Monday, August 27, 2012

Impressionable Young Minds

Children are naturally inquisitive. So it’s perfectly logical that when they encounter a real live cripple, their curiosity will be piqued. Therefore, it’s important for mature, adult cripples like me to always be patient and cheerful when dealing with the stares and comments of children. After all, the children are the future leaders of America. We have to remember that every personal interaction with them presents a golden opportunity to teach them valuable lessons about people who are crippled and to have a profound and lasting impact on their impressionable young minds.

But sometimes that’s so fucking hard to do. Sometimes, you just want to flatten the little rude bastards.

Like one time my sister, Teena, was at the Brookfield Zoo. She visited one of those natural habitat houses, where the animals run free and humans observe them from walkways above. Birds flew around in this habitat. Big birds. Sometimes they flew up onto the walkways and walked amongst the humans.

So there’s my sister, sitting in her wheelchair by the railing, looking down on the jungle below. Suddenly she feels a jolt from behind. Somebody walked right smack into the back of her wheelchair. And then she feels these grubby hands pawing all over the top of her head. And then she heard a young boy’s voice say “What the hell is this?” Apparently this brilliant little future Rhodes Scholar thought Teena was some kind of weird, prehistoric bird, like a pterodactyl or something.

Who would blame Teena if she would have whirled her chair around, snarled like a man-eating pterodactyl and chased the kid full-throttle right out of the zoo?

And then there was the time I was rolling down a sidewalk in Washington D.C., just minding my own damn business. This kid, about age 9, walks past me. He was so busy staring back over his shoulder at me that he walked right into a stoplight pole and landed flat on his butt!

Ha! There was no need for me to flatten that kid. God did it for me.

I laughed hard. Don’t worry. The kid was fine. He sat on his butt, rubbing his nose and looking stunned. He learned a valuable lesson about cripples that day. I hope it had a profound and lasting impact on his impressionable young mind.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Cruz Roja

Cripples should always wear clean underwear. Because sooner or later you’re going to find yourself in a Cruz Roja situation.

A Cruz Roja situation is when you arrive somewhere in your wheelchair and find that the only means of access and/or egress involves going up or down stairs. But don’t worry. The proprietor has a solution. Goon power! If it’s a restaurant, for example, all employees are rounded up—the servers, the bartenders, the cooks in their aprons and mushroom-cloud hats—to carry you. But they soon learn that carrying a deadweight cripple up and down stairs is a lot like betting $50,000 that you can eat 30 hot dogs in 30 minutes. At first it seems like a snap. Easy money. But halfway through, your gut splitting from the strain, you realize you’ve made a horrible mistake. But there’s no turning back. You pray just to get through it alive.

And if you’re the deadweight cripple, you’re reciting the same fervent prayer. And even if you do survive, by the time they all finish grappling and pawing you, your shirt is wrapped around your head and your pants have fallen down to your ankles.

So always wear clean underwear.

Here’s why I call this a Cruz Roja situation:

The time was 1988. The place was the airport in Havana, Cuba. We were a delegation of American cripples invited to visit the island by an organization of Cuban cripples.

Our plane taxied up to the terminal. No jetway. A steep, narrow stairway was rolled up to the door. Two men boarded the plane. They wore white t-shirts with red crosses on them. The shirts said Cruz Roja. The men were in their fifties, beer-bellied.

“Are you here to carry us off the plane?” someone asked in Spanish. “Si!” said one of the Cruz Roja guys. “Soy muy fuerte. (I am very strong.)” He made a muscle. “Yo como mucho jamon! (I eat a lot of ham!)

There were five of us U.S. cripples for the Cruz Roja guys to carry. They looked us over, searching for their first victim. We all cowered back, each hoping they’d pick the other. They grabbed poor Drew. Now being a cripple swept up in a Cruz Roja situation is exponentially more terrifying when the complete strangers carrying you don’t even speak your language. Drew knew so little Spanish that the only phrase in his vocabulary he learned from me, the hopeless gringo. I told him when in doubt just say “Un momento, por favor.” At least that might buy him some time.

The Cruz Roja guys hoisted Drew up in a fireman’s carry. But Drew’s ass drooped, nearly scraping the ground. “Un momento, por favor,” chirped Drew. The Cruz Roja guys grunted and groaned. At the top of the narrow stairs, they stopped. Realizing they would never fit through three abreast, they discussed a change in strategy in Spanish.

“Un momento!” Drew said.

The Cruz Roja guys flung Drew up like a sandbag and sat him on the handrail of the steps. Here’s Drew, a guy with no trunk balance, one butt cheek perched on a three-inch wide cylinder, teetering and staring down at a sheer 15-foot drop.


A Cruz Roja guy clinched Drew from behind with a great Heimlich hug. The other scooped up his legs. They carried Drew down single file.

Down on the tarmac, his pants half off, Drew wanted to kiss the sweet earth like the Pope. The Cruz Roja guys panted, in need of a good refreshing jolt from a defibrillator.

So please, crippled brethren, always wear clean underwear. I concede that the odds are not great that your underwear will remain clean. At some point during your harrowing Cruz Roja carry, you’re bound to soil them.

Friday, August 17, 2012

Cripple Sports I'd Pay to Watch

Now that the regular Olympics are over, the cripple Olympics will soon be officially underway in London.


Sorry. I know I should be shot by a cripple firing squad for saying that. Even though I spend way too much time watching regular sports, I have no interest in cripple sports. Maybe I’m just bitter because I can’t heave a steel ball five feet. But I think it’s that I don’t find cripple sports as entertaining as regular sports.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m no sports bigot. There are some Olympic sports that would be way more entertaining to watch in the cripple Olympics than in the regular Olympics, but they’re not part of the cripple Olympics. Take for instance, wheelchair pole vaulting. All the wheelchair athletes I know are too wussy to try that one. But then they complain about how no one pays attention to the cripple Olympics. Well you can’t have it both ways! Those millions of people who love extreme sports like rocket-powered snowboarding would really get their rocks off watching wheelchair pole vaulting.

And how about wheelchair beach volleyball? Two things that don’t go together are wheelchairs and thick sand. Your wheels sink in and you’re stuck. You practically need a tow truck to get out. Wheelchair beach volleyballers would have almost zero mobility and range. So in order to keep the ball in the air, there would have to be 52 cripples on each side. That would be entertaining to watch, for a few minutes anyway.

As for the blind, there are a lot of Olympic sports I’d enjoy more watching them compete in rather than the sighted, like boxing or anything involving shooting a gun. But top on my list is fencing. Fencing is the prissiest goddam sport since croquette. It’s sword fighting without all the fun stuff. When I was a kid I loved sword fighting movies because people got stabbed in the heart and died. It was so cool. But no one dies in fencing so what’s the point? How do you win in fencing anyway? Do you win when you slice a hole in the other guy’s satin knickers? I’d much rather watch blind fencers have at it with real swords! Winner takes all!

There are some things at which certain cripples excel that ought to be cripple Olympic sports. The first that comes to mind is quadruple amputee scoot racing. Have you ever seen quadruple amputees scoot across the ground? My God it’s so impressive! Those people scoot harder and faster than a dog that just sat on a beehive! It’s one of those cripple compensation things, like how blind people have super sharp hearing. Quadruple amputees have highly-developed ass muscles. So let’s line up quadruple amputees from around the world on a track and let them scoot their tushies off. There should be a wide variety of scoot races, from sprint scoots to marathons.

And there’s the fallen quadriplegic commando crawl race. Every quad has to become proficient at this basic survival skill. You fall out of your wheelchair. You need to call 911 but the phone is at the other side of the house. So you flip over on your belly and commando crawl to the phone, propelling with your elbows. So again, quads line up on a track. When the starter’s pistol shoots, they’re dumped out of their wheelchairs. The first quad to commando crawl to the phone and call 911 wins the gold!

I’d pay good money to watch those cripple sports! Who wouldn’t?

Monday, August 13, 2012

Local Cripples Incite Elephant Stampede

‘Twas a fine summer’s night, as I recall, a couple decades ago. Anna and I were out rolling around, soaking it all in, not a care in the world.

We happened upon Oz Park, the bustling public park one block from where we lived at Over the Rainbow Apartments, a public housing development for cripples. Off in the distance, we heard elephant noises. And then we heard them again. We discovered that the source of the elephant noise was a couple of elephants.

What the hell? Why were there elephants loose in Oz Park? As far as we could tell, it was some sort of traveling petting zoo type of thing. The elephants were closely watched by keepers.

We rolled forward to take a closer look. But as we approached, the elephants whinnied and trumpeted. They rose up on their hind legs and shadow boxed. They handlers were alarmed. They looked around to see what was suddenly spooking the elephants. They looked at us. Everybody else looked at us. We stopped. We backed off.

But hell, it wasn’t our fault! Nobody ever told us that elephants are spooked by wheelchairs! There were no warning labels on our chairs telling us to stay away from elephants or anything like that. I guess when we backed off that removed the source of agitation. Otherwise we would have heard about it for sure. It would’ve been all over the news: Cripples Incite Elephant Stampede.

And the political aftershocks would have been felt for decades. The extensive property damage caused by frantic elephants trampling our upscale Lincoln Park neighborhood would have been Exhibit A for NIMBYs when educating the citizenry about the unspeakable things that can happen when crippled public housing goes up next door. Angry NIMBYs would have surrounded Over the Rainbow, demanding the eviction of all cripples. Some of the NIMBYs didn’t want us there in the first place. Painted on the wall of the building next to Over the Rainbow was a picture of a tree and the words We Shall Not Be Moved. Apparently the plot on which Over the Rainbow was built was once a vegetable garden and some neighbors were adamant about keeping it that way. I guess a compromise was reached— it would no longer be a garden but because it was cripple public housing, it would still be a home for vegetables.

Those were probably the same NIMBYs that once picketed the nearby children’s hospital. When they heard of the plan to build a heliport on the roof of the hospital, they mobilized. I guess they feared that all the noise from helicopters bringing in sick children might flatten their souffl├ęs.

The NIMBYs would’ve demanded that the authorities charge us with inciting an elephant stampede. The ensuing publicity from our trial would’ve had a widespread chilling effect on the construction of public housing for cripples. Of course we’d put up a vigorous legal defense. Whoever issued the permit for an elephant petting zoo, we'd assert, should have done their due diligence and realized there was public housing for cripples right around the corner! But it probably would have been futile.

So it's a good thing we backed off. But it's inevitable that there will be a similar stampede someday, wherever there is crippled public housing and elephant roam. So I still think there ought to be a warning label.

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

The Great Fish Conspiracy

The fishing pier on the lake where we took our vacation was accessible so Maria and I went fishing. I bought a cheap pole at the local Kmart and some fake bait which, when we took it out of the package, looked like gummy squid.

We got no bites. The fish in this lake aren’t as dumb as they look. They know gummy squid aren’t indigenous to these waters. They were down there laughing at our fake bait.

Maria asked if I’d ever caught a fish. Indeed I did, I said. It was at cripple summer day camp and they took us to some human-made pond and we fished off of foot bridges, using cubes of cheese as bait. Just before it was time to leave, I caught a fish. Every cripple on our field trip caught a fish that day (and had to throw it back). We all went home happy.

But now, as I recounted my fish story for the first time in about 45 years, there was something disturbingly incongruous about it. How was it that every last cripple just happened to catch a fish that day? Did I really catch that fish or was it all a big set-up? Did someone pull a Special Olympics number on me? Suddenly, the whole thing reeked of conspiracy.

Now I wondered if the reason they took us to that particular pond was because it was also stocked with secret scuba divers, each with a bucket of dead fish and a special, waterproof walkie-talkie. And when it became clear that a certain cripple wasn’t going to catch a fish by natural means within the allotted time, central control radioed the nearest diver. The diver then hung a fish on the cripple’s barren hook like a Christmas ornament and gave the line a hearty tug. Is that how I really caught my fish? Is that why they threw it back so quick, so I wouldn’t notice it was dead?

Was the whole fishing trip rigged to assure there would be no losers? I wouldn’t put it past some do-gooders. They do that kind of stuff to cripples all the time. They go to great lengths. At Jerry Lewis summer camp, they always had cripple talent shows. And no matter what a crippled camper got up on stage and did, the ovation was thunderous. You could sing a song and sound like a hyena having a tooth pulled, but everybody acted like you were Pavarotti. There was a young woman (she wasn’t a kid) who believed she was a ballerina. She wore a tutu and tights. She played a cassette on a tinny boom box as she stumbled and spun. Well, one time it almost got way out of hand. They let her dance at one of the ceremonial campfires and she almost spun her way right into the fire. After that, they finally put some limits on her dancing.

Maybe I really and truly caught that fish. But maybe I didn’t. That’s the problem. Those are the scars left on cripples by the hard core do-gooders, the ones who will stop at nothing. When you get wise to them, you feel like a sucker. You never know what and whom to believe any more. You question the legitimacy of all your trophies.

They should have let me go fishless that day. I could have learned the valuable adult coping skill of rationalizing away failure. I could have done like I did today and blamed it all on the crappy bait.

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Cinderella Rides Pseudotransit

So suppose Cinderella was crippled. She was crippled and she lived in Chicago in the 1980s, before the Americans with Disabilities Act. She would have been one pissed off princess.

Here’s the scenario: Cinderella gets an invitation to the ball. She’s beside herself with joy. But how will she get to the ball? Well, she could take the bus. The opulent palace where they’re having the ball is right off the number 151 city bus line. It’s a snap!

Oh but wait a minute. This is Chicago in the 1980s and Cinderella is crippled. None of the city buses have wheelchair lifts. All she can do is call paratransit. That’s the only public transit accessible to cripples. (I don’t know why they called it paratransit. It should have been called pseudotransit.)

Pseudotransit will send a cripple bus to pick Cinderella up at her door and deliver her right at the door of the palace. Sounds like a limo, eh? Except that Cinderella will have to call at 5 a.m. the day before the ball to bid for a ride. And she’ll drown in a tidal wave of busy signals because thousands of other cripples are calling at the same time, too. So poor Cinderella may not be able to go to the ball at all, because by the time she gets through, all the allotted pseudotransit rides might be taken.

This all assumes that Cinderella had the foresight to sign up for pseudotransit in the first place. She couldn’t just call out of the blue. First she’d need to have a doctor’s note on file certifying her as a cripple, and maybe even a prescription. Cripples are constantly bothering their doctors for prescriptions. Once I needed a part for my wheelchair which was pretty much just a piece of rubber with a slot in it. I had to get a prescription for a piece of rubber with a slot in it.

So let’s say Cinderella actually gets a pseudotransit ride to the ball. And since this is a fairy tale, let’s even assume the ride shows up on time. Who knows if Cinderella arrives at the ball on time? Because the pseudotransit bus may well first take her to the other side of town to pick up three more cripples and drop them all off before taking her to the ball.

And then there’s that whole midnight curfew issue. Would Cinderella’s prearranged return pseudotransit ride arrive on time for her to make a discreet exit and save herself all that pumpkin embarrassment? There was one thing those of us who were Chicago pseudotransit captives could always count on. If the party was rockin’ and you didn’t want to leave, pseudotransit always showed up on time to take you home. But if the party sucked and you couldn’t wait to leave, pseudotransit would be five hours late.

We all know the ball was a blast so Cinderella may have escaped on time. But considering how much was at stake with punctuality in this case, the pseudotransit Gods, with their sadistic sense of humor, probably would send the pseudotransit bus to the wrong address. And by the time it showed up to fetch Cinderella, she’d be just a pumpkin in a wheelchair. Or is it the pseudotransit bus that turns into a pumpkin? I don’t remember how the story goes. It’s been a long time since I was a six-year-old girl.

Screwed out of her one and only chance to hook up with a flawless man who would dedicate his life to taking care of her so she would never have to think for herself, Cinderella would have been steamed. She would have joined up with all us other steamed cripples at the time who took to the streets demanding full access to public transportation.

Today, crippled Cinderella could get to the ball on the regular city bus. No prescription necessary. And if you think a woman in a wheelchair dressed in a zillion-dollar ball gown would stand out as the biggest weirdo on a big city bus, you’ve obviously never ridden a big city bus.