Friday, July 14, 2017

Nobody Cried Today

And now for something completely different. I haven't written a poem in 40 years, but this idea had to be expressed as a poem. I reached out for some editing help from my friend Nancy Lubarsky--a real poet. Her encouragement has empowered me to publish it here. I let this lay fallow for a couple of months, but there is another nascent poem rattling around in my head, so I had to clear the decks.

Inspired, of course, by my children and grandchildren.

Nobody Cried Today

The kids are in bed
Lunches made
Tomorrow’s presentation done
I sit with a glass of wine
Nobody cried today

It was off to work and school
Soccer, karate, homework, piano
Bumps, bruises, frustration
Siblings vex, bedevil and shout, but
Nobody cried today

No ball of tears
Curled up in my lap.
No stroking hair as I
Whisper “it will be OK.” Because
Nobody cried today

It is only one day
But something has changed
Parenting continues
It’s somehow different as I consider
Nobody cried today

Thursday, June 8, 2017

I am an A.D.A.

I am an A.D.A. You may have heard of the practice of nouning a verb (gerunds—e.g., learning, serving—very common). You may have been subjected to verbing nouns (denominalization—e.g., task you with a job, calendar an event--Benjamin Franklin said in a letter to Noah Webster that denominalization is “awkward and abominable.”). But now we are nouning the abbreviations of acts of Congress.

Language matters. It matters more than most people realize. The way we think is inextricably tied to words, and each word carries with it more than just its simple definition. Words and phrases drag along emotional baggage, innuendo, and an encoding of societal norms. That doesn’t even begin to factor in the tone of voice used, or the ethnic, class and social background of both the speaker and the hearer.

We invent new words all the time, often inadvertently. Sometimes we repurpose old words (e.g., gay), and sometimes a new word is an artifact of some other evolving societal change.

The world of disability has its own language issues. For example, having a disability is not the same as being disabled. In the first case one is describing perhaps a single malady, while in the second case you are classifying the state of the entire person. What may seem like a nuance to you may make a big difference in the way you think about the person being described; and let’s not even bring up the negative connotations of handicapped. A handicap is for golf games and horse races.
This is not original thinking on my part, nor is it conveyed in the name of political correctness. I’m not interested in participating in the new I’m Offended craze. I’m just trying to point out that the language that you use not only reflects how you think, but actually affects how you think.

This brings me to my morning commute. The Americans with Disabilities Act (A.D.A., fttps://, prohibits discrimination and ensures equal opportunity for persons with disabilities in employment, state and local government services, public accommodations, commercial facilities, and transportation. I catch a regular NJ Transit bus into the Port Authority Bus Terminal in NYC twice a week. The bus driver (referred to by NJT as the bus operator), takes about eight minutes to load me into the bus using a wheelchair lift. That is if the seats slide easily, the equipment works, and the operator has some facility using the equipment. Once the seats are moved to make room, my travel scooter and I occupy the space of six seats.

Every NJ Transit bus has this equipment, and there are very strict rules about how to handle the cases where this accommodation under the A.D.A. does not work right. After the operator picks me up and continues on their route, they call the pickup into their control center. When conveying this information they do not refer to me as handicapped, disabled, or a wheelchair (hey, there is a person controlling that wheelchair!). Instead they tell their dispatcher, “I have picked up an A.D.A. at Chestnut Street in Garwood.” How’s that for an invented word that carries no excessive baggage?

I find this creative and amusing. As I stated before, I’m not a willing member of the I’m Offended club, especially when the goal appears to be accuracy without giving offense.

Monday, May 15, 2017

Cripple Crapper Roulette

Some people regularly play cripple crapper roulette. When they enter a public restroom they look both ways, and if there is not a wheelchair in sight they head straight for the stall specially designed to accommodate people with disabilities. If I ride my scooter into a restroom that has two urinals, one regular sized stall and one cripple crapper, the only other person in the facility will be an able-bodied man standing at the toilet in the stall with the grab bars, and peeing on the seat (Lord forbid he should touch it).

Most of the time there is no penalty, but every once in a while he has to avert his eyes, and slink out past a gimp waiting to use the single restroom fixture designed for their use. The wheel sometimes hits the 00.

I call it the cripple crapper for three reasons:
  1. I dislike the term handicapped stall because a person with disabilities is not handicapped or disabled—words matter
  2. I have been fond of the poetry and alliteration of the sobriquet cripple crapper even since I first heard it used by Daniel Lawrence Whitney (Larry the Cable Guy)
  3. Because I can. It is hard to criticize me for political incorrectness in this arena.

But back to our roulette player. Why does he do this? I haven’t done extensive research, but then again this is a blog, not a juried research paper. I speculate:
  1. One stall is larger, less claustrophobic with more room for luggage (in airports), and possibly a bit cleaner since most civilized people avoid it when other stalls are available.
  2. The stall is usually at one end of the row. It is better to sit next to one other person rather than two.
  3. There just aren’t that many people with disabilities for all those luxurious stalls. The odds are good.

Many people with disabilities have written many treatises on civilized restroom behavior. It may get boring, but it really affects us in very real ways. If your parents failed you by not teaching you these things, try to incorporate these behaviors into your restroom routine:
  1. If possible, leave the cripple crapper free. If the restroom is crowded, by all means use every stool (The Port Authority Bus Terminal in NYC locks these stalls, and the attendant opens them for bona fide users).
  2. Your aim is not that good—pick up the seat. If you must pee on the seat, do it in one of the standard stalls. At least most people have a choice of whether to use a stall or pass on it. People with disabilities have no choice.
  3. Have the shame to apologize if you come out of the stall and find me waiting impatiently on my scooter. Then go out and apologize to my wife and explain why I had to wait longer than anyone else for my stall to be free.
  4. Then go apologize to the parents who really did teach you better.

The office I work in just moved to a new building—probably the highest rent office space in NYC. High class companies with high class employees, right? Well, two of the last three times I used the men’s room, the cripple crapper was occupied. Thankfully, it was being used respectfully, but it was the only fixture being used of the seven available. It will take a few weeks, but the male occupants of the 29th floor will eventually figure out that the local odds of cripple crapper roulette have dramatically changed.

Monday, April 24, 2017

Pain in the Ass

Pain in the Ass

Last week I broke another New Jersey Transit bus. Not really, but the bus would have been just fine if they hadn’t stopped to pick me up. The driver, who has successfully picked me up many times, extended the wheelchair lift, lowered it to the ground, and then tried to cause it to ascend to load me into the bus. It would not rise, with or without me on the lift. This bus was now disabled (see what I did there?).

Being rush hour, buses are apt to arrive at the stop every 10 minutes or so. By NJ Transit rules they seem to need to get me on the next bus if their first attempt fails. With everyone rushing off this bus to the one pulling up behind it, I held back to wait for the following bus. I take up six seats, and the driver would have been forced to expel people from an already packed vehicle.

As one of the passengers hurried past me from the bus I broke to the bus he hoped to take, he muttered under his breath, “Pain in the ass.”

I could have charitably assumed that he meant the situation, and not me in particular. However, I am not one of the 36 tzadikim (think Mother Teresa), nor could I get any of you to buy the concept that the remark was not directed at me. With no other real options, I just lamely shouted “Thank You” at his receding back. Then, thinking it through, I realized he was right.

I am not offended. Many people actively participate in our new national pastime—being offended, either as a member of some ostensibly oppressed group, or in support of someone with such a claim. I prefer baseball (go Mets). However, I won’t apologize for being a “pain in the ass.” Deal with it.

The Libertarian in me is no fan of overreaching government regulation, but I unashamedly (if hypocritically) applaud the Americans with Disabilities Act. It provides a consistent universal set of guidelines that force you to put up with small “pain in the ass” inconveniences (reserved parking spaces, access ramps, special restroom accommodations, short delays on your commute) to allow me to enjoy enhanced access to the world you enjoy every day. Not only are most of you delighted to do this, but it makes you feel good that we, as a society, have made this a priority.

So, thank you all for “dealing” with this unapologetic “pain in the ass.” Thank you for holding the door, and thank you for offering to help, even if neither of us can think of how that might be accomplished. And to the “gentleman” whose commute I so rudely delayed, I hope you have a better commute tomorrow. Not everyone can contribute to the thin veneer of civilized behavior the rest of us struggle to maintain.