Disabled, Walking Around in Public…

Cover of Planet of the Blind....man and dog....

Like it or not, even with your beloved dog beside you you’re still an outsider in most public spaces. Moreover, you’re “the show” and there’s no help for it. You’re the guy riding the old wooden escalators in Macy’s Department Store, while a hundred people stare. “I feel like I have a fried egg glued to my forehead,” I once said to my wife as we were navigating an airport. “You do,” she said. You can count on your spouse. When I think more deeply about this I think in terms of history. I belong to the first generation of public disabled. We’re not in the institutions. The laws of the land welcome us. Of course I’ll be stared at. 100 years from now, when everyone will have wild looking quasi-electronic rubberized appendages attached to their bodies this era will seem like ancient history. I hope for that.

Meanwhile one walks about. And you know you’re a symbolic father or mother. A political symbol if you will. In a way, every space you enter is a frontier. You’re clearing the road for others who may follow. I often think about the business of clearing. I’m not just asserting a right to inhabit public space for the disabled but for all my brothers and sisters who are still outsiders.

I took to whispering into my guide dog’s ear: “What’s an outsider?” Perhaps being a pack animal she knew, but she only said: “It’s something in the past.”

Dogs eat grass, just to know what’s in it. They eat the past. A lesson. Get over yourself.

And you do for a minute. You imagine you’ve eaten the grass; the here and now has fallen; you can taste a pure democracy. But the here and now is like rain at the windows, just persistent enough to haul you back from utopia. You’re in the Seven-Eleven again, being stared at by absolutely everyone. “What’s that man doing?” says a child to its mother. “Shush,” says the mother. “No Mommy! What’s that man?” “Shush,” she says, “Or there’s no birthday for you!”

You’re innocent. You are standing beside a rack of Twinkies and Hohos, just trying to figure out where the coffee is located, and now your the un-indicted co-conspirator behind the ruination of some kid’s birthday, all because you entered the damn store.

“You’ve entered the damn store” became a personal tag line. My father who served in World War II used to say, “You’re in the Army now, you’re not behind the plough….” His way of saying you’re screwed and just get over it.

In Macy’s I was once followed by a store detective. I was walking just to walk. Working my dog around mannequins and racks of clothing, mostly because it was something to do and it was a good exercise for the dog, and you know, what the hell. Sam Spade was about ten feet behind me wherever I went. What’s an outsider? He’s whatever they say he is. He doesn’t look like the other crayfish. Let’s eat him.

Author: skuusisto

Poet, Essayist, Blogger, Journalist, Memoirist, Disability Rights Advocate, Public Speaker, Professor, Syracuse University

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