Thursday, May 9, 2013

Busted by a Dog

My friends the Brices, who live in Maryland, let my crew and me spend the night in the guest room in their basement. In the morning, their happy dog bounced in and greeted everyone, tail wagging. He looked like an animated mop. But the dog saw me sitting in my wheelchair and he instantly transformed into a snarling, insane monster. His bark was that shrill yap that makes you jump out of your skin if you don't see it coming, like stepping on a squeak toy in the dark.

It’s a good thing Marian Brice was there to hold the dog back or he might have torn my face off.  “He thinks you’re a vacuum cleaner!” she laughed. The vacuum cleaner, she said, is this dog’s self-declared archenemy and nemesis. It brings out the beast in him. He attacks it. She wrestled the furious, snapping hellhound out the room.

But it shook me up good for the whole day. It wasn’t so much that I nearly got mauled to shreds in a case of mistaken identity. It was more the sudden, psychologically humbling effect of being busted by a dog. It again reminded me that no matter how hard you try to rise above it all and play the role of the independent, self-sufficient, overcoming cripple, sooner or later something happens to make it clear that on some inescapable, primal level you’re still a cripple after all. And you always will be.

You can never dodge all the slings and arrows that come with crippledom, unless you hide under your bed. The rich cripples try to buy their crippledness away. They know that the best insulation from the cold realities of being crippled is a thick layer of money. If you can pay cash for your wheelchairs and equipment, you'll never have to flagellate yourself at the feet of a bureaucrat. If you can hire enough goons to carry you around, even the Taj Mahal is accessible. You can go everywhere and do everything just like the uncrippled. You can buy total acceptance. But inevitably, regardless of who you are, you’ll be put in your place.  A cab driver will see your wheelchair and blow past you. A passerby will drop change in your lap. A waitress will ask your date what you want to eat. And you suddenly remember where you came from.

I suppose these encounters are good for us in the long run. They keep us from getting too big for our wheelchairs.

That same day the mop dog nearly killed me I went to the FDR memorial in Washington. Now if there ever was a cripple who could totally leave behind his crippledness and every indignity that accompanies it, surely it was him. He had everything the independent, self-sufficient, overcoming cripple needs. Not only was he rich but also he had a loyal, well-paid crew of servants and luxury housing all provided at public expense.

 But at the feet of a sculpture of Roosevelt was a sculpture of his beloved Scottie dog, Fala. And so I wondered what happened when Fala first saw Roosevelt in his makeshift wheelchair? Did he bark frantically like some dogs do when they see wheeled vehicles? Did the upstart canine treat the president of the United States like a common vacuum cleaner?

My morning dog showdown reran through my head. But this time the cripple was Roosevelt instead of me and the dog was Fala. The setting was the oval office and restraining the dog, instead of Marian Brice, was a secret service agent. I was mucho amused.

I doubt that this happened but I like to imagine it did. I like to imagine Roosevelt could still relate to cripples like me.


  1. My own small dog (not moppy but a short-haired rat terrier) takes wheel chairs in stride. My mom has Parkinson's and even though he'd never seen walkers and wheel chairs before, he was just like, "Huh. Interesting." In fact, the liked wheel chairs because they created mobile laps.

    Devlin was a "rescue," but not in the conventional sense. He was hanging out at somebody's farm--maybe dumped there--and the owner let me take him home. A "private adoption," I guess. He was already about a year old and I always wondered about his life before he came to live in the lap of luxury instead of hunting for his breakfast in the barn.

    One thing I know about him is that he loves men, especially old men. There are none of those in my house, so if he finds any on his visits to friends or to a nursing home like the one where Mom lives, you have to watch him closely or he'll spring into their laps. He can jump like a deer, but doesn't realize that his attentions might not be welcome.

    Anyway, sorry about your dog experience. You just didn't meet the right one.

  2. I have a feeling FDR had people like you and my son in mind when he created SSA. He'd been crippled for a long time and I bet he wondered how many out there weren't as fortunate as he was monetarily, he knew there were lots of them, so he had to help them. Thank you FDR!

  3. Brilliant. Best post you have written to date. I joke paralysis is the only way to cure a giant ego. Every time I am too full of myself someone bipedal jerk will demeaning me.

  4. Great way to describe an experience that's hard for others to understand ... and sometimes even accept as real. To drive the analogy a bit further, the dogs can help their barking ... its in their nature. In a way, people who stare, gape, turn their heads, or say stupid things about us can't help it, either. It's in their nature, and it would be as cruel for us to "blame" them for it, as it would be to blame a dog for barking. Not to get all Zen or New Age about it, but I find that realization brings a welcomed peace of mind.

    1. Andrew, You are way nicer than I am. Bigotry base on disability just pisses me off and I do my best to use that anger in a productive way.

  5. Sometimes I think about writing a book about a planet where human beings are like human beings on Earth; with the exception that almost all of the human beings on this other planet are born with wings, and fly around quite deftly. The older human beings with wings on this planet often can be seen sort of flying by barely moving their wings...and sometimes just glide if the headwinds allow it. Sometimes, the human beings on this other planet are born without wings. Sometimes, the wings don't work. Sometimes the wings are broken after a strong wind drives them into the side of a hill. But me being a human being from Earth, if I was taken to this planet of people-mostly-born-with-wings-that-work, would probably be relieved to find that some people could walk side by side with me instead of flying by...literally! I wouldn't feel so pitied to be an Earthling then.