Ota Benga Blues

I confess that war, pestilence, natural disasters and the nation’s collapsing infrastructure have recently done a good deal to erode my sense of humor. I’m guessing that you, in turn, likely have your own inner struggles with our blemished planet.

To cheer myself I decided to take a little walk around my neighborhood. The weather was fair after the Biblical Midwestern floods. I was feeling cautiously optimistic. As far as I could tell I wasn’t dead. 

Then I met them: a middle aged couple strolling about ten to fifteen yards ahead of me on the sidewalk.

Now you may well ask: “How do you know they were a middle aged couple, etc. since you can’t see worth a damn,” and I’d say to you that you’re absolutely right—they might have been past middle age—they could have been Senior Citizens, or perhaps they were a couple of lumpy Sasquatch wearing Izod shirts and shorts.    

And you’d be right to point out this “wrinkle” of veracity not merely in this instance but in all narrative employments rendered by means of my pen. 

It’s true: I have no idea what these two individuals look like. But if you want truth I suggest you read the “Style” section of the New York Times.

They were slow. And they were trying to go faster because I was coming up quickly from behind with my guide dog.

Their respective feet suddenly went “skippy-scuppy, skippy scuppy” and I could hear the drape of their considerable shorts making “zith zith” noises.

Yep. They were almost running to stay ahead of me. Then they reached the perpendicular turn that I was planning to take, and sure enough: they stopped and spun around (shorts making little gulping noises) and they stared as I came toward them.

In the split second when they might have said “Hello Citizen” or “Boy Howdy Pardner!” they said nothing.  They were staring. They were also blocking the very turn I was planning to take and since they had enough time to look at me and say something and chose instead to say zilch I felt the old “creepy crawly disabled person being stared at by toddling pink people blues”. 

It happens sometimes. I have a nickname for these kinds of people. I call them “Bob and Betty Boop”.

The Boops think that the Blind can’t see them.

Like visitors to the Bronx Zoo, Boops have wide, pie plate eyes. 

I’ve been stared at by lots of Boops. I generally know they’re staring
without the assistance of a sighted companion for when Boops grok you
they create a tiny silence. One suspects this is a neurological thing—a
reflex of the limbic node or “lizard brain”—a “fight or flight”
hijacking of the amygdale. I imagine they drool a little. 

I have other nicknames for this moment. Sometimes I call it “the Ota
Blues” because when the Boops crane they’re just like the New
Yorkers who in 1906 mobbed the Bronx Zoo to see Ota Benga, a Congolese
Pygmy who was caged along with an orangutan in the monkey house. (The
zoo even scattered human bones around Ota Benga’s pile of straw to
accentuate the poetry of the occasion.)

Meanwhile, I ignored Bob and Betty and took my way along a different sidewalk.

“Why not,” I thought. “On the whole I’d rather talk to a flat head catfish.”

And I went on walking fast, head up, dog leading out with assurance, the day bright and promising soon to be hot.

But God help me, I took a turn on the nature trail and after thirty
minutes of my mega-theric striding Lo, I heard the zith zith of Boop
shorts and the skippy scuppy of their respective feet. They were coming
toward me and you guessed it! They were staring, and hoping to get past
me without the necessity of a word.

So I stopped.  I said “Hey, What a great day!”

You could feel their panic.

Ota Benga was talking.

O you think I exaggerate I know.

But you should have heard the zith zith of their shorts. 


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