Thirty for Thirty on the ADA” “Maybe Tomorrow”

As we near the thirtieth anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act I’ve decided to post thirty short essays about the law, the anniversary, and the cultural impact of #ADA @30. I’m doing this as a disabled person who’s lived half his life before the ADA. I’m reflecting on the “before and after” of the law.

Essay Eight: “Maybe Tomorrow”

Disability is everywhere once you learn to look for it. Elvis Presley had continuous high grade pain the last ten years of his life. Samuel Johnson was legally blind, suffered from seizures, and may well have had a variant of Tourette’s Syndrome. The people in my neighborhood are touched by disablement. Some show it. Others do not. Normalcy, the belief in it, the animadversion to live it or else is the most destructive fiction in the world.

What does it avail me to say so? And why do I keep saying it?

In her excellent book The Contours of Ableism (an elegant title I think) Fiona Kumari Campbell imagines the structural and attitudinal dispositions against the disabled as residing within a telos or set of illusions that maintain the non-disabled identity. When I write against disability discrimination and the privilege indexes of ableism I’m engaging in the work of all disabled activists by asserting the truth of the matter:

“Ableism refers to: a network of beliefs, processes and practices that produces a particular kind of self and body (the corporeal standard) that is projected as the perfect, species-typical and therefore essential and fully human. Disability then is cast as a diminished state of being human.”

So if there are so many disabled people around why does compulsory normalization still rule the roost? The contours of ableism are protean rather than strictly geometric. Fiona Campbell writes:

“Whether it be the ‘species typical body’ (in science), the ‘normative citizen’ (in political theory), the ‘reasonable man’ (in law), all these signifiers point to a fabrication that reaches into the very soul that sweeps us into life and as such is the outcome and instrument of a political constitution: a hostage of the body.”

One of the interesting things about ableism is that whatever form it takes it occupies the future perfect. There will be time enough to make things right for the non-normals but not today. One may fair say “not today” is the motto of the thing. Non hodie in Latin. Picture a flag bearing the image of an indolent house cat. Not today will we question our assumptions about the majority of bodies on the planet. Ableism also refrains from saying “maybe tomorrow.”

As we contemplate the ADA @ 30 this is its signature, the stitching that holds the book together: “maybe tomorrow” has been retired.

We don’t say “maybe tomorrow” your disabled child can go to school.
Don’t say “maybe tomorrow” you can vote, go to a football game, go shopping.
We don’t say “you can’t attend college, not today…”
The ADA put a stake through maybe tomorrow.

This is in fact what people who hate the ADA are always most worked up about. They wanted their “maybe tomorrow” to last forever. Rather than see disabled customers and their friends and families in their shops and restaurants, small business owners banded together and cried foul—lead most notably by Clint Eastwood—we don’t need no stinkin’ ramps or accessible bathrooms in our tony little “shoppes”—sure the disabled matter, but not today, not now, not thirty years after the ADA, please. I wish I was joking. The Chamber of Commerce and its associated lobbyists have been brutal opponents of making commercial spaces accessible. Not long ago Dominos Pizza argued they didn’t have to make their website accessible to the blind. Not today. Not tomorrow. Perhaps some day. Dominos lost their case in court. They spent more fighting the blind and the ADA then it would have cost them to make a stinking website and app blind friendly. Their position was driven by raw ableism.

So the ADA says “maybe tomorrow’ has been retired.

Like racism, ableism depends on its ugly status quo. The ableist says, “I liked it when the disabled people knew their places.”

I know all the problems with the ADA. But it retired “maybe tomorrow” even though our opponents still wave it around like a discredited flag.

Thirty for Thirty on the ADA: “Essay Seven: It’s Life Itself”

As we near the thirtieth anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act I’ve decided to post thirty short essays about the law, the anniversary, and the cultural impact of #ADA @30. I’m doing this as a disabled person who’s lived half his life before the ADA. I’m reflecting on the “before and after” of the law.

Essay Seven: “It’s Life Itself”

Disability life is life. It’s not a secondary or sub-sectioned existence. It is life. It’s life the way life is, on a day when you see the wild geese heading south and north at the same time. It’s life knowing music is cultivated time and knowing time heals nothing.

It’s that day long ago when I went to the typewriter repairman in Helsinki. I was blind and he was deaf. We communicated without social workers. It’s life.

And it’s walking in slow circles around an unfamiliar town just to get a map in your head and why not?

The disabled know what life is because they’re living it unmediated.
The disabled are not soft.
When they hold rulers they know what they can’t measure.
They know about scaring the able bodied always and not just on Halloween.
They piss off the righteous and politically narrow for they require straws.
Scarecrows love us for we give them something to look up to.
It’s life you able bodied narcissuses look up from your ponds.
It’s life with its dropped eggs and dirty windows.
It’s the side-eyed glances of children who can’t decide if cripples are cool.
Here it comes.

This is the ADA @ 30. Real life. Brought to you by an awakening.

**

In 1972 I took it into my head to end my life. It was easy: suicide was in the air. Today when people talk about the idealized late sixties and early seventies age of activism and protest, the “summer of love” or other trappings of youth culture they generally do so by way of nostalgia. But those were hard days and in my case daily life as a blind teen was becoming so difficult, in fact so preposterous, all I could do was self-medicate and starve.

No doctor or psychologist succeeded in diagnosing me. Anorexia was not widely understood in those days, and it was, in any case, thought to be a condition affecting girls.

They put meat on a string down my throat and took notes. I knew the obstreperous orderlies were Nazis. Knew the doctors were simpletons—knew the word itself described the children of simple people. I was 17 and in love with death and by Christ I wanted anyone who came in contact to see I was in love with it.

I loved Mick Jagger and John Lennon. Both were on heroin. Looking like you were at death’s door meant commercial success. Maybe if I looked that way someone would like me.

The gullible sad boy inside me was desperate for friends.

All that boy knew for sure was the adults were addled on booze and Nixon; the high school was a pipeline to prison; most of his teen acquaintances were cruel.

The gullible boy hadn’t read Kafka’s “Hunger Artist”. Hadn’t read Donald Justice’s poem “The Thin Man”:

I indulge myself
In rich refusals.
Nothing suffices.

I hone myself to
This edge. Asleep, I
Am a horizon.

When my “edge” became 98 pounds I started dreaming of life outside the body, dreams filled with clouds and snow. If there were people in my dreams I don’t remember them. Horizon dreams require no people—that’s one thing I learned from the unconscious in that bad year.

But awake I was easily deceived. I thought rock stars were tutelary angels. I imagined there were people in the world who would reach out to me, hold me close, cry out for my sake.

There were no such people.

My parents left me in the hospital, then drove home to drink whiskey.

The man in the bed next to mine spoke no English. He was from eastern Europe. He staggered from his bed, raised his gown, and proudly showed me his abdominal scar.

I remember thinking he’d achieved something.

One night I unplugged myself from the bed and wandered the halls of the hospital.

Strange to think a blind kid could walk the wards unnoticed but such things happen.

I heard weeping from many different rooms.

I heard nurses laughing from a stairwell where they’d gone to smoke.

My teenaged looted brain believed all sorrows were confirmatory.

Perhaps because I survived this period of my life the above awareness is why I hate Salinger’s Catcher in the Rye. Holden Caulfield is a liar. Anyone is a liar who thinks all sorrows are confirmatory. Or not a liar, but something more sinister, a projective delusionist.

Every day I meet my teen self. He’s still starving. I let him in.

Now the mystery is this: how did I get out of the Mick-Jagger delusional self-erasing, culturally confirmatory art of dying?

The psyche ain’t Hollywood. There was no single incident of transformation. And yet there was something “close” to that—a high school acquaintance had given me a book of poems by the poet Kenneth Rexroth. One day, holding the book an inch from my one “reading eye”—the eye I could use for close examination, though not for long, I read the poem “For Eli Jacobson” and began the tangled, slow, confused journey that all free thinkers must begin—that trip through the hard politics of our age, remembering the good souls who have come before, and yes, pledging our own merits, our own resolve to not give up. Here is Rexroth’s poem:

FOR ELI JACOBSON

December 1952

There are few of us now, soon
There will be none. We were comrades
Together, we believed we
Would see with our own eyes the new
World where man was no longer
Wolf to man, but men and women
Were all brothers and lovers
Together. We will not see it.
We will not see it, none of us.
It is farther off than we thought.
In our young days we believed
That as we grew old and fell
Out of rank, new recruits, young
And with the wisdom of youth,
Would take our places and they
Surely would grow old in the
Golden Age. They have not come.
They will not come. There are not
Many of us left. Once we
Marched in closed ranks, today each
Of us fights off the enemy,
A lonely isolated guerrilla.
All this has happened before,
Many times. It does not matter.
We were comrades together.
Life was good for us. It is
Good to be brave — nothing is
Better. Food tastes better. Wine
Is more brilliant. Girls are more
Beautiful. The sky is bluer
For the brave — for the brave and
Happy comrades and for the
Lonely brave retreating warriors.
You had a good life. Even all
Its sorrows and defeats and
Disillusionments were good,
Met with courage and a gay heart.
You are gone and we are that
Much more alone. We are one fewer,
Soon we shall be none. We know now
We have failed for a long time.
And we do not care. We few will
Remember as long as we can,
Our children may remember,
Some day the world will remember.
Then they will say, “They lived in
The days of the good comrades.
It must have been wonderful
To have been alive then, though it
Is very beautiful now.”
We will be remembered, all
Of us, always, by all men,
In the good days now so far away.
If the good days never come,
We will not know. We will not care.
Our lives were the best. We were the
Happiest men alive in our day.

For some, a minute comes when customary thought is broken up. The breaking can be like kindling or burglary—either way it promises a coming time. At 17 I hadn’t read much poetry. I’d read George Orwell plenty and accordingly I could guess at some of Rexroth’s footprints.

I had to read beneath an electric blanket set on the highest number. My ribs were clear, my skin translucent. I was a lonely isolated guerrilla. I didn’t yet know I was fighting for disability rights. Had no idea I would some day live in the days of the “good comrades”—my friends in the disability movement—too many to name here. But how lucky I am to know them. To know even our defeats and disillusionments are good because we can envision the inclusive world of dignity and peace.

Well I don’t know. How can you tell others, how can any of us tell others, we were lifted by things as small and true as elegies? That in our despair we saw, somehow, against all the odds the sky is bluer for the brave?

In the good days now so far away we will have worldwide disability rights.

We will not starve for lack of of knowing our lives were the best.

**

The ADA @ 30….

We are not experiments.
We’re not failed fashion statements.
We’re not fake characters in lousy novels. (“All the Light We Cannot See”)
We don’t need permission to vote, work, love, live.

The ADA @ 30…

We do need health care, jobs, inclusive higher education…

For we are life itself.
Not ideas about it.

Thinking of James Wright

I know, I know, there are those who call
Two horses in particular–
One is young and one is old
Though they think they’re brothers—
So that I, a blind man
Hear them like books read aloud.
No sentiment; no romance;
Each has his voice
Each wants a touch.
I run my fingers gently
Down their long foreheads
Lightly across their noses.
What are we waiting for?
What are we going to do about it
In the meantime?

Thirty for Thirty on the ADA: A Largely Lonely Triumph: Disability and Contemporary Higher Education

As we near the thirtieth anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act I’ve decided to post thirty short essays about the law, the anniversary, and the cultural impact of #ADA @30. I’m doing this as a disabled person who’s lived half his life before the ADA. I’m reflecting on the “before and after” of the law.

Essay Six: “A Largely Lonely Triumph: Disability and Contemporary Higher Education”

I have lately been reading “Helen Keller: A Life” by Dorothy Herrmann. The following passage jumped out at me:

“It was largely a lonely triumph. As the twenty-year-old Helen soon discovered, college was not the “romantic lyceum” that she had envisioned. At Radcliffe, which had been forced to accept her as a student, she was more profoundly aware than ever before of her blindness and deafness. Only one of her classmates knew the manual finger language. Another girl had learned to write Braille, copying as a present Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s Sonnets from the Portuguese, but Helen never heard from her after graduation. The other students tried to be friendly whenever they saw her at a local lunchroom, and according to Helen, “Miss Sullivan spelled their bright chatter into my hand.” But she was painfully aware of the gulf between them, even though her classmates tried to bridge the gap by such lavish, awkward gestures as buying her a Boston terrier, which she promptly named Phiz. Presumably the dog would compensate her for what they were either too timid or too busy to give and what she secretly longed for: “the warm, living touch of a friendly hand.”

And here’s another revealing passage:

“Of Helen’s professors, only one, William Allan Neilson, who later became the president of Smith College, took the time to master the manual finger language so he could communicate directly with her. As Arthur Gilman was closely associated with the college, she and Annie were politely ignored by the rest of the faculty and administration, including the autocratic Agnes Irwin, the dean of Radcliffe, and the august Dr. Charles W. Eliot, the head of Harvard.

The snub did not surprise Annie, who was still furious about the plot at the Cambridge School to separate her from Helen. “I would much prefer to have people despise me as they certainly would if they guessed how full of distrust and contempt my heart is towards my fellow beings,” she wrote to Hitz. “I know it pains you to hear me speak in this way and doubtless it will hurt you still more to have me write it: but I want you to know just how detestable I am. I find people hateful and I hate them. Mr. Gilman seemed to me a fair specimen of our noble race. . . .”

“Radcliffe did not desire Helen Keller as a student,” Dean Irwin later explained to an interviewer. “It was necessary that all instruction should reach her through Miss Sullivan, and this necessity presented difficulties. They were overcome and all went well if not easily.”

Helen was wounded whenever her classmates passed her on the stairs and in the lecture halls without a sign of acknowledgment. Most of her teachers were “impersonal as Victrolas,” she recollected years later, and “the professor is as remote as if he were talking through a telephone.”

**

I have a recurring sense that the realities of campus life for people with disabilities may not have changed much when it comes to what we nowadays call “inclusiveness” in higher education. We have laws of course, and assistive technologies, and surely we do better at providing reading materials in alternative formats. Yet for all that I think that at far too many colleges and universities in these United States one will find that where disability is concerned the faculty and administrators are still “impersonal as Victrolas”. One need only visit the web site LD Online for an overview of the struggles that students with learning disabilities have faced and continue to face as they struggle to gain accommodations in the classroom. Or one can visit the U.S. Department of Justice page and see findings against American colleges and universities. See in particular Duke University but also Chatham University or University of Michigan or Swarthmore College or Colorado College or Millikin University or University of Chicago–each of these cases of discrimination against students or staff with disabilities is fairly representative of the landscape in post-secondary education–what we might call the “Autocracy of the Victrola” if you will. And if you believe (as I surely do) that these problems start earlier, you can visit the DOJ’s web pages on school district discrimination settlements.

The issue of inclusion for people with disabilities in higher ed is a matter of culture: far too many colleges and universities fail to imagine that people with disabilities represent a cultural movement. (Let’s leave aside for the moment the powerful statistical urgencies represented by the finding that nearly 10 per cent of matriculating freshmen are self-identifying as having a disability.)
A cultural understanding of disability means at its very core that students or staff with disabilities are our children, our sisters, daughters, sons, fathers and mothers, our veterans, our colleagues. But it means more than that: an academic or curricular awareness of disability means that our nation’s institutions of higher learning will finally sense that what they “do” they do for all and with no oppositional and expensive and demeaning hand wringing. Such a position requires that disability services and academic culture–matters of curricular planning and cultural diversity be wedded as they should be.

In the meantime there are autocratic talking machines aplenty. One senses their steady banishment to the attics of history. Those of us who labor in higher education should do all we can to grease the skids.

**

The noted scholar of disability studies Lennard Davis writes in his book Bending Over Backwards a trenchant overview of the academic relativism that consigns disability to Diversity’s basement and argues for the critical importance of disability studies in higher education:

“The fact is that disability disturbs people who think of themselves as nondisabled. While most liberals and progressives would charitably toss a moral coin in the direction of the lame, the blind, or the halt, few have thought about the oppression committed in the name of upholding the concept of being “normal.” Consequently, one of the major tasks of this new field is to determine why this “fact” of disturbance exists, is accepted, and is promulgated. Disability scholars want to examine the constructed nature of concepts like “normalcy” and to defamiliarize them. David Pfeiffer writes that “normal behavior is a statistical artifact which encourages people with power and resources to label people without power and resources as abnormal.”’° Rosemarie Garland Thomson coins the term “normate” to make us think twice about using the term normal: “The term normate usefully designates the social figure through which people can represent themselves as definitive human beings. Normate, then, is the constructed identity of those who, by way of the bodily configurations and cultural capital they assume, can step into a position of authority and wield the power it grants them.”’

Normates thus enforce their supposed normality by upholding some impossible standard to which all bodies must adhere. To further demystify such terms, disability activists have called attention to the routine ways in which language is used to describe people with disabilities. Such activists refer to themselves as “crips,” as in the video documentary by David Mitchell and Sharon Snyder called Vital Signs: Crip Culture Talks Back, and choose words like gimp, geek, deaf and blind over more polite euphemisms. Expressions like “confined to a wheelchair” are being replaced by the more active “wheelchair user.” And expressions that use impairments metaphorically to convey a negative sense–such as “a lame idea,” “turn a deaf ear,” or “morally blind”–are being seen as the equivalent of racial epithets. This obsession with being normal has a history, as I attempt to show in my book Enforcing Normalcy)2 The use of the word normal in reference to physical bodies appeared in English merely one hundred fifty years ago, coinciding with the birth of statistics and eugenics. Before the nineteenth century in Western culture the concept of the “ideal” was the regnant paradigm in relation to bodies, and so all bodies were less than ideal. The introduction of the concept of normality, however, created an imperative to be normal, as the eugenics movement proved by enshrining the bell curve (also known as the “normal curve”) as the umbrella under whose demanding peak we should all stand. With the introduction of the bell curve came the notion of “abnormal” bodies. And the rest is history, including the Nazis’ willing adoption of the state-of-the-art eugenics funded and developed by British and American scientists, as Martin Pernick points out in The Black Stork.13 The devastating result was the creation of procedures for exterminating deaf and disabled people, procedures which were later used on the Jews, gypsies, and other “degenerate” races. But the Nazis were only the most visible (and reviled) tip of an iceberg that continues quite effectively to drive humans into daily frenzies of consuming, reading, viewing, exercising, testing, dieting, and so on–all in pursuit of the ultimate goal of being considered normal.

Disability studies demands a shift from the ideology of normalcy, from the rule and hegemony of normates, to a vision of the body as changeable, unperfectable, unruly, and untidy. Philosopher Susan Wendell sounds a clarion call that in the end provides a rationale for the disability perspective: “Not only do physically disabled people have experiences which are not available to the able-bodied, they are in a better position to transcend cultural mythologies about the body, because they cannot do things the able-bodied feel they must do in order to be happy, ‘normal’ and sane …. If disabled people were truly heard, an explosion of knowledge of the human body and psyche would take place.”4″
–from Bending Over Backwards by Lennard J. Davis, New York University Press, p. 24

We can argue that “the body normal” is still culturally of considerable importance in administrative circles within American higher education. That disability clouds the picture is entirely understandable. Disfigurement is a terribly problematic matter if the goal on campus is simply to look good (whatever your social background).
Academic accommodations for learning disabilities, special provisions for assistive technologies or note taking or the like are still, to this very day, unconsciously imagined by many administrators and faculty as being somehow a matter of cheating the system.

That accessible facilities are not part of the cultural capital of Normates should not be surprising given the historical exclusivity of higher education. But that the problem of ADA compliance remains IS surprising especially in a time when we are seeing wounded veterans returning to colleges and universities in the greatest numbers since the years following World War II. Clearly its time for the Department of Justice to demand compliance with the ADA in higher education. And its time for regents, trustees, college presidents, and faculty senates to demand that their campuses be audited for accessibility and adopt serious plans for reaching accessibility goals.
The final question and perhaps the most important one is to ask how a college or university can be culturally inclusive for people with disabilities, a matter that if answered properly will take away the embarrassment and distress of having to ask for simple acceptance within the academic community.
 

Thirty for Thirty on the ADA: “Outside the Box”

Thirty for Thirty on the ADA

As we near the thirtieth anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act I’ve decided to post thirty short essays about the law, the anniversary, and the cultural impact of #ADA @30. I’m doing this as a disabled person who’s lived half his life before the ADA. I’m reflecting on the “before and after” of the law.

Essay Five: “Outside the Box”

If you love something, love it well even as you know its faults. I love the ADA but I also know its wishy washy like an uncle who ignores bigotry right in front of the kids because it’s a hard life.
I know you know what I mean. The ADA hasn’t exactly delivered on jobs for the disabled though it’s not really the old fella’s fault and tomorrow’s another day.

While we don’t really know how many disabled people remain unemployed a generally accepted statistic holds that the figure is around 70%. Now you might ask “70 % of what?” and then you might be surprised to learn that no one knows how many people with disabilities there are in the United States. We have to estimate. The estimate says the number is one in five Americans. The estimation game goes on: we judge two thirds of this phantasmal number are people over 65. Remember, we don’t know this. We’re guessing. I first learned about the imprecision statistic business when I tried to find out how many blind people there are in the US. The number is fungible, inexact, made up. Census takers went door to door in Baltimore and asked people if they could read a standard newspaper. From this a number was hatched. In turn that guess became a national model. Voila. There were one million blind people in the United States. Two thirds were over 65. Believe it or not these numbers are still often cited. They come from the old game: “how many fingers am I holding up?”

With a tip of the hat to Arthur James Balfour there are three kinds of falsehoods: “lies, damned lies, and statistics.” But there’s a fourth: the guesstimate. Now before you imagine I’m going to argue for a national database of the disabled let me be clear that disability is your own business and laws protecting privacy are essential in a free society. In other words, not knowing how many disabled people there are is not a bad thing. And yet, thirty years after the ADA it’s still the case that the disabled are horribly underrepresented in the work force. The ADA has not solved the fear among employers that greets every disabled job seeker.

As the old saying goes: “you can’t legislate morality.” Certainly getting people to do the right thing when they’re afraid is daunting. In her 2017 article on the obstacles to disability employment Megan Purdy wrote about the fact that disabled job applicants seldom get interviews:

“Hiring managers and HR pros worry that candidates with disabilities might burden the company in some way, or just make them and their colleagues uncomfortable. “There’s a lot of discomfort with people with disabilities. I think Oh, geez, someone with a spinal cord injury, I’m not sure they’re going to fit in here.””

She continues:

“In short, the lower response rate observed for candidates with disabilities is due to ignorance and prejudice. These are not challenges candidates can simply overcome with a great resume or interview, they’re bone deep and systematic biases that aren’t quickly eliminated by good data or better training. They’re driven by the sense that employing people with disabilities is somehow more difficult and costly than employing people without disabilities, and even more fundamentally, that people with disabilities are a burden.”

(Here I must interpolate: we don’t have good data and we certainly don’t have good HR training.)

The ADA opened the door for employment by introducing the concept of “reasonable accommodations” and the truth is that most disability related accommodations are inexpensive. Still, rationality doesn’t triumph over able bodied people’s fears about disablement. What if it’s catching? What if that wheelchair person needs me to help him with the bathroom? What if sign language is something I’ll have to learn? I’m afraid of blind people. I’m really uncomfortable with deaf people. Autism is just too hard for me to think about. I know we should have accessible websites but it’s too difficult to think about right now. (A common thing at universities.)

The ADA can’t erase stigma. No civil rights law can do this.

It can only say that discrimination is illegal.

Employers who are afraid of disability all say the same thing: “I’m sorry, we just filled that job.”

Back to Megan Purdy:

“PBS interviewed leaders at accounting firm EY, who are working to dramatically increase the number of people on the autism spectrum. While executives could cite logical reasons for the program – the unique skills that neurodiverse people brought to the team and the boost they provide to the company’s bottom line – their respect for their employees and belief in the program was also clear. They believe in their hiring plan and they value the contributions of all their employees. They have taken the time to do diversity training, not so they can check off that box, so that they can be better managers of people with disabilities. They bought in, understanding the problem, working to root out bias in their company culture, and diversifying their workforce.”

This is the advantage of the ADA: diversity includes disability and America, slowly, ever so slowly is learning how the disabled contribute in positive ways to the workforce. As a friend of mine, a blind attorney once said in an employment interview: “dude, my whole life is outside the box!”

Thirty for Thirty on the ADA: Essay Four “Among”

What do we mean when we say “thirty years since the ADA?” I think as disabled people we’re talking about a living document and not an artifact. There are three ways in which the Americans with Disabilities Act is not static and therefore keeps up with the times. One: it’s protections for people who lack the capacity to see, hear, walk, stand, speak, engage in normative modes of thinking (a phrase I detest) or who have invisible disablements (HIV, cancer, auto-immune conditions) are inclusive. AIDS patients were and are protected by the ADA though when the law was passed no one could have imagined this. Number one is connected to number two: disabilities are complex, often unforeseeable. The law makes room for this. Three: opponents may not like this, but the ADA says equal access means equal access and the law is strong enough to make it stick despite fierce and consistent objections from business groups, universities and corporations that have cried foul from the day President George H. W. Bush signed the bill into law. At thirty we can say the ADA is still very much alive and living with us. That’s the thing about civil rights laws: they have to be tough and equally imaginative. Diverse societies depend on imagination. Daily we see racist, homophobic, ableist, misogynistic, xenophobic people assert that critical thinking is for losers. This proves to be untrue in a nation of well written laws.

This leads to the sad truth that laws are not always enforced and can be subverted especially in provincial places. I recall in particular the ugly story of a blind woman in Iowa who was prevented from bringing her guide dog to a computer class “for” the blind. She filed suit in a local court which in turn saw no problem with the discrimination. I think of my late friend Bill Peace who was denied proper medical care at Yale University Hospital while attending a conference on disability. He had a heart attack. Because he was a wheel chair user they put him in a dark corner of the emergency room and left him alone for hours. I think you see where I’m headed: sectoral and isolated places still believe even thirty years after the ADA that it’s still 1910. I pick that date almost at random but it serves the purpose: the disabled were imagined to be fit only for the family’s tool shed or the asylum. In either case they were ignored. The ADA says we cannot be ignored. Plenty of people who do not currently have a disability think that having one is a monumental tragedy. When TV programs like “Dateline”feature a blind person they often say: “He was “Struck down” by blindness.” This old Victorian language still haunts every person with a disability.In his wonderful memoir “Moving Violations” John Hockenberry describes an encounter he once had with an airline hostess who, seeing that he used a wheelchair, opined that if she was in his shoes she’d probably have to kill herself. All people with disabilities can share stories like Hockenberry’s.

The ADA says our lives are worth living. Are disability lives not worth living? The long history of “abled” voices has said, and continues to say “no”–a “no” that has been complicated by pre-natal testing and divisive political rhetoric about the nature of what a qualified life really is. In 2005 the Terri Schiavo case demonstrated to disability rights activists that when it comes to protecting disability life, conservatives had more empathy and courage than neo-liberal Democrats (with the notable exception of the Rev. Jesse Jackson). The very idea that a disabled life is not a life at all depends both on the medical appropriation of curative utility (life with illness only possesses value in relation to its amelioration) and simple metaphor (disability understood as a ruined identity, see Erving Goffman). The dichotomies of spoiled identity have a long history on both sides of the Atlantic–eugenics, forced sterilizations, the “ugly laws”, institutionalization, and the Nazi “T4” mass murder of adults and children with disabilities. The pattern is one of distillation: disability, (post industrial revolution) is broadly conceived–has been conceived as economically unviable, hence lacking all capacity for the pursuit of happiness in the world of economic-biography.

The darker version of this is the resentment of social welfare (Hitler famously depicted people with disabilities as “useless eaters”). The utilitarian (Benthamite) position (Peter Singer) holds that the greater good of society must trump the needs of a minority in pain–”good” is understood as the potential for achieving pleasure. The Benthamite pleasure principle subborns life to economic life and forgoes the question of what constitutes individual autonomy when imagined outside of industrial labor. In turn it’s the right of the majority class, the “duty” of the majority class to debate the probable happiness potential and index of the minority. Many disability rights activists and scholars have pointed out the inevitable connection of Jeremy Bentham’s ideas (and Singer’s fealty to same) as the foundational principles of Nazism. There is truth to this because eugenics was driven by the principles of Bentham.)

The 21st century extension of disability as a cathexis of the utilitarian body and the medical model of physicality (that abnormality only has value in relation to its likelihood of cure) is now intensified by pre-natal testing. Mr. Singer would counsel parents to abort a fetus if its future birth would result in a child without arms and legs. In his view that child would have no likelihood of happiness and (more sinister of course) such a child would impede the greater happiness of society. Singer is no scholar of economies of scale or of their pre-history. The idea that a legless man might be a great singer or poet demands an appreciation of proto-industrial village life: the majority history of human kind. But enough of Singer.

A friend wrote me recently. She’s a young writer and a new mother of a little girl with a disability. She wrote because she’s experienced the insensitivity of her academic colleagues and friends who have opined that they couldn’t imagine raising a child with an intellectual or developmental disability. My friend has been shocked by the thuggish candor of these remarks. And by turn of the imaginative poverty of the conceptualization of a challenged life as no life at all. This is the marriage of utilitarian philosophy (absorbed through capitalism’s ubiquitous social rhetoric) and the medical model of disability which holds that physical difference without the prospect of cure is not worth enduring. We are living in creepy and reactionary times. And though I’ve been a life long liberal, I applauded the efforts of former Florida governor Jeb Bush to save the unimaginable life of Terri Schiavo. I’ve never felt any ambiguity about that. Perhaps my lifetime of nearly incomprehensible difficulty to live and stand among the able bodied has given me a strange capacity for steepened joy. Not an easy joy. Not a hot rod, drive your car fast joy, It’s the joy of living beautifully in the solitudes of challenge–something your average doctor or utilitarian philosopher can’t imagine because they don’t understand the vitality of pain.

So clearly part of our job is to help those who work in the public sphere and who have no experience of disability understand the vitality of lives that are lived in what I’m calling “the vitality of pain” because the phrase reflects rather accurately what all life is. 

Another part of our job is to make strong connections with groups and organizations that are leveraging the legislated rights of people with disabilities by insisting that states and municipalities live up to the Americans with Disabilities Act. The New Hampshire story above and recent developments in New York State offer some examples but there are more. 

The Justice Department’s recent comprehensive settlement agreement with the Commonwealth of Virginia resolved problems in the state’s system for serving people with developmental disabilities, including intellectual disabilities, and further resolved violations of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). 

Under the ADA and the Supreme Court’s landmark decision in Olmstead v. L.C., individuals with disabilities have the right to receive services in the most integrated settings appropriate to their needs. The ADA and Olmstead require states to provide people with disabilities the opportunity to live and receive services in the community instead of in institutions.  

It’s clear that with sufficient stamina, persistence, and networking we can fight for the rights of people with disabilities. It is right to remember the words of Jim Ferris, a poet who often writes about disability from the experience of having a disability. He says: We are not signs,/we do not live in spite of/or because of facts,/we live with them,/ around them,/among

Among. If you are looking for a one word slogan that’s it. The ADA @30 is Among.

 

Thirty for Thirty on the ADA: Essay Three “Lyric Life”

Thirty for Thirty on the ADA

As we near the thirtieth anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act I’ve decided to post thirty short essays about the law, the anniversary, and the cultural impact of #ADA @30. I’m doing this as a disabled person who’s lived half his life before the ADA. I’m reflecting on the “before and after” of the law.

Essay 3: Lyric Life

I was on a playground in Durham, New Hampshire. The year was 1960 and I was five years old. I had thick glasses and was smaller than my classmates. A big kid who I’ll call Rollie, who daily taunted me and called me “Blindo” approached me with a handful of dirt which he clearly meant for me to eat.

“You will eat this,” he said.

“It looks good,” I said. “Hey Rollie, have you ever eaten an acorn?”

Rollie held his dirt before him like a little pillow.

“An acorn?” he said.

“Yeah, they’re just like peanuts, really good, that’s why squirrels like them. You want one?”

“Sure,” he said. He held out his other hand and I dropped a neatly shelled acorn into his palm.

“Go on Rollie, its yummy!”

Rollie ate it. Then he turned red, and I mean red, not beet red or fire engine red—he was red as an unkind boy with his mouth swollen shut. Acorns are among the bitterest things on earth. And of course I only knew this because I’d tried one. I was a solitary kid. Spent a lot of time in the woods. Those were the days when a boy could still go to the woods.

Rollie was incapacitated. I don’t think he ever bothered me after that.

I still recall the thrill of my discovery. That language could render an enemy harmless was rousing.

I didn’t do a little dance. Didn’t brag about the matter. But I was on the way.

A lyric life, I think, is one wherein you can access feelings and then, by turn do something productive with them.

The simplest definition of a lyric poem is a poem that expresses the writer’s feelings.
Freud said: “Life as we find it is too hard for us; it entails too much pain, too many disappointments, impossible tasks. We cannot do without palliative remedies.”

One of those palliative remedies is lyric itself. One may think of this as causative intuition, a feeling that trips a switch and makes you sing when you should properly be weeping or running for your life. Again Freud: “Man should not strive to eliminate his complexes, but to get in accord with them; they are legitimately what directs his contact in the world.”

We are getting in accord. We are beside a country road picking edible flowers in the cool of the day. We do not pick edible flowers beside highways because there are pesticides in trafficked areas.

We remove the pistils and stamens before eating.

“Hey Rollie have you ever eaten Milkweed?”

“Rollie, you can trust me this time. It tastes like green beans.”

You will laugh at me, but I think of the ADA as green beans….

I think of it as the dictionary for disability assertion.

Now bullies ye will always have with ye. Of course.

Today’s disabled kids must also endure bullies.

Even now as a grownup I still endure them.

Not long ago I was called an “ignoramus” by a fellow faculty member at Syracuse University where I teach and run a program devoted to disability research. It is never appropriate to call anyone an ignoramus in an educational setting for the term’s antonym s are “brain “ and “genius” and its synonyms include: airhead, birdbrain, blockhead, bonehead, bubblehead, chowderhead, chucklehead, clodpoll (or clodpole), clot [British], cluck, clunk, cretin, cuddy (or cuddie) [British dialect], deadhead, dim bulb [slang], dimwit, dip, dodo, dolt, donkey, doofus [slang], dope, dork [slang], dullard, dum-dum, dumbbell, dumbhead, dummkopf, dummy, dunce, dunderhead, fathead, gander, golem, goof, goon, half-wit, hammerhead, hardhead, idiot, imbecile, jackass, know-nothing, knucklehead, lamebrain, loggerhead [chiefly dialect], loon, lump, lunkhead, meathead, mome [archaic], moron, mug [chiefly British], mutt, natural, nimrod [slang], nincompoop, ninny, ninnyhammer, nit [chiefly British], nitwit, noddy, noodle, numskull (or numbskull), oaf, pinhead, prat [British], ratbag [chiefly Australian], saphead, schlub (also shlub) [slang], schnook [slang], simpleton, stock, stupe, stupid, thickhead, turkey, woodenhead, yahoo, yo-yo…

As a disabled person I know full well what the delegitimizing effects of language can do to anyone who hails from a historically marginalized background but where disability is concerned the labeling I’ve described has a particularly specious and ugly history. Idiot, moron, half-wit, dolt, cretin are all familiar to the disabled. One would expect relief from these terms at a university. What’s particularly galling is that the subject I was discussing with the professor in question was ableism—namely that I’d said hello to him on an elevator, I, a blind man with a white cane, and he simply stared at me. No acknowledgement. When two students got on the elevator he lit up and talked breezily about how he hates snow. I followed him to his office and said that by not acknowledging a blind person he creates a social dynamic that feels off-putting and I wanted to discuss the matter. He became instantly contemptuous.

Now of course that’s because of the synonyms above. In this man’s antediluvian world view the disabled really shouldn’t be in the academy. Ableism is not only more pervasive than people generally understand its also more consistent at universities than is commonly recognized.

As for me, I’m an ignorant man to professor “p” for that’s what I’m calling him. “P” for privileged.

He doesn’t know it yet, but incapacities likely await him.

The good news is that when and if he’s discriminated against should that eventuality arise the ADA will likely protect him.

Thirty for Thirty on the ADA: “Coming out of the Dark”

Thirty for Thirty on the ADA

As we near the thirtieth anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act I’ve decided to post thirty short essays about the law, the anniversary, and the cultural impact of #ADA @30. I’m doing this as a disabled person who’s lived half his life before the ADA. I’m reflecting on the “before and after” of the law.

Essay 2: “Coming out of the Dark”

“Get out of your comfort zone.” “Think outside the box.” You’ve heard the phrases. Disabled people are ironic counterpoints to both of these sayings—we’re not in the comfort zone and we don’t have to be told to think imaginatively—all our rendezvous with “normal” require fresh thinking.

The ADA was signed in the year of Billy Joel’s “We Didn’t Start the Fire” and if you’re a fan of cognitive dissonance you’ll recall the disabled “did” start the fire—Viet Nam veterans, advocates for the mentally ill, Baby Boom cripples who wanted lives and careers from main street to Wall Street—these men and women started a fire with their identification papers. They also crawled up the steps of the US Capitol, disrupted political conventions, and occupied hundreds of hostile public spaces.

This thirty year old landmark civil rights law didn’t happen overnight. You can read about the groundbreaking work to launch the ADA in Enabling Acts by Lennard Davis. He tells how pioneering disability activists like Judy Heumann, Ed Roberts, Pat Wright, Bob Funk, Arlene Mayerson, Mary Lou Breslin made the difficult journey from California to Washington DC in 1980. The back story of the ADA is remarkable for its grass roots, its sophisticated, its doggedness, its faith and tireless optimism.

The fuel for the fire was pure, unadulterated inaccessibility. If you were a wheelchair user you couldn’t take public transportation, couldn’t get into civic offices, businesses, take a taxicab; if you were blind you could get a guide dog or a stick but you had no rights to education. If you were mentally ill or neuro-divergent you could count on being a shut in or a patient in a ward. If you were born after the ADA you might not know how bad it was unless you’ve taken a disability history course. It was bad.

While Judy Heumann and so many others were descending on Washington I was in Iowa City, blind, trying to get a grad degree and finding the university was hostile to the disabled. I didn’t have disability pals. I internalized the disdain of others and suffered. I was abject.

The only thing I knew how to do in 1980 was dream. Dreaming is good. But there were fighters out there in the bigger world who were and remain my allies though I didn’t know about them back then.

In 1980 I didn’t have the knowledge as a blind person about how to travel safely.

My memoir Have Dog, Will Travel: A Poet’s Journey in part relives that era:

I’d worked all my life—had actually choreographed it—so I could travel to small and secure places without a white stick. I’d attended college at Hobart and William Smith in Geneva, New York, where my father was the president. I knew every inch of the campus. I learned in a private, ill-favored way how to walk mnemonically. It was eight steps down from the English Department to the sidewalk; seventeen steps to a funny break in that same sidewalk which somehow never got repaired; thirty steps between the post office entrance and my mailbox. I wandered by rote. At a school with only 1,600 students I could pretend to see. When I couldn’t manage it, I’d say I had vision problems. Anything sounded better than blindness. I had “vision issues.” I needed extra time to complete reading assignments. One of my eyes drifted. But still, seeing me move with intention from place to place, many friends and faculty had no idea how all encompassing my charade really was.

When I decided to attend graduate school at the University of Iowa’s Writers’ Workshop I flew to Iowa City three months early and walked the town like a crime-scene investigator. I walked in little grids. I moved haltingly up and down dozens of streets. When I thought no one was watching I drew a telescope from my pocket and read the street signs. I hiked in the stifling summer heat and worried about people marking me as deviant.

Far away from Iowa smart activists were challenging everything I was struggling with. Disability would no longer be deviant.

Today I teach at Syracuse University and work on interdisciplinary disability teaching and research in the Burton Blatt Institute.

Burton Blatt was also a pioneer of disability rights. The BBI website notes he was “an advocate of deinstitutionalization, and he helped initiate community living programs and family support services. In his clinical work he emphasized the provision of education to children with severe disabilities, those whom he called “clinically homeless.” As a national leader in special education, he called for programs to integrate students with disabilities into public schools and worked to promote a more open society for them.”

Thirty years after the ADA was signed that work continues. Inclusion means opening the doors for non-speaking people, making certain the clinically homeless are part of the community, standing for accessible design, pushing for self determination, fighting for ecological justice, black disabled lives, inclusive education—and this is only a partial list.

Another great song from 1990 was Gloria Estefan’s “Coming Out of the Dark.” Perfect.

Stephen Kuusisto and HarleyABOUT: Stephen Kuusisto is the author of the memoirs Have Dog, Will Travel; Planet of the Blind (a New York Times “Notable Book of the Year”); and Eavesdropping: A Memoir of Blindness and Listening and of the poetry collections Only Bread, Only Light and Letters to Borges. A graduate of the Iowa Writer’s Workshop and a Fulbright Scholar, he has taught at the University of Iowa, Hobart and William Smith Colleges, and Ohio State University. He currently teaches at Syracuse University where he holds a University Professorship in Disability Studies. He is a frequent speaker in the US and abroad. His website is StephenKuusisto.com.

Have Dog, Will Travel: A Poet’s Journey is now available for pre-order:
Amazon
Barnes and Noble
IndieBound.org

Have Dog, Will Travel by Stephen Kuusisto

(Photo picturing the cover of Stephen Kuusisto’s new memoir “Have Dog, Will Travel” along with his former guide dogs Nira (top) and Corky, bottom.) Bottom photo by Marion Ettlinger 

Thirty for Thirty on the ADA 

 

As we near the thirtieth anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act I’ve decided to post thirty short essays about the law, the anniversary, and the cultural impact of #ADA @30. I’m doing this as a disabled person who’s lived half his life before the ADA.  I’m reflecting on the “before and after” of the law. 

Essay 1:

“Bicycle-Blind & Belabored”  

In the mid 1990’s just three years after the adoption of the ADA I decided to write a memoir about growing up blind before I had any rights. Nonfiction was suddenly all the rage. The critical and commercial success of books like The Liars Club and Angela’s Ashes brought the  memoir to the public’s attention. Where formerly “the memoir” had been the metier of statesmen or Hollywood has beens (I exaggerate only slightly) young writers were sharing stories about achieving self-awareness. The memoir was now about comic irony. Everyone could have his or her own bildungsroman and it was refreshing and by God there was a new law for cripples and overnight we had the public’s eye in new ways. Lucy Greeley’s Autobiography of a Face was brand new as I began my first book, Planet of the Blind. Memoir was fresh; the ADA was new; disabled writers had a chance. 

Literature aside this is what the ADA means: the disabled getting their chance. (A joke I love says we call the United States “the melting pot”  because  scum rises to the top while the people on the bottom get burned.) The disabled were always on the bottom, a fact made all the worse if they were poor, black, or if they were crippled women. America had always believed cripples belonged in asylums, “special” schools, that room behind the family garage—anyplace but the village square.  In her groundbreaking 1998 book Claiming Disability Simi Linton presented a new vision of the Parthenon marbles, a bas relief for what the ADA meant and means:

We have come out not with brown woolen lap robes over our withered legs or dark glasses over our pale eyes but in shorts and sandals, in overalls and business suits, dressed for play and work — straightforward, unmasked, and unapologetic. We are, as Crosby, Stills, and Nash told their Woodstock audience, letting our “freak flag fly.” And we are not only the high-toned wheelchair athletes seen in recent television ads but the gangly, pudgy, lumpy, and bumpy of us, declaring that shame will no longer structure our wardrobe or our discourse. We are everywhere these days, wheeling and loping down the street, tapping our canes, sucking on our breathing tubes, following our guide dogs, puffing and sipping on the mouth sticks that propel our motorized chairs. We may drool, hear voices, speak in staccato syllables, wear catheters to collect our urine, or live with a compromised immune system. We are all bound together, not by this list of our collective symptoms but by the social and political circumstances that have forged us as a group. We have found one another and found a voice to express not despair at our fate but outrage at our social positioning. Our symptoms, though sometimes painful, scary, unpleasant, or difficult to manage, are nevertheless part of the dailiness of life. They exist and have existed in all communities throughout time. What we rail against are the strategies used to deprive us of rights, opportunity, and the pursuit of pleasure. 

It was a dazzling party. Even if disability scholars and writers didn’t quite know each other in the last moments before the world wide web, the ADA had sprung us; provided us with optimism; it gave us what Linton calls the dailiness of life. And along with that came stories. I wrote about being lonesome as a boy, about the hardships of blindness and the static miseries of shame. I described my mother’s terror of disability and how she pushed me to pretend to be normal—a story which is legion among the disabled and is all too often prevalent among people like me who are legally blind. We can’t see well enough to read books, recognize people, read signs—we see like abstract painters. My mother wanted me to go to a public school, not the dreaded school for the blind, and she pushed me into a very unfriendly world always demanding that I never reveal how blind I really was. That was life pre-ADA. Pre-inclusive education. No one in my parents’ circle believed the disabled could pursue pleasure unless they appeared normal. One of the first passages I wrote in Planet of the Blind was a memory about riding a bicycle in early childhood: 

I would conquer space by hurtling through it. I wore telescopic glasses, suffered from crushing headaches, but still chose to ride a bicycle—with nothing more than adrenaline for assurance.

How do you ride a bicycle when you can’t see? You hold your head like a stiff flower and tilt toward the light. You think not at all about your chances—the sheer physicality of gutters and pavements. One submits to Holy Rule and spins ahead.

Picture this: A darkness rises. Is it a tree or a shadow? A shadow or a truck? The thrill of the high wire is the greatest wonder of the brain. There is, at the center of our skulls, a terrible glittering, a requiem light. I lower my face to the cold handlebars and decide it’s a shadow, a hole in sunlight, and pedal straight through.

Here’s another shadow, and another. I turn sharply but this time plunge into tall weeds. Insects rise into my hair, cling to my sweaty face. From the road comes the hiss of angered gravel, a car roars past. Thanks be to God! I’m alive in the wild carrot leaf!

I let a bee walk along my wrist, feel it browse on my perspiration. The bicycle coasts, and I squint in the glare, and then I hit a root. As I fall, I take the sting of bee, then the sting of cement. My glasses fly off. The only thing I wonder is whether I’ve been seen. Nothing with this boy must be amiss! He belongs on the street!

Now I’m on my knees groping for the glasses. My wrist has swollen. One wheel is still spinning. I’ve barely struck the ground, and my fingers are everywhere. I must find the glasses before anyone sees me. No one must know how evanescent is my seeing. No one must know how dangerous my cycling really is.

In summary, if I didn’t look normal, if I wasn’t successful in the attempt, then putative strangers would come and take me to the “blind school”—my mother made certain I understood this. She passed her fears down to her altogether trusting little boy. 

Pre-ADA was about ugly charades, the “on fire” agonies, the humiliations of passing. God help you if you couldn’t. There would be no public square for you. By this I mean available, open, admissible space. If you were crippled on the street you were subject to cruelty. If you were crippled at the university they’d be sure to tell you to leave. 

As late as 1985—yes, believe it—just five years before ADA, I was told by a graduate professor that if I was blind I shouldn’t be in his class. This was at the University of Iowa. That’s pre-ADA in a nutshell. I went to the department chair—he called me a whiner; I went to the Dean, he looked at his watch; I went to the university’s “ombudsmen” (quite a feat since his office was incredibly well hidden) and he also looked at his watch; I talked to the moribund and ineffectual disability support office—they said, the best we can do is give you a note that says you can have more time for exams. The demeaning, bigoted, ableist hostility was untouchable. 

I left without my Ph.D. I already had a graduate degree in poetry writing. I packed up. Pre-ADA there was no recourse. If they told you to get lost, well, you didn’t have ammo to fight with. 

Those who say the ADA has’t done enough for the disabled are not wrong. And there are still professors everywhere like the late Dr. Sherman Paul who treated me with unspeakable disdain. But post-ADA you can fight back. Post-ADA there are consequences provided you’re willing to snarl and push. There’s still a boatload of ableism around. It may even be fashionable with some. But ableism is long past its sell date and it smells funny—by which I mean you can’t hide it anymore. 

I know the ADA hasn’t created lots of jobs and I know it hasn’t changed every mind. Even now the Chamber of Commerce still fights disability rights. Last year with the Chamber’s help Domino’s Pizza tried to say the blind don’t have the right to use their websites—they lost in court—but you see how it goes.

No one should have to risk death to prove he or she or they belong on the street as I had to so long ago. The ADA has driven a stake through that monster’s heart.

Stephen Kuusisto and HarleyABOUT: Stephen Kuusisto is the author of the memoirs Have Dog, Will Travel; Planet of the Blind (a New York Times “Notable Book of the Year”); and Eavesdropping: A Memoir of Blindness and Listening and of the poetry collections Only Bread, Only Light and Letters to Borges. A graduate of the Iowa Writer’s Workshop and a Fulbright Scholar, he has taught at the University of Iowa, Hobart and William Smith Colleges, and Ohio State University. He currently teaches at Syracuse University where he holds a University Professorship in Disability Studies. He is a frequent speaker in the US and abroad. His website is StephenKuusisto.com.

Have Dog, Will Travel: A Poet’s Journey is now available for pre-order:
Amazon
Barnes and Noble
IndieBound.org

Have Dog, Will Travel by Stephen Kuusisto

(Photo picturing the cover of Stephen Kuusisto’s new memoir “Have Dog, Will Travel” along with his former guide dogs Nira (top) and Corky, bottom.) Bottom photo by Marion Ettlinger 

Alone with Caruso in the Attic at Five

I was alone but not unhappy. That was the thing. Wind up the Victrola, listen to incomprehensible words and musical notes. And sometimes hornets flew over my head. Was it Caruso who kept them away? Whatever the case the hornets never bothered me. The snick of the needle hit the outermost circumference of disk. The systolic static from the horn. One more second and the music starts.