Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Area of Rescue Assistance

It reminds me of the time I went to the ballet and caused a scene. This was way back before there were wheelchair sections in theaters. The usher escorted me to my seat and said I’d have to transfer out of my wheelchair into the theater seat so he could take my wheelchair away and store it in a distant closet for “safety reasons.” A wheelchair in the aisle was a fire hazard, he said, because it interferes with people escaping a fire. I asked how I was supposed to escape a fire without my wheelchair. He said don’t worry, if there’s a fire my wheelchair will be brought right back to me, as soon as everybody else gets out. With a crazy emergency plan like that, it seemed to me like this guy was suffering from some form of smoke inhalation. So I said there was no way I’d give up my chair. He said I must. I said no way. He said I must. And back and forth it went until the ballet patrons looked at us like we were causing a scene. It’s not hard to cause a scene among ballet fans.

The usher placed my party and me in a secluded recess of the ballet house, where he felt confident I could stay in my chair without selfishly impeding those legitimately trying to escape burning to death. But that’s the way it still is on the airlines. Cripples have to sit in regular airline seats and they stow our wheelchairs with the damn baggage. And the flight attendants reassure us that if all hell breaks loose, they’ll come drag us to safety, as soon as everyone else gets out.

It’s an age old question that still baffles the sharpest minds of today: When everything bursts into flames, what do you do with the cripples? Because the first thing that happens when there’s a fire is the elevators shut down, which isn’t the most cripple-friendly move.

But what else can you do? The best idea anyone’s been able to come up with is putting up signs that say AREA OF RESCUE ASSISTANCE. This instructs cripples where to find “safe harbor” where we can calmly wait to be saved. Safe harbor? In a burning building? If it’s so damn safe why doesn’t everybody wait there, instead of stampeding to get the hell out?

The only way I’ll ever feel completely safe is if I have a dedicated security goon with me 24/7, ready to scoop me up and carry me out of harm’s way in case of fire. I know this will never happen. I can’t afford to hire security goons. But why not a gorilla? Fuck service monkeys. I need a service gorilla. If they can train service monkeys to pick pencils up off the floor and shit, why can’t they train a gorilla to carry me? Gorillas are smart as hell. They’re almost people. And because they’re not quite people, they don’t complain about working all day every day.

My gorilla will wear a windbreaker that says SECURITY across the back. I may never need my gorilla’s help, God willing. But just knowing he’s right by my side will make it much easier for me to enjoy myself at the ballet. We’ll relax in our seats on the plane, my gorilla and I, drinking Bloody Marys. But at the first sign of pandemonium he flings me over his shoulder like a potato sack and delivers me to true safe harbor, swatting down and trampling any poor sap who gets in our way.

As a cripple, I deserve this accommodation. I have a right to be safe. I’m going to write my Congressman right now. There ought to be federal funding for this.