Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Just Dave

Yesterday I gave a lecture up in Midland, about an hour and a half drive from home. I was a bit nervous about the day because I'd been asked to recreate a lecture that I had thought was a 'one time only' one that I had written and delivered at a major conference. Luckily I had my notes and even more fortunately they were still legible. Sometimes I write notes in a code that makes sense to me only for the time it takes to deliver the lecture - then, even a day later, I'm completely lost as to what I meant by "OH YA!!".

When we got to the lecture hall it filled slowly with arriving attendees and I was able to relax a bit, they are just human after all. I have never really grown comfortable with the role of lecturer. I still have fear of presenting in front of others. I require a strict routine and even stricter mental control. Then there are the rituals that I put into place to make myself feel comfortable with the job that needs to be done. Poor Joe has to deal with these but at least he understands them and seldom complains.

The thing about the lecture yesterday which was a little different was that several people came up to me, several being more than 10, to say that they had never heard me lecture before even though they'd ... heard of me, read my books, read my blogs, studied me in college. They all said how 'honoured' they were to be there, to hear me and to meet me.

All this is nice, very nice, indeed. But it's a tad odd to me. I guess because I live with me, know me from the inside out, I don't get the slight bit of 'awe' or 'reverence' with which people approach me. I'm 'just Dave' after all. If you listen to my stories, I fail as often as I succeed, make a fool out of myself as often as not, learn from moments of bright insight brought one by personal dimness. So while I think it's wonderful that people have the capacity and courage to approach someone to say something really nice - I'm surprised when that person is me.

The only thing that worries me about this is that I think sometimes my words are given too much merit, too much weight. I'm very careful at work when expressing an opinion during a discussion because, while it's just an opinion, it can easily become 'Dave Hingsburger says ...' and that's the end of it. I don't want to be a conversation stopper, I don't want to interrupt the flow of ideas, I just want to participate equally and be able to say dumb things and have them seen as such.

The same is true here on the blog. I don't think I got yesterday's blog quite right. I know, in my mind, exactly what I meant to say but I don't think I said it in a way that made my meaning clear. That's OK, it's a blog after all, but a few people seemed worried about disagreeing with me, explaining differing points of view. This distresses me a bit. I started this blog so that there would be conversation sometimes controversy and that there would be contradictory opinion. I think I've always been open to that - I really think so.

So please, here at my blog home, it's Just Dave. If you disagree, do heartily, you need not apologize for saying so. I appreciate that I've been around the block, I appreciate that I've spent a lifetime of focus on what I do - this doesn't mean I don't make mistakes, don't have the occasional brain fart, don't need someone to say 'I don't agree with you ...'

To those who spoke to me at the conference. Thank you. It's nice to know that my work means something. It's nice to know that there are people with the capacity to encourage and to say 'thanks'. Just remember, for myself or any speaker, we're all still growing, still fumbling to get it right, still needing critical feedback.

Oh my, after this, I'm going to be afraid to open my comments! Oh well ... onwards.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Falling Down With Gratitude

I was heading out on a mission. I had to pick something up at the post office. Joe needed to stay back at the apartment. I hopped on my chair determined to deal with doors and elevators on my own. I managed fine down to the lobby and through the first door. The second door is a bit tricky but as I approached a woman was openning the door, I got her to hold it for a few seconds longer so that I could slip through. As I breezed past her she said, "It must be difficult always having to rely on the kindness of strangers."

Before I could respond she was gone and I was heading down the driveway. "Kindness of strangers?" What am I now living in a Tennesse Williams play? Even though the remark had a ridiculousness all of it's own, it stuck in my craw. Harumph.

Then as I was driving in the sunlight along streets freshly washed by an intense morning rain, I began thinking about it and realized that I didn't mind at all relying on the kindness of others. In fact, I thought, I've relied on kindnesses for my entire life. It didn't start, this addiction of mine for human kindness, the moment my bum hit the chair. I can list hundreds of kindesses I've experienced at the hands of others, some strangers, some family, some friends. I believe that we all, every one of us, relies and even anticipates moments of kindness. It isn't about disability, it's about people living together, managing together. It's about what it is to be part of a community.

Later, much later, I began to feel sorry for the woman who made the comment. The fact that she thought that holding the door open for a second or two for a guy in a wheelchair was an act of KINDNESS, is just too sad!! A simple little courtesy, referred to, elevated to an act of kindness. Good God! Have we sunk this low. I understand even that horrid little man, the 'HEIL!!' guy with the creepy mustache occasionally held the door for girlfried Eva. This doesn't negate all the other shit he put the world through. 'At least he held the door open - No, he didn't. Well, I never.'

It's a frigging door lady.

I'da held it open for you if I'd got there first. And I wouldn't have expected a jewel in my heavenly crown. I wouldn't have expected the Nobel Peace Prize. All I'd have expected was a quiet thank you.

Well, thank you, and may you live in a world of true kindness, and yes, of course, courtesy.

Monday, September 28, 2009

On Your Mark

On Friday, one of Vita's day programmes had a big Bar-B-Que and I was really excited to be able to go. Because of my travels, I often miss these days. But as soon as I realized that I was available, I arranged for Joe to pick me up at the office and go with me to the event. Joe is well known in the agency as he is my transportation and my support system when I'm doing things outside the office. That he is warmly welcomed is a testament both to Vita's commitment to diversity and to Joe's personal charm.

We arrived carrying our veggie hot dogs and had them put on the grill. I chatted with various Vita members and a few of the Vita staff that I recognized. The day was perfect for a Bar-B-Que and it was fun watching the various activities and games that were planned for the day. There was a marvelous mixing of staff and members, it always amazes me how laughter, shared, reduces hierarchy like almost nothing else. It's like in that shared moment of joy, can only happen when there is respect and a true sense of equality.

When the races were up, I suggested to Joe, jokingly, that we should enter the egg and spoon race. He nodded half-heartedly. But then, after the first heat, another was being set up. He said, 'Let's go!' I was shoving food into my face and I had to finish quickly. Why are there never races in what I'm good at?

We got to the start line and I was handed a lime and a spoon. The lime was a wise replacement for the egg. I got it centered on the spoon. Joe got lined up behind the wheelchair prepared to push me. All I had to do was to keep the damned spoon still. When the whistle was blown we headed off. I can't believe how much I wanted to win. I focused on my job and Joe ran, pushing the chair and me in it. To say we were outclassed by the rest of the field was an understatement but we didn't embarrass ourselves either. Let's just say it was a close last.

Funny how when I sat into a wheelchair I never pictured myself racing in an egg and spoon race. Got that one wrong! I did notice that some of the others in wheelchairs were cheering us along.

Never thought I'd be a roll model - for athletics.

But then, I only had to hold the spoon. And I'll admit to doing it brilliantly.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

How Firm a Foundation

Yesterday I wrote about Phyl and her memories of a place called 5 Oaks. I'd like to go back there again for todays post. We arrived at the camp a little early so we snuck by the session going on in the main upstairs hall and went down to the little bookstore they have tucked away in one of the rooms off the main hallway. The door was far too narrow for me to enter, something that caused the staff real, not feigned, concern. I assured her that it was ok and I told her why we were there and what we wanted.

I told her about Phyl and her excited memories of 5 Oaks.

I told her about Phyl, now housebound.

I told her about Phyl's love of God and of church and her years of service to the United Church.

I told her that we'd love to send her a post card or something with a picture of the 5 Oaks building.

She sent Joe over to a stack of home made greeting cards. They were simply photographs taken of the grounds that were then pasted onto paper and folded. They were also simply beautiful. Joe brought me a stack and I flipped through them, happy to be shopping, happy to be thinking of Phyl, happy to be able to do something simple for someone I cared about.

Suddenly the clerk in the store showed up with a small cash of booklets. They were all old books about 5 Oaks. The history of the place. Memories of the place. She said, 'Give her these from me.' I looked at her face and my offer to pay for them died on my lips. She wanted to do this. She wanted to do a kind act for a stranger. It would have insulted her for me to insist on payment.

I do not fear charity born of kindness even as I loathe charity born of pity. I am writing this early, way to early to call my friend Belinda who can give me a Bible verse at a moments notice. Phyl always did that for me. I'd call and ask her where something was in the Bible and she'd say 'I don't think I know that one,' then pause and say, 'Wait a minute, you don't mean this one do you?' And then she'd nail it.

But somewhere it says something about being kind 'to the least of these' ... and here's the thing. Phyl might look like the 'least' to you. But she is all the world to me. And I am grateful for a little act of anonymous kindness, uncalled for, unasked for, but freely given.

No wonder the 5 Oaks still stand. How firm a foundation is love.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Diamonds in Her Mind.

We were driving to Five Oaks, a United Church camp, where K-W Hab has had its annual retreat for the past 23 years. I've spoken there more than at any other single conference anywhere in the world. It's like visiting friends as much as it's like working a gig. They had offered us a vegetarian picnic lunch and so we were rushing to get there on time.

I picked up the phone and called Phyl to see if she'd gotten our package. Phyl is a wonderful woman that Joe and I have known for decades. We met her at our church in Magog when we lived in Quebec. We met under odd circumstances and have continued a friendship over the years and across the miles. Phyl has been housebound for a number of years and only recently had to sell her house and move into a care facility nearby. She settled well there and seems genuinely happy with her care.

But, she is lonely. Most of her friends have died or are no longer able to travel to visit her. Her husband died years ago and they never had children. We keep in touch with her because we like her, admire her and are enriched by her. NOT because we are part of the little she has left. We send her postcards from everywhere we lecture, we send her little packages of goodies to brighten her day. I love to shop. This is not a burden. We had sent a package and wanted to ensure that she had recieved it. So, I called.

Phyl and I chatted and we talked about the package, which had arrived. She then talked about the goings on in the care home and about the various staff who have come to mean so much to her. It was a pleasant enough chat. I passed the phone over to Joe who said, 'Oh Phyl, we are driving through the country and the Michaelmas Daisies are in full bloom.' I heard her voice in excited response. Joe has always known exactly the right thing to say to Phyl and they talked flowers and fall colours.

Then I thought about Phyl's history with the United Church and thought that maybe she'd know the Five Oaks retreat. I whispered to Joe to ask her about it and he did. Again I heard her voice. Joe sat quietly, smiling as her voice buzzed in his ear. She told him that she had been there in 1950 and told him stories about people long ago parted, pranks long ago pulled, a purpose long ago pursued. Her voice sounded stronger than I've heard it in years. She visited a memory when she was young, a memory that she cherished, a memory she talked about with relish. She's sometimes uncertain about the present but she's never lost in the past.

I was there to talk to these young people about community. I began by telling them about the phone call to Phyl. About how one day we all of us, may have a community only of one. That we might learn from Phyl, she created memories, strong memories, to keep her company. She lived a life WORTH remembering. She did things WORTH recollecting. She loved people WORTH revisiting. She is a community of one, but her mind is well populated.

A life of love and purpose sometimes is its own reward.

Some want a crown in heaven. Phyl, the earthly Phyl, finds gems along the streets of memory. May I one day roll down that same road.

Friday, September 25, 2009

A New Photo of Sadie

Picture of Mom and Sadie to come soon.

Sadie, Sadie, Little Lady

Sadie has entered my world. Sister to Ruby. Daughter to Mike and Marissa. When I was talking to Mike on the phone I could hear her crying in the background. This new world, this new way of being in the world, must be very frighening for her. But she has her mom and her dad, she has an older sister to show her the way. And, she has already made a small claim to a portion of my heart.

It is time, I think, for wishing.

At one time I would wish that a child would grow up in a world with no hunger, no hurt and no hatred. At one time I would try to imagine a world without prejudice, without stereotypes, without bigotry and bias. At one time, I had the capacity for such fantasies.

But now I wish for Sadie only three things.

I hope that she makes her way courageously in the world. Courageously expressing the essence of what it is to be Sadie. Courageously fighting the need to conform and the need to give in. Courageously expressing the individual spark that makes her Sadie. May she find love as Sadie. May she find joy as Sadie. May she never wish to be another. May she use pretense only in play. May she, now, take a Sadie breath and never forget what that tastes like.

I hope that she will recognize early the wonderful world of diversity. May she cook with cumin. May she read in many languages, sing in many tongues and dance to many rhythms. May she walk beside a wheelchair with comfort, may she always know the sign for 'dreams', may she be comfortable in her own skin and with the skins of others. May she come to understand the difference between cost and value. All things cost. All people have value. May she, once she knows I'm different, love me anyways.

I hope that we who welcome Sadie into our lives. We parents. We siblings. We cousins. Aunts and Uncles. Grandparents. And the odds and sods like Joe and I. May we teach her the breadth of the word family. May we let her learn early to feel secure in the fact that she is loved, she is valued and she is wanted. May one day, when she is 30 and tired, when she is at the end of her rope, may she discover that our hands have weaved her an extra foot or two. That we have stored up enough love, packed into every corner of her heart, she never need fear of running out. May we give her the foundation of knowing love. From this beginning, may Sadie, first crawl, then walk, then run, finally fly ...

I have not yet held you in my arms dear Sadie. You will recognize Joe and I when you meet us. One has a moustache, one is on wheels, but we both have rainbows in our eyes.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Oh, Holy Night

Gadzooks, Batman, what are we to do?

I get in the door and, holding on the wall for balance, I move as fast as my Mama Cass legs will carry me. In the bedroom, I shuck off my shirt first. Then, the suspenders come off the shoulders and my pants and shorts drop. Finally, socks are off. I am suddenly naked. Buck naked. I don't like to expose myself, even here on the blog, so I immediately reach for my housecoast.

My magic housecoat. My indestructable wonderful housecoat. It truly is magical. When it is on, no harm can come my way, no bad vibes can penetrate it, no spells or incantations can reach me. The phone goes off. The door isn't answered. The world is held entirely at bay. Wrapping it around me I suddenly feel an incredible peace.

This, my magic housecoat, has lasted from our house in Quebec, our place up by Barrie and now our home here in Toronto. It has never failed me. Some days I work it hard. Some days, after rough days, I stay indoors wrapped up in magical layers, and never set foot outside. Those days, it works hard.

So imagine my horror. I grabbed my housecoat and wrapped it round me. I came and sat here at the computer and when I sat down I felt cold, really cold, metal on my right side. I reached down and found that there is a hole in my housecoat. I felt, first, shock, second, sadness, third, vulnerable. I felt like Spiderman (the cool comic one not the wimpy movie one) with a hole in his super suit.

I can't sew.

I am not crafty.

So I took my stapler and fixed the hole.

My house coat, magical though it is, deserves better ... unfortunately it got me. I'll have to do. Besides my stapler is nearly full.

Dearest gentle readers on this ICLW (international comment leaving week) do you have any magical clothes that you wear to ward off evil spirits and wicked wishes?

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Ha Ha


A loss of breath blurred my vision. Oh, no. Oh, God. What's gone wrong now? How do I tell poor Joe? We were both talking about how everything was going smoothly and we'd both been feeling so well. Ah, the aches, the pains, but typical stuff. In the right light, funny stuff. After a couple bouts of serious illness in the past, I delight in simple small stuff.

But, what is this. I can see it's like a big bloody wound, or is is a blister. Right on my shoulder. Oh, my God. What is it?

Last time I diagnosed by computer I got it so wrong that I ended up delaying making the right decision to go to the doctor - which turned out to be a very wrong decision. Joe's wandering around the room as I'm writing this and he hasn't seemed to notice. I figure I'll leave it until I get into the bathroom and check the mirror in there. I'll have more privacy.

Before I have a chance to get up Joe, voice filled with disgust, says, 'What is that?' He heads towards me and then past me. He grabs a Kleenex from the box on the desk and wipes at the mirror removing some lipstick. A wound size kiss had been discolouring my shoulder.

Ha, ha, God.

Ha. Freaking, Ha.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Step Right Up

I am so not kidding this happened. We checked into a hotel and before accepting the key we were ensured that the room was WHEELCHAIR accessible. So then the clerk advises us to get back in the car and drive round the side of the building and enter at a door much closer to our room. Sounded like a good plan. I haul back in. Joe hauls the chair back in and we drive around.

We get to the other side and, first there is no disability parking, second there are stairs up to the door. We drive way back round to the front and park in the parking there. Go in the flat entry there. Arrive at our accessible room just fine.

I am so not kidding this happened too. On our last trip we stayed in a hotel that did not serve breakfast. We asked for a restaurant where we could get a bite in the morning. She directed us to a restaurant that she just loves the breakfasts at. I asked if there were stairs. She stopped. Thought. Said, I think there are but once you get in you'll be fine.

We drive over, out of morbid curiousity, and realize that 'once I get it' is simply not going to happen.

Once, I'm not sure I should write about, the pattern begins with two. So what part of accessibility training did they miss when they direct a guy in a wheelchair to a staired entrance. Is there any hope for disability training if those attending think we can just pop out of our chairs, climb up a set of stairs with our wheelchairs on our backs. Um, that's not disabled.

But, even so, the room itself was welcoming. Everything I need. This morning I'm going to have a brief and friendly chat with the clerk, just reminding her that the enterance we were sent to wasn't disability friendly - even though she tried to be.

These chats can go two ways 'Oh, my Gosh I can't believe I did that.' Or, 'how was I supposed to know you can't climb chairs?' One will end nicely, the other not.

Taking bets?

Monday, September 21, 2009

Advice To Bigots







These are just a list of adjectives. They are words that describe me. What people don't seem to understand is that they are not words that define me. Knowing one of these things, two of these things, all of these things about me does not give you even the slightest glimpse into my soul.

I simply do not understand prejudice based on adjectives. It seems incredibly silly and incredibly shallow. Not that I expect bigots to be deep people, but really if you are going to the bother of carrying hatred around, wouldn't you wanna have at least thought about it.

Yesterday when I was out I was called a 'God damned cripple' by someone who had to step around my wheelchair when getting out of an elevator. I'll admit to the Cripple, I'd put up an argument about the 'God damned'.

So was that little outburst just because he had to step around my chair? Or was it because of how I exisited in the world. It certainly wasn't because of who I am, he couldn't know that. He couldn't know that I love the colour green, that I prefer vanilla to chocolate, that I always laugh when I see puppies. He couldn't know how I vote. He couldn't know who I pray to. He couldn't know that I never really lost my belief in Santa.

I never thought I'd be writing a blog encouraging bigots - but I am. Come on, bigots, put some work into it. Hatred defines you as much as it targets someone else. It tells us a lot about you. THINK about it.

I mean, I have prejudices. But for me it's characteristics that I go for, really, I'm refined in my loathing of others. I'm prejudiced against those who want to make me believe something I don't. I'm prejudiced against those who lie to manipulate. I'm prejudiced against those who willfully and joyfully hurt others. I don't care what kind of adjective-al person they are. Who cares about colour, or ability, or faith - please.

So to the guy who called me 'cripple' and judged me based on a word that describes not defines - have a thought that's deeper than a moments notice.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Quiet Settles In

The apartment is suddenly quiet.

For a couple of days the rooms here have been full of conversation and laughter. Long, loud, laughter. Raucous laughter. Laughter that expresses delight. And now the quiet seems to just softly echo those sounds. It's a lovely quiet.

Yesterday was a big day for Joe and I. Bobra Fyne had been in town to do a workshop for Vita and was staying with us for a couple nights. Wonderneice Shannon, was in town so we picked her up just after 7:00 to spend the day with her. Joe and I had planned out a day, hoping each would enjoy the activities on lineup.

I wonder now if anyone else noticed.

I did.

Did you Shannon? Did you Bobra?

We started at breakfast at Cora's. We came in and had to adjust some tables because, as a big man, I have a big chair. We tucked into together, we four, at the table. At first when people came in they really noticed us. Well, more precisely, me. I am used to 'sticking out' though even when I'm literally 'sticking out' I'm not wildly comfortable with it. So there were the, mostly, curious glances and the, occasional, hostile glances. So be it, goes with difference.

But then we started. We talked. And laughed. Told stories. And laughed. Interupted stories with one liners. And laughed. As the biggest person, I have the smallest laugh. The others are big loud laughers. That Shannon and Joe climbed out of the same gene pool is patently obvious when they laugh. Bobra, too, has a laugh that claims her.

Slowly and subtly the glances began to change. Now people seemed to be wondering what we were finding so funny. What was there to laugh about on an early Saturday morning? Suddenly a new emotion crept into their glances. What is that I see? Maybe a wee bit of envy?

For the entire day as we did stuff together. At the Gardiner Museum (which is really worth a visit), along Philosopher's Walk, down in Kensington Market, people noticed one difference first then another difference later. There was an ease with which we ebbed and flowed conversation, shared lives, swapped stories, listened and laughed.

None of it had anything to do with disability.

In fact it was the amazing ability we had to cherish our time together. Visits between friends only work if the friends do. If each wishes the other enjoyment. If each, equally, cares that the other is happy. It takes effort. It takes an ability that all have but few use ... generosity.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Forgiveness sought

Forgive me, dear readers.

I got home late from a date.

I'm up early for a busy day.

For all the world I'd like to write something.

But simply haven't the time.

Till tomorrow.

Friday, September 18, 2009

To Me

From another time, she comes.
A time to be hidden, a time to be mourned.

She carries the burden of shame.
The shame she brought her family.

So she moves very carefully.
Not to lose balance.

She carries the weight of disappointment.
The disappointment expressed in the sighs of professionals.

So she moves with fearfulness.
Never trying means never failing again.

She carries the need for invisibility.
The invisibility that comes from being a good girl, sitting quiet.

So she moves in tiny steps.
She's become the shadow she no longers casts.

Every day she comes into my office and looks at me.
I say 'hello' and smile, opening myself to being with her.

She nods, turns and leaves.
But once she sat down, once she talked to me.

Every day I wait to hear her voice again.
And don't.

But today, something new.
Something surprising.

On careful feet she came in, looking to see if I was there.
I was.

I said hello.
She smiled.

And left.
That's why I come to work.

Perhaps not much to you.
The world, all and everything, to me.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Dot Dot Dash

I almost never ever do it.

Actually, I never do it.


I'm not often even tempted.

One of the nurses who came into my home started out wonderfully. She immediately introduced herself which set her apart from all the others. She double checked information about me, with me. OK, I was feeling pretty good about the whole thing. It was only later that something really disturbing happened.

Feeling that she was only getting a one sided picture of who I am, how I live in my body and my general health status because all we talked about was the problem that she was there to assist with, I said, 'But overall you need to know that I am quite healthy.'

She looked at me and gave me this little pathetic like, patronizing smile that I think was meant to say, 'That's it make the best of a horrible situation.' Her expression was so obviously disbelieving that I found myself stumbling to quickly say, 'No, really, overall I'm pretty healthy. I go to work every day, I miss very few days a year.'

She said, and I'm quoting exactly here, 'Oh, you work?'

Now this got to me because I'm on the evening appointment list because I go to work. So I told her that I did. Then I told her my title and she said, 'Um, hum.' Like I'd told her that I was Brad Pitt's body double - those asscheeks in 12 monkeys ... mine. Inside I got that horrible feeling like I've had all my life, that I'm a big old fraud, that my acheivements are worthless, that my accomplishments mean nothing. It became really important to me that she SEE me.

Really see me.

So when she was in the front room and filling out paperwork. I did what I never do. Ever. I got Joe to talk with me about upcoming lectures. Sheesh, I even mentioned the upcoming date for being inducted into the Canadian Disability Hall of Fame. She looked up at me and I finally saw that she had dismissed the idea that I could be living a life of love, of value of contribution.

It shouldn't have mattered to me.

But it did.

How do people who don't value the person behind a disability, a disease, an ailment, get into healthcare?

This woman wasn't a spring chicken, she'd been around the block, hadn't she had even one moment of enlightenment?

I've decided to try and teach my heart to beat in morse code so that the next time someone listens ... a message will pound out strongly ...

Here beats the heart of a fellow human being.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

And TheWinner Is ...

The awards were lined up on the table waiting to be given out. The room was full of mostly direct care staff. Lunch had been cleared away and now it was time to give out awards to individuals for initiatives in caring over the last year. The awards were wisely given to individuals who had managed do care - as is required by pay - they managed to care creatively. In such a way that the lives of those in their care were enriched.

It was a fun ceremony and it was great watching these people, old and young, come up and be acknowledged. All were touched. None could really say anything - being choked up and touch embarassed. They were warmly applauded by their peers. This was a mulitagency event, yet they managed a spirit of warm cooperation that spoke of a, rare, understanding of a higher and unifying purpose.

These everyday hero's will probably never walk a red carpet. They will probably never be handed a gold statue. What's cool is, I don't think they care. They seem to simply want to go to work and to they best they can to provide thoughtful and creative service to people with disabilities.

I was honoured to be in their presence.

My gift to them was words.

Their gift to me was example.

Both precious.

Neither will gather dust. And, wonderfully, regifting is encouraged.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009


A, sort of, miracle happened. Friends and long time readers know that Joe, lovely man though he is, has a tyrant gene that comes out when he gets behind the wheel. He has no interest in doing anything but getting to the destination. We can stop for pee and gas but even that's done grudgingly. So, it took me quite by surprise that Joe said, suddenly, 'Why don't we pull off and find a place to have a cup of tea?'

I stared at him stunned. I thought, "This is not Joe. This is not MY Joe. Whoever took him, give him back." He looked at me and simply said, "What?"

So we pulled over and found a place to go for a tea. We settled in at the table and it was wonderful to have a break from the car and from the road. The place was bustling and wonderfully distracting. Beside us sat a young man, maybe 22 or 23 and a man maybe twice his age, like me sitting in a wheelchair. They each had a coffee beside them and a piece of pie in front of them. They were staring out the window. I looked to see what had caught their attention, a young woman was parking one of those huge trucks into a small parking space. She took three goes but then slid it in just perfectly. The young man punched the older guy on his shoulder with a, "I knew she'd get it in." The old guy laughed so hard he started coughing. Drool flew out of his mouth and quick as it did a handkerchief came out of the young man's pocket. With skill AND affection, he wiped the drool from the man's face saying, 'Come on Dad, she wasn't that pretty.' Thst set the laughter off again.

Over the while it took us to drink our tea, the young man got coffee and pie into his father. Chatting all the while. Dad, never said a word. Son, who's name we figured out when he broke off from telling his dad about being back in school, "Here's were you always said, 'Bradley, liquour on the weekends, lick the rest of them during the week.' Then he went on to talk about what he was studying and others in his class. Dad looked at him with a love that you could butter on toast.

One man spoke but two men had a conversation.

There is an art to caring.

Some are born with genius. In this case, I think it may have been inhereted.

Monday, September 14, 2009

BIG City: A guest blog by Tessa Armstrong

I am a city woman! Been in cities my whole life... First New York City and finally, after a few other urban homes like Vancouver and Madrid, I settled in Toronto many years ago. All these cities have transit systems. Just normal stuff... you run for the bus, you rush down the subway steps, and you leap into the train as the doors are closing sometimes.

Ok (looking over at my scooter), I don’t do that anymore, not for the last two years. I go every place I can get to on my scooter. And if I can’t get there on scooter, well, it probably doesn’t exist anymore, right? Well, it was right, and just fine with me, at least until yesterday.

My friends, Dave and Joe, invited me to go to the movies with them. It was way down town and they were going to (gasp!) take the subway! I honestly considered not going, it was such a scary thought to me. Those trains are big, there is a space between the train and the platform, and there are lots of people! What if someone pushes me? What if I get caught in the doors? What if…..

On the way to the subway, our little group chatted and laughed. Joe and Dave are such lively, warm people. I forgot about the trip ahead until I saw the first elevator. For heaven’s sake, you would think I was born on a farm and had never seen an elevator. I actually froze for a second.

Dave went ahead into the elevator in his power chair and then Joe and I went down. We continued on through a somewhat confusing journey of hallways and elevators. But each time, Dave would go first and Joe would chat with me and tell me what level we were going to, and open the door to get in and then out.

On the platform, Dave moved a little away so he could get in a different door and we wouldn’t be rushed or crowded. Joe stayed and chatted with me till the train came. I held my breath and on we got! Dave had given me the strategy beforehand to be ready to exit at your station from either side.

Joe stayed and chatted with me for the two stops till we got off. And I got off! I didn’t get stuck; I didn’t hit a wall… nuthin!

We made it to the theatre through some more hallways and elevators. We waited in line, apparently invisible at one point as some people stepped around us and got in line in front of us – but we got tickets and snacks and we got into place for the movie. And I took a deep breath and felt my eyes fill up.

I had given up a big piece of my City life without a fight. I had ‘accepted’ that I couldn’t go places and didn’t even try. I was really mad at myself about that. Why do we do that sometimes? People who normally are determined and strong, just give up? Is it like a quota of aggravation is reached?

I already know the answer, I think. That whole trip had been a series of small kindnesses, little gifts of attention and care and thoughtfulness from both Joe and Dave. You know, I simply would have chickened out and gone back home in other circumstances. Maybe I should let myself off the hook for whimping out sometimes, and be as encouraging and kind to myself as my friends were to me.

So thank you Dave and Joe. I was touched by your generosity of spirit and maybe I can cut myself some slack. And as a bonus, like you said Dave, my city just got much, much BIGGER!

Tessa Armstrong

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Oh, Crap!

We seldom take WheelTrans on the weekends but because we really wanted to go down to the waterfront to catch the Vegetarian Fair, we made an exception and booked for us to be picked up. The bus was a wee bit late picking us up - they don't give an exact time that you'll be picked up, instead they give you a half hour window. We were down ten minutes early, they were twenty minutes late. That meant waiting an hour. No big deal, it was a beautiful day and we simply enjoyed being outside.

On the way back, though, they were 45 minutes late. Now I could go on and on about them being late, but I refuse to. Yeah, it was a long wait - expecially when you add in the half hour window and the 15 minutes from arriving a bit early. I kind of figure that it's an amazing service, over all, and the convienience of door to door service for a token. Sometimes when DRIVING yourself, you get there late because of traffic. The driver got out and the first words out of his mouth were, 'Sorry, I'm late.'

Then on the bus the presented us an option. He could take us right home or he could stop and pick up and drop off several people on the way home which would do two things, help him catch up time and ensure that others weren't waiting so long. What it also would mean was another hour on the bus. Now, every single part of me, every freaking molecule, wanted to say, 'If it's my choice, take me home. I've already waited a long time. I don't care about those others waiting.' I struggled to answer him. He just patiently went about strapping my chair down awaiting my answer.

Now, this is good staff training. Instead of making the decision to prolong my wait by picking up others, he gave it to me. Now I had a choice. I could be a decent human being or I could be a selfish asshole. Not till that moment did I realize how wonderful it would be to simply give in to asshole tendencies. I looked over, Joe was waiting for my answer. I knew he was expecting me to be decent. He's decent. Given the choice I know which one he'd make.

I read a book once called 'the virtues of selfishness'.

I met someone once who advised me that I had to think of myself first because no one else would.

I remember being called selfish when I grabbed a last slice of toast, and how utterly freaking fabulous that toast tasted.

But bitter was what I tasted when I said, 'No, it's ok, pick up the others.'

So, I did the right thing, for the wrong reason. But it was still the right thing. The people we picked up on the way home had no idea that they were riding in a bus with a freaking Saint and as such paid no homage.

Once home, the wait and all didn't seem all that bad. We coulda been home earlier, but I'd been decent. And that's a wee bit better easier to live with. So I did right while thinking wrong. In my books, that kind of doubles the victory.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Pretty People

"Well I see it's not just the pretty people in town." It was a remark that brought down the house. I was driving along in my power wheelchair headed in to do some shopping. I couldn't use the sidewalk as it was full of a line-up of people waiting to go inside to see one of the movies in Toronto's Film Festival. Forced off into the street, I made my way without concern or really complaint. I've never been able to attend the festival as I've always been away working. This is as close as I've ever got it it.

Then I turned onto Bloor street and a gaggle of festival goers were standing looking at a display at the corner of a small street. It's an impressive display. Again, they were taking up nearly the whole side walk so I asked them, politely to move, they did. One of them snickered and then decided to make a remark - funny to his friends, hurtful to me. He said it loud enough for me to believe that his intent was that I hear it and his intent was that I would be hurt by it.

I'd love to tell you that I've come to an age or a maturity wherein the casual cruelty of strangers no longer affects me. But, I'm human. It did. Not deeply. But just enough that if I reflected on it, my day would be ruined. We had a lovely afternoon planned. Movie with a friend, an adventure on the subway, cooking a spaghetti wump up. I made the active decision to simply put it away. Take it out of my conciousness and proceed apace. That's the only thing that defeats either international or interpersonal terrorism.

It was hard though because as we came out of the shopping center and up into the mall, near where the theatre is, there were Toronto Film Festival people everywhere. They were animatedly talking about some movie they'd just seen and resented having to step aside for either Joe or myself. They all seemed to have adopted the air of real importance about them. As if they were THE INDUSTRY. "Umm, you have all taken a few days off to go to movies, that's cool and all, but, umm, going to a movie isn't the same as starring in it 'K?" Sheesh.

I felt some anxiety leaving the mall and going out onto the street. Joe was with me now and that gave me some comfort. But I didn't want to see those people again, cause you see, it's not just the pretty people in town, so you've got to be a bit careful.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Wearing a Cloud for a Hat

My rides to work are often very quiet. Sometimes I get a chatty driver but mostly the drivers are polite, efficient and silent. This is probably due to my being their first pick up of the day. Not even coffee can energize that hour. Other passengers, too, tend to be quiet, lost in thought gazing out the window. This is fine for me, I'm good to chat, I'm good to watch the city go by ... I'm flexible.

Yesterday morning, though, was a bit different. The driver, right off, apologized and said that the schedule was going to have me zig zagging through the city but, not to worry, I'd be at work on time. So we set about zigging and zagging, picking up and dropping off. Finally we stopped to pick up one last passenger before I was to arrive at work.

She came out of the building with a walker and a huge department store bag. I saw her talking to the driver before I could hear her. When he openned the door I knew I was hearing a fine, aged, whine. I caught a whiff of an unusual scent as she clipped the seatbelt into place. A scent that grew stronger as we travelled.

She complained all the way in. Sat down beside me, I was looking resolutely out the window. She didn't care, she wasn't talking to someone she was simply talking. We heard about three hip replacements and seven surguries on her knees. We heard about disrespectful doctors. Horrible hospitals. Uncaring nurses. Reprobate family members. We heard about her son, who had to go to the hospital tomorrow because "he probably has something serious". She was going to take him because he can't afford a taxi, she can get him there via WheelTrans, 'Mommies do these things, but are Mommies appreciated?' She didn't answer the question, but I'm guessing it was 'no'.

You know those people who can suck the air out of a room with their gloomy outlook on life. The one's that find sadness in every situation? Well, this was her way. She was glorying in all the doom and gloom and pain and victimization, 'poor me' had never been happier!

As we turned onto Weston road ... I could feel the office, a beacon for me ... she pointed at a Big Rig truck and said, 'My husband drove those for years.' 'Oh, yes,' I said while privately thinking, 'oh no, where is this going to go?' Suddenly I recognized the scent. It was the smell of hope, dead and mouldering on the floor.

'You know what happened to him?'


'He's in a home.'

'I'm sorry.'

'Worked hard all his life and ended up crazy.'

'Tragic,' I said meaning it. At that point I'd used up my entire daily supply of sympathy (excepting of course for that little cache I've got set aside for emergency bouts of self pity).

'I call him and he tells me to call back, I do but he doesn't answer.'

"Um," I thought to myself, "I'm not so sure that's actually 'crazy'".

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Three for Three?

Without wanting to get into detail, guarding what little personal information I can, I've had to have nurses drop by the apartment to assist with health care. It's not a huge deal, I'm not actually sick. Anyways, two different nurses have come into my home, touched me, documented the care and future needs - and neither one has introduced themselves. I have no idea who they are. I haven't asked them, making a little game out of these appointments. How many nurses will come before someone practices a little bit of courtesy?

I don't want to become friends with these nurses.

I don't want to have a beer with them.

But I would like to address them by name.

Actually, I thought today was going to be different, when the phone rang I answered to hear an unfamiliar voice. He said, 'I am ...' and there was a pause before he finished the sentence '... the nurse.' That's as close as I've gotten to an introduction.

You know what's weird about all this? It was Joe who noticed the fact that we've never been introduced to the nurses who are coming into my home, coming into my bedroom, touching me a little bit ... and leaving. I know this sounds WAY different than it actually is ... but what the hell ...

So tomorrow at 5 they'll be back. I'll be waiting.

Anyone want to take odds that it will be three for three.

Wednesday, September 09, 2009


Yesterday, when we got home from work. I waited, sitting in my wheelchair, while Joe parked the car. It was a lovely afternoon and I enjoyed just sitting outside. When Joe came up, I suggested that he zip across the street to pick up what we needed to make supper and I would continue to sit and just relax in the cool afternoon breeze. This took Joe by surprise because it was a real break with routine. Typically he would take me upstairs and then either we'd go out together or he would go out and I would check emails and blog and do other 'important' business on the computer.

But, yesterday, it just struck me how pleasant it was to simply sit outside. So, that's what I did. Joe headed over to Rabba to pick up the groceries and I sat back into my wheelchair and relaxed into calmness. We have a lovely yard in front of the building. There are huge beds of flowers that are well tended sitting on a lawn which is a deep beautiful green. Our street is well shaded by trees and, though in the center of the city, seldom used by cars, often used by people strolling.

Several of my fellow dwellers came out. Most rushed by, wordless, quickly headed to whatever it was they have to do. A few came out, stopped and took a breath, and made comment about the lovely afternoon weather. With these I chatted briefly, I'd wish them well and they'd head on off into the city. These chats were very 'small town, howdy neighbour' and I enjoyed them.

After getting in, the routine started. I had several emails that demanded responses. I had several things that needed done. I did them all. We had a kitchen catastrophe, oh my ... that recipe didn't work. The phone rung several times. Things had to be dealt with. And it all went easy. Very easy.

I would never have believed it when I was 20 or even 30 or 40. Those of you reading under 50 may not believe it but it's true. Sitting quietly in the breeze on a late summer afternoon chatting with neighbours about the weather isn't something that older people do in absence of a life of demands. It's something we do because ... hmmm, if I have to tell you, I realize, you won't understand at all.

Tuesday, September 08, 2009


He has a big white beard. Thus ends his similarity to our dear Santa. He is skinny, way too skinny. His clothes need washing, twice, perhaps thrice. His shoes look too big for his feet, his fingers are stained a deep orange yellow. He stands just outside the east entrance to the mall near us. He sells 'OutReach' a newspaper that street people can sell instead of begging. Real work. He takes it seriously.

He took an automatic liking to Joe when we first moved in here. Often, before the advent of the power chair, if we needed something at the store Joe would run over by himself. It was easier. Joe always bought a copy of the paper from him. They'd chat briefly. He now recognizes me as Joe's 'buddy' and always nods a hello. Friendly guy.

On Friday I was heading up to the mall. I took off before Joe and wanted to see if I could make it to our rendez-vous point before Joe did. I have to go a lot further to get to the accessible entrance and then get down a set of elevators. Joe always beats me there. I put Henry (the power chair) in high gear and flew. I raced by him on the street saying a quick hello without slowing down.

Joe got there not much before me. He told me that the OutReach guy made a joke about me going hell bent for leather up the sidewalk. He was impressed with how fast the chair could go. On our way back Joe decided to take the short route. His feet were bothering him. Normally we both take the long route back together.

I came down the street and he was there smiling as I approached. He said, 'Your buddy said to watch out for you flying by again.' As he said this he reached out and put his hand on my arm. Natural like. Friendly like. I joked about the chair being out of breath by the time it got my fat ass home. He held on to my arm a moment while he laughed. He looked me, direct in the eye. I could see he needed contact. Social contact. Physical contact. So I stayed a few seconds more.

A woman walked briskly by us. Because of the position of the chair and because of where he stood in relation to the chair, she had to step around us. Her face looked horrified. She was looking at his hand on my arm. She was looking at me with fear. Like I'd become infected with poverty. With powerlessness. With parasites.

He wished me well. And it sounded genuine.

Like a blessing.

And I think it was.

Monday, September 07, 2009

Nothing At All

I backed my chair into position beside her. We were on a narrow street patio just in front of a small Starbucks. She noticed me and nodded. I nodded back. We did not speak. Our greeting was similar to the greeting that VW bug drivers give each other, friendly but ultimately, impersonal. Her wheelchair was of a much different design than mine. Hers had the capacity to tip backwards, and she was thusly seated. A cup of expensive coffee was in a holder within her reach. I don't drink coffee but I love the smell of it. Hers smelled of Brazil or Columbia or somewhere else exotic.

She, herself, might be considered exotic by some. She certainly did not fit the norm. Her body was much smaller than most, as if it had at some point decided, on it own, that enough was enough and simply stopped growing. Her shape was angular, her jaw strong, her arms lean. I am trying to describe her simply because this description is important to the story I am going to try to tell, the point I wish to make.

Let's take a break from her and visit me for a second. Always a fascinating subject, no? When we were in Ireland, I found a television programme that was comprised soley of an old guy painting a picture and talking about the process of painting. We used to have a similar programme here in Canada, may still. I can watch for hours. I am truly in awe of artistic talent. I watch as from the brush flows colours and even textures. I watch as suddenly from nothing comes something. I do not have this kind of talent. It strikes me as somewhat divine.

So, when the woman beside me took a sip of her coffee and then pulled out a sketch pad and a single pencil, I became alert. Then she began to draw the streetscape on the other side of the street. A first few tentative strokes became more definate. Slowly, grays turned into form and shape and shadow. Her eye darted from the pad to the street and back again. I, by now, had my tea and I sipped it as I watched. She paid little heed to me, noticing that I was watching the picture take shape. She was unselfconscious and bore my intrusion with grace.

For a while I simply looked at the other side of the street. The reality from which she was creating art. I noticed, really noticed, arches that I'd never seen before. Brickwork held my attention. Campy lettering on a restaurant sign brought a slight smile. Then I looked back and the progress was astonishing. Her pencil was now moving quickly, almost on it's own. It knew it's own mind. Without vision, it saw. Without a means for motion, it moved. Then I saw her face. She was completely gone. Lost in her art. Lost to the world. Existing somewhere else, somewhere deep, somewhere perhaps even sacred. I no longer existed to her. Coffee lost its smell. Senses ceased to matter.

She was enraptured.

I have felt this occasionally. In the middle of a lecture, in the middle of writing, I will decamp from conciousness and move somewhere very deep inside. These moments are rare and precious. These are moments where I am communing with something wildly personal, something uniquely and soley mine.

She was experiencing liberty, freedom.

In these moments of personal rapture, adjectives fall away from us. We cease to 'be' in the way we are almost always forced to 'be'. Gender. Disability. Height. Weight. Heart Status. It's all gone. There is a pureness. A sweetness. It's being lost and found at the same time. It's what the mystics searched for. It proves the existance of spirit within body.

So I watched her just 'be' for a little while. I envied her talent, I envied where she was at that moment. But I comforted myself with the knowledge that I go there too, some times. I know what it is to discover both my uniqueness and my equality. I know what it is to touch the face of God.

From somewhere in the real world, a bell rang. Her pencil for a moment paused, then was set down. She pulled a phone from her pocket and answered.

She smiled when she heard the voice on the other end. Then she said, "No, I'm not doing anything."

Sunday, September 06, 2009

Big Wheel Keep On Turning

The aisle was narrow, too narrow for two power chairs to pass. I was near the entrance and offered to back up. He, politely, offered to go round another way. I insisted. He agreed. On his way by he noticed the big wheel on my wheelchair was low. He advised me to get it filled right away. Apparently he had once let it go and ended up doing damage to the tire and having to buy a new one. I thanked him and after shopping Joe and I headed up to Canadian Tire to fill the tire.

The nozzle for the tire is very poorly placed and we could not use the hose near the pumps as it could not bend sufficently to connect to my tire. We would have to go into the garage itself. (Pause here to insert a long and stupid fight that couples have even though they know better.) It took a lot of negotiation to finally make it into the huge garage where we could get the tire fixed. There were four or five mechanics working on cars and we drove in asking where we could find air.

One of the mechanics, a guy of few words, waved me over. Grunted at where the nozzle was situated. He got the hose, figured how to connect and popped it on to the nozzle. It was the oddest sensation. I felt the chair rise with air. He checked the other side, getting me to move by motion of his hands rather than by words from his mouth. That done and checked, he waved us away. No money wanted. No thanks required. Just a wave away.

I called out 'Thank you' and I swear he looked embarrassed. We made our way back up to the street, negotiating the narrow labrynth of the store. My chair felt very different to steer. It turned more sharply, was way more responsive to the movement of the joystick. All of which I would have told Joe except, long and stupid fight was not yet over.

Now the chair is working better than ever. It's odd that I know it's a power chair. I know it has wheels. But I never thought I'd have to take it into a garage for air. Glad I ran into the guy in the store who noticed the wheel. Glad I found a mechanic with skill. Glad long and stupid fight is well over.

Saturday, September 05, 2009

A Brief Meeting

Awhile ago I wrote a post about the Popcorn Girl at our local cineplex. We've seen her several times since and she's really come out of her shell. The last time we were at the theatre she was charged with taking us the back route into the big hall that is inaccessible by the main doors. She chatted with us. It is really hard work for her to talk to people but she was intent on our conversation. Behind the stiffness in her interactions is a really gentle person that I am becoming extremely fond of. I always make sure to attend to her, I always want to give her messages of encouragement. That may sound patronizing ... but I try to be like that for all my friends. I am not naturally welcoming by nature, I know that. I have to work at it, think about it, practice it. So that's maybe why I 'get' what she's doing. Interactions take work and sometimes you have to try to be who you want to be.

Anyways, Joe and I were over at the mall yesterday. I had stopped at Chapters for a moment and he was at the post office. We were to meet downstairs. When I came downstairs I saw Joe on the phone walking very quickly. I sped up to catch up to him. He was breathless. We had a slight crisis that meant he had to go home immediately and get some information. I said I'd go to the pharmacy and pick up stuff and meet him back at the apartment. He agreed and rushed off.

On my way out I heard a big 'Hello there!' I turned to see Popcorn girl with a big smile waving and walking over to me. I smiled a genuine smile. It was nice to see her and the first time we'd run into each other outside the theatre. I asked her if she was off to work and she said that she was just in picking up her pay. We talked a bit and then I began to roll away. She clearly didn't want the conversation to end so she quickly asked if I was going to any of the Film Festival. I stopped and again we talked. I was aware of time and a bit concerned about what was going on at home. I told her that I had to rush off home and she, for a moment, looked hurt and then began to apologize for stopping me and interupting my day.

The apology came so easy to her. Now the words flowed with a practiced ease. She'd said these words before, she'd said them often. I stopped and said, 'It really is nice running into you and chatting with you. I really was pleased to see you. Really. It's just that we have something going on at home and I need to get there.' She struggled for a moment trying to decide if she should believe me. Then she said, 'Your face looked happy when I said 'hello''. I said, 'My face was telling the truth.'

I wished her well and headed on home.

It's hard to be a little bit different in a world that doesn't much like variation. I hope we run into each other again, and often. I think I'm on that seldom travelled road. The one that leads to genuine friendship.

Friday, September 04, 2009

Appropriately Inappropriate

I have just spent the last 20 minutes searching the web to find a picture to put with this blog. I'm both frustrated and pleased. I wanted to find the old logo that 'Associations for the Mentally Retarded' used to use. But after looking at nearly 50 pages of images it, like that gawd awful name, is gone. The logo was one of a big green man with square shoulders who looked like he was made out of lego. In front of him was a small child who's head was oddly placed right in front of the green man's groin. It was supposed to represent a strong adult protecting a vulnerable child. But looking at it another way it could be seen quite differently. Many of us used to refer to it as the 'blow job'.

At lunch yesterday, a group of us were talking and really letting our guards down. It was a two day conference on legal issues regarding sexuality - meaning dealing with sex offenders with disabilities. So we'd talked seriously about pedophilia, about rape, about victimization, about hurt, about trauma. Heavy stuff. My presentations had gone fairly well but I too was beginning to feel overwhelmed at the hugeness of the problem, the unfairness of the system, and the damage done to people with disabilities. So, this lunch everyone at the table seemed to make a silent agreement that it was time to simply let go.

We were talking about silly acronyms and I brought up the 'blow job' and asked if anyone else remembered it. A woman at the table, perhaps a little older than me, said that she didn't remember the logo, but that she did remember giving the occasional blow job. Everyone looked slightly shocked as she quietly took a bite of her creamy dessert. I simply said, 'You know you probably shouldn't say that when you've got cream in your mouth.' For a second time stopped. Then the whole table erupted in almost violent laughter. People were bent over and howling. I lost control too and laughed my big loud laugh that I let out seldomly. Other tables looked over, some in annoyance, most with envy.

When we settled down from that we moved on to even more wildly funny stuff that in no way can I write here.

You might find what she said disturbing and what I said inappropriate. But here's the thing. Without humour. Without violent out of control laughter. It's impossible to deal with the world as it really is, it's impossible to talk seriously about things that should never happen, it's impossible to stay sane and hopeful. Our laughter wasn't about what was said, it was about need. It was about a desire to stay afloat. It was about good mental health.

I worry that poltical correctness is taking away from us the possibility of simply laughing together. The need to be a wee bit inappropriate from time to time. To gently poke fun at each other. The afternoon came and went and whenever I caught the eye of someone from lunch, no matter what was being said at the conference, we smiled. How nice is that?

Thursday, September 03, 2009

It Begins

Well, I've bitten the bullet and made contact. Joe and I have talked about getting an assistance dog for a very long time, almost since I began using the wheelchair. We've hesitated because I was worried about my motiviations. But increasingly over the last couple of years I've wished that I had a furry helper beside me instead of having to always call on Joe. When something hits the floor, call Joe. When I need something from a low shelf, call Joe. When I'm shopping and I need to put something in the bag at the back of the chair, go find Joe.

Joe doesn't mind these extra duties. But I mind having to ask him. When we rented the apartment we asked about having an assitance dog because the apartment has a, completely ineffective as it turns out, no pet policy. We were reassured that assistance dogs would be welcome. So, it's been in our minds.

Then my friend Belinda told us a very funny story about her daughter's dog Molson. He is a beautiful animal, fully trained as a therapy dog. Well, there was some kind of agreement whereby Molson was 'on call' to provide 'lovin' when the time was right to father another batch of assistance puppies. Belinda ended up having to drive him in the night, when the time was right, for a booty call. I'm grinning as I write this. (Belinda I'm writing this in the dark, early morning, could you up the url in the comment section for people to go read about you and Molson and your midnight rendez-vous?)

When the puppies arrived I went to the website with their pictures and it stated that they had assistance dogs and were receiving applications. And that's it. I did it. I wrote them. They wrote back.

So now the process begins. I don't know if I'll pass muster. I don't know if my need is serious enough. But if it is, I'll soon be up writing in the early morning with my feet being kept warm, professionally.

Rah. And Who Rah.

Wednesday, September 02, 2009

Go On Guess

Wanna know what makes a hotel inaccessible?

We arrived at the hotel and conference center and parked in the disabled parking. We noted that the ramp up and into the hotel was, um, steep and narrow. Kinda like the one to heaven is supposed to be. So I waited outside. Joe came back to inform me that there was an accessible entrance up the hill and in through the restaurant. Our room? Well, it would be at the furthest possible distance from the disabled entrance. OK, we're used to planning done by stupid people. Annoying and all but this isn't what makes a hotel inaccessible.

The accessible entrance was a kick. There were several small lips that made it difficult to easily get over. More than that the door was a tad narrow and did not have a button to push to get it to open. There was no way we were getting in with just the two of us. I got out and walked the little I could to hold open the door, Joe got the chair through the first door and the second door. I sat down in the chair, exhausted. Joe was tired from fighting the chair through the doors. Frustrating and all but this isn' what makes a hotel inaccessible.

When we got in we were beside the restaurant which was several stairs down. Apparently they could get us a ramp that would be steep enough to be considered an event in the winter olympics. But if we liked they would consider bringing us food up to the bar area. So we have to eat separately from everyeone else. We can cope, this isn't what makes a hotel inaccessible.

I wanted to see the room I am speaking in so I stopped at the front desk. No one was waiting to check in, no one was calling for directions, two clerks stood looking like they were just waiting to burst into service, so I asked where the room was and I was told that the disabled access was down some service hallway. Regular people will go down the public hallway, descend a few stairs and then enter. I'll have to go in an entirely different way. When I asked if I could see the disability entrance - the young female clerk at the hotel screwed her face up like she was five years old and was about to begin to cry -and said in hostile tones that she would have to show us. Her whole body said, with every movement. 'And it's a big freaking inconvience.'

That's what makes a hotel inaccessible.

And one heck of a big PS

So the bathroom. Way too small for a wheelchair to get in so I just shaved in an ice bucket with no mirror. That my face doesn't look like raw meat is a miracle. However I may have wolfman tufts of hair all over my face and neck. A nice look for a conference keynoter, don't cha think? Maybe I'll smooch with the desk clerk.

Tuesday, September 01, 2009


It was the tiniest moment. Joe and I were rushing around to get some things done before our trip to North Bay. We were just at the cashier's desk in the grocery store and Joe remembered that he'd forgotten to pick up orange juice. He's on some medication for which he needs to drink extra orange juice. I am faster when I'm in my power chair so I went to get it. I haven't bought orange juice in years. It's not on the 'diabetic's shopping list' and was surprised when I got there. There was a wall of choices, and there was a little boy standing in front of the wall. His mom was patiently waiting for him to pick a jug of juice.

I didn't want to interupt so I waited. And looked at the wall. There was juice with no pulp, with some pulp, with extra pulp. There was juice with added calcium, with added vitamen C, and there was juice with nothing added. There was old fashioned orange juice. There was orange juice made from concentrate. There was orange juice not made from concentrate. There was an orange juice made for every temperment. My, oh, my, is this evidence that we've all come to take ourselves a bit too seriously. I mean, after all, it's ORANGE JUICE.

He was taking a long time. He looked frozen in front of the fridges. His mom looked at me with apology in her eyes. I smiled. She must have been up to something. Finally he opened the door, closed his eyes and reached in a grabbed a juice. He looked sick and exhausted when he handed it to her. She thanked him for picking the very best juice. He smiled victoriously. She whispered to me as I moved in to grab a carton. 'His shyness is crippling him. He's got to learn to assert himself. He's got to learn to trust his own judgements.' He glanced over and smiled at his mom. She was relieved he hadn't heard.

I didn't know what brand Joe drank. I've never paid attention. But I saw one which looked like it was the one and grabbed it. Figuring that Joe wasn't the kind that would care. I handed him the juice he put it in the bag. It was all over.

On our way up in the car, I had to know. 'What did you think of the juice I picked out?'

'Really,' he said, 'It's just juice.

'And', I thought to myself, 'sometimes it's victory.'