Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Helen Keller in the Bell Tower

I saw a guy in a wheelchair working the cash register at Target. He had the official red shirt and everything. I didn’t know what to make of it. I wondered if the poor sap had been “rehabilitated.”

When cripples need a job, we enter the system of vocational rehabilitation. Rehabilitation is a cute word. It implies that we have been corrected, restored. We are recovering cripples, I guess. I was a challenging case for the rehabilitation system when I was an adolescent because my sole career goal was to be a poet. So vocational exploration events like career fairs and bring-a-cripple-to- work days just depressed me. No poets had booths at career fairs. It’s too bad my rehab counselor never arranged for me to spend a workday with a poet. Hanging around all day in a cramped and musty room in a residential hotel observing a poet smoking cigarettes to the nub, drinking whiskey and bitterly spewing conspiracy theories might have been enough to scare me straight.

Asking your rehab counselor to pay for your schooling is like asking your parents to pay for your schooling. They’re job is to douse all your idealistic notions and insist that you do something practical, something that pays the bills. The practical career options open to me in those days were pretty much to be a social worker or to be a social worker or if all else failed I could be a social worker.

Some cripples are beyond the reach of the rehabilitation system. They cannot be restored. Take Quasimodo. Back in the days when he was looking for a job they didn’t even have store greeters. Of course it wouldn’t have mattered anyway. It’s a myth that any old cripple can get a job as a store greeter. The only cripples that need apply are the ones that make shoppers feel warm inside. You can’t have bulging eyes and a hump. Can you imagine walking into Walmart and Quasimodo gets all up in your face and welcomes you?

So even if Quasimodo had a rehab counselor, it probably would have been determined that his most practical career option was to climb up into the bell tower.

Helen Keller would’ve made a lousy store greeter, too. I mean, how can a blind woman even know when customers are entering the store, unless you make them all wear a cowbell or something? And she’s deaf on top of it? Forget it! It’s way too impractical. Helen Keller’s rehab counselor probably would have sent her up into the bell tower as well. It makes sense. First off, she was already deaf so that’s a plus. And for job preparation training, all she would need would be a few climbing lessons.

I really wanted to ask the wheelchair guy working the cash register if he had been rehabilitated. Was this the job he wanted, or was this the practical default?

But I never saw him at Target again so maybe he lapsed in his rehab. Maybe he succumbed to the seductive attraction of the impractical.