Playing Chicken, Driving a Motor Bike, Pretending to See

My thoughts while waiting to take my first guide dog walk.

Feigning sight was always a chicken game. Two drivers racing toward each other. Who will flinch first? Will anyone flinch? If neither flinches, both perish. If only one flinches, he’s a coward.

While pretending to see, reality was my opposing driver. Would he quiver? Would “the real” step aside for my blind plungings? I counted on this. Once, on a study abroad trip to the Greek islands, I rented a motor bike because my college pals were doing it. Some of them knew I couldn’t see, or at least I imagined they knew, for I though paraded around without asking for help, I was halting and clumsy. But it was the late 70’s: no one had any language for disability and hey, I was an unlikely guy and so were we all. We rented our motorbikes on the island of Santorini a dark crescent that rises steeply from the sea—it’s all that remains of a larger island that disappeared in a volcanic flash in the 16th century BCE.

We rented the motorbikes in Fira from a man who was listening to a football match on his radio and who hardly noticed us. He didn’t need to see our licenses, only required a credit card and we were off. I followed a student named Roger who wore a red windbreaker. If I stayed very close I could track his jacket with my left eye. I saw his rectangle of red bobbing up and down. It was the flag in a bullfight. The sharp curves and severe hills of Santorini wound like a lethal high speed ribbon under my wheels. I swayed and dipped but I held that red flag in view, or imagined I did, and unlike my classmates, I saw nothing of the panoramic ocean or cliffside ruins, or pelicans crossing the road on foot.

No one plays chicken because he feels good. Nor is it a game for anarchists who believe in human decency. It’s for stripling losers. In political science its called brinksmanship.

It’s the Cuban Missile Crisis. When you play chicken with your disability you’re trying desperately to convince yourself you don’t have a weak hand. And you have little affection for others. Who are they, anyway?

No one forces you to play it. You simply do it because it’s what you know. You learned it when you were knee high. In grade school I received several lessons:

  1. Sighted children shared nothing.
  2. No one played fair.
  3. Hitting people was easy and the blind kid was a perfect target.
  4. Hiding things from the blind child was sport.
  5. Disarranging the blind kid’s possessions was also rather fun.
  6. See above.
  7. Sorry is absurd.
  8. Steal soap from the blind kid.
  9. Push him in the toilet whenever you have a chance.
  10. Always take the blind kid’s lunch.

Is it too easy to say I feigned sightedness and became a daredevil because of kindergarten? Maybe. But when you add churlish school administrators and drunken parents you discover wildness and deflection are a satisfying dish. Someone once asked Leadbelly, the King of the 12 String Guitar, how he played the thing. “You gotta keep something moving all the time,” he said. That’s how you play sighted man chicken when you can’t see. The movement is wild and fresh and sweetly terrifying.