Sunday, February 23, 2014

An Unwitting Dupe

I’ve come to realize that there was a time in my life when I was an unwitting accomplice for the mafia. I couldn’t help it. I was roped into doing their dirty work. But I forgive myself for what I did because I was duped. I wasn’t in my right mind. I found myself in a situation where suddenly I was in way over my head and there was no turning back. And besides, I was only about 8 years old.

That’s around the time when I was shilling for one of those humongous cripple charities. I did my job as their poster child. It wasn’t hard. I basically just had to sit there and be a symbol of tragic irony. I always felt very uncomfortable doing it. Something just wasn’t right about the whole situation. But I did it anyway because I felt the pressure of some unstated coercion.

Since then I’ve put it all together. I helped get mucho bushels of money flowing into that humongous cripple charity. And you can’t have mucho bushels of money flowing anywhere without the mob sticking their fingers in it somehow. That’s what makes the mob the mob. So maybe that’s why humongous cripple charities give me the willies to this day. And it’s not just humongous cripple charities. It’s humongous charities in general. I don’t trust Girl Scout cookies. There are mucho mucho mucho bushels of cash flowing there so you know there’s no way the mob can resist taking a dip. You can’t fool me with your dirty little cookies. It’s the same thing with that Kars 4 Kids. I’m not falling for that.

It’s all a front. Whenever I see a donation canister for crippled kids at a store checkout line, I picture the day not long ago when a sinister character set the canister on the counter and said to the proprietor, “I’m gonna leave this here to raise money for Jerry’s Kids, okay? After all, this is a real nice store. I’d hate to see anything happen to it.” And if the proprietor refuses, the next day he gets a brick through the window.

So even way back during my brief poster child reign, my eight-year-old consciousness knew something reeked, though I couldn’t put my finger on what it was. But I did my duty for fear that if I didn’t they might decide to make an example out of me and I’d end up in the bottom of Lake Michigan wearing cement shoes, along with all the other poster children who knew too much.

I did what I had to do to survive.

Sunday, February 16, 2014

My Secret Goal

When I was about 13, I realized that I had a secret I could never share with anyone. I desperately wanted to tell everyone my secret. I didn’t want to live a lie. But I knew that if I did I risked being ostracized. I tried sharing my secret with my mother once and it didn’t go well. After that I knew I would always have to keep my secret to myself and pretend to be somebody else.

It was time for me to start thinking about my “vocational rehabilitation goal.” In other words, soon I would need to determine what I wanted to be once I graduated from the state boarding school for crippled children, which I called the Sam Houston Institute of Technology (SHIT).

I knew exactly what I wanted to be. I wanted to be poet. I loved everything about the poet lifestyle. They stayed up late and slept late. No curfew and reveille like at SHIT. Poets never wore ties. They wrote about how misunderstood they are. It was the perpetual lifestyle of a brooding teen. It was beautiful.

Poets were who they were and screw you if you didn’t like it. Poets never kissed anyone’s ass. But as I got a bit older, I realized that being a poet was not a prudent vocational rehabilitation goal. The one thing that sucked about being a poet was that they were always broke-ass. I knew if I was going to survive in the world beyond SHIT, I’d need lots of money. Every time I had to put on my shoes, do laundry or take a crap, I’d have to pay somebody to help me. So I adjusted my secret vocational rehabilitation goal from being a poet to being a rich poet. That wouldn’t be too hard for me. I wrote so much kick-ass poetry. I could easily crank out a book every month or so and sell about a million copies.

I also knew if I wanted the state to pay for my college education I could never tell my vocational rehabilitation counselor of my secret vocational rehabilitation goal. If I wanted the state to pay, I would have to aspire to be something “employable,” like a social worker. And then I could get a job as a vocational rehabilitation counselor, telling cripples they had to become social workers.

My mother was also asking me a lot about my vocational rehabilitation goal. So I finally told her straight up one day that I wanted to be a poet. She said, “But honey----.” And that’s all I remember her saying. But she probably said something like, “But honey, maybe you should do something practical for a living and write poetry as a hobby.” One day my mother proudly announced that she had a great idea for how I could pursue my dream of writing poetry while still making a living. “Maybe you could work for a greeting card company, like Hallmark!” I bet they pay fabulous money!” Greeting card poetry? Never had I been more misunderstood.

So I never spoke of my secret vocational rehabilitation goal again. But by the time college rolled around, I no longer wanted to be a poet. I discovered a higher calling. I had a new secret vocational rehabilitation goal that dared not speak its name: stand-up comedian.

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Monday, February 10, 2014


I should have known I’d get in trouble when I told the following joke:

Q: Why did the Siamese twins move to England?

A: So the other one could drive.

One morning shortly thereafter, I was home and my phone rang. It was our Turkish doorman calling from the lobby of our building. ”Good morning,” he chirped. “There are 50 Siamese twins here to see you. They are very angry. Should I send them up?"

“No! Tell them to get lost,” I said. But the twins wouldn’t leave and as soon as they began chanting for me to come down, I knew I couldn’t ignore them. It’s impossible to ignore a pack of Siamese twins chanting your name. If you don’t believe me, try it sometime.

So I went down to the lobby to meet them. There weren’t 50 of them. There were only six, or 12, depending on how you slice it. But in defense of my Turkish doorman, any group of two or more sets of Siamese twins does look like an army.

Their twin leaders wore guerilla berets. "We are the CTLF: the Conjoined Twins Liberation Front,” said the one on the left. ”And we don’t like that joke you told about us.”

A couple of women spoke up. “First of all, we want to be referred to as conjoined. We are not Siamese. We are not all from Siam. There isn’t even any such place anymore!”

The leader on the right spoke. “That’s another pervasive stereotype we’re here to debunk. People think all conjoined twins are Asian.”

Another twin next to the leader twins spoke. ”And people think because we’re twins our names always rhyme! But that’s B.S, isn’t it Pete?” he said to his twin. And his twin replied, ”It sure is, Demetrius.”

The leader on the left spoke again. “Don’t get us wrong. We got nuthin’ against jokes. We like to laugh as much as anybody. Ha ha ha. But we object to hearing the same old stale jokes over and over. If you’re gonna make a joke about us, at least come up with something new.”

I understood their pain. Whenever someone sees me in my wheelchair and says, “You better slow down before you get a speeding ticket,” I wish to hell I had a marching band hidden behind the nearest bush. I’d cue the band to march out blaring a raucous tune while encircling the joke perpetrator. And then I’d throw confetti in the air and say, “Congratulations! You are the one millionth person to tell me that joke!”

So I hereby issue this retraction: conjoined twin are not Siamese. And I will never make fun of them again.

But even after all that, I still didn’t learn my lesson. Because I turned around and made the following wisecrack:

“I’ve heard some people refer to cripples like me as vegetables. What would they call a guy in a coma? A mineral?”

It wasn’t long before I received a tersely-worded letter from the Comatose Anti-Defamation League (CADL). Who knew there was such an organization? The letter said, “We object strongly to your wisecrack about the 'guy in the coma.’ We believe in using people-first languages, which places the person ahead of the condition. Thus, when referring to someone in a comatose state, you should use the term Person Who Happens to be in a Coma. People Who Happen to be in a Coma are not defined by our comatose state. It is only a small part of who we are. First and foremost we are mothers, fathers, husbands, wives. We are people. Another acceptable term to use when referring to someone in a comatose state is 'differently conscious’”

The letter went on to say, “In regards to your wisecrack, it must first be noted that the CADL is not anti-humor. People Who Happen to be in a Coma enjoy a good laugh as much as anyone. However, when making fun of the differently-conscious, be respectful enough to come up with something original and not subject us to the same jokes we have heard a thousand times.”

Wow! I never knew People Who Happen to be in Comas are so touchy. So here’s my second retraction: People Who Happen to be in Comas are people, too. And I will never make fun of them again, either.

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

"Spinsters" and "Confirmed Bachelors"

I’m surprised they let Mrs. McDonald teach us crippled children at the Chicago Public elementary school for cripples. I’m surprised no parents started a petition drive to get rid of her. Surely someone must have suspected her of being a “spinster.” Where I come from, that’s what they called old lesbians in the 1960s. “Spinsters.” A young lesbian was a tomboy. I’m not sure where one crossed the line from one to the other. I think a tomboy officially became a “spinster” when it became clear she was never going to grow out of it.

“Spinsters.” And the way the adults put the word in quotes when spoken was by casting down eyebrows or whispering. Wink wink. A known “spinster” had a hard time getting a job as a teacher back then, let alone a job teaching crippled children. Children, after all, are our most vulnerable citizens and crippled children are the most vulnerable of the most vulnerable.

Mrs. Mc Donald was the first women I ever saw in person who seemed like she just might be one of those “spinster” types. First off, she had a “spinster” haircut: short, straight, no nonsense. And she never changed her hairdo. But here was the biggest flashing arrow of all: she taught shop!

“This tool is called an awl,” Mrs. McDonald said to the crippled boys in shop class. “Everybody say it with me. Aaaaawwwwwwwwllll.”

But there were also two reasons why people might have given Mrs. McDonald the benefit of the doubt about being a “spinster.” One, she also taught home economics to the crippled girls. This meant she wasn’t completely butch. She hadn’t completely asphyxiated her feminine side. So maybe she wasn’t a “spinster.” Maybe she was just “versatile.”

And the other reason people might have given Mrs. McDonald the benefit of the doubt was that she made frequent mention of a Mr. McDonald. I didn’t know if there ever was an actual confirmed sighting of this Mr. McDonald. But I did know in my seventh-grade mind that if there really was a Mr. McDonald, he had to be the most happily-married SOB ever. He had a wife who could change his tire and cook him a soufflĂ©. And of course that necessarily meant that she was also a wildcat in bed.

As far as I could tell there were no men teaching at the cripple school who could be suspected of being a “confirmed bachelor.” That was the polite word for the male equivalent of a “spinster.” I don’t think a “confirmed bachelor” could have gotten away with teaching both home ec and shop like Mrs. Mc Donald did. Because if he behaved in a manner that left little doubt that he was a “confirmed bachelor,” they would never have let him teach shop. But if he didn’t behave in a manner that left little doubt that he was a “confirmed bachelor,” they never would have let him teach home ec. Even today on those TV shows where a guy helps a bride plan her wedding or pick out the perfect gown, the guy seems to be required to behave in a manner that leaves little doubt that he is a “confirmed bachelor.” But he’s never flaming. He behaves in a manner that leaves little doubt that he is a “confirmed bachelor” just enough to give him the necessary street cred to host the show. So even if a guy is the most talented wedding planner or gown picker-outer or homemaker that ever lived, he won’t get far if he acts like a Marine drill sergeant. You just can’t bust into a home ec classroom and blurt, “All right listen up! Today we’re gonna make snickerdoodles! Now look alive!”