Whenever I fly on the airlines, I have to choose the pants I will wear carefully.
First, my pants must be sturdy, because at some point the lowly private contractors airlines hire to haul cripples on and off planes will be dispatched. I call them the cripple wranglers. They look like theater ushers in their maroon blazers. One of them will grab me by the back of my pants and slide me from my wheelchair into the boarding chair. So the pants must be able to withstand a good manhandling and not rip. Otherwise I’ll end up on the floor while the horrified cripple wrangler is left holding two fistfuls of fabric.
Second, the pants must be snug. Because there are always spellbound onlookers, be they pilots or flight attendants or passengers. And when you’re a cripple being pawed by strangers attempting to separate you from your wheelchair, your potential for mooning a spectator is high. So I avoid wearing pants that are loose or droopy.
The rigid boarding chair is shaped like a lower case letter h on wheels. Sitting in it is about as comfortable as lying on an x-ray table. The cripple wranglers strap me in tight across my chest and waist and knees. Then they roll me through the plane aisle, through first class, to my seat in coach. It must appear as if I’m some mass murderer fugitive who has been captured and bound and is being brought to justice by a crack team of specially-trained security forces who look like ushers.
And so the question arises: How do cripples cope with being made into a spectacle? Because it happens to all cripples sooner or later. We suddenly find ourselves involuntarily starring in street theater. It feels like that dream everybody has when you’re in a bustling public place and you realize you’re the only one who’s naked. Everybody else is pretending not to notice, but you know damn well they all do.
Whereas as I cannot speak for all cripples, I can say that when starring in the plane-boarding spectacle, I ward off humiliation by retreating into fantasy. I imagine as I’m being dragged through first class that the passengers are secretly seething because I, the rabblest of all the rabble, have been allowed to penetrate their gated community. I fantasize that the sight and scent of my passing carcass has totally ruined the precious daily quality time they spend alone with only their Grand Marnier. I delight in picturing them all storming the counter at our destination city and demanding refunds. I tell myself that any day where I use my crippledness to disturb the peace in a gated community—whether it’s first class or a country club or a spa or Congress-- is a day well spent.
Of course I know it's bullshit wishful thinking. The first class passengers probably didn’t think twice about me passing by. I didn’t really ruin any elitist snob’s day at all. But I can dream, can’t I?