Monday, September 26, 2011


I called my sister Teena. Her name was Christine but when I was a tot the word Christine fell out of my mouth as Nee-nee. And from there it evolved into Tee-nee and then into Teena. And the skewed spelling was appropriate because as my sister emerged into early adulthood in the hippie days, she asserted her autonomy by experimenting with brash spelling permutations of the name Chris. She wanted to spell Chris like no one ever had before. She first went with Kryss then Crys. She finally settled for Cris.

Here’s a childhood story that explains our relationship well: The catholic church down the street had several stairs on the front entrance. So when mom went to church, which she did sporadically, she sometimes required Teena and I to watch Mass for Shut-ins. Mass for Shut-ins was a mass broadcast live from a local television studio. Just the name Mass for Shut-ins gave Teena and me the willies. Who were these shut-ins, anyway? That sounds like people who never leave sickrooms that smell of Vicks VapoRub. They never even pull up the shades and let in sunlight. That certainly wasn’t’ Teena and me.

And the only thing more boring than going to mass was watching mass on a black and white TV. So eventually one of us said to the other, “I won’t tell if you won’t.” So while mom was at church we watched cartoons instead. And if mom quizzed us about what the priest said in his sermon, we’d say something like, “Oh you know, he said to be nice to people.” Mom was not easily fooled but what could she say? That’s the message every child our age took away from every sermon.

Fast forward 40 years or so and Teena and I are very opposite people. She’s a born-again Christian and tea party conservative. I’ll be prima ballerina for the Bolshoi before I’ll be either of those things. So what was left for us to have in common? History. We were each other’s only sibling, so there were experiences only we shared, like watching Mass for Shut-Ins. We survived the state-operated cripple boarding school together. And as our mother died in a hospital bed in 2004, I held mom’s left hand and Teena held her right hand.

That kind of history means a lot. It means a helluva lot more than political and religious views. You can’t undo history. Religious and political views are made to be undone.

And Teena and I always had each other’s backs, like when we agreed to keep our secret about Mass for Shut-ins. When my first wife Anna fell dead in the middle of a routine Saturday morning, when Teena was in the ICU numerous times with pneumonia, we always tried to hold the other one up. That means more than anything.

Who the hell cares about ideology? No ideology can cancel all that out. And so my sister and I stuck together until the end of her life last week. I find comfort and satisfaction in that I’ll never find in ideology.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Trying to go Straight

There comes a time early in everyone’s life where you face a crucial decision: Do you listen to your heart or do you listen to your vocational guidance counselor? I had a hard time taking my vocational guidance counselor seriously because I figured if he knew so much about building a successful career, why the hell did he become a vocational guidance counselor? Behind every vocational guidance counselor is a broken dream. When kids dress up and act like grown-ups, nobody pretends to be a vocational guidance counselor. There are no vocational guidance counselor action figures.

Following your heart doesn’t always lead to glamour and prosperity. Lord knows Smart Ass Cripple is solid, living proof of that. But when you follow you heart, whatever happens at least you know where you stand. If you decide to play it safe and sell shoes, you might become a highly-decorated shoe seller. But you’ll always wonder if you might have been a great cellist. But if you try to become a great cellist, win or lose, you won’t wonder if you might have been a great shoe seller.

My mother tried to get me to go straight. She wanted me to be an accountant. But I could think of hundreds of other activities that would be more enjoyable, such as hammering nails into my skull. When I was home for summer break my last year of college, I had a chance to meet the guy in charge of hiring cripples for Sears. My mother saw this as a golden opportunity for me. Sears had a great reputation for hiring cripples and if I impressed this guy, she thought, there might be a good job in it for me after I graduated, such as writing for the Sears catalogue. She selected just the right tie for me to wear to the interview, but I said there was no way I was wearing a tie. I said ties are the most blatant symbol of the superficiality of bourgeois commercial culture! If somebody judges me by appearances rather than by the substance of who I am, I don’t want to work for them! I refused to play a role in that grand farce!

So I put on a tie and I went to Sears Tower. I go to the office of the guy in charge of hiring cripples for Sears and guess what? The sonuvabitch was blind! I felt so cheated! I wore that goddam tie for nothing! I could’ve showed up for the interview naked!

But my mother tried to save me long before that. She really did. When I was about 10, she had me watch a movie about the Bible. But the only part that stuck with me was the story of John the Baptist. A hot woman did a belly dance for a king and she said as payment she wanted the severed head of John the Baptist. And in the next scene that poor slob John the Baptist was dragged to the guillotine. Well that Bible story jazzed me up and after that I asked my mom to put a banana in my lunchbox every day. I had a working man’s lunchbox, black and shaped like a barn. I peeled back the banana, opened the lunchbox and hung the end of the banana over the edge. Then I said to all the kids at my table, “Look everybody, it’s John the Baptist!” and I slammed down the lunchbox lid and chopped off the end of the banana.

This got back to my mom and she asked if it was true that I was going around entertaining kids by decapitating bananas. I admitted that it was. And she laughed. She tried not to laugh but she couldn’t help it. She told me not to do it anymore. Then she walked away, laughing.

I realize now that was a pivotal moment in my life. My mother could’ve sent me away to a religious boot camp where they waterboard all the smart ass out of you. But she didn’t. She just laughed. After that I was destined to never take a vocational guidance counselor seriously.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

My Med-alert Life Saver Ring

Since I spend a lot of time home alone, I got one of those Med-alert Life Saver rings. You’ve seen the commercials. An old man is sprawled on the floor at the foot of his empty wheelchair. But fortunately he’s wearing a Med-alert Life Saver ring. “Heeeeeeeelp!” he cries. “I can’t get up!” But a Med-alert Life Saver operator, wearing a headset, says, “Don’t worry. Help is on the way!"

Med-alert Life Saver rings are inconspicuous. They look like an ordinary piece of jewelry. They come in silver or gold with your choice of a wide selection of fake gem stones.

I ordered a silver Med-alert Life Saver ring with a fake ruby on top. The instructions said for me to come up with a “safe phrase” to program into my ring. The safe phrase activates the ring, hands free. The safe phrase works on the same principle as the “safe word” in BDSM sex. You say a word like "pomegranate" when you want your partner to stop. It should be a word you would never otherwise says during sex, like "pomegranate," so there’s no mistaking what you mean.

Same with the safe phrase. When you say your safe phrase, your Med-alert Life Saver ring activates and connects you to the operator. So in order to avoid triggering false alarms, your safe phrase needs to be a phrase you would never ever otherwise say. With that in mind, I chose as my safe phrase, “Boy, syndicated columnist George Will sure is brilliant.”

Well it wasn’t long before I had to put my Med-alert Life Saver ring to the test. I fell out of my wheelchair head first and landed on the bathroom floor on my knees with my head in the trash can. Stuck in that embarrassing, ostrich-like position, I shouted out, “Boy, syndicated columnist George Will sure is brilliant!” And it worked! The faux ruby flashed! And soon, coming from the tiny speaker on my Med-alert Life Saver ring I heard, “This is Misty, your Med-alert Life Saver operator. How can I help?

“I fell out of my wheelchair! Please send paramedics!”

“Yes sir right away. And what insurance do you have?”


“Yes sir. As soon as I know who’s going to pay for the ambulance, I’ll dispatch one with alacrity."

“I’m on Medicaid! Please hurry! My head is stuck in a trash can!”

“Ooh I’m sorry. It says here Medicaid won’t cover the cost of an ambulance, not when you’ve got your head stuck in a trash can. That falls under the category of frivolous.”

“What? That’s bullshit!”

“However you do have the right to an appeal. The Medicaid appeal department is open every third Wednesday from noon to 12:30 p.m. If your appeal is denied you can appeal the denial. And if they deny your denial appeal you can appeal the denial of your denial appeal. And if you denial appeal is not once again denied then I can dispatch an ambulance immediately!”

“But I need help now!”

“Do you have Medicaid supplement insurance?”

“Yes! I have a Medi-bridge policy from Fidelity Of New York!”

“I see, you have FONY insurance.” I heard Misty tap away at her keyboard. “It says here whatever amount Medicaid pays for an ambulance, your FONY plan will match that amount, which in this case is zero.”

“Well I still need paramedics, dammit!”

“Well I can dispatch an ambulance immediately, sir, if you pay for it out of pocket.

“How much does an ambulance cost?”

“If you have to ask, you can’t afford it.”

So I proceeded to tell Misty, loud and clear, exactly what I thought about Medicaid, FONY insurance and, most of all, my Med-alert Life Saver ring.

But then there was a knock on my door.

“It’s the police!” said a voice.

At last! Help finally arrived!

The police entered. “What’s going on in here? We got complaints from the neighbors that someone is shouting obscenities at the top of their lungs.”

Seeing me with my head in a trash can, the police put me back in my wheelchair, after first making me take a breathalyzer test.

If it wasn’t for my Med-alert Life Saver ring, I might never have been rescued.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Arts and Crafts

Pine cones depress me. They mock me. They remind me of how dense I am and how much better my life would be had I only paid attention in arts and crafts at cripple summer camp.

Pine cones are definitive proof that I am not what anyone could remotely refer to as a visionary. Martha Stewart is a visionary. When she saw a pine cone, her pupils turned to dollar signs. She could make anything out of pine cones—a soufflĂ©, a wedding dress, a fully-functional lunar landing module. And from that she built an empire and now she’s a bazillionaire and I’m still a loser.

But I never trusted pine cones because I never trusted arts and crafts. One of the ways you were required to have fun at cripple summer camp was to go to arts and crafts. At arts and crafts your materials were stuff like pine cones and Popsicle sticks and they’d try to get you to make something out of them. But I balked because arts and crafts felt too much like therapy and even as a pup I was suspicious of therapy because therapy, by its nature, has a hidden agenda. Whenever a therapist handed us pine cones or had us toss a bean bag into a trash can or whatever, it was always a calculated move. They were trying to “develop” something in us, like our motor skills or our socialization abilities or, worst of all, our self-esteem. And somehow they thought making stuff out of pine cones was the best way to achieve that. But I was noncompliant because I feared that they were trying to “develop” me into one of those placid cripples whose self esteem is rooted in their ability to make stuff out of pine cones.

And the therapists also were always trying to get you to be “self-sufficient,” which meant they were always looking for ways to help you again do all the things you were happy you had a great excuse for not doing anymore because you were crippled, like changing light bulbs. They’d rig up your home with an elaborate pulley system that lifted you out of your wheelchair and you’d fly like Peter Pan up to light bulb level so you could once again experience the satisfaction that comes from changing your own light bulbs.

But screw that. Here’s a joke:

Q: How many cripples does it take to screw in a light bulb?

A: None. You have a therapist do it.

So I ran away from anything that smacked of therapy, especially arts and crafts. But I sure regret it now, especially when every time I turn around I see crap for sale with Martha Stewart’s name on it. I was at a pet store last week and I saw a display of Martha Stewart crap for pets.

If I hadn’t been so instantly turned off by pine cones and Popsicle sticks, maybe today I’d have my own line of Smart Ass Cripple crap! I should have taken their pine cones and turned the tables on them! Like the old corny saying goes: When life hands you pine cones, make a cancer vaccine out of pine cone extract.

But I’m just an unvisionary loser.

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Why Everybody Needs to Have a Lock of Smart Ass Cripple’s Hair

When economic times get tough, the ones hit hardest are the smart asses. When bosses get anxious and grumpy and lay people off, the first to go are the smart asses. Recent research concluded that being a smart ass to your boss increases your odds of becoming unemployed by 95 percent. (This research was funded by a grant from my favorite federal agency, the Bureau of the Obvious (BO). The BO supports research projects that tell us stuff we all already knew, such as jumping off a 30-foot cliff without a parachute is a bad idea. So then the surgeon general has to post a warning on all 30-foot cliffs urging people not to jump or at least wear a parachute.)

It’s not fair that smart asses are persecuted like this. It’s not like being a smart ass is a lifestyle we choose. We’re born this way. It’s in our blood. Any true smart ass knows this. Being a smart ass is a calling. You can’t just turn it off with a switch.

But when jobs are scarce and money is tight, everybody wants someone else to blame and smart asses are a convenient scapegoat. So I’m to the point where I have no choice but to sell my body. I don’t mean I’m going to sell off the whole thing, either in the medical or prostitutional sense. I know I wouldn’t have many takers. To paraphrase the late great smart ass Rodney Dangerfield, I’m in such bad shape, when I die I’m donating my body to science fiction.

The way for me to get the best bang for the buck for my body is to sell it off in pieces. The problem is, the parts that would command the princeliest sum on the open market are the parts I could never live without, such as my heart and my brain and “Hercules,” as I call him.

So I should start by selling disposable parts, like my toes. In my case, my toes are just decorations. But I’ve only got 10 toes so what then? So I should sell parts that are disposable and renewable! If I was a crawfish I could sell my toes because when you cut off the limb of a crawfish it grows it right back. It says so on the internet so it must be true. But even if I was a crawfish, amputation is painful so I should sell body parts that are disposable and renewable and painlessly extracted. My bodily waste meets those criteria, but I don’t think its worth much. I can’t even sell my piss to a stoner trying to pass a drug test.

So what does that leave me?


And so I’m announcing this hot offer:

Anybody who leaves something in Smart Ass Cripple’s tip jar receives their very own lock of Smart Ass Cripple’s hair absolutely free!

No matter who you are or how you feel about Smart Ass Cripple, you need to have a lock of my hair. If you love me with all your heart and soul, then it’s obvious why you need to have a lock of my hair. You can carry a piece of me with you always. You can put my lock in a locket.

But even if you hate my goddam crippled guts, that’s all the more reason you need to have a lock of my hair. You can commit a heinous crime and leave behind the lock and it’ll throw the forensics nerds and sniffing dogs all out of whack and they’ll arrest me instead of you. Or a lock of my hair is the perfect finishing touch for your Smart Ass Cripple Voodoo doll.

And even if you’re indifferent about Smart Ass Cripple, it would be financially irresponsible for you not to have a lock of my hair. Think of what it will be worth 10 years from now to own a lock from the very first shearing! Just deposit your lock in a safe deposit vault, sit back and dream!

And think of it this way too: with a voracious demand for my hair, every time I go to Supercuts I’ll have to bring along a big bag and tell the stylist to sweep my hair into the bag so I can take it home. I’ll even post a picture of me and my hair bag on Smart Ass Cripple. How can you pass up a chance to embarrass me like that?

So act now, before I run out of hair! After that, you’ll have to settle for a nail clipping or bodily waste.