June 16, 2017

June 16, 2017
Grandma and Grandpa

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

NL #8: How to piss off a pirate

NL #8: Two years ago, when I was wearing an eye-patch fulltime, I visited a school whose mascot was the pirate. My role there was to observe teachers and students, but all I could think about was what an enthusiastic visitor, dressed like the mascot and all, I must have seemed. I even happened to be wearing my Vans (shoes) that day with a skull and cross bone and spider design. I felt relieved that no one made fun of me. I thought of plenty of cracks in my own mind: “Nice to meet you. How ARRRGH you?” and such.

In the three years since my surgery, students in schools have made fun of me only once, when a struggling student yelled "crip" at me as I walked down the hall by his classroom. Other than recognizing that the voice was male, I had no idea who it was. A few days later, I went to talk with the class about the experience and told them why I walked with a cane. I asked what they thought about how I should respond to "Crip!" The consensus seemed to be that anyone who would yell out so obnoxiously wasn't worth my time. But honestly, teenagers are always worth my time. A few weeks later a student I didn't recognize approached me in the hall with a most gracious apology. I have gotten to know him somewhat in a class that I'm now working with. I know that he struggles and he knows, in an interesting twist, that I am an advocate for him.

Even the students I don’t know are kind. Before my disabilities, I thought teenagers in public spaces didn’t notice me because I was always dodging them and their stuff. Now I know that they saw me; they just ignored me. For these past three years, teens in school halls have moved themselves and their friends out of my way; they’ve gone out of their way to open doors for me; they’ve helped me around obstacles like their backpacks.

One afternoon, walking downtown wearing my patch and carrying my cane, I walked past a group of teenage skateboarders. A couple of boys got into yelling “Arrgghh” at me. I wanted to flip them off, but I was afraid I’d fall, so I didn’t. I tried to think of what a pirate might do, but I blanked. I’m sure those teenagers would have found me cool if they’d noticed my theme-appropriate Vans.

Another time, riding the Metro bus home (in a front seat with other people with disabilities), a well-dressed man in his fifties boarded with three plastic bags from Rite Aid, talking away on his cell phone. He dropped his bags in the middle of the aisle and people with disabilities had trouble getting by. A woman with disabilities needed a seat and asked him to move his bags and to give up a seat for her. He interrupted his cell phone conversation to say, “You’re evil. That’s why you are the way you are.” I can still see him jiggling his penny-loafered foot as he continued his phone conversation. I really think it was one of the meanest things I’ve ever seen.

Because I know of persons with disabilities who can’t ride the bus because they can’t be guaranteed a seat, I wrote Metro to ask that they require drivers to require riders who are not disabled to move from “priority seating.” The current rule seems to be that drivers must ask but need not insist. The driver on my bus did neither. The response I received from Metro is that the situation does not require a revision of the rules. I still think it does.

Once, after a WNBA Storm game, a woman my age was rude. We were in a line for the one stall in the downstairs restroom when some people she knew got in line behind me. She went on with them about a party that was a great party even though she broke her ankle and tore "all the tendons and ligaments and had to get screws put in." I think she was high--probably both times. Even though she was quite loud, I mostly tuned her out. At some point she made some comment about "the blind leading the blind" and apologized to me, but she was too into herself for a real apology. I hate being singled out, especially for disabilities. She kept apologizing as she peed and finally said, "I think I should just stop talking." To her partner, I noted that this might be a good idea in general. As they left, they argued about whether her apology was adequate. It wasn't.

The only other times I have been treated rudely, even dangerously, have been at Town Hall and the symphony hall with large numbers of well-dressed elderly people. My theory is that they are so focused on getting themselves around that they don’t notice anyone with disabilities around them. Give me a crowded hall of teenagers any day over that.

I’m a nice pirate. Be nice to me. Arrgghh. Mary

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