Monday, November 29, 2010

Laura Hershey

The gimp community has been blessed with a metric boatload of incredible writers. Laura Hershey was/is the best. No question in my mind about that.

Laura died the day after Thanksgiving. But fortunately for all of us, she has a glorious paper trail. Go google her up right now. You’ll find a ton of amazing stuff. It’s like a big basket of fresh, ripe fruit. No matter what you select, it will be great.

You’ll find essays, poetry, blog posts, etc. But it’s all poetry. Even when writing about something like the minutiae of public policy, Laura spelled it all out with a sharp clarity that hits you in the gut like good poetry. Often while clawing through my brain rubble for words to express my opinion or feelings about some major gimp affair, I’d look up and find Laura had already nailed it, striking precisely the right note. A good example was that whole Terri Schiavo mess a few years back. I wanted to write something ripping those on the right and left for their raging hypocrisy. Both sides claimed to be the friends and guardians of disabled folks, when really they only differed on the timeframe for slitting our throats. The most mature response I could formulate in my mind was,”You guys are all a bunch of ass holes!” Meanwhile, Laura’s essay “Killed by Prejudice,” appeared in The Nation. She particularly stuck it to the homophobes and gimpophobes on the right. She wrote: “I'm a lesbian feminist. I'm a secular thinker who believes government should serve the public good. I abhor the fundamentalist religious movement's selective advocacy of some rights for some people.

“My partner and I squirmed as we watched Senator Rick Santorum, Representative Marilyn Musgrave and others who championed Schiavo's rights. Robin and I are both disabled women. If either of us were incapacitated, these right-wingers might argue to keep us alive; but they would oppose our right to stay by each other's bedsides.

“While they defended one woman's right to live, they jeopardized many other disabled lives by attempting to gut Medicaid, which provides essential healthcare and support services.”


The last time Laura and I met up was in Los Angeles in ’09. It was Oscar weekend but we weren’t there to breathe the same air as Angelina Jolie. We were there to protest Jerry Lewis being chosen to receive the Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award . Laura had the same disability as me. She too was once a poster kid. She too grew up to righteously resent how Jerry and the Muscular Dystrophy Association turn kids with MD into tragic clowns for their own marketing purposes. A bunch of us parked ourselves (uninvited, of course) in the lobby of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. We chanted. We sang to the tune of “I Feel Pretty:”
He feels pity,
so much pity.
He feels pity, and to this we object!
Because pity
heightens fear and undermines respect.
He feels giddy,
oh, so giddy,
for on Sunday he’s getting a prize,
for his pity
and his patronizing tears and lies.

The cops couldn’t scare us away. It was enormous fun.

For these types of antics Laura was often accused of the mortalest of gimp mortal sins: ingratitude. She had something brilliant to say about that too. Just last week in her blog Life Support on the website of the Christopher and Dana Reeve Foundation, she wrote “The Good and Bad of Gratitude.” She expressed how disabled folks are reluctant to express gratitude, even when we really feel it, because gratitude has historically been shoved down our throats:

“All too often, people with disabilities are pressured to feel gratitude for things that are their basic human rights – subsidized housing, support services, inclusion in the community, basic acceptance and respect. Some people think that disability is a drain on the economy, and an imposition on others. They don't want to be reminded of the prevalence and inevitability of disability in any society, in any person's experience or family. In response to this deep discomfort, they try to impose conditions on anything "given" to people with disabilities – conditions like passiveness, submissiveness, limited demands, and constant thank yous.

“We have to demand the things that are essential to our lives, equality, and quality of life. We must refuse to feel gratitude for these, except the normal level of gratitude that anyone might feel for living in a time and place that still supports human life. We can't succumb to feelings like embarrassment or shame regarding our needs, even if those needs are more extensive than the average person's needs. That will only reinforce and perpetuate our inequality, and the pulling away of vital state- and federally-funded support services.”

You can find the whole piece at

Read it and rejoice.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

The First Thanksgiving

I recently attended a reenactment of the first Thanksgiving. It was a very enlightening experience. It gave me a much greater understanding of how some of the most enduring Thanksgiving traditions and rituals experienced every year in millions of Americans households began.

I learned a lot of surprising facts. It seems there were only five pilgrims at the first Thanksgiving dinner and it didn’t last very long. It was a potluck affair and each participate brought something to the table, all of which are still standard elements of Thanksgiving dinners today. There was James, the patriarch. James brought a turkey that he shot himself. There was Sarah, James wife, the matriarch. Sarah cooked the turkey and all the trimming and also brought to the table a pumpkin pie. There was James’ Uncle Seymour, who lived in the attic. He brought to the table a fifth of cheap whiskey. There was Sarah’s younger sister, Emily, who brought to the table her latest deadbeat boyfriend, Rico. And Rico brought to the table an attitude of smug superiority.

All started off well. Even though Emily brought Rico along unannounced, James, ever the peacemaker, welcomed him warmly.

“My home is your home,” said James. Sarah bit her tongue and said. “Well I only cooked enough for four because I had no idea... But that’s okay. I’ll just give up some of my portion.” Uncle Seymour slugged down shots of whiskey.

As James carved the turkey, he said, “So, Rico, what kind of work do you do?”

Rico said, “I used to sell horseshoes, but I’m on sabbatical.”

James replied, “That’s so interesting.” And then James said, “Emily, would you like this juicy drumstick? I know it’s your favorite part of the bird.”

Emily replied, “No thank you. Rico and I are vegans.

Sarah spewed her apple cider. “What!”

Uncle Seymour took a slug and said, “What the hell’s wrong with meat?”

“Carnivores are base creatures,” Rico said. “They thirst for blood.”

“That’s right,” chimed Emily. “We want our spirits to be unencumbered.”

Sarah retorted, “Fine! Who cares about my feelings! I slaved all day cooking this turkey and none of you lifted a finger to help!”

“Oh boy,” Emily said. “Here we go with the martyr routine again. She says she doesn’t need help and then she complains because no one helps.”

“That’s sooooo bourgeois,” Rico scoffed.

Uncle Seymour slugged a shot and said, “If you ask me, I think you’ve all got a screw loose!”

Sarah said, “Oh my God! I’m getting one of my migraines!

To which Emily shot back. “You’ve never been supportive of me! You always want to sabotage my happiness!”

James stood and declared, “How about a nice game of Scrabble?

“Oh give it up, James,” said Emily. “You’re such a milquetoast.

“Hey,” spat Uncle Seymour. “You can’t call my idiot nephew names!”

“Oh my God,” Sarah moaned. “I‘m blind! My migraine is so intense I can’t see!”

“So now you’re blind and it’s all my fault!” Emily cried. “Everything is my fault, isn’t it?”

Emily tipped over the dinner table and stormed off.

The end.

And centuries later, here we are.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Gorilla Suit

Emmanuel was washing my armpits. We were talking about death. (Emmanuel is one of my P.A.s, which is the acronym I use when referring to the dozens of dozens of people I’ve employed over the last four decades to put on my pants, lift me out of bed, wipe my butt, etc. P.A. is short for personal assistant. It’s not the best job title. It sounds like I’m some sort of Puff Daddy and these are my dutiful sycophants who walk beside me on sunny days holding my parasol and who arrange my lunch dates with my broker. Some people call those who do this work attendants. But that sounds too zoological. Monkeys have attendants. I don’t need someone to watch over me or to flip me a treat when I complete a task.)

Anyway, we were talking about death and I said, “So I told Rahnee when I’m gone, just dump my dead ass in Lake Michigan!”

And Emmanuel said, “That’s what I did with my grandmother.” He said he took grandma out onto the pier at Morse Avenue beach at night. And I listened with my eyes wide open in shock because I pictured him in black commando clothes, his dreadlocks flying in the wind, hustling across the deserted beach with a weighty burlap sack flung back over his shoulder. He took grandma up to the railing, he said. Then, he said, he opened the urn and sprinkled her into the lake.

I exhaled. I explained to him that when I said dump my dead ass in Lake Michigan, I meant it literally. I told Rahnee to stuff me in the trunk of the van, drive out to a boat ramp, open the hatch and boot me out.

Now Emmanuel looked at me with wide open shock eyes. But being dumped is the cheapest, most sensible and considerate way for me to go. I hate wakes anyway. They spackle you with makeup and put you on display. And then your loved ones, in their time of smothering grief, are bound by etiquette to suck it up and receive guests like a tea party.

Then everyone watches as they put you in the ground. And they top it off by presenting your battered loved ones with a bill for a zillion dollars. Screw all that. I told Rahnee not to piss away her money on coffins or funerals or burial plots or headstones. Just fill my pockets with lead, dump me in the lake, take the money saved and treat herself to a week in Aruba or something. That’s the way to grieve.

There is one tempting scenario, however, under which I would consider being on public display. I might agree to be waked if, and only if, I am laid out in a gorilla suit. Wouldn’t the wake be lots more fun then? It would sure make things easier on the kids. My posthumous fashion statement could easily go viral and soon everyone would be doing it. There will be a catchy new euphemism for terminal illness. You go to the doctor for your test results and you say, “Give it to me straight, doc.” And the doctor says, “Well, let me put it this way. I think you should get fitted for a gorilla suit.”

Or maybe I’ll have them put a gorilla suit on me before they send me to the crematorium. Those poor people who work in a crematorium. They could use a good laugh.

I might even consider being buried in a plot with a headstone, under one condition. Rahnee has to have her grave right next to mine. And on her headstone must be inscribed I’M WITH STUPID with an arrow pointed at me.

But I don’t know. Those are expensive gags. I should stick with being dumped.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

When Service Monkeys Attack

T.K. Small of Brooklyn, New York thinks he’s the king of the smart ass cripples. He says he’s even got to the cup to prove it. His girlfriend gave it to him. It’s a brown ceramic coffee mug that says number one smart ass.

But I disagree. In my smart ass point system, a blog trumps a mug easy. So we decided we’re going to settle once and for all who reigns as smart ass cripple supreme by arm wrestling for it. That’s a pretty funny joke since neither one of us can raise our arms.

T.K. was born in 1965 in New York. He was educated for a few years in your standard segregated gimp school of the time and lived for nine years in a rehab facility for children and adolescents. These day he rolls around in a motorized wheelchair and has a 24/7 crew of attendants. He works as a lawyer for the New York state Independent Living Council and takes some ADA cases on the side.

So T.K. has been among cripples galore his whole life but one of the most memorable ones was his friend… ( Let us pause for a minute to state that it is our editorial policy here at Smart Ass Cripple to use an alias whenever there is a danger of outing someone who may not want to be outed for whatever reason. So let’s refer to T.K.’s friend as Clarence Thomas.)… his friend Clarence Thomas.

Clarence Thomas was a big, broad rugged looking guy with a long ponytail. He was a high level quadriplegic. T.K. says, “He got blown off a building by a big gust of wind. He told me he was high when it happened. He woke up three days later in the hospital.”
But even in state of heavy duty quadhood, Clarence Thomas remained a party fool. “He went to a nudist colony in Brazil once. All he was wearing was a smile and his leg bag.” He must’ve gone to 100 Grateful Dead concerts. He followed the dead to Jamaica once. That’s how T.K. met him, at a Dead concert at Madison Square Garden.

Here’s another thing about him: “He would ask anyone to help him with anything under any circumstances. He would ask a complete stranger to empty his leg bag.”

And one more thing: “(Clarence Thomas) was a terrible wheelchair driver. He’d put a hole in your wall and say, ’Who put that wall there?’” And Clarence Thomas often drove his motorized wheelchair on city streets. So of course one day he got hit by a car and sued. “He ended up with a lump sum. He had this crack head that was living with him. They decided that a good thing to do was to buy a gigantic rock of cocaine. It was about the size of a golf ball.”

Meanwhile: “Along the way somewhere, somebody gave (Clarence Thomas) the idea that he should have a service monkey. The way he would control the monkey was that the monkey wore a discipline collar and (Clarence Thomas) would give it a shock.”

You can see where this is leading, can’t you? “Well one night there was a party and the monkey discovered the cocaine. He ran around the apartment going crazy. And his little monkey dick got hard. And he tried to hump (Clarence Thomas) in this ear.
So he’s shocking the monkey to try to get it to stop. The same way a dog humps your leg, the monkey was trying to hump people in their ears.”

Perhaps that was rock bottom. “Later on his brother staged an intervention.
(Clarence Thomas) went into rehab and the monkey went back to wherever he came from.”

Clarence Thomas cleaned up pretty good after that. “Four or five years ago, we all went out to dinner for a friend’s birthday. He was in a great mood. And then we got a phone call the next morning that he was dead. His attendant couldn’t wake him up in the morning.”

“He died like Jerry Garcia. I don’t think he wanted to die but I don’t think he had any regrets.”

See how a service monkey can change your life?

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Crawling Back

I’ve never been trapped in an abusive relationship, but I’m told that when you finally get up the strength to break away, sometimes the abuser overflows with phony remorse. He buys you flowers: “I’m sorry honey pie! I’ll never do it again. I love you! Please come back. Things will be different this time.”

But more often than not, the abuser just folds his arms and scoffs: “You can’t make it without me. You’re weak. You’ll come crawling back.”

Two years ago, American voters took a big step toward breaking away from our abusers. Granted, the guy we elected president has turned out to be pretty much a wimp. But a wimp is a damn sight better than a bully.

But yesterday we went crawling back.

Here is the republican/tea bagger/ libertarian philosophy of life:

You need something? Buy it. The rules of the game are simple. Everything has a price tag—food, shelter, clothing, health care, you name it. Everything has a price tag. You need it? Buy it. You say you can’t afford it? Get a job. You say you have a job and you still can’t afford it? Get another job. You say you already have 10 jobs? Oh well. You lose. Oh and by the way, we love Jesus.

The republicans didn’t even buy us flowers. They didn’t promise to do a damn thing different. They just scoffed. But we went crawling back.

What’s next? President Palin? What freaks me out most about her is that I could never have made up someone like her. Just when I begin to believe I’m a witty satirist, along comes an actual character like Palin. And I realize that in a thousand years I could never have created such a dark, absurd scenario: A once-proud nation, starving for leadership, desperate to regain its sense of superiority, turns in its hour of need to a dizzy cheerleader.

This is what scares me most today. When human relations become so twisted and tangled that they are beyond parody, it feels like end times lurk near.