Thursday, May 3, 2012

Would Stephen Hawking Ride a Stupid Mule?

So I’m about seven years old. I’m at cripple summer camp and I’m riding a mule. My balance is perilous. I didn’t want to do this. Riding a mule is a whole lot shakier than riding a wheelchair. So a spotter walks along beside me just in case I teeter. Another adult leads the mule. We head down the shady, rutted path. It’s a fine summer day. But you know how mules are. We get about 20 yards down the path and it goes on strike. It decides we’re going neither forward nor back. It won’t budge.

And there’s my empty wheelchair 20 yards back. But neither adult can leave me to go fetch it because what if the mule decides to move with me still in the saddle? And besides, the rutted path is foreboding terrain for a wheelchair. The spotter shoves the mule’s ass like she’s pushing a car stuck in the mud. Nothing. So there I am, a criplet marooned on the back of a stationary mule. My ass is getting sore. Why the hell did I ever let the adults talk me into this?

Cripple summer camp moved on to bigger and better sites in future years where there were horses instead of mules. So my equestriphobia, deepened by my mule trauma, increased exponentially.

And there was also the apocryphal cripple summer camp legend of the horse and the hornet. As the story went, the adults finally convinced this one stubborn crippled kid to go for a horseback ride. And this kid was way more crippled than me. He couldn’t sit up in his wheelchair without being strapped in. He was floppy like a ragdoll. So of course he had a fear of riding horses. For kids like us, sitting on a moving horse is like sitting on a one-legged stool in an earthquake. Hell, even just mounting a horse can leave you with PTSD. It takes practically the whole damn 5th Battalion to hoist you up onto the saddle, one team of guys passing you up to the next team of guys like the bucket brigade. But some adult probably convinced the poor defenseless cripple not to worry because the biggest, strongest guy in all of camp, an ex-marine, would ride up there with him and hold him tight. What could possibly go wrong? But just as they embarked on their stroll, a hornet stung the horse right square in the ass. The horse shrieked and bucked and launched the cripple and the ex-marine into orbit. I heard various endings to the legend: 1) they landed in a ditch with broken collarbones 2) they landed in a tree 3) etc.

But either way, the story is probably more or less true, at least up to the hornet part. Because at cripple summer camp, whatever activity terrified you the most (be it horse riding or swimming or playing checkers), that was the activity adults felt most compelled to pressure you to do. I don’t know why. Maybe they wanted to teach us to overcome our fears, no matter how rational. They were determined we were going to have the fun time of our lives whether we liked it or not. So I could always count on a steady barrage of good cop bad cop from adults trying to convince me to ride a horse. “Don’t worry buddy, Johnny here is an ex-marine!”

And I was powerless to resist for long. The heat of the slow and steady grilling was eventually too intense. I’d surrender, take my terrifying horse ride, and get it over with.

But today’s criplets have role models to give them strength of conviction. They can ask themselves, “Would Stephen Hawking ride a stupid mule?” And the answer is laughably clear: Hell no! He’d fire up his talking box and tell them all to fuck off!

This gives modern criplets the validation it takes to have the confidence to tell everyone to fuck off, too. Today’s lucky criplets don’t have to be afraid to be afraid.


  1. This is a really good one, Mike! You just keep getting better and better (as a blogger, I mean).

  2. Go Mike! Great rant! I can picture Hawking firing up his talker and telling all of the do- gooders to "fuck off!". Friggin hilarious. He'd probably come up with some incredible cosmic logic just to screw with their heads too.

    I once got talked into getting helped aboard the back of a motorcycle, which sounds pretty cool until you realize I became a T3 paraplegic during a motorcycle accident at age twenty. Talk about sore ass! And I burned my leg, badly, getting off.

    That's one way to learn to appreciate the wheelchair. Keep up the god work Mike! Great stuff!

  3. No kidding.

    Had a similar response to the prospect of being lifted into a fucking KAYAK a few weeks back.

    Bugger that.

    Especially as there was a proper wheelchair-accessible boat available at the same place!

  4. My most terrifying experience as a young crip occurred on a horse. I had to do a promo for the MDA telethon and I was the city's poster child. The news people brought me to the area racing track and told me to get on a horse with the jockey sitting behind me. We had to do a small lap around a horse trot, stop, I had to reach out and grab this dude's hand, and smile. We had to do probably 100 takes because of my inability to look comfortable/happy on the horse. After that, I was done being MDA's little pony girl. Done!

  5. As I father of an autistic child, I'm so appreciative of your perspective. There are times I tried to "empower my child" to do something he simply didn't want to do. We try so hard as parents to do the right thing, but sometimes it is the wrong thing.

  6. Your worst nightmare...

  7. Mike, I can hardly stop laughing. Terrific piece. It really does make one ponder the validity of "good intentions", doesn't it!?? Especially in the child-adult context. I do remember the experience of immediately regretting quite a few of my own parental moments -- as every parent does, I am sure! We are all fortunate that you have the talent and the soul to help us -- parent and child -- laugh at these regrettable incidents and to forgive ourselves and others.
    Thanks, Mike. Keep it coming!
    ; )

  8. Great essay!

    Derrick: growing up with autism, the grown-ups were ALWAYS trying to make me "go have fun" with the other kids. I got forced outside so many times ... where the bullies held me down and made me eat dirt.

    Good for you for listening to your son and learning that it's not "empowering" to be forced to do something that isn't right for who one is or what life situation they are living out. You sound like a good dad.