Sunday, March 20, 2016
Dear Lobster Boy,
I hope you don’t mind me calling you that. I mean it as a term of endearment.
I happened across an internet video of you. You were on a stage somewhere. You sat in a wheelchair. In front of you was a walker on wheels. And across the stage was husky man, an emcee-type wearing a tuxedo. It looked like a charity fundraising event. And the audience was packed full. Not an empty seat in the house.
You must’ve been in Latin America somewhere because the emcee spoke Spanish. As he addressed the spellbound audience, he leaned in toward them for dramatic emphasis. And then he presented you with a great swooping wave of his arm, as if you were about to perform a heroic feat. And then you slowly stood. And with the aid of the rolling walker you walked across the stage. You received a standing ovation. Some people cried tears of joy. Not a dry seat in the house.
And as I watched I said to myself I wish I had been there for you. Because I would have nobly ruined the whole spectacle, like the kid in The Emperor‘s New Clothes. I would have yelled out, “Hey kid, you walk like a lobster!” I wouldn’t have been able to hold back. And I hope you wouldn’t have taken it as an insult because the intention is quite the opposite. The intention is for it to be like a secret handshake of cripple brotherhood and solidarity.
You walked on your tiptoes, teetering to hold your balance like a tightrope walker. You walked like a lobster walks if a human holds it up under its armpits and forces it to walk upright. But here’s the thing. It’s become increasingly frowned upon to anthropomorphize other beings for the gratification of humans. It once was perfectly acceptable to dress a chimp in a business suit or train a chicken to ride a unicycle. But now we’ve come to acknowledge that such stunts are inconsiderate of the feeling of the anthropomorphized entities. Why force a lobster to walk upright? A lobster’s natural form of locomotion is to crawl. It may look pathetic and undignified to humans, but it works just fine for lobsters. They’ve been doing it that way for centuries. Just let lobsters be lobsters.
And just let you be you. Your natural form of locomotion is pushing a wheelchair and it works fine. You just ain’t built for walking upright, lobster boy. No shame in that. You walk like a lobster but you roll with grace. I know how it is, lobster boy. When I was your age, I walked like drunken Frankenstein. In the physical therapy gym, propped up perilously by leg braces and parallel bars, I heaved one leg forward and then I heaved the next. Therapists cheered me on but when I look back I wish one of them had enough respect for me to be honest and say, “You know what kid, you walk like drunken Frankenstein.” What a relief it would have been to have my awkwardness validated, to have the ridiculousness I felt surrounding me at that moment acknowledged. Maybe we all could have relaxed and quit pretending.
That was at a different time in a different country, lobster boy. But it’s the same old stuff.