Friday, January 28, 2011

Making Out With Eleanor Roosevelt

My independence stick was a dowel rod about three feet long and one half inch in diameter. Protruding from the tip was a small brass hook. Covering the hook was a makeshift sleeve of soft translucent-brown rubber that looked like a snippet of catheter tube circa 1969.

Because I had my independence stick, that meant I had my elevator independence, which meant I could use the elevators unescorted. That’s how it worked at the state boarding school for cripples. I went there from 1969 to 1974. Let’s call the boarding school the Sam Houston Institute of Technology. There’s no reason not to call it by its real name. I just like the more appropriate acronym that forms. It captures the quality of the education at the cripple boarding school.

The way to acquire your elevator independence at SHIT was to prove to an occupational therapist that you could operate the elevator. If you couldn’t reach the buttons then you tried various lengths of independence sticks until you found one right for you. The hook was there so you could pull down the red switch on top that stopped the elevator. It was to be used only in case of emergency. And the catheter tube sleeve was there so the hook wouldn’t be so slippery against the plastic buttons and switch.

The shorter your independence stick the cooler you were. In this regard they were unlike penises. If your independence stick was long that meant you weren’t strong like those paraplegic basketball players with their gorilla upper bodies and limp puppet legs. Those guys could reach up to all the buttons and the switch without using an independence stick at all.

My independence stick was probably the longest independence stick in the entire recorded history of independence sticks. It was embarrassing. But with it, I was a free man. I could use the elevator unaccompanied, as long as I told one of the “houseparents” where I was going and got their permission. But my independence stick, and thus my elevator independence, could be easily taken away if I ”abused” my independence by going to an unauthorized area, using the elevator without permission or violating any other of a long list of stated and unstated rules. Using the elevator at SHIT wasn’t an inalienable right, you know. It was a privilege.

But it was right after I earned my independence stick that I started making out with Eleanor Roosevelt. (SMART ASS CRIPPLE ALIAS ALERT! Once again we will use a pseudonym so as not to out the innocent. If it was to become known in the circles of the real “Eleanor Roosevelt” that she was once an inmate in state cripple boarding school making out with the likes of me, it could do irreparable damage to her personal and professional reputation and maybe even ruin her credit rating.)

Eleanor Roosevelt was an African American girl in a wheelchair. She had a big swooping scoliosis. She was 12. I was 13. I think it was my independence stick that turned her on about me. She never talked to me much until I had one.

Once I had an independence stick she asked me if I wanted to make out. Sure! I’d never made out before. But where? How could we possibly find a secret place to make out in a cripple boarding school? Eleanor Roosevelt lured me over to the elevator. When the coast was clear, she pushed the button. The door opened. She went inside. I followed though my stomach burned with fear. Already I was abusing my independence. Not only was I going to an unauthorized area without permission, but Eleanor Roosevelt was too young to have elevator independence. You had to be 13.

But I couldn’t resist. Eleanor Roosevelt was a wicked temptress. Like a love zombie, I handed her my independence stick. She pushed a button but when we were between floors she pulled down the switch with the hook and the elevator stopped with a bounce.

And that’s where we made out. Eleanor Roosevelt was cool and in control, like she’d made out a thousand times before. But I was full of hot confusion. I was actually making out, which made me as cool as or even cooler than those paraplegics! But I was sure to pay a harsh price. Any second now the escape hatch on the ceiling of the elevator was going to open and a stern houseparent would descend in on a rope, seize my independence stick and break it over her knee.

Eleanor Roosevelt and I made out in the cripple boarding school elevator four of five times. But each time I was like a nervous cat, popping my head up and looking around wide-eyed with each little real or imagined sound from beyond.

I guess that’s why Eleanor Roosevelt soon lost interest in making out with me in the elevator. What did she expect from a guy with such a long independence stick?

And then poof, she was gone, transferred out to another school.

I never saw Eleanor Roosevelt again.

Friday, January 21, 2011

Oprah's Death Squads

My sister called me with the terrible news. The day we’d dreaded had finally arrived.

“Oprah’s doing a cripple show!” my sister said. This was way back before Oprah was Oprah. She was host of a local show called A.M. Chicago. But before Oprah was Oprah, she was still Oprah. We knew what everybody knows today, that the only kind of cripple Oprah will ever have as a guest is the super heroic cripple.

My sister had tickets because she worked at Access Living, the center for independent living in Chicago. Access Living is run by cripples for cripples and they do a lot of activism. “Somebody’s got to go and be in the audience,” my sister said. Someone’s got to go and keep the super heroic cripple stuff from getting out of hand.

If you’re wondering what’s so bad about being super heroic, well, how would you like it if everywhere you went, everybody expected you to act super heroic? It gets real oppressive real fast. But to be fair, those people who always expect cripples to be super heroic are easy to please. They think every little thing we do is super heroic, like eating breakfast. Somehow, in spite of the obstacles we face, we still manage to find the strength and courage to eat breakfast.

My mission was to be the living breathing counterbalance to the super heroic cripple. It was a mission I was reluctant to accept because even back then I feared Oprah’s death squads. We all knew about Oprah’s infamous secret police and their sworn allegiance to upholding her image. If you crossed the line with Oprah, they might take you down.

But someone had to do it so I went down to the little gray studio at Channel 7. There were cripples of all shapes and sizes lined up to get in—people on crutches,Down Syndrome kids, deaf, blind. It looked like fucking Lourdes!


Oprah proudly announced the theme of today’s show: People Who Have Overcome Horrific Odds!

The first guest was a woman with no arms. They rolled a video montage of the woman driving a car with her feet, changing her baby’s diapers with her feet, doing with her feet everything the fully-limbed do with their hands.

The audience was so smitten by this courageous woman that I wondered if I was the only one here who was educated in segregated gimp schools. I met tons of people with no arms at the gimp schools and the one I remember best was an ass hole bully, a thalidomide kid named Paul. All he had was one finger growing out of each shoulder. But he could kick like a mule so he liked to kick people just for laughs. He kicked me in the knee once and it hurt like a sonuvabitch. Paul did everything with his feet too—fed himself, lit and smoked cigarettes, shuffled and dealt cards. He even gave people the finger with his middle toe. In the face of horrific odds, he still managed to find a way to flip people off.

That’s what I’ll say, I thought, if Oprah brings the microphone my way. I’ll say: “I knew a kid with no arms and he was an ass hole.” Guest 2 was in the spotlight. There was nothing obviously crippled about her. Her face was a little discolored and taut like she was wearing a mask. She had been burned in a fire but she still had the strength to be out and about in spite of her obvious scars.

There was a kid with a burn-scarred face at one of the gimp schools too. His nose and lips were smeared like he was wearing a nylon stocking over his head. But why was he sent to the gimp school? He could run and jump and see and hear. He was sent to gimp school because he scared normal people. But whose problem was that, his or theirs? Maybe those who couldn’t take it should have been sent away. Without the hypernormals around trying to make us, the obviously scarred, feel ugly, going about our daily business wouldn’t have to be a super heroic feat.

The audience was so worked up to a state of hallelujah by the enduring spirits of the overcomers that I gave up my goal shifting the tide. I felt like the harried protagonist of every zombie movie who just wants to escape before they make him into one of them. But Oprah was working the crowd. The woman in an Amigo scooter next to me was seized by the rapture and was waving her arms to flag Oprah down! Oprah approached! The camera swung our way! I was panic stricken! I might be seen! My smart ass friends will never let me live it down! But I couldn’t flee! I was landlocked in a sea of cripples!

So I ducked!

If they ever rerun that show, you’ll see in the background behind Oprah a man in a wheelchair bent full forward with his hands clasped behind his head like he’s bracing for an atomic blast. That’s me.

During the commercial break I got the hell out. It caused a major disruption because a lot of cripples had to be uprooted but I said I had to go to the bathroom bad so they moved.

So far I’ve eluded the death squads. And now that I’ve published this, if I disappear, you’ll know what happened.

(Attention Oprah fans. Address hate email to We've hired extra staff to handle the flood and brought in dogs specially trained to sniff out letter bombs.)

Friday, January 14, 2011

The Richard Nixon Methodist Church?

It’s a sunny afternoon in Chicago. Your future looks bright. You’ve graduated from Lincoln Tech so you’ve purchased a Lincoln Continental and insured it with Lincoln Auto Insurance. Your license plate says Land of Lincoln.

You drive north on Lincoln Avenue through the Lincoln Park neighborhood. It’s time for lunch. Up ahead is the Lincoln Restaurant. Its sign, like the pennies in your pocket, features the famous profile bust of Lincoln.
But you crave ethnic food so you proceed through the Lincoln Square neighborhood until you see the Lincoln Noodle House. You park and go inside. Lunch is grand. Life is sweet!

Next you plan to stop at the Lincoln Liquor Store. But as you return to your car you see you are about to be towed by the notorious Lincoln Towing Service. In a fit of rage you pull out your gun and threaten to shoot the tow truck driver. A scuffle ensues. The gun goes off. You are shot. You die. Your family calls Lincoln Funeral Care to arrange your funeral. Your funeral is held at the Lincoln Methodist Church.

And the moral of the story is, even after all these years, Abe Lincoln is still hot shit in Chicago.

In the Chicago White Pages, there are 272 businesses with Lincoln in their name. They include banks and mortgage companies, a karaoke bar, an antique mall, a bowling alley, a preschool, a driving school, a chiropractor and a gynecologist.

So it seems that in the end, the ultimate way for history to judge the legacy of presidents is by assessing their ability to attract commercial endorsement. How do we determine the degree to which a given president's judgment, integrity, courage, leadership ability and strength of character impacted generations of Americans? Well, how much of all the stuff that’s named after Lincoln could ever be named after them?

Some presidents are like Tiger Woods. They’ve screwed themselves so bad that no self-respecting business wants anything to do with them. Like who the hell would name their business after Richard Nixon? Richard Nixon Savings and Loan? Richard Nixon Insurance? (The name you can trust!) The Richard Nixon Methodist Church? I suppose there could be a Richard Nixon Towing Service, since it’s one of the few businesses where it might be advantageous to have a name that scares the hell out of everyone. A company that makes paper shredders could probably name itself after Nixon too. But that's about it.

George W. Bush? Do you think there will ever be an institute of higher learning, like Lincoln Tech, named after George W. Bush? Will Texas license plates ever say Land of Bush? (I take that back. They probably will.)

Some presidents have screwed themselves out of commercial endorsements not because they were evil and/or incompetent but, even worse, because they were bland and boring. There will never be a luxury car called the Millard Fillmore Continental. Who would put dining at the Martin Van Buren Restaurant on their bucket list?

Some presidents have screwed themselves in some ways, but not in others. There probably could be a Bill Clinton bowling alley or driving school. But no sane person would ever make an appointment with the Bill Clinton gynecologists.

A few blocks from where I live, there was a hair salon named Ossama’s. Even after September 11, they didn’t change their name. Election night 2008 was a freakishly warm November night in Chicago. People cheered in the streets as if our team had won the championship.

Shortly after that, Ossama’s changed their name. They changed it to Obama’s.

And now, they’re out of business.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

The Rosa Parks of Dildos

(The story you are about to hear is totally fucking true.)

Sherri Williams is one of the great American heroines of the 21st Century. But you probably won’t read about her in the history books, which shows you how screwed up our education system is.

Sherri Williams is the Rosa Parks of dildos. And once again the battleground is Alabama, where if you dare try to sell another adult a dildo, (I swear this is not satire) you can go to jail for up to a year and be fined up to $10,000. Yep, this law says you cannot sell “any device designed or marketed as useful primarily for the stimulation of human genital organs…” And if you’re thinking this must be one of those laws that dates back to a previous century when Alabama legislators walked with their knuckles scraping the ground, you’re right. It was passed in 1998.

Sherri Williams owns a chain of adult toy stores. So she stood up for our inalienable right to stimulate our adult genitals any way we damn well please. With the help of the ACLU, she sued Alabama to have the dildo ban struck down. It took eight years for her case to work its way all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court, which refused to hear the case, thus letting stand a lower court decision upholding the law.

But the story has a happy ending. In November, she opened a “romance” store called Pleasures in Huntsville. And because it’s in a building that was once a bank, she even sells sex toys through a drive-up window. She gets away with it because a loophole in the law allows sex toys to be sold for “medical, scientific, educational, legislative, judicial, or law enforcement” purposes. (Law enforcement? Do they set up sting operations? “Pssst. Hey buddy, wanna by a dildo?”) So before customers can purchase, they have to fill out a short questionnaire asking, among other things, if they or a partner are having difficulty finding sexual fulfillment. Doing this means their purchase can be justified as medicinal.

Isn’t Sherri Williams brilliant? But I’d like to suggest another loophole. Since the law bans items intended “primarily for the stimulation of human genital organs,” she could claim her products serve a higher primary purpose. For instance, instead of calling a vibrating dildo a sexual aid, she could call it a kitchen aid and say it’s a mixer. It would be like those stores where they sell bongs and call them “tobacco products.” I was in one that had a sign that said PLEASE REFRAIN FROM REFERRING TO OUR WATER PIPES AS BONGS. Pleasures could post a sign saying PLEASE REFRAIN FROM REFERRING TO OUR KITCHEN MIXERS AS DILDOS.

This is a foolproof loophole because if the enraged state legislature counters by banning any product that could have a secondary function of genital stimulation, this would prohibit the sale of just about everything from whipped cream and balloons to cucumbers and Spider Man action figures.

I hope Sherri Williams' spirit of rebellion catches on. I think it’s about time clear-thinking Catholics organized to challenge the Vatican’s disdain for masturbation. Pope Paul VI issued a declaration in 1975 called "Persona Humana - Declaration on Certain Questions Concerning Sexual Ethics." It says masturbation is a ”grave moral disorder" and an “intrinsically and seriously disordered act…” The Pope acknowledged that the Bible makes no direct reference to jerking off. But, he wrote, "Even if it cannot be proved that Scripture condemns this sin by name, the tradition of the Church has rightly understood it to be condemned in the New Testament…”

I remember the pain this prohibition caused me as a young Catholic boy struggling to give up waxing the whale in the name of my church. I finally decided it was easier, and more fun, to give up trying to be Catholic.

For the sake of young Catholics like that all over the world, some righteous adult Catholic needs to burst out of the closet and found The Society of Catholic Masturbators. We’re Catholic, we jerk off, and we’re proud! Get used to it!

I issue the following challenge: Who among us is bold enough to be the first to come out as a proud masturbating Catholic? It can’t be me because I’m under qualified. Like I said, I’m not longer Catholic