Friday, May 31, 2013

Life Lessons Learned at SHIT

I don’t mean to give the impression that I didn’t learn a damn thing during my five years as an adolescent inmate at the state-operated boarding school for cripples, aka the Sam Houston Institute of Technology (SHIT). Of course I learned life lessons there that I remember today. Here are two off the top of my head:

Life lesson 1: Not all penises are alike. The only penis I ever saw in person up until I was about age 13 was the one belonging to yours truly. But then this kid in a wheelchair lined up next to me by the urinals in the boys’ room and I couldn’t help but notice there was something terribly wrong with his. It was wrapped in a husk or something. It looked like it was wearing a flesh-colored scuba driver suit. I didn’t know that for a penis to look like mine required surgical intervention. I mean, my family wasn’t Jewish or anything so we didn’t make a big deal about it.

And so I wondered if this kid had been sent away to SHIT for a deeper, darker, unspoken reason. Was this the real freak feature for which he was being banished and the wheelchair was just secondary?  It reminded me of how I felt about this kid who rode the special bus with me a few years earlier when I went to the public elementary school for cripples. His name was Fabio (Smart Ass Cripple Alias). He walked with a walker and he looked just like Babe Ruth. He had a turned up nose and pudgy cheeks like Babe Ruth. Whenever the special bus went to Fabio’s house his dad came out to meet him. And dad looked like Babe Ruth, too. And one day Fabio’s baby sister came out with dad and she looked like Babe Ruth, too. And one day Fabio’s mother came out with dad and baby sister and even she looked like Babe Ruth!

Seeing Fabio’s live, animated family portrait jarred me as a young boy because I wondered if this was a real live case of that hillbilly inbreeding stuff adults whispered about in the darkest tones. I always assumed Fabio was sent to the cripple school because he walked with a walker. But now I wondered if his “primary diagnosis” was that his whole family looked like Babe Ruth.  But maybe it wasn’t necessarily what everybody automatically assumed. Maybe Fabio’s parents met at a support group for people who get dealt a lot of shit because they look like Babe Ruth and they fell in love and got married. Or something like that.

But anyway, because of the episode in the SHIT boys' room, I soon learned something new about penises and, most importantly, about myself.

Life lesson 2: Don’t pretend you know about something when you don’t, especially when it’s chitlins. One day Miss Etta, one of the houseparents, announced that on Saturday night, she would bring in a batch of chitlins and cook them up as a treat for any inmate who wanted some.  She asked for a show of hands so she’d know how much chitlins to cook. All the cool kids waved their hands. So I waved my hand. I just looooooooooooooove them chitlins, I said. Everybody was surprised that a pimply white kid could be so worldly.  But really I didn’t know a damn thing about chitlins. I just knew they were some exotic food that cool people ate.

On Saturday night there was a horrid smell coming from the kitchen. It smelled like someone boiling raw sewage. And there was Miss Etta standing over the stove and stirring a pot. She smiled and gave me a big thumbs up. I was seized with regret. What had I gotten myself into with my big show-off mouth?

 Miss Etta served up the chitlins. The cool kids gathered around.  There was no turning back now. I’d already proudly proclaimed myself a chitlins aficionado. I couldn’t bare the shame of exposing myself as a fraud.  And there were no dogs around to slip my chitlins to on the sly. So I ate. I had no choice.  And they tasted like they smelled. And I told Miss Etta they were the best I ever had.

Sunday, May 26, 2013

A Perfect People Magazine Death

I hope to hell I’m never terminally ill. I can’t think of anything that would suck worse than that.

I'll be the whiniest, most obnoxious, most bitter and demanding and unlovable terminally ill sonuvabitch that ever lived.  By the time it’s all over, I won’t have a single friend left. One of my hospice workers will probably get pissed and strangle me. You won’t see me on the cover of People magazine if I’m terminally ill because in order to make the cover of People magazine you have to die with dignity and grace.  Screw that. If death is sadistically unleashing a tidal wave of pain on me, I’m sure as hell not gonna sit there and be gracious about it. Who the hell made that rule up? Probably not somebody who was terminally ill. The only way I’ll die with grace is if there’s a woman dying next to me named Grace. The only way the word noble will be associated with my death is if her name is Grace Noble.

I know I couldn’t be all stoic and strong in the face of death even if I wanted to because I hate pain. I’m such a fucking baby when it comes to pain. I’ll do anything to avoid it. I used to see this grief counselor named Frank. Frank was super cool but he always told me I should “walk into” pain. When he said that, it made me think of the outhouse on my grandma’s farm. I have warm childhood memories of shitting in that outhouse. Grandma had a perfectly fine  and functional bathroom in her house but for some reason her husband always went out to shit in the outhouse, even if there was a foot of snow. So when we visited, I really looked forward to going out there with him and shitting like a real man! It was so cool. There was even a girly picture centerfold tacked up on the back of the outhouse door. And it was especially cool to shit in cold weather because the shit steamed.

But I was also afraid of going to the outhouse because I feared I could easily fall down the hole into the bottomless quicksand pit of waste below. The hole was man-sized and I was just a boy. Walking into pain, it seemed to me, would be like willfully jumping down into that hole just for the fullness of the experience. Thanks but no.  I ‘m more comfortable executing a purely defensive strategy of avoiding falling down the hole in the first place.

If I was terminally ill, I would probably be insanely jealous of the healthy. Because when I was an inmate at the state-operated boarding school for crippled children, aka the Sam Houston Institute of Technology (SHIT), I was jealous of the free. I envied the employees, the visitors, the delivery guys. I envied anyone who could just walk out the front door with no pass, no doctor’s permission, no escort, no questions asked.  Consequently, I signed up for any lame-ass field trip opportunity that came along just to get the hell out of there. I must’ve seen “You’re a Good Man Charlie Brown” and “Up With People” on stage 50 damn times, though it was probably just once.

That’s the kind of crazy shit jealousy will drive a person to do.  So God knows what I’ll be like if I’m terminally ill. But I know myself well enough to confidently predict that I’ll be a real douche bag. So you should start thinking up polite excuses to avoid me, just in case.

Monday, May 20, 2013

When Cripples Get Arrested

Some people think I’m a badass because I’ve been arrested a bunch of times for protesting. But I don’t know. 

My friend Ed, now he’s a badass. He sometimes introduces himself as Ed of the Chicago 15. That’s because in the 1960s, during the Vietnam War, he and 14 others broke into a draft office in Chicago, seized the draft records, took them out in the alley and burned them. They were arrested and tried. Ed not only spent 18 months in federal prison, but the prison was in northern Minnesota! American Siberia, eh?

Ed is a badass. And he has a bunch of badass friends. I know they’re badasses because they too have a city and number after their names: Pete of the New York 9; Sally of the Chattanooga 12. That means they all did something politically badass, like chain themselves to a nuclear warhead, and stood trial for it.

I don’t have a city and number after my name. When crippled protestors get arrested, it ain’t the same. Just last month I witnessed about 40 crippled protestors get arrested right outside the White House. Now back in the good old days it was easy. Any old mope with a beef and handcuffs could walk right up to the White House gate, lock himself to it and get arrested. No questions asked. But now they’ve erected a “security perimeter” around the White House. There’s a line of yellow DO NOT CROSS police tape stretched from tree to tree across the street and it runs about a half block around in all directions.  Cross that line and it’s prison in northern Minnesota for you, pal!

Well these 40 cripples crashed through the tape like runners at the finish line when the cops weren’t looking and they got all the way up to the White House gate and whipped out the handcuffs. At first the cops were furious. They wrestled down all the verts (which is short for verticals, which is slang for people who walk). The cops huddled. How should they handle these disobedient cripples? They broke huddle. An ominous van pulled up. It said Department of Homeland Security on the side. Uh oh! Could this be the infamous Dick Cheney Torture-Mobile?  The cops opened the back doors of the van. They took out a folding table and chairs and set them up on the street. They lined the cripples up, wrote them tickets and let them go. Catch and release, like a fishing outing for pacifists.

Now suppose 40 verts brazenly crashed the White House “security perimeter” like that. First they would have been tasered then bound and gagged with duct tape and hauled off to Guantanamo, never to be seen again. But cripples get tickets, like common jay walkers, because tasering cripples don’t look so good. It plays right into their hands. Plus, hauling off 40 cripples is a pain in the ass. Cops can just fling 40 verts into a paddy wagon. But for 40 cripples you need a fleet of school buses with wheelchair lifts.  And it takes about 20 hours to transport them all. So the cops say screw it.

So about all I have to show for all my arrests is a bunch of carbon copies of tickets. I suppose that’s a good thing. Spending 18 months in prison in northern Minnesota probably isn’t nearly as glamorous as it sounds.

Monday, May 13, 2013

Untitled or What if I Was Just Another Standard White Kid in the Neighborhood?

Sometimes I wonder what terrible tragedies might have befallen me if, by some cruel twist of fate, I wasn’t born crippled.

It gives me a cold chill to think about it. What if I was just another standard white kid in the neighborhood? Somebody might have made me take accordion lessons. The first time it really hit me how lucky I was to be crippled was when I fully comprehended what it means to have to take accordion lessons. Those poor kids always looked so bitter and forlorn. I often wonder what became of them.  Whenever a story pops up in the news about an ax murderer, I wonder if it’s one of them.

I felt such pity for those kids because they weren’t nearly as fortunate as I was. When you’re a criplet, nobody makes you take accordion lessons. And that wasn’t the only time I felt like counting my blessings. For the most part, being a criplet got me out of going to church, too. So I didn’t have to live if fear that someone might make me try out to be an altar boy. Have you ever seen an altar boy in a wheelchair? Or a blind altar boy being led around by a guide dog?

And later, in high school and college, I felt the full glory of my cripple privilege. All the uncrippled mopes jumped through hoops and twisted into contortions to avoid being drafted into the military. But because I was crippled I didn’t have to run off to Canada or pretend I was gay. I had an automatic exemption. All I had to do was stay crippled. I was the only guy I knew who wished real hard he would receive a draft notice. I wanted to report to the draft office with my notice and my crippled ass, just for a laugh.

Yep, and being crippled also saved me from the becoming a jock. That’s the kind of crowd I would’ve hung out with. And I would’ve been the kind of jock that looks down hardest on cripples. Actually, I would’ve been worse than a jock. I would’ve been a failed jock, reliving my high school glory days as a second string kick holder and waiting for my big break. I’d be living in a shabby attic, getting stoned, watching tons of daytime television and wondering what God has planned for me. And someday I would come to the realization that living in a shabby attic, getting stoned and watching tons of daytime television IS what God has planned for me.

I try to remember all this when some uncrippled people act like they do sometimes around cripples. When they act all superior or patronizing or freaked out or put upon or jittery or whatever, I try to give them a break. I remind myself that the uncrippled are under a lot of pressure in this world and sometimes my presence makes it worse.  They see how easy I’ve had it and they feel jealous.

I understand. So I pat them on the head and move on.

Thursday, May 9, 2013

Busted by a Dog

My friends the Brices, who live in Maryland, let my crew and me spend the night in the guest room in their basement. In the morning, their happy dog bounced in and greeted everyone, tail wagging. He looked like an animated mop. But the dog saw me sitting in my wheelchair and he instantly transformed into a snarling, insane monster. His bark was that shrill yap that makes you jump out of your skin if you don't see it coming, like stepping on a squeak toy in the dark.

It’s a good thing Marian Brice was there to hold the dog back or he might have torn my face off.  “He thinks you’re a vacuum cleaner!” she laughed. The vacuum cleaner, she said, is this dog’s self-declared archenemy and nemesis. It brings out the beast in him. He attacks it. She wrestled the furious, snapping hellhound out the room.

But it shook me up good for the whole day. It wasn’t so much that I nearly got mauled to shreds in a case of mistaken identity. It was more the sudden, psychologically humbling effect of being busted by a dog. It again reminded me that no matter how hard you try to rise above it all and play the role of the independent, self-sufficient, overcoming cripple, sooner or later something happens to make it clear that on some inescapable, primal level you’re still a cripple after all. And you always will be.

You can never dodge all the slings and arrows that come with crippledom, unless you hide under your bed. The rich cripples try to buy their crippledness away. They know that the best insulation from the cold realities of being crippled is a thick layer of money. If you can pay cash for your wheelchairs and equipment, you'll never have to flagellate yourself at the feet of a bureaucrat. If you can hire enough goons to carry you around, even the Taj Mahal is accessible. You can go everywhere and do everything just like the uncrippled. You can buy total acceptance. But inevitably, regardless of who you are, you’ll be put in your place.  A cab driver will see your wheelchair and blow past you. A passerby will drop change in your lap. A waitress will ask your date what you want to eat. And you suddenly remember where you came from.

I suppose these encounters are good for us in the long run. They keep us from getting too big for our wheelchairs.

That same day the mop dog nearly killed me I went to the FDR memorial in Washington. Now if there ever was a cripple who could totally leave behind his crippledness and every indignity that accompanies it, surely it was him. He had everything the independent, self-sufficient, overcoming cripple needs. Not only was he rich but also he had a loyal, well-paid crew of servants and luxury housing all provided at public expense.

 But at the feet of a sculpture of Roosevelt was a sculpture of his beloved Scottie dog, Fala. And so I wondered what happened when Fala first saw Roosevelt in his makeshift wheelchair? Did he bark frantically like some dogs do when they see wheeled vehicles? Did the upstart canine treat the president of the United States like a common vacuum cleaner?

My morning dog showdown reran through my head. But this time the cripple was Roosevelt instead of me and the dog was Fala. The setting was the oval office and restraining the dog, instead of Marian Brice, was a secret service agent. I was mucho amused.

I doubt that this happened but I like to imagine it did. I like to imagine Roosevelt could still relate to cripples like me.

Friday, May 3, 2013

The Latest Research on Crippled Bees

Wow! More groundbreaking cripple research has come out of the renown Department of Cripple Research at John Hopkin’s University. You may recall, as previously reported exclusively here in Smart Ass Cripple, these same researchers studied the DNA of millions of cripples and proved scientifically that the reason people are crippled is because God is punishing them for something evil they did in a previous life. (See Evil Bastards All, August 19, 2011).

Well for their latest project, these researchers crippled up a bunch of bees by giving them spinal cord injuries. (Bees have spinal cords? Who knew?) And then these crippled bees were put back into their colonies. And the scientists learned from observing the bees that bee society treated the crippled bees in the same way that human society treats their cripples. (Pay attention. You won’t hear about this in the corporate media.)

The crippled bees were outcasts. They couldn’t get jobs and they couldn’t get laid. And that made the crippled bees very depressed.  Because bees, like humans, have two main functions: they work and they screw. But the crippled bees were considered by the other bees to be incapable of performing either function. 

The bee caste system isn’t so bad if you’re born a drone because your job is to screw the queen and die. But it’s really fucked up if you’re born a worker bee because all you do is bust your ass all day.

Well the queens didn’t want to screw the crippled drones. They just couldn’t bring themselves to do it. The queens said they loved the crippled drones, but not in a sexual way. They loved them more like a brother. And the worker bees shunned the crippled worker bees altogether. They said they had a lot of work to do and they didn’t have time to stop and wait for the crippled worker bees to catch up.

Soon, as you would suspect, the presence of cripples drove the orderly, organized colony into a state of unrest. The worker bees became resentful because they had too much work to do in the first place and now they had to take care of a bunch of cripples on top of it. And the crippled drones were growing more and more ornery because they weren’t getting laid, which meant they had no purpose in life. Who among us can’t relate to that?

But here’s the most amazing thing the researchers observed: The uncrippled bees were so confused about what to make of these crippled bees and where their rightful place in bee society should be, that in an act of sheer desperation they did something truly unbelievable. They organized a telethon! Some uncrippled bees convinced the others that if everybody hustled up enough money all the crippled bees would be cured and then there wouldn’t be any cripples anymore and everything would be neat and orderly like God intended.

Of course, the telethon idea didn’t work. It raised a ton of money but all the crippled bees are still crippled. And the rest of the bees still don’t know what to do with them. For now, all the uncrippled bees are just going about their business, secretly hoping that if they ignore they crippled bees long enough, they’ll all just quietly go away.