Monday, December 26, 2011

Boring Scars

I’m very self-conscious about the cripple scars I have on my body. I don’t like talking about them because they’re so damn boring.

There’s one on the back of my left calf. It’s been there forever. I don’t remember how it got there. My mother said it’s from when doctors took a muscle biopsy when I was a baby so they could diagnose why I was crippled.

See what I mean? Zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz. There’s no wild and crazy Purple Heart cripple story behind that scar. That’s the problem when you’re like me and the only thing you had to do to become crippled was get born. The only scar I have to show for that is my navel. Big deal. Everybody’s got one of those. And the story of how it got there is always the same. You’ve only got a crazy story if you don’t have one.

But when some cripples talk about how they got their most prominent scars, the audience is riveted, especially when everybody’s drunk. It’s often a story of great adventure. I knew a guy who claimed he became a quad because he wiped out on a luge while preparing for the Olympics. I heard another guy swear up and down that he was the “agony of defeat” skier they showed wiping out every week at the beginning of the TV show “Wide World of Sports.” That’s how he became crippled, he said. Sometimes the story behind a cripple scar has a comic twist. Like maybe somebody wiped out skiing, but it was cross-country skiing. They swerved to avoid a chipmunk or something like that. I know a guy who broke his neck diving into water. That’s a boring vanilla account, except he and others were celebrating the end of their college final exams by skinny dipping in a quarry. So when he was pulled out of the water, he and his rescuers were all in their birthday suits.

So when other cripples throw around war stories about their scars, I feel crushingly inadequate, like a 35-year-old virgin at a party where everyone’s drunk and bragging about their sexual exploits. My mind races to find a way to exit inconspicuously before they call on me.

The winning cripple scar story I’ve heard was about this paraplegic guy I knew back when. He didn’t have a scar per se. It was a tire track. As the story went, this guy was at a drunken kegger barbecue party in a big open field. He stated making out with a woman and things got hot and heavy so they went to the other side of a grassy hill so they could have oral sex in privacy. Shortly thereafter, another partier left the kegger and he drove his pickup truck over the grassy hill and when he got to the other side he made a startling discovery. And that, allegedly, is how the paraplegic guy became a paraplegic. He got run over while in the throes of ecstasy. And to this day he had a tire track embedded across his back to prove it. Allegedly.

I never heard this story from the man himself. Other cripples whispered about it. They said if you asked him about it he’d show you his tire track. But I never got up the nerve. I feared maybe these other smart ass cripples made it all up and then snickered and placed bets on how long it would take me to ask the guy if I could see his tire track. I wouldn’t put it past them to do that.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Mandatory Exoskeletons

I’m pretty fucking depressed these days. It seems like my nightmare, dystopian vision of the future for cripples is rapidly becoming reality. And there’s nothing I can do to stop it.

All over the world, evil, mad scientists are working with feverish, sadistic glee developing robotic exoskeletons. Check it out. Google up some exoskeletons and you’ll see what I mean. A lot of these scientists are pursuing this research in the name of using exoskeletons to enable cripples to move their limbs again. They’re making tremendous progress and it’s pretty damn scary. Because soon those super-charged exoskeletons like the one that guy flies around in in the movie “Iron Man” will be an everyday reality. And as soon as that happens, every cripple will be required by the state to have one.

When you look at it from a cold, bureaucratic bean-counter’s perspective, it makes perfect sense. Why should the public trough pay for cripples to have human assistants accompany them all day and help them do stuff when you can make those same cripples wear exoskeletons and suddenly they can move everything they couldn't move before and do stuff for themselves? The more crippled the person, the more of an exoskeleton they’ll need. Like a single amputee would just get a corresponding bionic arm or leg and they’re off to the races. But someone who’s really really crippled, like me or Christopher Reeve, if we’re supposed to do everything for ourselves we’ll have to be assigned a full-body exoskeleton like the “Iron Man” guy’s. And we'll need a voice-command operated exoskeleton, which is the part that scares the hell out of me most. Because you don’t have to be crippled to know how fucked up voice-command technology is. All you have to do is call any random customer service number and try to maneuver past the robot-voiced gatekeepers that stand between you and another human. I absolutely hate calling AMTRAK because you get this ebullient robot voice named Julie. And here’s how it goes:

“Hello, my name is Julie. What is your destination city?”


“Okay, Peoria.


“I’m sorry. Let’s try again. What is your destination city?”


“Okay, Lubbock, Texas. And what is your departure date?


“Okay, Wednesday.


“I’m sorry. Did you say Memphis?”

And then I want to smash the phone into a billion pieces with a GODDAM SLEDGEHAMMER!

It won’t matter if voice-command technology still sucks in the future. They’ll make cripples use it to pilot our exoskeletons anyway, just like they make everybody use it now for customer service. My human assistant places me in my suit-of-armor exoskeleton in the morning, latches me in and boots it up. Then he leaves and my exoskeleton takes over.

“Good morning, sir,” says my ebullient exoskeleton. “Where would you like to go?”

“Let’s go to the bathroom. I have to piss.”

“Fly to the North Pole? Yes sir, right away!” And before I can say squat I’m skyrocketing through outer space, trapped in a runaway exoskeleton! We land on the North Pole. My exoskeleton says:

“Where to now, sir?”


But it’s fucking cold on the North Pole and my exoskeleton’s robotics freeze up so he collapses into a useless heap! And there I die of hypothermia.

In this dystopian future, crash–landed exoskeletons with dead cripples inside will be a common sight. When you look at it from a cold, bureaucratic bean-counter’s perspective, it makes perfect sense.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Cool Enough for Robo

I spent five years as an inmate at the state operated boarding school for cripples and none of the other inmates ever invited me to one of their top secret Robo sessions.

I guess I wasn’t cool enough. I was, however, cool enough to hang out in the canteen. That’s where the coolest inmates hung, in the alcove with the vending machines and the microwave. That’s where they smoked. I even achieved enough coolness status to be allowed to sit at a table in the canteen with one of the inmates who had “smoking privileges.” Those were the coolest inmates of all. They were over 18 and they had their parents' or guardian’s permission to smoke. (They all smoked Kools.) The rest of us, if we got caught smoking by the staff, we might get busted. When you got busted you were banished to your room for a stretch of days. No visitors except your roommate. No going to the canteen. So the rest of us, to sneak a smoke, we had to sit at a table with an inmate who had smoking privileges. Take a quick puff and set the cigarette back down fast in the ashtray in front of the inmate with the smoking privileges in case a staff person pops up. Then you’ve got cover. The privileged one pretends the cigarette is theirs. The privileged ones had to think you were cool enough for them to front for you like that. So they were the ultimate arbiters of who was cool. You could never be the coolest of the cool if you didn’t have your smoking privileges.

But I was never formally invited to drink Robo. Robo— slang for Robitussin. Harvey, the polio kid with the slight Kentucky drawl, was the one who talked about getting high on Robo. Harvey talked a lot about getting high. He told me one morning he got high the night before just by staring at his hairbrush. I tried it that night with my hairbrush. All I did was fall asleep.

Harvey was cool, but he would never advance beyond mid-level cool because his parents wouldn’t sign for him to have smoking privileges. So I think he compensated by designating himself the arbiter of an ever higher level of cool —Robo cool. Robo was the top shelf stuff, Harvey said. Fuck Nyquil, that nasty rotgut shit!

So every now and then Harvey leaned toward me and said, “I’m gonna score some Robo,” in the same hushed tone the spies used in those spy movies he watched. Then Harvey raised a hopeful eyebrow, as if telling me to stand by for details. The whole Robo thing was top secret, he said, so I expected he’d eventually let me in on the location of a top secret hidden map (maybe inside a toilet tank?) that would lead me to the underground Robo den. Just like in those spy movies!

But no! No such scavenger hunt leads ever materialized. And then one day there’d be Harvey bragging in hushed spy tones about how he and some other cool guys (who shall remain nameless) got ripped on Robo last night.

Dammit! I wanted to ask some of the other inmates that I suspected were cool enough to be invited for Robo for top secret tips on what cool things I could to do to elevate my status to Robo cool. But nobody besides Harvey ever peeped a word about doing Robo, probably because it was top secret. So I never said a word either. I didn’t want to blow whatever chance I had for upward mobility. So I just worked hard on becoming cooler, hoping to someday be deemed Robo cool.

But I was never cool enough

Sunday, December 11, 2011


How about those old-time FDR wheelchairs? All wicker and wood, rigid and perpendicular. As agile and nimble as a covered wagon. As comfortable as an X-ray table.

Whenever I see one of those FDR wheelchairs, I get a bad case of the willies. But it’s way worse than just the willies. It’s a cold, deep shudder.

What if I was a cripple back then? I didn’t miss by much. Just make me about 15 years older and there I am. Having an FDR wheelchair was the best cripples back then could hope for. That was our shining symbol of hope and liberation. Back then, I’d have been sooooooo screwed. I’d have been stranded if I had to get around by pushing an FDR wheelchair. Hell, even those linebacker cripples of today who do marathons in their wheelchairs would be stranded if all they had were FDR wheelchairs. That’s the equivalent of trying to run a marathon in a potato sack.

And what about way way way back, back before there were even any FDR wheelchairs? What was the symbol of hope and liberation for a cripple like me way back then? Leeches? The doctors cover me with leeches that can suck all the muscular dystrophy out of me? Then what? Way back then, cripples like me were thoroughly, comprehensively, inalterably screwed.

Do you ever go to historical re-enactments? Do you ever notice that there are no cripples in historical re-enactments? That’s because whatever the period in history, the cripples were screwed. The only cripples people ever saw were blind beggars, village idiots and Helen Keller.

Seeing an FDR wheelchair gives me the intense willies the same way I used to get the willies when I was a kid and the disabled veterans called our house selling light bulbs. My mother could’ve bought light bulbs anywhere, but she waited for the disabled vets to call so she could order light bulbs and help a good cause at the same time. But it gave me the hard-boiled willies. Is that what cripples do when they grow up, I wondered, sell light bulbs over the phone? Is that the best we can hope for? And these were disabled veterans, too. These were the guys who saved us from the Nazis and the Communists. If all a grateful nation had to offer them was a chance to sell light bulbs over the telephone, then an ordinary cripple like me was invariably, inevitably, inescapably screwed.

I see an FDR wheelchair, and what grabs me is beyond the willies. It’s more like survivor guilt. I just barely escaped. Make me 15 years older and I would’ve been screwed like the cripples of yore. The bullets that took them down whizzed right past my head.

Survivor guilt can make it hard to have fun, if you’re not careful. You can get caught up in feeling like you’re disrespecting those who didn’t make it if you’re not perpetually somber, like a black-veiled widow. But I feel better when I do the opposite and get out there and have fun on behalf of the cripples of yore. I make it my business to have all the fun they weren’t allowed to have. It makes having fun twice the fun because I feel like I’m getting even.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Ask Smart Ass Cripple Yet Again?

Dear Mister Smart Ass Cripple,

I am wondering if you're familiar with the song "Get Up, Stand Up" originally written by Bob Marley and Peter Tosh. My question is- have you personally, ever taken offense to this song? Does any part of you feel that this song is anti-cripple in any way?

Devoted Reader #721

Dear DR 721,

You wanna know what song I hate? I’ll tell you what song I hate! I HATE the song “Teddy Bear”, the super giant mega monster hit 1970s country song by Red Sovine!

“Teddy Bear” is barfsville from beginning to end! Sovine doesn’t sing, he talks out his wretched lyrics over a background of soft, plinky piano. It’s the story of a trucker who talks to a kid named Teddy Bear over the CB radio. The pitiful little Teddy Bear says:

"Now, I'm not supposed to bother you fellows out there
Mom says you're busy and for me to stay off the air.
But you see, I get lonely and it helps to talk
'Cause that's about all I can do, I'm crippled, and, I can't walk!"

I swear I’m not making this up! I wish with all my miserable being that it all was a sick joke and the song “Teddy Bear” never existed! Oh that we lived in such a benevolent universe!

And then Teddy Bear says his dad was a trucker who died in a wreck:

“Mom has to work now, to make ends meet
And I'm not much help, with my two crippled feet!"

The song deteriorates from there into a sucking cesspool of drivel. I’ll spare you the details. I fear I may have already exposed you to too much. You can look it up if you’re a fucking masochist.

I also hate any song sung by Barry Manilow. That guy sings like his nuts are crammed into a size two thong.

Dear Smart Ass Cripple,

What can I get you for Christmas?

Your smart ass fan,
Mrs. Santa

Dear Mrs. Santa,

You wanna know what you can get me for Christmas? I'll tell you what you can get me for Christmas! I need this machine that I don’t know the name of or if it even exists. But you put it in your closet and it humidifies or dehumidifies the air or whatever so your clothes don’t shrink. Because I just broke out my winter clothes and once again I found that they all shrank! Six month ago these clothes fit me just fine but now my shirts don’t button and my pants are too tight! This happens every damn year! So I figure there must be something unstable about the air in my closet that shrinks my clothes. Maybe the pH balance is all out of whack or something. What else could it be?

There must be a machine that can do something about that. Get me one and I’ll be your friend

Dear Smart Ass Cripple,

I’m so excited! Quadruple amputee Phillipe Croizon, who swam the English Channel in 2010, is at it again! In the spring, he plans to swim through a shark-infested, 12-mile crossing between Papua New Guinea and Indonesia. He is the first quadruple amputee ever to attempt this feat!

Aren’t you excited?

Yours truly,
A Big Fan of Amputee Swimming

Dear Big Fan,

I hate to burst your bubble, but, technically, Phillipe Croizon is not the first quadruple amputee to swim these treacherous waters. A Belgian named Hugo van Sprout did it in 1996. Van Sprout had all his limbs when he jumped into the water in Papua New Guinea. But by the time the sharks got through with him, when he came ashore in Indonesia he was a quadruple amputee.

However, Phillipe Croizon may very well still make history for cripples. If the sharks are biting that day, he could be the first person to complete the swim as a quintuple amputee.

Friday, December 2, 2011

Blind Guys Driving

When some people become crippled, either suddenly or gradually, for a long time they work hard to convince themselves they’re not really crippled. It’s hard to blame them for wanting no part of being crippled. They know all the terrible, hurtful names people call us. Doctors call us the worst names of all, names like “osteogenesis imperfecta.” Imperfecta? What the hell is that supposed to mean? Is everybody else osteogenesis perfecta?

Cripples who are in this state of denial will do painful physical and emotional contortions to perform a simple activity, just to prove to themselves and to the world that they can still do it. And it’s usually a tedious activity that they hated doing before they were crippled, like mopping the kitchen floor. They should just hire a Polish cleaning lady and move on, but instead they’ll spend six hours mopping the kitchen floor, even if they have to rig up the mop to a custom-made helmet so they can push it with their head. When the task is complete, their satisfaction is as deep as their exhaustion. If they were really that crippled, they couldn’t mop the floor independently like that anymore, could they?

The activity cripples have the hardest time giving up is driving. I’m not one of those cripples. I never drove in the first place. I don’t worry about it because I happened to be married to my ideal woman, who’s beautiful and intelligent and witty and wise and has a driver’s license. But my friend Scott had a helluva time giving up driving. He’s dead now. He had juvenile diabetes. (There’s another one of those names--- juvenile diabetes. If your condition improves, do they upgrade you to sophomoric diabetes?) Scott started going blind right around the time he became old enough to drive. But he loved the hell out of driving and it got to the point where Scott would sit in his car along the roadside, wait for a bright-colored car to come by and follow it.

Well obviously Scott had to give that up. But a few years later on Scott’s birthday he told a friend who owned a pickup truck that for his birthday gift he wanted to drive his friend’s truck. Scott was totally blind by then so he had his friend drive out to this open field. There Scott could drive around and around with no danger of hitting anything. Out in the field, Scott and his friend switched seats. But Scott drove the truck into mud and it got stuck. So Scott’s friend got out and pushed while Scott floored the gas pedal. Just then a cop happened along and saw a guy out in the field pushing the back of a truck, its spinning tires spewing waves of mud. As the cop approached the truck, Scott’s friend jumped back. The tires kept angrily churning up mud. The cop knocked on the driver’s window. Thinking it was his friend knocking, Scott rolled down the window and snarled, “Get back there and push, ass hole!”

Sooner or later, trying to pretend you’re not crippled will get you in trouble. It’s better to just sign up with the imperfectas and get it over with.