Monday, August 25, 2014

Paying It Foward

No one can return from vacation without getting nails done and hair trimmed, at least according to the woman I sleep with, and so since we'd only driven five hours from Jonesboro to Springfield, she decided to stop there in the big city to accomplish those tasks.

I declined to enter the mall, it being kept at a temperature in the 60s and stocked with temptations, and so I took a book and stationed myself on the edge of the parking lot in the shade of a tree. It was a 90'ish day, but there was a breeze, and I was comfortable.

I'd been there about a half-an-hour when a woman in a Subaru pulled up near me, rolled down here window, and said, "Are you all right, hon?"

I knew she'd stopped because I wasn't moving and because I was in a wheelchair, and so I replied, "I'm fine. Thank you."

"I just wanted to make sure you were okay. I saw you when I pulled in, and when I came out, you hadn't moved."

"Oh, okay. My wife's inside. She'll be there for a while. I don't like the cold air-conditioning in there, and so ... "

She drove off, but it was only a few minutes before a mall security guy drove up on a Segway. The same conversation, more or less, with him saying, "I had to rescue a guy the other day whose power chair quit on him in the middle of the parking lot," and me adding, "I have a cell phone, and I can call for help, but I do appreciate your concern."

That was his first trip. Then he swung buy to make sure everything was still okay. And then he made a third trip because "My supervisor said people are reporting there's a man in a wheelchair stranded on the southwest lot."

I gave up, deciding that the best course of action would be to keep moving from one shady patch to another, a tactic that kept me from being targeted by well-meaning passers-by and reduced calls to the mall security office. And then my wife returned.

I don't resent the well-meaning people concerned about my welfare. It's the sort of individual action that makes for a humane society. People with disabilities often achieve full independence, but I've been in more than one situation in which I needed help because of a problem with my wheelchair. In fact, before cell phones, I would always tell someone where I was going and when I expected to arrive before setting out on a wheelchair-journey.

Conversely, how many times that day did one of those people who worried over my situation pass someone on a busy corner holding a piece of cardboard on which was written "Homeless," Or "Need Work," Or "Will Work for Food?"

I counted three on our way home that afternoon, and each time—no, we didn't stop—I couldn't help put compare my situation with their own.

The woman I sleep with plays the pay it forward game, most often at gas stations when she seems a young mother alone with a car-full of children, especially if the car is older and the woman seems frazzled and overwhelmed. Both of us talk about the Cardboard Sign Tribe, though, without ever doing much about it. There've been exceptions. We gave five dollars to a guy on the New Orleans River Walk, and recently she, being far more generous and compassionate than I, bought a meal from a fast-food restaurant for an older fellow on a street corner.

"He looked so sad," she said. "Everything he owned in a cart, a dog on a rope, and more days without a bath than I'd care to think about." This was at the first intersection off the interstate in north Springfield. "I drove around the block," she said, "found a Burger King, and bought him a five dollar lunch and took it back to him. He said thanks when I handed it to him and said he was really hungry."

I don't know what I learned that afternoon, at least anything different than what I already know: fate and circumstance make for funny bedfellows.  

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Going Places, Seeing Things

A quick snap with an iPhone
This is the third time I've been to the Gulf Coast of Mississippi and Louisiana—well, fourth if you count the time my father picked up my mother and me in New Orleans and drove us down into Florida to see the mermaids swim in a place called, I thought, Crystal Springs. But that's wrong, the place, that is. He did pick us up; we did drive to Florida; we did see a show put on by women dressed as mermaids.

What I saw in Mississippi, though, was a first for me this time. I saw a dolphin. A wild dolphin. In the ocean, perhaps 30 or 40 or 50 feet from shore. There he is in the picture. There were actually two, and of course, I have no idea whether they were male or female. But I was amazed. A dolphin, near shore in Long Beach, Mississippi—and it was the day after we'd been to the marine mammal rescue facility and glimpsed dolphins up close and personal, two of which were retired U.S. Navy dolphins, whose purposes in the service of our navy are classified. One was 34-years-of-age; the other was 37-years-old. The life span of a dolphin in the wild is about 20-years, and so whatever ethical problems you or I might have with training dolphins for military service, we cannot complain about the treatment and environment that apparently extended their lives. If dolphins enjoy (in dolphin-terms) life, the navy gave them more time to do so.

They seemed happy, the pair, if "happy" can be judged by appearance and demeanor. They did their flips and tail-walks in response to whistles and got their fish reward. I suppose that's a better outcome than being strapped with explosives and sent to sink an enemy warship. Why not re-release them into the wild? Never a good practice, I suspect, with any animal who no longer fears humans (even those intending to turn them into torpedos), and additionally, one of them had cataracts sufficient to render it blind. I forgot to ask why the cataracts hadn't been removed.

Back to the wild dolphins: Long Beach has a fishing dock that extends perhaps a hundred yards out into the bay, and as we went out to its tip, there were two fellows netting bait (mainly mullet) to fish. That's when I saw them, and one of the fishermen said, "Yeah, there around here almost every day, coming in at about 9am and 2pm."

The bay isn't pristine tropical water, but there are plenty of fishermen-and-women (Did you know there are two species of catfish that live in ocean saltwater?) and perhaps the dolphins find prey stirred up or perhaps they like to glimpse human activity and have yet to realize we are an invasive specie. 

I'm older than I want to be. I've seen coyotes, bear, deer, elk, raccoons, opossum, squirrels, an eagle, and probably more wildlife running, sailing, flying free, but this was a first for me.

And I'm happy too I think I remember reading somewhere that the navy has given up its dolphin program. 

Saturday, August 2, 2014

Perks, Kindnesses, and Privileges



My Facebook friend, Ben Mattlin, has a gently humorous, and yet serious, take on life in a wheelchair running in the New York Times.

Although he makes a larger point, he alludes to something I've tried to employ since I smartened up -- humor attracts more bees than anger and self-pity and a sense of entitlement. Humor also ameliorates the unwanted attention sometimes focused on people with visible disabilities. Back when I had hair, I would always ask for a discount when going to a new barbershop, insisting I deserved it because I had brought my own chair.



When Wheelchairs Are Cool 
By BEN MATTLIN
JULY 31, 2014

LOS ANGELES — LAST week, the celebrity gossip site TMZ posted pictures of Justin Bieber in a wheelchair. He was not at a hospital. He was at Disneyland. As everyone knows, Disney patrons in wheelchairs get to cut to the front of the lines. But as a dispute flared over whether this was Mr. Bieber’s intent, becoming a trending topic on Twitter, one fact remained unassailable: I was there first.

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Dawkins Is No Descartes

This seems a troll. It isn't. I'm a believer. 

I am also interested in how people rationalize their belief in God, or in fact, their absence of belief. I know the subject is controversial. (The article I reference below has about 6,000 comments.) I know also I lack the capacity to change anyone's mind.

I've read Hitchens. And Dawkins. And even everyone's super-crip, Mr. Stephen Hawking, who is either an agnostic or an atheist.

I'm still a believer, having modified that position through reading science to comprehend an omnipotent creator would certainly be able to construct, as an example, something so mind-boggling as a multi-verse.

That's why I found this piece, "Know Nothing," in Slate so interesting, particularly these words, which speak to the foundation of my own belief in God:
Quantum fluctuations, the uncertainty principle, the laws of quantum physics themselves—these are something. Nothing is not quantum anything. It is nothing. Nonbeing. This, not empty space, is what “nothing” signifies for Plato and Aquinas and Heidegger, no matter what Krauss believes. No particles, no fluctuation, no laws, no principles, no potentialities, no states, no space, no time. No thing at all.
The article is actually a book review that moves into literary criticism, while also addressing the issue of belief in the divine as a foundation of morals.

If you are interested in these existential questions and have slightly more than a few minutes, Robbins' piece -- referencing everyone from Dawkins to Nietzsche, Augustine to Spinoza -- is worth the time devoted.

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

"Bred to Look Pretty"


The kid who lives here said Pinky the Poodle looked sad, and so we took her to get her trimmed. I personally like her hair longer, but it is summer, and so I didn't gripe too much.

My wife insists on leaving what might be called "boots" around the Pinkster's lower legs. I said, "You're just making it easier to track in mud and water." She replied, "It's cute. And that's why we have wood and tile floors." I suppose she's forgotten about my power wheelchair rolling up carpet like a cigar. 


The Pinkster attempts to crawl into the bathtub when ever the kid who lives here is taking a bath. I thought then the traditional summer cooler-offer -- the sprinkler -- would be just the ticket. It turns out Pinky is afraid of the sprinkler. The boxer, however, loves it. 

My wife said to the groomer, "We;re surprised she doesn't like the sprinkler since she loves the bath tub." Poodles, after all, at the water retrievers of France. Supposedly even some of the hair cuts on poodles are meant to keep joints and head warmer as they work. Imagine my wife's surprise when the groomer replied, "Oh, these dogs are bred to look pretty. They wouldn't like a sprinkler."



Pinky is 2-inches taller and 20-pounds heavier than the boxer, but the boxer is top dog, often disciplining Pinky with a bite. Conversely, the late, much-lamented Boston terrier disciplined the boxer. Maybe it has to do with seniority. There's this too: Pinky doesn't like to be disciplined by a loud voice. I can have something to eat and tell her softly, "No, leave it alone," and she may sit, even drool, but she won't touch it. However, when my wife yells at her, Pinky still considers anything edible in that environment fair game. 
'
I've been around cattle dogs, Great Danes, Dalmatians, and a whole group of assorted terriers, and each of them have a breed-distinct personality, even when they are not so-called "pure bred." I was neutral when we found her. I would have preferred another Boston, but Pinky is convincing me that standard poodles are good companions. She loves everyone. She's intelligent. She adapts easily into any routine, as when she is given a bone to take outside when the housekeeper arrives. She seems to gravitate toward my wife as Alpha Dog (perhaps because of the quick movement, the taller presence, the louder voice, and the fact that my wife has never run over her foot in a power wheelchair), but she insists on sleeping parallel to my leg each night. And now that she's losing some of the puppy-ness, she's learning the things that'll make her a great dog.


Friday, July 4, 2014

Stupid Is, Stupid Does

One thing I've noticed about those of us wheelchair users who are less than totally smart is that we are inordinately brave in confrontational situations. 

Long story, short: I once found myself in a serious altercation with a man who later attacked his landlady with a brick.

From Daily Mail Online

Why? Supposedly the dude in the wheelchair ran over the police lieutenant's foot.

The police had been called because someone had reported the man in the wheelchair had a gun, and he was rolling along near a school. Given our social climate, that seems a good reason for several police to respond.

But the guy didn't have a gun.

He apparently had a "mouth" on him, though. 

Whether he actually ran over the police lieutenant's foot I don't know, but I do know it is unlikely that the police lieutenant would have pushed him out of his wheelchair unless the guy mouthed off to the officer.

Given my history of mouthing off in inappropriate situations, I have sympathy for both the guy who was shoved out of his wheelchair, and the officer who did the pushing. The guy was arrested. The police officer was reduced in rank from lieutenant to patrolman and was suspended for 30 days.

Any bets on who is going to come out of this better? I wouldn't doubt if the wheelchair rider has talked to more lawyers in the last few days than I have in my lifetime.



Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Exoskeleton and me

Wikipedia image
I like my skeleton. I've only broken it three or four times. And the article about the "it may cost $70,000" experimental exoskelton in Slate today doesn't really describe my sort of thing—I probably couldn't use it—but at least it's another step toward accommodation rather than the cure philosophy.

Choosing the crip lifestyle is expensive. My first power wheelchair, paid out of pocket since I was employed, was about $1500. That was sometime in the 1970s. My current one -- thanks to Medicare and private insurance -- was $26,000, delivered a few months ago. I don't know how much I'll share in that yet. I wouldn't be surprised if the amount exceeded what I paid for that first wheelchair.

Wheelchair accessible van? You can find junkers reasonably enough, sure, but if you want a new van, you're moving into Lexus and Cadillac territory: $50,000+. 

The last two houses -- $10,000 mods on one; $20,000 mods on the other. (Universal design would help with that. It'd be nice to be able to think about visiting someone without worrying about an accessible dwelling entrance.) 

Few crips have the kind of wallet that would allow the purchase of Exo-man if it came on the market, no doubt the exception being those injured by someone with lawsuit-deep pockets. Me? I was paralyzed in 1959. I don't remember anyone even thinking about or suggesting what happened to me was lawsuit-worthy. 

 The key things to remember, really, are about 50% of crips aren't employed, and only a few are employed at jobs that pay the big bucks. The second thing is a logical assumption based on that first fact: crips need mainstream education and those good jobs. 

Then maybe a $26k wheelchair or a $50k van or a $70k exo-skeleton suit might be something other than a fantasy.