Being A Crip

1. Rock On


This whole “not being able to walk without leaning on something” gets fucking old at a rapid pace.

For months I’ve been using one of my Alpine poles to keep from loading my left leg wrong and making myself yip (unexpected, sharpened-screwdriver jabs of pain would erupt at any point in the region of my ass or groin); then I really felt the need of one whenever I went anywhere just to allow me to walk at a decent clip. Then I went off the painkillers (Advil and so on) because I was fairly scared of ending up like Mr. P, , the trainer at my gym who took fistfuls of the stuff dealing with residual pain from a broken pelvis after a car crash, and ended up in the hospital with a hemorrhaging ulcer. Ugh. That meant I needed two poles. Which is now how I get into the gym, looking absurd as I pole my way from one weight station to the next and then slam everything I can while working around the hot spots. Lately, around the house I’ve been using a walker a client lent me, which I blinged out with a rhinestone bell and some bike tassels.

It came in the nick of time because last week as I was snailing my way out of the gym, the old bicep tear I incurred dropping a forty pounder decided to lodge a complaint about my arm being used as a leg. A nasty pinging sensation in my right elbow made it feel more like a tricep strain but the next morning the old scar area felt swollen and I couldn’t straighten out my arm.

I only had the Minotaur to work on in about three hours so I weighed the priorities, slammed some Motrin and swathed my arm in Rock Tape, a wonderful invention which is to an Ace bandage as a pantyliner is to an old lumpy Kotex. It supports everything and helps the swelling drain by lifting the skin over the lymphatic capillaries, and the minute you put it on the pain backs off. It comes in nifty designs. The leopard lasted several days, though I just replaced it with some sassy Coco Chanel polka dots.

I now have one uninjured extremity, my left arm. This continues to suck.

2. Spanish Guys (III)

Being a crip gives you some interesting insights into human nature.

When a woman is limping painfully and unsteadily across a snowy, ice-packed parking lot or sidewalk apron using two poles, people have a spread of reactions.

Younger people, especially hot young women in Spandex, go clip-clopping by as if they don’t see you, and even if you are only a few paces behind, don’t appear to think of holding either of two sets of double doors. A lot of guys well into their thirties are the same way, whitebread guys anyway.

Older people get it. Only the older women coo and poor-thing you while offering to open the door, and I can kind of do without that.

And then there are the young Latino men, a large population at my gym location, who will trot over to a door if they see me near it, to say nothing of the almost beardless youth who saw me from several yards away and ran up (calling out in broken English) to give me his arm, like the classical Boy Scout helping the old lady cross the road. Until the last snow melted, another “Spanish guy,” as people around here tend to mass-identify any men from the Latin countries, popped out from behind the desk every day to bird-dog me out to my car, handing me down from the curb past an obstacle course of packed slush while I hung onto a credible set of solid forearm extensors. Life could be worse than being eased into your car seat by a muscular youth named something like Carlos or Ramon.

If this is what we get from immigration, open the goddam borders.

3. Tagging Along


If you think getting a little courtesy from the young and undamaged is hard try getting a crip tag.

By the time I saw the rheumatologist — the one who tested me for lupus, rheumatoid, ankylosing spondylitis and every other thing  before concluding I was just busted — I was already teetering painfully on the damn sticks. I asked if she would write me for a crip tag to hang on my mirror so I could park in disabled spots, and she said absolutely and gave directions to her staff and it all seemed excellent.

On the way out they charged me $25 to “process the forms with the doctor’s signature.”

Okay, fine, everyone has a nickel and dime racket. Whatever. Only when I got home the forms were blank.

I filled in my part and called the office back. Oh dear yes I would have to mail the forms back. Could they just send them on to the state from there? I asked. Oh no, you have to take them to the DMV in person. Well we don’t really know. Here’s an 800 number to call.

The number was not in service.

A week and some later I called the office, reminding the person who answered that I had sent back the forms and had they been sent back to me or the DMV or what?

Oh, I left you a message a few days ago to find out what we should do. she said.

The hell she did. I have caller ID and there wasn’t the trace of a call. She maintained that they could not be mailed to the state office. “Send them back here then,” I said.

When I got them back I detected some small print, the kind that often escapes my blind-four-ways eyes, stating that the forms could be immediately processed at a DMV window OR mailed to the main office in Richmond.

The damn thing just arrived yesterday, six weeks after I asked for it.

At least this is better than my client whose first surgical consult was with a Dr. Dick who declined to operate on her unless she lost thirty pounds — something that I had seen her struggling to accomplish for two years with a personal trainer and a mean, joyless diet. She asked him if he at least could give her a tag so she could spare herself the length of the Safeway lot on a bad day, and he said “No, I want you to walk so you’ll lose the weight.”

I sent her to the guy who’s doing me next month (I had already seen his work) and he didn’t blink at her weight and was brandishing forms for a tag before she could finish asking. At least some people get it right.

I always knew disabled people take a lot of shit because after all I work with hurting bodies, but you still kinda got to live it to get it.

Twelve days.






A Kiss From A Drunken Muslim

I hate it when panhandlers try to shake me down by offering me help with things that I can do fine by myself, so at first I said “I’m good, thanks.” (I hate that locution too, but I catch myself using it. Good at what? To whom?)

He kept standing there at the periphery of my fun-house vision. “Can I ask you something?”

I looked straight at him. “Yes?” His eyeballs were marbled like a moderately fatty slab of bacon and his skin was the velvety supple black that comes straight from Africa. His maroon shirt, neither especially old nor especially new, read FIRE AND RESCUE, with the words MOSUL, IRAQ around a sort of Maltese cross design and Arabic writing below. Something about his body language said not wrapped real tight.

“Can I have two dollars?”

It was intimately, pricklingly hot in the middle of the hectare of tarmac where I was parked. You know something, if you need two dollars enough to stand out in a frying pan like that and ask me for it — especially if you look like you have been on an epical bender — I will give it to you. I keep a few dollar bills in my key wallet. I had three today.

“Can I have all three?”

I paused a moment. “Hell, yeah. Life is a bitch.” There was a jar of pickles in my grocery bag that cost more. I squeezed his hand as I put the bills into the other. Soap is cheap.

“You see what my shirt says here? I work this job. See in Arabic? Same words. I am African, you see?” If I hadn’t seen, I’d have heard; African speakers make of the English language a music second only, I think, to the delicious lilt that is called Bombay Welsh. “I am Muslim. But I am not the extreme kind who do the bad things. I am Muslim but I try to go live in Nigeria, I am afraid they kill me so angry people. I am trying to be American me.” He put the bills in his pocket. “Can I kiss you?” I reflected that we were in the middle of a fairly busy parking lot; he was hardly a a rape artist in the shadows of a strip mall at midnight, and he was leaning to the side, not straight at me. He placed, not exactly a kiss, a buff of sorts at my temple. Oh well, soap is cheap.

“You are kind! You give me three dollars!” he called out as he sloped off across the parking lot with an uncertain gait.

I don’t care if everything was bullshit but his accent, which no one could fake. The world breaks people sometimes. I can’t do much about that standing on one foot, but I can spare a few bills. Maybe he laughed all the way to his car. I doubt it though. Anyway, I’ve spent three bucks more foolishly.

In the name of Allah, the merciful, the compassionate.



The Odor Of Sanctity (Or Something)

Arnoldo seized my Ace bandage when I was about twelve minutes into my bike warmup. He is as dire as ever, though he is probably closer to fifty than forty now: hair still glossy black (there’s a little Jheri Curl or similar involved, I think), shoulders and pecs like polished gourds, grin like a candy skull. People who speak several antipodal dialects of Spanish inform me gravely that they have no feckin’ idea what he is saying half the time, either.

I think he was talking about Christmas and families. I could make out that he has a new pad and his seven brothers and sisters were coming to visit. I explained, more or less, that the Engineer (he always asks after my “friend”) was out of state seeing his family and that I have no family to see.

After I got out on the gym floor he played a cute game of body-blocking my path to the patch of mat where I lay a towel over the germs du jour and do some wrestler’s stretches and Yoga poses before grabbing any serious weights. He wanted to give me a Merry Christmas hug before leaving. I managed to pronounce Feliz Navidad more or less okay. Somehow this all got mixed up with him asking if my hair was really as long as someone had told him (he gestured at his hipbones) and saying it would be beautiful, beautiful if I let it down. I think. I can never really tell with Arnoldo. On any given day he could really be asking if I am up for white slavery or gladatorial combat.

His Merry Christmas seemed heartfelt, so I was not cheap with the return hug. I am pretty sure he killed a few people before getting Jesus, so people tell me, in a Salvadoran jail — there is a picture taken in the jungle, with machetes — and it is the least I can do for any child soldier who can still have the heart of a child, in Godzilla’s body, thirty-some years later.

That slightly asphyxiating perfume that Spanish guys like perplexed my senses at several intervals over the next hour, until I peeled for the shower and whiffed smudges of it all over my gym togs. I guess no one cares to tell him he smells like a cathouse. Would you?


Oh lordy, here I go again.

The mewing started late on Memorial Day — Monday; a sound exactly like my melodious Mr. Ferguson, except that it seemed to be coming from down by the cellar windows, where he emphatically was not, being shut upstairs at the time.

Torvald, he of the fluffy thundercloud-colored coat and rumbustious disposition, was on top of a bookcase, gazing with alacrity out of the cellar windows. I went outside to look at what he was looking at and found this winsome, thick-tailed creature rolling in the grass.

She was still there the next morning. And the next evening. A note circulated to the local mailing list elicited some genius admonitions not to feed “stray cats” and one lost cat notice from about three weeks back, which moved me to go out, snatch the little creature and bring her inside. But I found that the lost cat of the notice had come home.

By now she was already named Agatha, because her tortie coat reminds me of an agate and because the celebrated Agatha Christie once went walkabout in the course of a marital upheaval. I don’t know about marital, exactly, but Agatha’s sustained writhing on the ground (or carpet) and plaintive yowling suggested an attack of early puberty. She seemed convinced my two neutered boys had the stuff for what ailed her, judging from passionate gazes through window glass and porch doors; at the very least, I figured, I was preventing a teenage pregnancy by keeping her in my sun porch.

Thursday morning, as I was about to leave to have her checked at the vet, a call came in from “Angelica,” who spoke the halting Spanish-accented English that is the brow-knuckling, pencil-snapping, napkin-twisting bane of my existence in these parts. I had put out posters with Agatha’s picture and my phone number, and Angelica saw one, and would come right over to get her, it was only across the street… my heart sinks at moments like this. I had to steal, in the end, my immortal bad boy Taffy the Terrible from next-door neighbors who were immigrants from Salvador and seemed to think of cats as warm furniture who needed nothing more than a dish of cheap kibble, water and to be let out to pee. Neutering? Too much trouble and money! We don’t let the gringos tell us to take our cat’s balls off! Bring him in at midnight when it’s twelve degrees out? We’re going to bed! The Abduction Of Taffy, when we finally moved, was a James Bond story for another time. And here I was again with Agatha, and Angelica.

Angelica showed up with about a three year old kid in tow — to be fair, he wasn’t too bratty — and, while she spoke competent simple English, really didn’t want to consider my idea of coming along with me to see the vet. I have to call my husband. (Because god forbid you should make a decision without calling some goddam man.) What will it cost. (Never mind that I said I’d help, or that her story of getting the cat from an uncle whose unspayed female had overrun his house with kittens was a glaring object lesson. These people don’t bother to control their own reproduction, never mind their pets’.) In the end, short of refusing to relinquish the cat, I had no option but to donate a cheap carrier and offer some quickly printed Web pages from the local shelter and the nearest vet. Keep her inside, I said, she wants a boy friend and if she gets out she’ll be right back over here meowing for love.

It only took thirty-six hours. She’s on the porch now.

Did I mention we have a tornado watch and a flash flood warning tonight?

So, do I take her back over in the morning and give them one more chance to do it right, or say Fuck It and bugger off to the vet’s at the first opportunity? Torvald is perishing for a buddy, and unlike my home team, Agatha seems to like him.