic. (Okay, that one might be a legitimate issue. Sorry to expose my Arkansas prejudices but I can't resist.) Sarah Palin grows up in Wasilla, Alaska and is still reasonably attractive, how superheroic. (Again, I've been to Wasilla and that one surprises me also.)

    So, I'm wondering why we don't hear these people bitch about being portrayed as superheroic. Maybe, it's because that's how they see themselves - superheroic. Could it be that we were never allowed into those Zig Ziegler classes?

  3. This is hilarious! Thank you so much for sharing.

    I once had an able-bodied lady commend me for travelling to work by myself on the train, she said that I was brave and yes, courageous.


  4. "Landlocked in a sea of cripples..." You rule.