People ask me, “So, Dave, how much can you see, exactly?”
An imposing, impossible question.
“Well, I really don’t know what I can't see, so it’s pretty much impossible to explain what I can.” I suppose I could rattle off a litany of objects I'm able to identify. But what I can’t see?
“I can see that tree. I can see that building. I can see that plaid codfish juggling ukuleles. But I cannot see that newsstand nor that flag pole nor that flying avocado.”
“Don’t be a smartass, Dave.”
“Don’t be a dumbass.”
“Screw you, Dave. I ask because I’m concerned and I care about you. You don’t have to be a dick about it.”
Fine, sorry. But hell, I don’t know what I can see half the time, myself. RP is a flirtatious little bitch. It leads you on, teases you, makes you think you can see passably well. You’ll occaisionally spot the keys you’re looking for, or catch the beer your drunk friend absent-mindedly tosses you, and you're as surprised as anyone.
I can’t believe I was able to spot those keys with my eyes! I’m not so bad off, after all! I can see— as you’re interrupted by the wall against your nose.
Okay, never mind. Back to groping around.
Really though, I’m touched by your concern, and I wish I could field your question. What do I see? I could explain RP from a medical definition or use the standard analogy of seeing the world through a paper towel tube. That usually works alright, but once someone suggested it must be more like seeing through two tubes, since I have two eyes. It is not; in much the way our brains fill in the information that should be blocked by our noses, so too do the brains of RP people. That said, the tube is unreliable, inconsistent, amorphous, and, for lack of a better shape, ovate.
I'm not sure that answered your question.
You mean well, I know. And hell you've got it bad, too. You have to try to gauge what I can see somehow, because you don't want to overbear lest I bight your head off; on the other hand, you don't want me to fall down stairs or bump a diner's elbow so hard his fork pierces his cheek and gets the wrong kind of blood all over his steak. But you annoy me when you say, as we’re ascending stairs or moving through a crowded restaurant, “Be careful, Dave.”
Oh thanks! Cuz I was gonna be careless! I was just gonna hurl myself down these stairs, or run blindly through this dark restaurant! But since you’ve reminded me to be careful, I’ll have to change my plans! You’ve saved the day! You deserve a medal!
“You deserve a kick the nuts. Why do I even hang out with you, Dave?”
There seem to be two dominant opinions concerning my eyesight, since people feel compelled to formulate opinions upon it. My friends (who, unlike strangers, are entitled to opine) say I ought to accept my visual impairment more openly, that in point of fact, I see less than I let on, not more, and my vain stubbornness serves only as a stumbling block to independence and self-sufficiency.
Those who don’t know me, and feel obliged to opine anyway, seem often enough to think the opposite: that I am a some peculiar hypochondriac seeking attention and special rights and privileges not afforded folks unfortunate enough to possess keen eyes. Worse than that, I'm just a fraud, a phony.
I can’t please anyone.
“Dave, you don’t see well. You need to use your cane.”
“Hey buddy, you’re not blind. Why are you using a cane?”
Life with a cane confuses me and everyone else. It seems like when I’m using it I feel like I don’t need it, and when I leave it behind, I wish I had it. As I click my way through life, especially at night, and often wearing glasses, I’ve discovered a new breed of the citizenry which I call “handicops.” These are the self-appointed, self-annointed vigilantes whose sole duty is to seek out frauds and impostors posing as the disabled.
“An epidemic is sweeping this land,” cries the handicop, “where people are too apt to fall back on a disabitly even if it‘s not a disability at all. Behind this pathetic wave of weak-willed whiners, lacking the fighting spirit that made America great, creep the fraudulent copycats hoping to garner all the perks available to the disabled by our all-to-sympathetic society. And they must be stopped! It’s up to me to sniff out the impostors, and to expose them as the lazy, no-count, leeches they are upon the rest of us hard working folk! After all, people only claim a disability to get on welfare!”
I suppose the reason people so often give me grief for caning into a bar and sitting down to watch a ballgame is that there really isn't much more morally reprehensible than a phony cripple (although I've never actually met one). The person faking a disability is, however, a common device in sitcoms. People get pretty pissed if they think someone is faking a disability, but people can be such idiots. Once a guy stopped me at the bar and said, “Hey you’re faking it! No blind man wears glasses!” Like he’d solved the "What’s Wrong" puzzle in a Highlights for Children magazine in the dentist's office waiting room.
“Nice going, Sherlock Dipshit. You got me. What was I thinking? I wanted everyone to think I’m blind, and yet I wore eyeglasses? Stupid me.” I’m sure he’d pull the same witty observation on a guy in a wheelchair and tennis shoes.
"Wait a minute! You can't play tennis!"
So why do we have handicops? I think people watch too many sitcoms.
And why do I care?
“Dave, I thought you were all punk rock. Why would you care about what a random stranger or some dumb drunk in a bar says?” you ask, fully aware of the contradiction inherent in my “I-don’t-give-a-fuck” attitude. Well, that’s very observant of you, and thanks for noticing. Why does any of us care what some random says? Why on earth could that possibly matter to us?
We do and it does.
We say we don’t care about what people think, especially strangers, but we do. Imagine you’re standing on a street corner, when suddenly someone yells from across the street: “Hey, I know you! You’re a pedophile!” True, pedophiles are worse than hypochondriacs, but my point is that someone has associated your good name with a terrible crime, and that's difficult for most of us to ignore. Anti-defamation, anti-slander, anti-libel laws abound to protect citizens from those who would sully their good names. Perhaps some are capable of shrugging that off, but I’m not.
Was I ever? I think about when I was a young punk rocker, how often I’d snarl, “I don’t give a rat’s ass what anyone thinks about me! I don’t care how I look, or if I fit into some bullshit version of what society wants me to be! I’m an individual!” as I’d carefully shaved my mohawk or meticulously fit studs and spikes onto my leather jacket. Of course I cared what people thought. In the gaze of the cultural mainstream, the GAP or Abercrombie & Fitch-clad drones, I liked looking as counter-cultural as could be--the embodiment of rebellion and anti-establishmentarianism. I hoped I pissed them off as much as they pissed me off. My look was a public notification that I was punk-fucking-rock and 100% pure cool. Band shirts, manic panic hair, spiked bracelets, leather jacket, jeans tucked neatly into my combat boots…my uniform. I dressed this way not because I didn’t care about what anyone thought, but because I desparately cared what people thought. I still do.
I’m comforted by the fact that I'm not alone, that most of us are concerned with our body images. I walk down the streets and I still wonder what people think when they see eyeglasses on a man waving a white cane. But more than that, I wonder why I give a crap. It’s time to be more punk rock, and not just poser-punk. It’s time to reject what strangers say as inconsequential. It is time to honestly and unflinchingly stop giving a rat's ass.