Monday, April 29, 2013

Vassar Clements Sure Didn’t Know Much About Cripples

Vassar Clements was a kick-ass bluegrass fiddle player. He played with such strength and vigor it’s a wonder his fiddle never burst into flames. And he was versatile as all hell. They called him the father of “hillbilly jazz” because his rich brand of bluegrass often crossed way over into the realm of jazz.

But he sure didn’t know much about cripples. I figured this out shortly after I talked to him backstage after one of his concerts. Cripples are big time backstage crashers.  The security goons are quick to unhook the velvet barricades when sad looking cripples come by, especially in a big group. My cripple credentials have gotten me backstage to meet, among others, Jim Croce, Marie Osmond (don’t ask) and Itzhak Perlman.

So if you want to get backstage to meet your favorite performer, fake like you’re a cripple.  I went with a pack of friends once to see Arlo Guthrie at Ravinia, this outdoor venue where you can picnic in the grass and listen to live music. So some of my friends picked me up out of my wheelchair and put me on a blanket on the grass. And later on, Loretta Martin takes off with my chair. And the concert ends and the security guys are telling me it’s time to go. I tell them someone took off with my wheelchair but they don’t believe me. I guess they think I’m drunk or something. They’re threatening to call the cops. I’m freaking out. Finally, Loretta returns with my chair, triumphant. She says she used it to get backstage to meet Arlo. She got his autograph on a playing card.

I was with my college roommate, Mike Bachstein, when we crashed backstage to meet Vassar. One of us said something brilliant to him like “nice fiddle” to which he replied “thanks.”  Vassar said the fiddle was 400 years old. Then he said, “You want to see it?” And he handed the fiddle to Bachstein. Now Bachstein had cerebral palsy so he was all spastic and shit. And the more that spastic people try  to be cool under pressure and not spaz out, the more they spaz out.  One time Bachstein’s power wheelchair broke down so the repair shop gave him a loaner. Bachstein had enough trouble driving his own chair straight, let alone a strange chair. So he managed to drive this chair to a building for class and inside there was a charity bake sale set up in the hall so nice and pretty. Bachstein said to himself, “Oh shit. I’ve got to concentrate real hard when I drive past that bake sale so I don’t spaz out and crash into it and wipe the whole thing out!” And when Bachstein drove past the bake sale, he spazzed out and crashed into it and wiped the whole thing out.

That day must’ve roared up in a flashback in Bachstein’s brain when Vassar handed him his priceless fiddle, because his face tightened with terror. I thought sure he would have the mother of all spasms right then and there and launch the fiddle into outer space.

But Bachstein quickly passed the fiddle to me like a hot potato. I tensed up!  Now I’m not spastic, but I’m  also not graceful. When I was a kid, I was merrily splashing through street puddles after a rain with some walkie friends.  I pushed my chair into a puddle that turned out to be about two feet deep. I was submerged up to my knees. If it had been power chair, I might have fried! That’s how I developed my first wheelchair rule of the road: never drive through a puddle if you can’t see the bottom.

I thought sure I’d drop the fiddle and make international headlines: FAMOUS FIDDLER STRANGLES CRIPPLE. So I passed the hot-potato fiddle immediately back to Vassar.  He accepted it back, all calm and gentlemanly. He never came to realize the sort of bullet he dodged that night. If he knew the first thing about cripples he would have known you should never pass us your heirloom fiddle. Good thing he didn’t find out the hard way.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Pedagogy of the Oppressed

I know your dilemma. I feel your pain. You’re sick to death of always working your ass off, so you want to get an education and better yourself. But you don’t have time to get an education and better yourself because you’re always working your ass off.

That’s why I founded my new online college:  the University of the Crapper. It’s especially designed to meet the educational needs of ordinary, everyday, oppressed victim of raw ass capitalism. Because if you’re working your ass off, about the only time you have to yourself is the time you spend on the crapper. And that’s precisely the point. No matter how oppressed you are, there’s one thing THE MAN can never completely take away from you. HE can never completely take away your crapper time. No matter how much it pains HIM, HE has to permit you to periodically take a break to excrete. Otherwise you’ll die and you won’t be able to keep working your ass off.

Even under martial law they have to let you have time to excrete. Therein lies the beauty of God’s creation. That’s the way to beat THE SYSTEM. That’s the one loophole THE MAN can’t close. And so it’s important that we live those precious moments to the fullest. The secret to overcoming oppression is to use that time efficiently.  Every trip to the crapper must be a multitasking experience.  I think my greatest thoughts during my sacred time on the bowl. I think up a lot of these blog entries on the bowl. (Sorry, dear reader. Now you know how the sausage is made.)

So if you enroll in the U of C, you receive 15-minute lesson plans that enable you to incrementally earn a degree while you sit. You can view them on your laptop or smart phone. And in just 10 short years, you'll have an associate’s degree! And there’s no limit to what you can learn from the comfort and privacy of a bathroom stall. You can even learn how to play a  musical instrument, like the French horn! However, I am aware that some of you may have to pursue your studies surreptitiously, while sitting in the stall at work. In that case, you might want to learn how to play a musical instrument that emits sounds that don’t arouse suspicion when coming from a bathroom stall, like the tuba.

Some cynics say virtual universities are inferior to actual universities because they don’t have a football team. But at U of C we do have a football team. They’re called The Plungers. I’m sure you can picture their logo. And The Plungers can be the greatest football team of all time if that’s what you want them to be. They can be whatever you want them to be, since they’re strictly a product of your imagination. That’s the thrill of virtual football.

U of C is an equal opportunity institution of higher education. We discriminate against no one. If you have tuition money, we’ll take it.

When you receive your virtual degree from U of C, you’ll be able to land a high-paying and prestigious job, virtually. Your degree will be suitable for framing. And don’t let anyone tell you that it’s worthless. You can always use it to wipe.

Thursday, April 18, 2013


There’s this homeless guy who’s always outside my building. His presence disturbs me. Whenever I pass him he insults me.

He hangs around outside the 7-Eleven, sitting on an upside-down plastic milk crate. There’s no cushion. His butt must look like a waffle. He has a patchy beard, random tufts of white hair sprouting from his face. And when people come out of the 7-Eleven he says,”Spare change?” But he never says that to me. When I pass he just says, “Hey, how you doin'?” or “What’s up, big guy?”

Isn’t that insulting? What’s wrong with my spare change? I mean, I wouldn’t give it to him anyway. I keep my money in a bag attached to the side of my wheelchair. I can’t reach the bag so when I make a transaction the other party takes the cash out for me. So giving money to the homeless on the streets is too labor intensive and time consuming. But that’s not the point. Why doesn’t the guy perched on the milk crate not even give me the opportunity to turn him down? Does he not want to stoop so low as to ask a cripple for money? That’s not fair. When I pass a homeless person, I’m the one who’s supposed to feel a satisfying rush of condescending good fortune.

There’s another homeless guy outside the Starbucks across the street. He sells this weekly newspaper called Streetwise that homeless people around here sell to make a few bucks. At least this guy tries to get me to buy his paper. So I often oblige. But he still insults me. When he extracts the cash from my bag, he makes it a point to show me he’s taking only what he’s owed and nothing more. He does this, he told me once, because “God will never forgive me if I steal from the handicapped.”

What the fuck! It takes all the joy out of charitable giving when you can’t even feel superior!

But I’ll tell you who insulted me most of all. It was the guy at the disco. Some people believe God makes people crippled to keep them from doing something bad in life. The one time I started to believe that theory might be true was the one time I went to a disco. Because if I hadn’t been crippled I would have punched the guy at the disco in the head. But then again, if I hadn’t been crippled, he wouldn’t have insulted me so I would have had no rationale for punching him in the head.

 But anyway, I went with some other cripples to a disco. Don’t ask me why. We must’ve been delirious with cabin fever. Jim Liptak was our token vert (which is short for vertical, which is slang for people who can walk). So the guy at the disco sees us when we enter and immediately plays that insulting game called Address the Vert. He spoke only to Liptak, as if he was our translator. “Bring your friends over here,” he said. “If your friends want something to drink, tell the server.” He kept playing Address the Vert and just when I was ready to punch him in the head, he said something that acknowledged my humanity and restored my sense of equality. He said to Liptak, “Ask your friends if they want to go in the office and do some cocaine.”

We all said no thanks, but often I regret it. It would have been interesting to follow him to the office and see how long he stuck with the Address the Vert bit. “Tell your friends it’s top shelf stuff from the Caribbean.” Or maybe he would’ve gotten high with us and said something to Liptak like, “Ask your friends if they ever wondered what it's like to live on Saturn and see 60 moons in the sky.”

But at least he recognized us cripples as human beings who might want to wrench up our brains with coke, like the other people at the disco. I didn’t want to punch him in the head anymore.

Thursday, April 11, 2013

A Hot Stock Tip From Smart Ass Cripple

As a public service from Smart Ass Cripple, here’s a hot stock tip, based on inside information:

Figure out whoever it is that manufactures duct tape and buy a shitload of stock in that company.

I don’t know squat about the stock market but I know lots of squat about duct tape. I can’t help it. I’m crippled. And cripples know everything there is to know about duct tape.

I looked up the history of duct tape on the internet, which is never wrong, and it seems it was first manufactured for military use during World War II and became commercially available shortly thereafter. That sounds about right because that’s about the time cripples began to emerge from the various dark holes to which we were relegated. And I’m sure duct tape had a lot to do with it.

Because the way I size up cripples is by seeing how much duct tape they have on their wheelchairs. If you want to know if a cripple is faking it, that’s how you tell. If they have no duct tape then they ain’t authentic cripples. Don’t trust them. They’re probably trying to scam Social Security or something.

Because the first thing every cripple does when their wheelchair breaks is reach for the duct tape. And then you pray to merciful God that whatever it is that broke, wrapping it in duct tape will fix it. Because otherwise you’ll have to figure out how to raise a zillion dollars to pay for the parts and labor to get it fixed. And also it’s inevitable that whatever part you need, even if it’s a screw, is manufactured only in Mongolia so please allow 4 to 6 months for shipping.

So any real cripple who tries to keep moving in the real world has the duct tape patch jobs to prove it. And it’s about to get a whole lot worse. Like for instance, they passed a law here in Illinois requiring any cripple with a broken chair to obtain prior approval for their repair from a state bureaucracy before Medicaid will pay to have the chair fixed. So that means that before you can order that screw from Mongolia, please allow an additional 4 to 6 months for the state to give you the green light.

And these kinds of austerity bombs are being dropped on cripples all over the world. Increasingly desperate cripples will be stocking up on duct tape like survivalists. Crippled survivalist is becoming a redundant term.

So the cripples are hunkering down, which is great news for Wall Street. Duct tape stocks will go through the roof! And their value will continue to rise for years to come. Because when lawmakers are asked how cripples will survive the next austerity blast, they’ll probably have to shrug and say, “Let them eat duct tape.”

Friday, April 5, 2013

Viva Roger Ebert!

A couple years ago I did a Q&A interview with Roger Ebert. Here it is if you want to read it:

I wanted to interview Roger because I was fascinated by the way he conducted himself after winding up with his new, startlingly different face when part of his jaw was removed in cancer surgery.  He wrote about it eloquently in a piece entitled ”'I'm Not a Pretty-Boy Anymore.”  It was in response to those who advised him not to attend the annual Ebertfest film festival. He wrote:

“I was told photos of me in this condition would attract the gossip papers. So what?... I have been very sick, am getting better and this is how it looks... We spend too much time hiding illness. There is an assumption that I must always look the same. I hope to look better than I look now. But I’m not going to miss my festival…”

And he found humor in the hard reality that he was no longer able to speak.

“Why do I want to go? Above all, to see the movies then to meet old friends and great directors and personally thank all the loyal audience members who continue to support the festival. At least, not being able to speak, I am spared the need to explain why every film is ‘overlooked,’ or why I wrote ‘Beyond the Valley of the Dolls.’ Being sick is no fun. But you can have fun while you’re sick.”

That last sentence caught me most. That to me was the radical essence of the message about being crippled Roger put forth just by continuing to be himself in whatever form that took on: Cripples can still have a lot of fun.

Screw you, paparazzi!

So after I conducted the email interview I added Roger to my Smart Ass Cripple email blast list. I hoped to hell I wouldn’t receive a reply from him like, “Please remove me from your silly little list! Don’t you know I’m a big celebrity?” But instead, my blog viewer stats suddenly shot up as Roger tweeted and Facebooked some of my entries. He even wrote a way-too-flattering entry in his own blog about Smart Ass Cripple. Here it is if you want to read it:

I imagine just about all of you out there would never have heard of Smart Ass Cripple if not for Roger. Just about every good and positive development that has resulted from this goofy endeavor happened because of Roger.

I only met Roger in person once but I feel like he was my good friend. That’s because your most valued friends are those that offer you the most support, encouragement and kindness.

I’m not sure what I gave him in return. I hope it was that some of this Smart Ass Cripple stuff struck the same chord in him that his writings like the one above struck in me.

Anyway, I will always be grateful to my cripple comrade, Roger. So the next time you take a drink, whatever it is you drink, please offer up a toast to Roger.