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Friday, May 6, 2016

Nonscientific Research and the X Men

In the last few years I have written about many unpleasant social exchanges with people in Central New York. I have had doors slammed in my face, I have been screamed at, and I have been denied service in the local diner. I have had men drop to their knees and pray for my rotten soul. However, in the last three months I have not had any note worthy negative encounters. What changed? My son moved to Syracuse where he works for a large nationally known hotel chain. He is saving up to buy a car and for the last four months we have shared my car. This has been a pain in the neck. Both he and I are not exactly skilled in terms of our organizational abilities. He has been late a few times dropping off the car and has a penchant for doing so at the worst possible time. We have miscommunicated more than once. We have in short messed up meeting each other at the right time and place too often. The car sharing is less than ideal but is a short term issue.

I will readily admit I have no issues with ruthlessly exploiting my son's bipedalism, youth, and typical male strength. As he knows, he saves me oodles of time. What is carefully planned on my part is what he does for me. Certain routine things I do are social battlefields with bombs lobbed my way on a regular basis. Hence, I do my level best to have him put gas in the car. People routinely harass me when I do this by myself. Offers of help are often used as a means of denigration or false praise. The gas station is a particularly hostile environment when I am alone. Another social battle field is the laundromat. If I could change one thing in my life it would start with a washer dryer in my little place I call home. Based on nearly two years of using a laundromat I can state with some certainty everyone who washes their clothes at the laundromat took a wrong turn in life. The human range who access the laundromat is wide. Stoned college students. Miserable parents. Elderly drunks. Academics like me. Everyone I encounter appears to have a story and are too eager to share it. Those religiously inclined are magnetically drawn to me. They are desperate to cure my body and soul. When I am not impressed with offers of help the reaction is swift and violent. So when I have a large amount of clothes to clean or lets say a seasonal change of bedding I try and bring my son with me.  While he can't fold clothes well, he can fold towels and sheets. He speeds up the process and we get out of dodge promptly. His presence alone protects me. His protection is very much appreciated but I am deeply torn and troubled. I have hesitantly concluded my existence is not only an affront to others but I am vulnerable physically and socially. I am far from equal in the eyes of the so called normate that abound.

What do we think when hear the word wheelchair?What do people think when they see me?

I know what others do not think when the word wheelchair is uttered or when I am present. Competence, power, ability, disability rights, community, father, mother, brother, sister, employer, doctor, employee, home owner, renter, land lord, beautiful, handsome, sexual, sensuous, lawyer, professor, president, governor. None of these things are thought of when I am present. My life is less. I am less. My social status is significantly reduced. I am a diminished human being. I am an open book for all others who have no qualms about asking rude and intrusive questions foremost among them is can you have sex. This is hard and I forcefully reject the stigma associated with disability. Thus being in public is never easy because I reject assumptions associated with wheelchair use. I will admit some days I fail. I simply cannot leave my house; I do not have the psychic energy to deal with able bodied others. But out I go on a regular basis. I wish I could say I do so with pleasure but that would be a lie. I have a deep yearning. I am lonely and as I age feel all the more isolated and have an urgent need to connect with people like me. How I hook into disability culture is a challenge. I am envious of deaf people who identify as Deaf with a big D and have their own language! Where do we cripples call home? This has occupied much of my thought and I have thought long and hard about other minority groups in terms of identity and community.

I need to do something. I believe I have acted somewhat cowardly in recent months. I cannot use my son as a social shield. How can I be strong? How can I be a bad ass. Enter my colleague Diane Wiener, a human ball of energy and brilliance. She organizes a yearly event Cripping the Comic Con at Syracuse University. Frankly I am not much of a comic book graphic novel kind of guy but Diane makes me think. Inspired and looking for strength I googled the X Men and its creator Stan Lee. The X Men I learned were created in 1963 amidst the turmoil of the Civil Rights Movement. Then it clicked. Lee wanted to create a comic that that highlighted bigotry and racism via science fiction. Magneto and Professor X were direct correlations to Martin Luther King and Malcolm X. I think I am far too Professor X and need to channel my inner Magneto. Next time I go out this is how I desire to appear. Dangerous and frightening. Take that bipeds.

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