We were protesting outside of the White House. The police moved in with bolt cutters, unshackling those who handcuffed their wheelchairs to the gate. The rest of us lined up along the fence.
People think protesting is constantly exciting but it’s a lot like baseball. There are spurts of action between long lulls. You spend most of the time either plotting your next move or waiting for the other guy to make his move.
You get bored. You need someone to talk to. So I turned to the cripple next to me and asked him a probing question.
“So where are you from?”
“Utah!” he answered.
“You know what the Utah state bird is?” he asked me.
I’m not well-schooled on state birds.
“It’s the seagull,” he said.
“And do you know what happens when you feed a seagull Alka-Seltzer?” he said.
I’m even less schooled on the effects of indigestion remedies on state birds.
“It explodes! You know why? Because birds can’t burp!”
Hearing this made me want to ask him a thousand questions. But I was afraid that whatever I asked, he might very well give me the answer. It’s like when I see people on street passing out pamphlets and wearing t-shirts that say JEWS FOR JESUS. I really want to ask them how someone can be a Jew for Jesus. But I’m afraid they’ll tell me. So instead I avoid all further eye contact.
But I really wanted to ask the cripple from Utah how the hell he discovered that seagulls explode if you feed them Alka-Seltzer. Is blowing up your first seagull a rite of passage in Utah? Do they feed seagulls Alka-Seltzer at school science fairs?
Or was this something he discovered as a result of being crippled? Because being crippled can be really boring sometimes, too. Boredom does strange things to the mind. When not anchored, the mind meanders off in all kinds of directions. Like for instance, it was deep within the throes of a severe bout of cripple boredom that I learned: “Researchers at Brandeis University have discovered that the right blend of fats can help support healthy cholesterol levels by improving the ratio of ‘good’ HDL to ‘bad’ LDL. Only Smart Balance uses this special patented blend of natural oils in its delicious, creamy-smooth buttery spreads. And, Smart Balance Original Light is an excellent source of Omega-3 ALA and a good source of Vitamins A & E, and has no hydrogenated oils or trans fats -- so it's the better choice for all your family's meals.”
I never would have known this had I not pulled under my kitchen table in such an awkward manner that I accidentally turned off my wheelchair’s power and I couldn’t reach the button to turn it back on. So there I was, stuck. Nobody home and nobody due for an hour. Searching desperately for sources of existential distraction, I read the Smart Balance container on the table. I realized that whereas I’d looked at the Smart Balance container thousands of times, I’d never taken the time to really read it. Such is life when you’re caught up in the big city rat race.
I also discovered that afternoon that the cushions on my kitchen chairs “meet all flammability requirements of California Bureau of Home Furnishings technical bulletin 117." This brought me a sense of comfort knowing that the California Bureau of Home Furnishings was watching my back or my butt or whatever.
So I really wanted to ask the Utah cripple outside the White House if that’s how it happened with him. Was he similarly stranded one day and a seagull landed on his windowsill? Was he taking Alka-Seltzer at the time? Did it suddenly occur to him that he’d never heard a bird belch?
But instead, I avoided all further eye contact.