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Tuesday, May 2, 2017

Why it is Hard to Go Out

It is a raw cloudy day in Syracuse--my kind of weather. I did not particularly want to go out but in an effort to get in better shape I forced myself to go for a long walk. Since the weather was bad I decided to walk through a rather iffy neighborhood. I figured the risk would be minimal. It was early in the morning, it was unpleasant, and no one would be hanging around outside. As I was going down the street I heard a person yelling. The skin on the back of my neck went up. The sound was distant but quickly realized the person yelling was getting closer and closer. After a block I knew I was being hailed. I heard a street person yelling "God Bless you. God bless you." Time to pick up my pace and turn the corner. Luck is on my side. It is a clear down hill. I turn the corner, go faster and hear: "God damn it, I said God bless you. God bless you". At this point I am not sure if I am scared or angry. Two blocks down, I decide to zig and then zag in hope I can avoid the person who wants to assure me God has a special interest in blessing me. I think the coast is clear as I have gone four blocks and the person yelling that God wants to bless me is nowhere to be seen or heard. Relieved I suddenly hear to my right a very loud, shrill and angry voice "Mother fucker, I said God wants to bless you". At this point I am flat out angry because I know this street person and have given him bags of return bottles in pristine condition. I turn around "Fuck off, stop following me asshole". I almost never reply in anger but this person has literally been stalking me for almost half a mile. The reply is not what I expect. "Careful mother fucker. I know you. You had the black dog and walked around here. I know you, I know where you walk. God struck you down because you are evil. If you accept God's blessing you will be cured. It was my turn to do the unexpected. "Go for it. Bless me asshole. See how far the blessing cure shit goes". A stare down begins and yo and behold no cure took place. We scowled at each other for a few minutes, neither yielding. Finally God's blessings delivered with no cure in evidence the person stomped away in silence.

I know the street people in my neighborhood. They keep to themselves and for them it has been a long hard winter. I know where they camp out, the buildings they use, and know the people to avoid. When alone, the key word here is alone, I am often targeted by do gooders. Do gooders come from every walk of life. Some do gooders are employed and apparently enjoy good mental health and economic success. At the other end of the spectrum are street people with obvious mental health issues. Each end of this spectrum carries bodily risk to me. I have been screamed at, had doors slammed in my face, and had people try and take my wheelchair from me as I transfer into a car. The list of socially inappropriate actions and behaviors is extensive. The one common theme however is I am always alone.

Between November and the present I have not been outside often by myself. I was keeping off my skin for an extended period of time. I was getting rides to and from campus and not taking the bus. Since Kate died I have not taken three walks a day or more. Well, I am out and about now and given a  daily reminder exactly how hard it is for a person with a disability to venture out into a hostile world. Unwanted comments are rampant. Barriers, social and physical, abound. Ableism is in every nook and cranny of our society. It is so easy to say, come on let's go out and have some fun. Let's go for a walk.  I do this on a regular basis. Yet always in the back of my mind is what sort of hassle will I encounter. I am an urbanite which is my preference. I depend on the bus. I like to walk and look at relics of Syracuse once mighty and powerful industrial past decades into decay. The downside to this as a lone cripple are social interactions that are not just skewed but flat out wrong and at times I worry about my safety. I have never been physically assaulted but do worry there is always a first for everything. Today I was worried. So as I sit inside looking at a stack of student work, preparing for a lecture I will give this summer and another in the fall I am sad. With each and every passing day I fear I will not live long enough to have the experience of worry free trips into my local environment. Yet today in gritty Syracuse I am filled with excitement. I am moving to Denver with a population of nearly three million people. It is my hope no one will follow me demanding to bless me. Now if that becomes a reality it will feel like a blessing.