Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Crippled Woman Dies in Tragic Saganaki Accident

That might have been the headline the day after the day my sister almost met her untimely demise.

We were in the crowded dining room of a Greek restaurant. The people at the table behind my sister ordered saganaki. Saganaki is a hunk of cheese flambé. The server holds the plate high like an offering to the Gods, douses the cheese with a shot of something then lights it with a lighter. And when the cheese combusts everyone celebrates by shouting OPAH!

First my sister heard the familiar hiss and sizzle of saganaki getting doused. Her face filled with fear. Then she heard OPAH right behind her and she cried out “Nnnoooooooooo!” Her husband bolted up from his seat, as if he was going to tackle the poor server. I wondered what the hell they were so worked up about and then I remembered my sister had an oxygen tank on the back of her wheelchair, right below the flaming saganaki.

No explosion ensued. All survived. But had all the matter that composes my sister been transformed at that instant into a plume of smoke, leaving behind only an empty, smoldering wheelchair, this story would have been forever enshrined in that genre of cripple folklore I call true bullshit. Every cripple has true bullshit stories about themselves or some other cripple. They always swear to God it’s true. Everybody else thinks it’s bullshit, but no one knows for sure. With all the weird shit that happens to cripples, anything might be true.

Here’s a true bullshit story told to me by Mat Fraser of England. He says there was this armless girl in Britain who was given these miracle prosthetic arms that could move and gesticulate just like for real. The arms were powered by gas, stored in a tank strapped on her back. Therein was the fatal design flaw. Every day the active girl ran out of gas, and her arms froze in whatever position they were in at that moment. This was particularly embarrassing one particular day at her Catholic school when she spread and raised her arms and they froze in the crucifixion position.

Mat swears to God it’s true. Anybody else would think it’s total bullshit. But then again, maybe not. Mat was born with short forearms and no thumbs, so he knows all about the wild Rube Goldberg prosthetics that have been foisted upon people like him in the name of making them more functional, aesthetically pleasing humans. A shiny new pair of robot arms with hands so realistic that the palms can be programmed to sweat. The arms are powered by an earth-orbiting satellite. But they hang from the shoulders like an albatross and soon end up in the trash because compared to how smoothly you’ve learned to function with your God-given crippled up arms, you feel like you’re in a straightjacket. So for cripples who live in that screwy universe, the concept of gas-powered arms is completely believable.

Here’s one more true bullshit story. It’s the story of how Randy became a quadriplegic. Lilltl Rock, Arkansas, 1992. “We were out drinking,” Randy says. Almost every crazy How-I became-a -cripple story begins with those words. It was about 3 a.m. The bars were closed. Randy and his two female drinking buddies stopped at a convenience store and bought more beer, a pack of hot dogs and buns. They were going to go back to one of the women’s houses, start a campfire in the yard and roast the hot dogs. But they didn’t have firewood.

Randy got a bright idea. It was the height of the presidential campaign. There were campaign lawn signs all over. “They were all stuck in the ground with wooden stakes.” So Randy figured they could uproot a bunch of campaign signs and steal the stakes to use as firewood. “And we decided to take down only the Bush/Quayle signs because we didn’t want to see any of those around anyway.”

So to increase the odds of finding Bush/Quayle signs, they headed for a swanky neighborhood. The first couple uprootings went according to plan. But then, a man emerged from a swanky house with a shotgun. Randy and the women ran. As Randy dived into the car, a bullet ripped into his back.

And that’s how Randy became crippled. He swears to God it’s all true. He says he still has part of a bullet in his back to prove it.

Then again, it could be bullshit. But maybe not.