Monday, July 30, 2012

No Exit

So last week I’m visiting a relative in a nursing home, okay? I say good-bye. I head for the elevator. A white-haired man wearing a tie and a crisp new dress shirt arrives at the elevator. He enters the code using the number pad on the wall above the elevator buttons. You have to know the code if you want to take the elevator. That’s how they keep the inmates from escaping. The elevator opens. The man steps in. I roll in behind him. His face constricts with suspicion. “Are you allowed to be in here?” he says to me.

Dammit! This is what happens when I dare go to nursing homes unaccompanied by a walking person! It’s inevitable that someday I’ll visit someone in a nursing home and they’ll never let me out! A few years back I visited a friend in a nursing home and as I was leaving, the rent-a-cop security guard at the front door asked me where I was going. I knew what he was implying. I told him it was none of his damn business where I was going, because I wasn’t. He refused to open the door until a nurse came down and vouched for me.

The guy with the new dress shirt obviously did not have a discerning eye when it comes to cripples. Otherwise he would have known I wasn’t an inmate. Didn’t he see my Dave Brubeck t-shirt? When you land in a nursing home wearing nothing but a hospital gown, they give you a new wardrobe, fished fresh from their rummage sack. But you never get anything as cool as a Dave Brubeck t-shirt. You get sweat pants and washed out, bedraggled t-shirts bearing old advertising catch phrases like I’M A PEPPPER.

And I use a motorized wheelchair, too. That should have been a dead giveaway that I was the kind of cripple who could be trusted riding elevators. The inmates all sat in their standard-issue wheelbarrows, those one-size-fits-nobody hospital wheelchairs.

And if nothing else, the white-haired man definitely should have known that I wasn’t an inmate by the fact that I didn’t’ smell like a horse. In nursing homes, cripples only get two showers a week. If I only got two showers a week I’d smell like a horse.

Before I visit a nursing home alone again, I’d better have my lawyer draw up some sort of notarized affidavit confirming that I am indeed a free cripple, in case I am ordered to show my papers.

Or maybe I’ll always bring along someone who can walk. They don’t hassle me in nursing homes when Rahnee is with me. Rahnee walks funny, but at least she walks, which gives her that certain legitimacy I lack.

At the very least, if I ever visit a nursing home alone again, I’ll first notify my closest, most trusted associates. And I’ll tell them if they don’t hear back from me by sundown, please call the SWAT team.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Crippled Beggars

I don’t know why, but I used to get all worked up whenever I saw crippled beggars on the streets. I felt embarrassed to the point of agitation. I felt resentful. I wished to hell they’d go away.

But really, when I think about it, crippled begging is like gay marriage. There’s no reason to feel threatened because it’s no skin off me.

I was probably worried about image— the image of cripples in general and, by association, me. I didn’t want the masses to see all cripples as beggars. But that’s stupid because if that’s the case, then there are countless other genres of cripples I should be equally worked up about. Like for instance, how about those crippled shot putters who heave steel balls from their wheelchairs in the cripple Olympics? I wouldn’t want the masses to think that everybody in a wheelchair can or even wants to heave a steel ball. I should feel more threatened by the false expectations potentially forced upon me by that image because no matter what weird twists my future may take, I’m far more likely to end up a crippled beggar than a crippled shot putter.

I’m still uneasy with the concept of crippled begging. I think that’s because it isn’t really commerce. There’s no exchange of goods. But even when there is, like when blind people sell pencils, I still don’t feel better about it. It’s not like a sighted person rounds the corner thinking “My kingdom for a pencil” and suddenly, as if a gift from the pencil Gods, there appears a blind beggar. Those are pity pencils. I suppose one could argue that crippled beggars are selling a service, the service of reminding the rest of us how lucky we are that we’re not crippled beggars. Humans seem to need that a whole lot more than we need pencils.

But I no longer resent crippled beggars for doing what they do because hell, they’re just moonlighting. They’re just trying to make a few extra bucks. Cripples who have jobs with 401ks and tenure don’t go out begging as a hobby. Crippled beggars live in the economic strata where when you take mental inventory of assets you might be able to quickly liquefy, you think about body parts. How much can I get for a kidney? A pint of blood? Hair? Bone marrow? Hell, if the tooth fairy was for real, I bet when times got especially rough, crippled beggars would yank out teeth using a pliers and a shot of whiskey as anesthetic. Just a few teeth at a time. They have to manage their assets strategically.

Cripples who are dirt poor have to be real creative. I knew a guy who supplemented his social security by making and selling sculptures of horse heads. They looked like giant knight chess pieces. He made them with a horse head mold, so he cranked them out fast. Peddling these sculptures probably got him by for a little while, until he ran out of aunts and uncles and cousins to sell them to.

So screw it. Crippled beggars are a part of the cripple spectrum and the collective cripple image. And it ain’t gonna change unless all the other cripples get together a hire some powerhouse New York image consultants to conduct a crippled beggar genocide.

Thursday, July 19, 2012


A revolution is coming! There’s no stopping it now! Soon will dawn that glorious day for which cripples of many generations have longed—the day when in every town and city, every village and hamlet, cripples will at long last be treated with the least possible amount of respect and dignity!

And oh what a joyous day that will be! It will be celebrated for decades to come as a day of true advancement for cripples! And it’s coming real soon. Because there’s currently a bill in Congress known as the Fair Wages for Workers with Disabilities Act (H.R. 3086). The Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938 allows the Department of Labor to grant employers exemptions from paying minimum wage to certain cripples within their employ. And a whole lot of businesses, both for profit and not, take the government up on that sweet deal. I looked into one of those businesses once. It was in Indiana and they paid one of their cripples 11 cents an hour.

But this bill will put an end to all those exemptions. So huzzah and hosanna! Soon cripples will live in a world where the prospect of scratching for the scraps of subsistence on the lowest economic rung will no longer be just a shimmering, tantalizing dream! Young criplets will no longer suffer from delusions of adequacy!

This has been a long time coming! The minimalist movement among cripples has been speaking out against this injustice for many, many years. I remember attending one of their annual rallies at the Washington Monument. What an inspiring day it was. Our raucous chant reverberated through the canyons of power: WE DEMAND THE MINIMUM! One cripple proudly and defiantly waived his homemade sign that proclaimed: I AM (JUST BARELY) A MAN! And I’ll never forget the arousing speeches. I practically rose from my wheelchair and roared when the cripple at the podium declared “I have a dream that someday, we will aaaaaallll be able to drink from the sweet, sweet fountain of the bare basics!”

That day is almost here! The Fair Wages Act will end all minimum wage exemptions just three years after enactment! But first it has to pass through the House and Senate. But before that can happen, it has to pass out of committee, which probably won’t happen in this Congress or the next or the next. The whole idea is still too much of a hot potato.

But when it finally does become the law of this land, cripples will ascend to our new social position, basking at the bottom of the heap.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

The Privileged Class

It was my 55th birthday and I wanted to be carded. We were on the road. So we went to Cracker Barrel. That seemed like the kind of interstate highway chain that would offer senior discounts.

But they didn’t and thus I missed my once-in a-lifetime chance to celebrate my first day as a member of the privileged class. I told the waitress of my disappointment so she took pity and gave me a free brownie with whipped cream and a candle stuck in it for my birthday.

That was a year ago and so far this senior discount stuff has been a huge bust. I think I’ve saved about $6. Senior discounts are more like consolation prizes. They’re society’s why of saying, “Look, we’re sorry we can’t do anything to halt the mercilessly relentless pace of the passage of time and the process of decay, but we can offer you 10 per cent off on the breaded veal cutlet special between 2:30 and 4:30 on Wednesdays.” It’s not much of a trade but you take it anyway because you can either resign yourself to the inevitability of decline and decay and pay full price for breaded veal cutlet to boot, or not.

Humans don’t look forward to turning 55 the same way we look forward to turning 21. There’s no market for age 55 fake IDs. So far, I’ve never been approached outside a restaurant by a 40 year old who said, “Psssst. Hey buddy, can you help a brother out? Can you go in and order me a breaded veal cutlet for 10 per cent off? I could do it myself because I’m old enough. Really I am! But I lost my ID.”

They don’t offer senior discounts on stuff that costs a lot, like gas or an appendectomy. If that was the case then we’d be talking some real money and senior discounts might be something to get excited about. There ought to be a law making senior discounts mandatory on everything. Because with the way some republicans are trying to fuck with Medicare and Medicaid, that may be the only way to get by. And the discounts ought to be escalating. The older you get the bigger the discounts get, so like if you’re 110 and you order breaded veal cutlet the restaurant pays you. It’s only fair!

But I’m sure someone will challenge that. It’s the ones who always cry about reverse discrimination that will be the first to object. They particularly resent people like me because I’m a privileged character squared. I get senior discounts on top of all my cripple discounts. Cripples get stuff like free parking and tax breaks. But why should we get special privileges just because we’re crippled, they ask? Everything we get they should get, too. They envy and covet everything that comes with the cripple lifestyle, except the part about being crippled.

So I won’t be surprised if they mount a Supreme Court challenge to the Constitutionality of senior discounts. They’ll do it in the name of their ancestors, who were brought to this country from across the ocean and forced to pay full price for breaded veal cutlet. It will begin with protests. A young, white man will enter a restaurant, order breaded veal cutlet and demand 10 per cent off. He’ll be rejected and ejected. But, inspired by the lunch counter protests of the civil rights era, the protestors will keep coming in waves. Another will enter and order breaded veal cutlet and so on. And then another. And then another.

When the Supreme Court strikes down senior discounts, these freedom fighters will dedicate themselves to wiping out all the unfair advantages bestowed upon the privileged class. Next, they’ll go to the movies and demand to pay the same ticket price as an 11 year old.

Saturday, July 7, 2012

Rodriguez Ties Gehrig’s Grand Slam Record

But I don’t care what anybody says, there is one baseball record that will never be broken. It’s stood since 1926. It’s Babe Ruth’s record for home runs hit in a single game as a promise to a crippled boy, either real or imagined. Babe hit three. Even Lou Gehrig couldn’t break that record. He only hit two.

It’s all well-documented in the Hollywood movies made about Ruth and Gehrig. Ruth visits a crippled boy named Johnny and promises to hit a home run for him. He hits three and in the World Series no less. Gehrig visits a crippled boy named Billy and promises to hit a home run for him. Obstinate little Billy isn’t satisfied with just one home run though. He wants Gehrig to hit two. So the Iron Horse agrees, as long as Billy agrees in return to work real hard so he can walk again. That must be exactly what happened. Hollywood would never stretch the truth about something like that.

Babe’s record will stand forever because ballplayers don’t promise crippled boys home runs that much these days. That’s probably a good thing because imagine if a slugger had visited a crippled boy about 10-15 years ago, when everybody was popping steroids. That slugger would have stepped to the plate stoked up not just by ‘roids but also by an even more potent force, the inspiring courage of a crippled boy. And he probably would have hit 15 home runs in that game. From then on, all the crippled boys would have raised the stakes. The next slugger to come along would have to hit 20 home runs in a game so as not to disappoint the crippled boy and so on and so on. Future sluggers would have had to juice harder and harder just to keep up.

Ruth and Gehrig share another home run record that will never be broken. It’s the record for the number of crippled boys, real or imagined, miraculously cured by their home runs. The record is one. Both Johnny and Billy got better. Billy, as the movie shows, even appears at Yankee Stadium to show Gehrig that he can now walk and to thank him. Everybody talks about Lou Gehrig’s disease, but nobody talks about the Lou Gehrig cure. I can’t help but wonder how history might have changed had somebody gone out and hit a home run for Lou Gehrig.

Any player who wants to set a new record in the category of home runs inspired by a cripple will have to be creative about it. He might have to go visit a crippled girl.

Monday, July 2, 2012

Coulda Beena Borted

My dad had three kids with his first wife. None of them were crippled. Then my dad had three more kids with my mom. All crippled. I was the last one to come along so it must’ve been me they were talking about that day back when I was a tiny criplet and my mom overheard one of her in-laws say, “I blame her for this.”

Blame. That word smacked my mom across the back of the head like an irate nun. You never blame someone for doing something good. “I blame YOU for rescuing my infant child from the jaws of that alligator!”

One of the problems with being crippled is that it’s nearly impossible to sneak up on anybody. People always see and or hear us coming. They can even see most cripples coming while we’re still in the womb these days, what with ultrasound and amniocentesis and all.

I was born back in the days when crippled fetuses could still be stealth. We could fly under the radar and wait until the very last minute to spring our crippledness on everybody. Surprise! And by then it was too late! These days, if you catch us coming early, you can abort us. But once we’re born you’re stuck with us. There are no laws allowing you to smother us and start all over, yet.

My mother always swore she never would have aborted me anyway. Crippled or not, she believed her children would become intelligent, sensitive adults who would use their great talents to make the world a better place. Fortunately, she’s not around to read Smart Ass Cripple.

But still, I’ve always been tempted to form an exclusive cripple fraternity called Coulda Beena Borted. It’s a kinship I share with cripples who are born with spina bifida, Down Syndrome, dwarfism, congenital amputations and all the other stuff obstetricians can spot from a mile away. All you quadriplegics and stroke people and those who became crippled beyond the womb would not be allowed to join Coulda Beena Borted. Sorry. You’re not invited to our annual Coulda Beena Borted reunion and picnic. But all conjoined twins are welcome.

But I’m always hesitant to even bring up this abortion shit because I know what will happen. Some right winger will seize it as an opportunity to show that they are really the true friends of cripples. If they were in charge, we wouldn’t have to worry about being aborted. They would tenaciously defend our right to be born.

They’re right about that. No doubt they would guard every crippled fetus like a junkyard dog, right up until the second they are born. After that, you’re on your own, Maxwell. That’s the American way.

Crippled fetuses are much easier to love than actual crippled humans, especially when they’re still in that cuddly phase all fetuses go through—-half child half tadpole-—with their adorably bulbous bald heads like the Wizard of Oz and their little webbed fingers. Crippled fetuses don’t talk back. But then they’re born and before you know it they get mouthy and start demanding welfare. When they’re born it ruins everything. Their pristine innocence is forever lost. That’s what is meant by original sin.

Therefore, I’ll never follow through on organizing Coula Beena Borted. Because if I do some zealot will hijack a poor future criplet’s ultrasound and turn them into a poster fetus.