Okay so I have this old black and white glossy of Ernie Banks and me. I’m about 10 years old. The other kids in wheelchairs in the picture are my sister and this random crippled kid whom we never saw again. We’re on Waveland Avenue, right outside the left field bleachers of Wrigley Field. Ernie stands behind us, grinning, dressed in his Cubs uniform.
But nowadays I’m suspicious. Because I wonder who arranged this photo op and how they pulled it off. One thing I know for sure is there’s no way I ever would’ve met Ernie Banks that day if I wasn’t crippled. If Ernie Banks was to come out in full uniform just before a game to meet some kids, I’m sure he insisted that those kids better at least be crippled. Who could blame him? He was a hot shit ballplayer in his prime. Every kid wanted to meet him. His handlers had to have some sort of triage.
But being a mere crippled kid, or even three mere crippled kids, probably wasn’t enough to close the deal with Ernie either. So I wonder if someone sweetened the pot by telling Ernie we were crippled kids who were going to die soon. Whoever told him that might not have been intentionally lying. They might’ve believed it. Every cripple I’ve ever met who was crippled as a child had some doctor or someone say they wouldn’t live to see 10. Even if all the crippled they were was slightly hard of hearing in one ear, some doctor said they wouldn’t live to see 10.
And if somebody told Ernie Banks that meeting him would fulfill my life’s dream, they lied to him about that too. Another thing I know for sure is if I really had been a Make-A-Wish kid, I would have been a fucking terror. I would’ve milked it for every last damn thing I could get. I’d demand to meet the whole Cubs team and to watch the game from the dugout. And I’d pout until they let me pinch hit. And then I’d say “And tomorrow I wanna meet all the Chicago Bears and I wanna play linebacker and I wanna….” I’d push and push until the Make-A-Wish people told me to piss off.
Ernie would probably feel like a sucker if he knew I’m still alive. (And to really rub it in, my sister is still alive too!) It’s like that time I was out with a walkie friend. She was pushing an empty wheelchair. After a few blocks she sat in the chair and held on to my power chair and I pulled her along. We approached a building. An eager pedestrian jumped up to hold the door open for us. My friend tried to tell him it wasn’t necessary but the pedestrian insisted. My friend had trouble pushing the chair through the doorway so she stood and pulled the wheelchair through. I’ll never forget that pedestrian’s searing look of betrayal. You could tell he was flogging himself for wasting his charity on a fake cripple. He would never fall for that cripple sympathy bit ever again.
If Ernie feels similarly duped, he might feel soothed if he considers the fact that, technically, nobody deceived him. Because, in some sense, we’re all dying, aren’t we? Metaphorically, at least?