Monday, November 28, 2011

My Mother the Smart Ass Enabler

One afternoon at the state-operated boarding school for cripples, aka the Sam Houston Institute of Technology or SHIT, I was summoned by a teacher in a sober manner that suggested I was going to be sent to the principal’s office. But instead I was told to report to the office of the director of recreation.

I was nervous and baffled. What could I have said or done to get in trouble with the director of recreation? Up until now, she barely acknowledged my existence. If we passed in the halls she hustled by uncomfortably without breaking stride, may flipping me a quick hello wave.

But this time in her office, she greeted me with a warm, appreciative smile. She moved a chair so I could pull up next to her desk. She said she needed my help. “I’m going to a costume party and I’m going as Poland!” she said. Her costume would be like a sandwich board shaped like Poland. And she figured she could win first prize if she covered the sandwich board with Polish jokes. She heard through the SHIT grapevine, she said, that I knew more Polish jokes than any living human. Could I share with her my favorites? She braced, pen in hand, ready to scribble down whatever I said on a yellow legal pad.

So I hit her with a bunch of Polish jokes. I felt proud, like some 14-year-old joke guru. It’s pathetic, I know. But that was 40 years ago, when Polish jokes were considered to be funny. I didn’t say they were funny. I said they were considered to be funny. And besides, I had a severe case of Mad magazine poisoning, the result of exposure to toxic levels of Mad magazine. I’d do or say anything for a laugh.

It’s my mother’s fault. She was a smart ass enabler. Perhaps she saw in me the smart ass she could have been had she persevered and not gotten sidetracked. But she married young and had babies and all and pretty soon her opportunity to fully explore and develop her smart assiness was gone. Through me she was reliving the dream.

Case in point: Mom took me to a trick shop when I was about 10. I was giddy drunk with possibilities for pulling hilarious gags. But the prop I found most enchanting was the fake plastic hot dog. So my mother bought it for me and she agreed not to tell my sister. She even went along with my evil plan for her to serve hot dogs for dinner and to hold back my sister’s real hot dog and bring her at first the plastic hot dog in a real bun and covered with real mustard. As my sister prepared to take a bite, I swelled with such a burst of brilliance I was ready to explode. But then my sister looked at the hot dog with deep suspicion, pulled it out of the bun, set it on the table and pronounced it a fake.

I was so deflated that I flung the hot dog to the floor in humiliation.
But then, under the table, a seismic commotion! It was Mickey, our crazy-ass beagle that ate everything. Mickey ate Jell-o, sawdust, soap. He didn’t care. Mickey scrambled and pounced! He chewed and gnawed and scratched the fake hot dog, all in vain. He finally gave up, dejected and defeated.

Well at least I outsmarted our crazy-ass beagle! Redemption!

It’s pathetic, I know.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Feelin’ Like Hazmat Blues

When my train arrives at the station, an ambulance will be waiting for me. And I’m feeling like hazmat again. I haven’t felt like that this bad in a long time, not since back in the Medi-car days.

All I need, when my train arrives, is a ride from the station to the university campus for my speaking gig and back. The people on campus arranging my trip had to hire an ambulance company to haul me. With no accessible taxis or anything like that in town, that was the best solution they could find for local wheelchair accessible transportation.

I wonder if it will be like that time I took the train to Syracuse and there was a van waiting for me there. It wasn’t an ambulance. It was a plain red van. But emblazoned across the side in big white letters it said INVALID COACH. I complained to the driver, but he said there was nothing he could do. He said all operators of wheelchair accessible vehicles were required by state law to have INVALID COACH written on their vehicles.

Back in the Medi-car days, like about 30 years ago, suppose you were a wheelchair cripple and you wanted to go get a haircut or something. You couldn’t use buses or trains or cabs so your only option might be to call a private Medi-car company. They all had embarrassing names like HANDICAB or INVABUS. And they had embarrassing vehicles with bright ambulacesque paint jobs that made it unmistakably clear that this was medical transportation. It was like they were trying to reassure a jittery populace that even though this cripple was leaving the house, he was doing so under the strictest medical supervision.

A trained EMT accompanied you to get your haircut. They made a simple ride into such a fucking production; it was like they were hauling hazmat. And forget about asking anybody on a date if you depended on Medi-cars to get around: “Hey baby, my EMT and I will pick you up at six in my INVABUS.”

And when the lifts on the Medi-cars went up and down there was always this shrill, staccato beep, warning all within earshot, I guess, of the extreme danger posed by a cripple going up and down on a lift. I knew a guy who got a new wheelchair that gave off that same warning beep whenever he backed up. (CRIPPLE BACKING UP! RUN FOR YOUR LIVES!!!!) And the people who sold him the wheelchair refused to disconnect the beeper. Liability. I don’t know what happened to that guy. I guess he goes around annoying the hell out of people every time he backs up, whether it’s in church or at a funeral or wherever.

Cripples are familiar with all this cautious overkill. When I lived in government-subsidized housing for cripples, in every bedroom and bathroom there was an emergency switch that looked like a light switch with a string hanging from it and when you pulled it down an alarm blared throughout the building. The problem was, 99 percent of the time when the switch got pulled down it was because someone’s cat was playing with it. But the building management wouldn’t disconnect it. Liability.

My train arrives. Waiting at the curb is an African American man wearing a blue windbreaker with a patch that says Prompt Ambulance Services. He escorts me to a plain white van that doesn’t even say INVALID COACH. Inside the van, tucked along the wall, is a three-foot sign with the same Prompt Ambulance insignia as on the patch. The driver explains that the sign is magnetic. He slaps it on the outside of the van when it’s a medical ride and peels it off when it’s a regular ride like me.

This is what 30 years of activism has gotten us. Discretion. Porno in a brown paper mailer.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Badass with a Bullhorn

Everyone knows I’m a badass. I’ve got the bullhorns to prove it—not one but two! I got a bullhorn under my bed, a bullhorn in the back of my car. And there are usually some stained and battered all-purpose protest signs in the back of my car, with timeless messages like STOP THE MADNESS and HELL NO WE WON’T GO! I always carry around bullhorns and protest signs for the same reason some guys always carry around condoms: You never know when an opportunity will arise so always be prepared.

I’m such a badass, I’ve eaten more than one jailhouse bologna sandwich in my day. You don’t get one of those unless you’re such a badass protester that the police keep you in custody long enough to where they have to feed you. It’s a single slice of bologna smashed between two pieces of doughy white bread, maybe with a smear of mayo. The only places they serve bologna sandwiches like that are in the lockup and in sheltered workshops.

I’ve been arrested for disrupting meetings, occupying politicians’ offices, blocking streets. Yep, I’ve always told myself that the fascists better thank their lucky fascist asses that I was only about 10 years old when the people took to the streets in the 1960s. Because if I’d have been old enough, I’d have been out there leading the way, because obviously I was born to be a badass, and the fascists would have turned tail and run and there’d be no fascists anymore. And I’ve always told myself that if the people ever take to the streets like that again I’ll jump right in and lock arms with my brothers and sisters and march on to victory no matter what the cost because that’s what badasses do. They give it all up for the revolution!

And now here they are taking to the streets again. The Occupiers are just a few blocks away from my home in downtown Chicago. And I plan to dash right out there and lock arms with them and run the fascists out of town, as soon as spring comes. Don’t get me wrong, I’m a big time badass, but not when it’s so damn cold. I’m a thousand times more crippled in the winter because the more layers I have on the less I can move my body and I can’t move my body all that much to begin with so protesting in winter is out for me. And I can’t protest in the rain either because if my wheelchair gets too wet it shorts out and stops moving and then I’m screwed. So I’m pretty much limited to being a badass on warm and sunny days. But the next time the Occupiers hold a march on a warm and sunny day, I’ll be right there front and center with my badass self! That is as long I have no family stuff or anything like that going on. I would have been right there in the middle of that march the Occupiers had on that warm and sunny day a few weeks back, but my bad ass had a previous commitment. My sister-in-law was getting married in Philly.

It makes me wonder how I ever managed to balance being an active citizen with commitments to my community, my work and my family with being such an awesome badass. It’s getting harder and harder to do. When my badass friends and I decide we’ve had it up to here with the brutality of the fascist oligarchy and we’re going to commit an act of blatant defiance, we all pull out our date books:

Smart Ass Cripple: All right, let’s commit an act of blatant defiance against the fascist oligarchy next Thursday at noon.

Badass friend #1: Can’t do it on Thursday. I’ve got a dentist appointment.

Badass friend #2: Well cancel it. Don’t you hate the fascist oligarchy?

Badass friend #1: Of course I do! But this is a root canal. I can commit an act of blatant defiance on Wednesday.

Badass friend #2: Wednesday’s out. Jewish holiday. How about the 25th?

Smart Ass Cripple: Not the 25th! That’s my birthday.

Did Che Guevara and Fidel Castro have this problem?

Fidel: We shall launch the Cuban revolution on Sunday!

Che: Oh man, Sunday’s real bad. It’s my niece’s first holy communion. My wife’ll kill me if I blow it off. Let’s launch the revolution on Tuesday.

Fidel: Tuesday is my yoga day.

Che: Yoga? Are you serious, Fidel?

Fidel: Hey, don’t I deserve a little “me” time?

Maybe I’m not such a badass anymore. But I’m not throwing away my bullhorns and signs. I can feel it coming soon, the day when the masses finally rise up and overthrow the oppressors! And when that glorious day finally arrives, I hope it’s not raining.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Ringo the Pervert

(Smart Ass Cripple alias alert: The names of the people and guide dogs have been changed in this otherwise true story.)

Ringo (Smart Ass Cripple alias) moved to New York to live with his new love, Shirley Temple (Smart Ass Cripple alias). They rented a room in a three-story Victorian house in a suburb north of the Bronx. There they lived a warm and cozy life, along with Shirley Temple’s guide dog, Ayn Rand (Smart Ass Cripple dog alias).

Ringo worked the graveyard shift. And one morning after he got off work, he met Shirley Temple at Grand Central Station. He was unshowered, unshaven, unkempt, clad in his ragged work clothes. But in a few days, Shirley Temple was to begin a semester of classes on Long Island. Being blind, it was necessary for Shirley Temple to first take Ayn Rand on a dry run to campus and back on public transit so the dog could learn the route. Ringo’s job was to follow silently behind and be their eyes, only intervening if they were making a wrong turn or boarding a wrong train or doing something majorly screwy like that. Shirley Temple called this shadowing. Ringo had never shadowed for Shirley Temple before, but how hard could it be?

The problem was, when Shirley Temple tried to march Ayn Rand forward to the train, leaving Ringo a few yards behind, Ayn Rand halted. She was waiting for her buddy Ringo to come along too. Ayn Rand didn’t know any better. She was just a dumb animal. So Ringo turned and walked a few steps away, pretending to be leaving. When Ringo looked back and saw Ayn Rand leading Shirley Temple onto a subway car, he quickly ran back and jumped on the car behind, so as to remain undetected by the dog. He pushed through the packed car and up to the window so he could continue to keep an eye on Shirley Temple in the next car.

It just so happened that Ringo had boarded the only car with a conductor on board. The conductor was a bald and menacing man, built like a linebacker. He glowered at Ringo. Ringo suddenly realized what this must look like, a disheveled man staring through the window at a poor young blind woman in the next car, like some pervert. But there was no time to explain. Shirley Temple got off the train at the next stop. So Ringo ran off the train and he hid behind a post so Ayn Rand wouldn’t see him. But then, confused, Shirley Temple got back on the train! So Ringo ran back on! But Shirley Temple exited again! So Ringo ran off again! He hid behind a post!

The conductor stopped the train. “Why you following the girl?” he boomed, in a tone befitting a linebacker.

“Shhhh. I’m shadowing her,” Ringo said. And then he grimaced when he realized how that sounded.

“You stay right there!” the conductor bellowed. He waved his arm. Two NYPD came running. But the oblivious Shirley Temple was almost up the stairs. Ringo couldn’t let her get away! Ringo ran after her! But then from behind he heard “You in the red jacket! STOP!” So Ringo stopped. He didn’t want to be tasered, or shot in the back. Ringo called out to Shirley Temple. “Waiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiit!”

But an Asian woman grabbed Shirley Temple’s arm and dragged her and Ayn Rand toward the turnstile.

NYPD grabbed Ringo and wrestled him down. “Waiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiit!”
Shirley Temple heard Ringo’s SOS. She broke free from the Asian woman. Shirley Temple came down the stairs. She straightened everything out with NYPD and they let Ringo go.

After that Ringo had to sit for a bit and catch his breath. Shirley Temple told him the moral of the story was to never ever piss her off. Because if he does, the next time this happens, she might just tell NYPD she doesn’t know him.

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Crippled in the Eyes of the State

Every year around this time, the state of Illinois sends someone to my home to make sure I’m still crippled. The state pays the wages of the guys I hire to get me out of bed, put me on the crapper etc., so the state needs to know that I’m still crippled.

So the cripple inspector asks me a bunch of routine questions and I sign a bunch of papers and for another year I am deemed to be officially crippled in the eyes of the state. There is of course a much simpler test the inspectors could administer to determine if I’m still crippled and it saves a lot of time and money. They could just take my pulse. If I’m still alive, I’m still crippled. And the state can rest assured that if something ever happens to suddenly render me not crippled anyone, they will for sure hear about it. There’s no way in hell that if one day I wake up not crippled I’ll hush it all up and sit around the house pretending to still be crippled. I’ll cash in big time right away on my new uncrippled status. It’s a fucking goldmine. I’ll get an agent to book me on a world tour as the guy who spent more than 50 years crippled but now all of a sudden isn’t. I’ll land a zillion-dollar book deal!

The last time the inspector came, she snuck in a question that took me by surprise. She asked me to spell the word “world” backward. I hesitated because she came out of the blue with that one. But then I spelled world backward. She wrote something down and she moved on to the next question. But I couldn’t leave it at that. After I signed all the papers, I asked her why she asked me to spell world backward. She shrugged. She said it’s just something someone somewhere added to the requirements for meeting the burden of proof that we’re still crippled.

I must’ve passed the test because I haven’t received a letter from the state informing me that I’m not crippled. But I still couldn’t leave it at that. There was something deeply sinister about the innocence of that question. It seemed like a trap, like those Rorschach blots. They look like a butterfly or a clown, but they’re so intimidating because you feel like if you interpret them wrong and say the wrong thing, it will give the shrink an excuse to lock you up.

So why really was the state requiring me to spell world backward? Needing a source of infallible, irrefutable information, I turned to the Internet. I learned that spelling world backward is a cognitive function test. It allows the examiner to tap into your cortex, which is the area largely responsible for higher brain functions, such as reasoning, sensations and memory.

I felt violated. Why was the state snooping around in my cortex? That seems like the kind of thing a state ought not to be allowed to do without a warrant. It creeped me out to think that the state could now be privy to all my sensations. And what about my memories? Did they discover any of the stuff in my past that I’m not proud of and I don’t want anybody to know about, such as the time I got my mom’s French poodle stoned? My mom went away and I had a party and one of the stoners who came over said you can get a dog stoned by blowing smoke in its ear. I should have known better than to tell a stoner they’re full of shit when they claim something like that, because you know damn well they’ll try to prove it. So he lifted the poodle’s ear and blew smoke. And the dog got a paranoid look on its face and it wouldn’t leave my side. And then it slept for about 12 hours.

And what do the inspectors do with all they gather from having me spell world backward? I picture them all drunk on eggnog at the Department of Human Service office Christmas party, entertaining everyone with tales of the sick and twisted shit they discovered while ransacking my cortex.

Next time the inspector comes around, I might just refuse to spell world backward. I’ll slam the door to my cortex! But they might use that as an excuse to say I’m not crippled anymore and cut me off. And then I’d be screwed. This is the kind of stuff you have to submit to when you need someone to put you on the crapper.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

An Open Letter to those Meddlesome, Self-Righteous Busybodies at Human Rights Watch

Dear Meddlesome, Self-Righteous Busybodies at Human Rights Watch,

This open letter is written in response to your recently-released report accusing Smart Ass Cripple of violating so-called international child labor laws. I write this letter at the behest of my attorneys, who have advised me to publicly come clean and tell the truth. It’s apparent that my attorneys feel your advocacy must be taken seriously since they have never advised me to tell the truth before.

In your report you allege that for the last 10 months, the entries posted on Smart Ass Cripple have not been written by Smart Ass Cripple at all but by eight-year-old boys in an orphanage in Bulgaria. While I admit that this is true, whether or not this constitutes a violation of “international child labor laws” depends on one’s interpretation of the words “child” and “labor.” In a cushy, privileged society such as ours, it can be argued that an eight year old is still, technically, a child. But in a Bulgarian orphanage, children grow up fast. Only the tough survive. The boys that write my entries are already smoking, drinking and on probation for grand theft auto. They are the most grizzled eight year olds the orphanage has to offer.

As for the word “labor,” if you think writing entries for Smart Ass Cripple is hard, challenging work, then obviously you haven’t read any of them. In fact, my inspiration for outsourcing came from a brilliant observation in a thoughtful letter from an astute reader of Smart Ass Cripple. She wrote: “Hey Smart Ass Cripple! My eight-year-old nephew can write the kind of crap you write!” She was absolutely correct and her frankness forced me to ask myself an all-important question: Why the hell am I busting my ass when I can get an eight year old to write this nonsense for me and I can pay them in lollipops? So I set out in search of an eight year old with the gumption to pull himself up by his bootstraps. But I knew that any such lad in America would demand far too many lollipops. So like any good businessman, I looked for a “business-friendly climate” in which to set up shop. I soon learned that no place on God’s fertile earth offers a more “business-friendly climate” than a Bulgarian orphanage.

My attorneys have also advised me that as a result of your inquiry, I should immediately cease and desist all outsourcing and return to writing Smart Ass Cripple entries myself. It is with deep reluctance and resentment that I accept their advice. I hope you’re proud of yourselves. You have now put several of the world’s most impoverished eight year olds out of work. But that will have to be on your conscience. Also, be advised that you will face a firestorm of protest from Smart Ass Cripple readers when they soon realize that because eight-year-old boys are no longer writing my entries, the quality of the writing has gone way down. But at least my readers and the poor rejected orphans know exactly which Nosey Nellies are to blame.

La lucha continua!

Smart Ass Cripple