Sunday, October 13, 2019
I really reacted harshly to that John Jacob Jingleheimer Schmidt cripple I knew way back when. But at the time I felt an urgent need to make it clear I wasn’t one of them.
I was a teenager at Jerry Lewis cripple summer camp. One of the more famous crippled campers was this guy who got up on stage every year and sang John Jacob Jingleheimer Schmidt. That’s what made him famous. It was a big tradition. And everybody loudly and gleefully sang along. It was practically mandatory.
But I sat there silent with a pouty scowl on my face. I refused to have anything to do with this patronizing display. And I avoided coming anywhere near that John Jacob Jingleheimer Schmidt cripple. I didn’t want to be seen with him. I wouldn’t want anyone to think I condoned such behavior. The problem with cripple summer camp was that everybody in charge was a vert (which is short for verticals, which is slang for people who walk.) The verts that were famous at Jerry Lewis cripple summer camp were famous for being in charge. But if a cripple wanted the spotlight, we had to get up on stage and sing a sing a silly children’s song. It was a microcosm of oppressive society: the verts are always and forever in charge of a world where cripples pass the lonely day away singing children’s songs. It was infantilization, cultural castration!
It was all I could do to keep from heckling the John Jacob Jingleheimer Schmidt cripple off the stage. I’m surprised I didn’t demand equal time and then went on stage right after him to read enough of my dark, nihilistic, teenage poetry to smack the sugary aftertaste right out of everyone’s mouth. I wanted to lead the Jerry Lewis cripple summer camp revolution, where the cripples overthrew the verts and took charge! And if I was the head of the cripple junta calling the shots at summer camp, the first thing I’d do is outlaw any goddam utterance of John Jacob Jingleheimer Schmidt. Or, better yet, I’d make some vert sing it.
There are still many John Jacob Jingleheimer Schmidt cripples around today, or many variations on the theme at least. But I don’t feel threatened by them anymore. I don’t feel the need to emphatically distance myself from them or silence them. Times have changed. First of all, I’m not a teenager. I don’t have to turn my nose up at everything like a finicky cat to prove I’m cool. But mostly, things are much better for cripples than they were back then. In those days we were much more vulnerable in the wild and we couldn’t afford to show any sign of weakness.
But since then, cripples have gotten out and about a lot more. We’ve even taken charge of a few things. So a lot more people have dealt with enough cripples to know that we’re pretty much like all other humans in the sense that some of us love singing John Jacob Jingleheimer Schmidt and some of us don’t. We don’t have to constantly prove it.
Would I get up on stage and sing John Jacob Jingleheimer Schmidt today? Hell no. Would I sing along? Probably not. But I wouldn’t consider it my sworn duty as a cripple not to.
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