Friday, January 21, 2011

Black Eyes

Being night blind, Alaska’s long winter nights don’t jive particularly well with me.  However!  On the bright side, it stays bright late into the summer evenings and early summer mornings.  All the sun’s essential benefits which get missed in winter must be replenished with all speed and desperation during the short window that is the Alaskan summertime.  On sunny nights, in lieu of a house party, we’d gather along Cook Inlet’s shoreline, burning bonfires and drinking beside the slowly setting sun.  Gravelly sand and mudflats comprise the Anchorage coastline, which is sprinkled with rocks and boulders, seaweed, driftwood and other flotsam and jetsam.  Though the cops tried to bust them up, many a “beach party” was held on Point Woronzov, and with pallet fires and cheap beer, it could look pretty Santa Cruz on a warm summer evening.               

One night on Point Woronzov sticks particularly well with me.  It was a typical bonfire with Shep, Michele, Fred, Oatzy, JD, and assorted others.  On this occasion, a man I didn't know constantly jabbed at me about my eyesight, laughing when I tripped over driftwood and being a general dick.  I tried ignoring him, and my friends repeatedly told him to knock it off.  So I’d trip on a beer box, and he’d giggle with delight.

“Dude, are you retarded?  That beer box is right there!  I think you should get glasses!”  He’d wave his hand in front of my face, or he'd hold a near my ear, out of my periphery, as if he was conducting his own visual field test.

“Dude, you really are blind!  That’s hysterical!”

I didn’t see what was so hysterical.  

“You better stop,” Oatzy warned with a cautionary laugh.  “You really don’t wanna piss Dave off.”

I endured the stranger's taunts until eventually it was time to go home.  I put out the fire and trotted down the beach to catch up with the others, periodically tripping over rocks and driftwood.  All of sudden I was stuck in the sternum by what felt like a rock.  It knocked the wind out me and nearly knocked me off feet.  As it turned out, it was an unopened can of beer.  I scurried over beach debris screaming “Who threw that?”  Not surprisingly, the stranger responded that he had, so I  threw him to the mud in a blind rage.  Shep and JD jumped in to drag him out from under me, and Oatzy grabbed my armpits and threw me backward onto a tree trunk which had washed ashore centuries before and was basically petrified.  My body wrapped backwards around it like a contortionist in the shape of a crescent moon.    

The stranger ran off as the fellows restrained me, flailing and snarling at the man to come back so I could crush his skull.  He did not, and the rest of us headed up the eroded hillside to the parking lot.  Adrenaline and alcohol slam-danced in my brain as I lugged two half-wracks of Milwaukee’s Best Ice up the steep, sandy hill.  As fatigue cut it, it soon occurred to me how badly my lower back hurt.  

“Dave, just forget about the beer!” my friends called down from the parking lot, so I jettisoned it and clawed my way on hands and knees over the crumbling slope giving way beneath me.  It was a painful ride to Shep and Michele's house, and the other’s got pizza while I was too smashed and bashed up to think about eating.  Fred lived next door, and offered me his floor.  By this time I was entering paralysis.  Fred helped me out of my pants, which is not as great as you might suspect.  No offense to Fred.

“You gonna be alright, Dave?”

“I guess so, but goddamn my back hurts,” gingerly descending to the floor. 

“You sure you're gonna be ok?”

“Yeah, it’s no big deal.  Just need to sleep it off.”

“Ok, well, goodnight.  I’ll be heading to work in the morning at six.  Just make yourself at home.” 

If my home had been a Katherine wheel I would have been more comfortable there.  I spent the next hours in the most intense physical pain of my life.  I say this with neither hesitation nor hyperbole.  To move, to roll over, took ten, twenty, thirty minutes of preparation for a pain so searing I sometimes cried out, albeit mutely as I lacked the strength to surpass a whimper.  Fred slept, and unfortunately he arose and went to work during a brief respite from sheer exhaustion.  Had I been awake like I was for nearly the entire night, I'd have been liberated.    

Sometime after Fred left, I awoke to the sound of his cat, Guinness, scratching the aluminum screen door.  Much worse than fingernails on a chalkboard, the soundtrack to my suffering lasted hours.

"Fuck off, Guinness," but Guinness couldn't hear me and wouldn't have given a crap either way.  Worse yet, I’d gone to sleep with a full belly of beer, and my kidneys burst at the seams, shooting pulses of unimaginable pressure against the insides of my lower back, while the pain on the outside of my lower back throbbed inward to my kidneys.  I tried to piss myself, but couldn’t.   

I had died and gone to hell.

If I can just get to my knees I can crawl to the bathroom. 

Deep breaths and cold sweats as my paralysis kept me stapled to the floor.  The slightest movement was incomprehensible. 

My fucking back is broken, I know it.  I gotta get help.

But I had no voice.  My mouth was sand, encrusted by the dehydrating effects of too much Milwaukee's Best Ice.  My tounge felt so brittle it might snap off in mouth.  Breathing was difficult enough, and a cry for help was out of the question.  

By around 11AM, and with an all-in approach to my escape and survival, I clawed my way to my feet and stumbled to a wall.  Completely blind and swooning under the the pain, I staggered along the wall to the bathroom.  Unable to stoop to open the toilet seat, I used the sink.  I couldn’t stand on my own, and I didn’t know what to do.  As I emerged from the bathroom into the kitchen, wondering how I was going to get help, a jovial Shep bounded through the front door, as Guinness slipped in ahead of him. 

“Good morning, Mr. Armstrong!  We made breakfast!  Coooooooome n' git it!”

Near tears, “Shep, I need to go to the emergency room right now.”  I stayed upright by clinging to the bathroom door frame with both arms.     

Shep, who is now a successful chiropractor, would hear nothing of it.  Only the finest medical attention for his buddy.  This was a job for conservative, chiropractic care, and though it was Sunday, Shep was determined to track down my Hippocrates.  I might have argued for the ER, but I’d have accepted a dentist if I thought he could assuage the pain even a little. 

 “Ok, Davy, I tried a dozen chiros and I finally got one who answered his page.”  Shep and my friends eased me into the backseat of Michele’s vehicle and we drove a few agonizing miles to a one Dr. Throckmorton’s office.  He was dressed in shorts and a hot pink tank top advertising a local radio station.  He’d been gardening.  

He diagnosed that the transverse processes on my 4th and 5th lumbar were cracked and bent out of kilter.  He twisted me back into kilter and the pieces into their proper places.  

"Now it's time to take it easy and let the bones heal like you would with cracked ribs," he ordered.  As I mended, I regularly visited Dr. Throckmorton for follow-up adjustments.  I eventually recovered.  

Oatzy feels bad about it to this day, but he shouldn’t.  His intentions were good.  All’s well that ends well, and I’m glad not to be in a wheelchair.  Craig’s sister is in a wheelchair.  She was sledding with friends on her eighteenth birthday and went over a bump and landed exactly wrong on her backside, breaking her spinal cord.  Craig told me the doctors had said that if she’d been leaning one centimeter in any other direction she would never have thought about it.

Other people win the lottery.

And most of us just try to get trhrough somehow.  Sometimes things can really make you angry.  And we tend to feel overwhelmed to such an extent that we find it difficult to live alone.  We find each other.  And the cosmic lottery needs more ticket holders, so we must reproduce ourselves.  Is this spectacular?  Perhaps, and we aim to find out.  So we fall in love and some people marry, as Adam did in the winter of 2003.  

A group including Craig, Abe, Wolf and two guys I’d grown up next door to named Pete and Luke threw Adam a bachelor party at Bernie’s in downtown Anchorage.  We lounged on couches and the married guys gave advice, while the unmarried bemoaned Adam’s inexplicable decision to enter perpetual monogamy.  We drank Long Island iced-teas into the night, and Adam and the others headed to a different bar.  Pete, Luke and I remained to finish our last Long Islands before driving to midtown to meet up wth the rest of the crew.  When we left, we did so en masse with a dozen other random customers.  We squeezed through the narrow entryway when someone to my rear shoved me forward and I lunged into the person in front of me, who, in turn, pushed back.  Drunken reflexively, I thrust my palm forward and hit the person in the head.  I’d aimed for the person’s back, but she was only five ft tall so I instead popped her upside the head.

Her boyfriend was later described to me as a “skinhead-looking guy.”  Out on the sidewalk, he snatched the glasses off my face and winged them into the night sky above powdery snow.  Immediately we hit the ice, fairly evenly matched, half wrestling, have slugging each other with our fists.  Luke scrambled to pry us apart, and Pete jumped straight into the fray—which was helpful because Pete has a black belt in something I'm not sure what.  Trapped in his death-grip, the skinhead guy literally tapped out, and Pete let him up.  With my glasses having been flung into oblivion, I was even blinder than usual, and the mayhem crescendoed with shrieks from Skinhead Guy’s girlfriend.  Fists flew through darkness as Luke, Pete and the bouncer scrambled to keep the Skinhead Guy's posse at bay, screaming “He’s blind! He’s blind!” as the girl's legs kicked wildly in the air at me.  

"Blind?  This asshole punched my girlfriend in the face!"

Despite the melee I managed to explain to Skinhead Guy what had happened.  Curiously, he calmed himself as I spoke.

“Dude, I got pushed into her..."

He stared at me.

"I didn’t mean to hit her in the face…"

Still staring.

"Everyone was pushing and shoving…"


“She pushed me back--”

His forehead interrupted me on my nose and upper row of teeth.  We hit the ground again, and SG was again subdued by Pete and Luke, and I by the bouncer.  A cab pulled up and SG and his girl and retinue jumped in, hissing threats of cops, lawsuits, and kicking my ass.

In truth, Luke, Pete and I were definitely concerned the cops could be swinging by, and it was time to leave right then.  So we bolted and with all my drunken fury I sped up D Street to 7th Ave for about 30 ft before smashing headlong into a stop sign.  So I stopped.  

When I woke up, Pete and Luke, helped me to my feet and into the getaway car.

We met Adam and the others at the next bar and headed for the men’s room to clean up.  My face was fucked, lips streaming blood and a knot the size of my elbow on my forehead, sticky and stinging.  Amazingly, my nose wasn’t broken by the head-butt.  As we washed up, Pete kept droning on about the blood stains on his new, white shirt.

“I’ll buy you a drink, man.  Thanks for saving my ass.”

“You’d do the same for me.”

Sure I would, but who else gets in these situations?  Without Pete, Luke and the bouncer I could have really gotten thrashed.  What the hell was the matter with me?  Why was I so aggressive with everyone around me?  Was  I just unlucky?  Was this just to be expected from someone who drank as much and often as I?  Would this have happened if I’d had my cane?  If I was sober?  Everything in my life was getting worse and worse, and the fact that I was so angry made me all the angrier.  Did this have anything to do with RP?  Was I “lashing out” or was I just a violent drunk?  The bouncer concluded so, and for years I was 86’d from the establishment until such time as he no longer worked there.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Cane and Able

It was late-fall 2003 and I met up with my mom for lunch.  We turned down Taft Drive into a residential neighborhood and stopped at a building I didn’t recognize.

“What’s this?  Are we getting lunch here?”  

“No.  We're not getting lunch.  This is the Center for the Blind.”

As I’ve said before, it would take some act of chicanery to coax me through the doors of any such center. 

“I’m not going in.”     
“Yes you are.  You’re going in to have an assessment for a white cane.”

“Now?  I don’t want to.  I’m a grown man and I don’t have to do what you say.”

“Yes you do.  Come on.  I’ll go in with you, if you like.”

“I’d like for neither of us to go in.”

“That’s too bad.”  She unbuckled he seat belt.

“I don’t want to…at least not now.  If I ever get a cane, it’ll be on my own terms when I want to.”

“No, it’s going to be now.”

“This sucks!"  I stared straight ahead and didn't take of my seatbelt.  "Look, I don’t want a white cane, not now, anyway.  I’m totally unprepared for this...this humiliation.”

“David, it’s not a humiliation.  You and everyone who knows you knows you need to start this process.  You’ve even said so yourself.”  

I had.  From time to time following collisions with walls and what have you, I’d confess, but only after embarrassments.  All the same, I wasn’t about to let my mother determine the time frame.  I remained recalcitrant, though I knew I couldn’t for long.  This was above and beyond my usual obduracy, and my mother had extended her normal unflappability.   We were at an impasse.  The stakes were high and all bets were off and so forth.  

“Mom, I don’t know these people.  What if they’re all a bunch of blind dorks?  I don’t want to associate with these people.  They're probably weirdos.”

“I’ve met them and they’re not dorks.”  She grinned, adding “And the Orientation and Mobility instructor is drop-dead gorgeous.”   

So in we went.

My mother hadn’t lied.  I met Brandie Young that afternoon, and we’ve remained friends ever since.  She's a knockout and fun to be with.  I’ve read horror stories from other RPers about their O & M instructors, and I'm reminded how lucky I was to have Brandie.  I would have said to hell with the whole thing as soon as my mom was gone, but I kept coming back and making a conscious effort, mostly to hang out with Brandie.  She was the first professional I'd spoken to since Dr. Harrison and his trusty penlight.  As Harrison had, Brandie set a positive tone right off the bat, and like it or not, for a second time now, I’d finally be crawling from a cocoon of denial and ignorance.  After Harrison, I had eight years to bullshit the world and try to play the whole thing off.  Now I was going public.  Fucking sucked. 

For our first session, Brandie came to the my apartment on Lake Otis Parkway.  It was October and cold so we decided to go across the street to the YMCA and walk around so Brandie could get a better feeling for what I could and couldn’t see.  The Y was directly across the street, but the stop lights are several hundred yards in either direction.  I never gave this much thought since I can see if cars are coming, so I started across the street.  


I leapt back and yelled as loudly “What?!”  The street was deserted.

“We need to walk down to the stop light.”

“But the Y’s right there,” I pointed, “and no one’s coming, so we’re good to go.”

“That’s jaywalking, Dave!"  She seemed utterly astonished, like this was the first time she'd witnessed such audacity.  "Besides, what if a car is coming and you don’t see it?”

“But there aren’t any cars coming.  Do we really need to walk all the way to the light?”


I mumbled something as we started our journey, ten minutes longer than it needed to be.

Upon entering the Y, Brandie asked me to look at a spot on the wall, but not to move my head or eyes.  She'd walk, starting behind me, and keep walking toward the spot on the wall until she entered my visual field.  This would give her a rudimentary approximation for what I was seeing peripherally.  

"Sounds like a lot of fun."  I'd taken visual field tests before.  They're excruciating.  

We started the fun game.  Nothing happend for a long time until Brandie magically appeared, nearly touching the spot on the wall.

“Dave,” shaking her head, “you need to be using a cane at all times of the day, no matter where you are or what you are doing.  Your visually fields are very tiny.”

“Oh they’re not that bad.”

“They are that bad, Dave!  I was almost in front of you before you could see me!”

“True, but normally I’m allowed to move my eyeballs back and forth, and up and down.  Also, I have a neck which allows me to obtain even more field by swiveling it and titling it.”

“What are you going to do when something unexpected jumps out or you miss something?”  A valid point, considering it'd happened countless times before.  

“Brandie, I’m not using it unless I really need to.”

“Fine,” and she let it go for the time being.  Brandie was tough and demanding, though she possessed a great sense of when to allow me to work through it all without too much interjection.  A rare skill.  She knew this process would be piecemeal and painful, and she possessed the patience to let me wrap my own head around the new approach to getting from A to B, and all the perceived stigma this cane would carry with it.  

Brandie was few years younger than me when we met, and still is, I suppose.  She bounded with energy and made the whole process bearable.  She was a right-wing, Conservative Presbyterian from Pennsylvania who had studied biology at a Christian college.  She believed in Calvin’s doctrine which followed from the "Problem of Divine Foreknowledge": the theological problem which elucidates that concern that since god has always known since before time began who will and will not go to heaven or hell, our perceived will power to change it is an illusion.  Indeed, the whole notion of free will is called into question.  This problem is funny to me because it illuminates one of the myriad contradictions of religious, monotheistic eschatology.  Free will is a crucial facet of western religious ethics, and Calvin's recognition of the problem certainly was cause for alarm.  Philosophers and theologians have toiled endlessly to reconcile this problem because many will never let go their notions of the hereafter and the afterlife, let alone their beliefs in god and the gods.  But not all afterlife principles are equal, and Calvin’s seems utterly unappealing for no other reason than that it obliterates even the slimmest and most dubious of silver linings one hears from religious sympathizers: that the fear of heaven and hell motivates the otherwise pernicious to rectify their behaviors in the hope of reward and the fear of reprisal.  Of course, we know this is not the way the world works.  Instead, religions tend more often to encourage the wicked to act even more wickedly by cloaking vice in the garb or virtue.  Nevertheless, Calvin makes the whole point moot since, for him, our actions posses no connectivity to our final destination. 

Theological problems such as this one amuse me because they belie belief in a benevolent god.  They bring to bear the gods' conceit and caprice.  Why was the god of the Old Testament pleased with Abel's blood sacrifice, but totally pissed off about Cain's grain sacrifice?  Now we know how Elohim feels about vegetarians.  I've never seen an even remotely interesting explanation on the tale, only that Cain's attitude towards the whole thing was too competitive.  Must have been some really nice grain.  Anyway, this is clearly the lesson to be learnt, and by no means  should anyone gleen anyting from the fact this god demands we slaughter and burn animals in his name for some reason.  

"Hm, I've been sinning.  That can't be good.  Better slaughter and burn this animal to make up for it.  That should do the trick."  To believe in such a god is to hate him.  So why believe?  The world is far better off without such a tyrrant.   

Breaking for coffee with Brandie on one of our first O & M outings, we discussed this issue of god's foreknowledge and the idea of divine predestination.  

“Are you going to heaven when you die, Brandie?”

“Yes!”  Ebullient, and utterly convinced.

“Do you know for sure?”

“One hundred percent!”  

“How can this be?  Doesn’t god preordain the elect?  How can you be so sure you’re numbered among them?”

“I just know it.”

“But how?  How can you claim to know something as mysterious as a plan which is infinite in origin and destination?  These are more like mysteries, I would think.”

“Yes, but I have no doubt whatsoever about God’s existence, God’s love for the world, God’s sacrifice for our sins.  And I have no doubts I'm going to Heaven.”
“No doubts?  Wow.  What about me?  Am I in the elect?”

“Well, no, I suppose not, since you don’t believe in God.  You haven’t accepted Jesus as your savior.”  

“Well, why should I?  It’s all said and done anyway, isn‘t it?  Why not eat, drink, smoke crack, be merry, and get laid all time?”

“Because someone who knows he’s counted among the Elect would never do those things because the Bible tells us they are harmful to us.”

“Physically harmful?  Okay, maybe smoking crack.  But the rest of it?  And you can’t mean spiritually harmful, either, since it’s irrelevant what we do on Earth because the potter has already thrown and fired the clay all all of that, and we’re just waiting it out until we croak.  It won't matter what you've done.”

“Dave, we aren’t supposed to question God’s commandments.  He ordered them and we have to obey them.  He ordered them because they are good for us.  It wouldn't make any sense not to be good since God obviously knows more than we do.”

“But it’s all decided anyway!  I can't get past that.  And those that do obey god’s laws, and do all the right things, but didn’t win the heavenly lottery, they'll burn in hell for eternity with no hope of redemption.”

“I’m afraid so.”

“So god created eternal souls he foreknew would not be elected for eternal paradise and would thus end up in the only other possible place to burn in a lake of fire for not just a trillion years, not just a trillion to the trillionth power years, but for eternity—a concept our brains can’t even comprehend—with no hope for redemption or escape or just the rest of eternal nothingness?  Really?  He would do that?”

“Matthew says that many are called but few are chosen—”

“Yeah I know…and the guy from the highways and hedges or whatever answers the king's invitation, but he shows up without wedding clothes on and gets sent straight to hell!  No wonder so many people skipped the king's party.  He sounds like a dick.”           

            “Just because you’re aware of God’s existence isn’t enough.  You must be chosen by Him.  The schriptures are very clear on this.  Just because you have the ears to hear him doesn’t mean you’re listening, Dave.”

            “And it’s off to hell with us when we die?  And no second chance after that?”

            “Dave, do you know the story in the New Testament about a man who dies and goes to hell?  He wants to come back to Earth to warn his family about Hell and that they better turn to God." 

"Yeah, and the guy asks Abraham, who I guess was visiting hell for the afternoon, and tells the guy his family has Moses and the prophets to tell them that and that's good enough."    

"Um, sort of.  The point is we have been given a great first chance and don't deserve a second chance.  We can only get their through the grace of God.  True, only God knows, but if you aren’t chosen, yes, you're soul will go to Hell.”  

“Well, fuck that god.”  

Nevertheless, we remained friends and I learnt all about swinging this collapsible, 5-foot, graphite, white-shafted, red-tipped stick in front of me.  How to hold the handle in my right hand with my index finger on the flat surface of the rubber handle, its nylon chord wrapped around my wrist.   Brandie taught me how to navigate stairs and escalators, and how to figure out where I was and how to get where i needed to go.  She taught me how to stand at intersections and listen for when traffic is crossing in front of me or running alongside and to determine by listening when it’d be safe to cross.  I'd be sent on missions from one store to another on a different street, and I did it with my eyes closed, since I can see well enough to cheat otherwise; besides, the day may come when I run out of eyesight and need to know how to get around.  My last session included crossing Spenard Road (four lanes) and Minnesota Drive (six lanes) with my eyes closed and at rush hour with no help from Brandie.  Try it sometime.  It’s as hard as it sounds. 
When it comes to coping with my bad eyesight, Brandie was as influential upon me as anyone.  She was the opposite of a handicop, convincing me I was better off with the stick than without it, that my heal-dragging was doing more harm than good.  Brandie has since moved to a different blind center in a different state, but we remain friends.  In fact, she reads this blog and doubtless she remembers our early exchanges differently than I do.  It's weird writing dialogue from seven years ago that will be read by the other participant.  Fuck you, fourth wall.
 The people at the Alaska Center for the Blind and Visually Impaired turned out not to be dorks.  I joined their Board of Directors and served as the Board president for a year.  Check them out at:  Then give them money.

The cane era had begun.  As typical, it took the cunning of women, and I was now armed with a passport to run into shit without people thinking I was drunk.  To be drunk, and to run into shit with impunity.  This could end up being a pretty useful device.  I could travel without my accoustomed anxiety.  I would finally be free.
But a white cane?  A blind man's white cane?

"Fuck, I hate this thing.  I’m not using it unless I really need to" and that would be that.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Lady Handicops

Not long ago, Aaron and I walked down an icy 4th Avenue to the Anchor Pub.  Upon arriving, I unfolded my cane before entering the chaos of barstools, pool tables and drunks.  Just under a bright light outside the entrance stood a very attractive woman.  As Aaron and I headed in, the woman quipped, “What is that?  Isn’t that a cane for blind people?”

Sigh.  “Yes, it is.”

“Why do you have it?”

Sigh again.  “Well, because I’m visually impaired, aren’t I?”  I might have added an epithet, but attractive women get a little extra grace for asking stupid questions.  Fair?  No.  The way it is?  Yes. 

The grace period ended when she answered, “Liar.”

On cue, my heart increased its walking gait to a canter and quickly into a full gallop.  I swiveled my head to a bemused Aaron, and I could sense the gears in his head.  Here we go again.  Dave, please don’t punch this woman.

I would never punch a woman, but I would yell at one.  Hottie or no.

Alright cutie, you blew it.  Your looks won’t save you this time.

As the retort formed on my lips, she lilted “You’re too handsome to be blind.”    

          This was a curveball.  A) How does one’s appearance correlate to his ability or inability to see well? and B) She’d disarmed me with this bizarre “compliment,” and for once I found myself dumbstruck.  Unable to formulate an appropriate rejoinder, I said “Uh,” rolled my eyes, and caned into the pub with Aaron (whose ordinarily sharp tongue was equally nonplussed).   

From time to time women can be as thickheaded as men.  They can be just as cruel, just as crass, just as evil.  Sure, there are lady handicops, too, but how one deals with their brutality is far more difficult than it is with men.  Considering the perception of womankind’s usual sensitivity, one is thrown for something of a loop when the lady handicop’s sidearm is drawn.  And since men tend to enter general discourse with women differently than they do with other men, responding to a female handicop's charge can be a bit baffling. 

A woman once observed while I flirted with her at a local Anchorage bar, Darwin‘s Theory: “You see a lot more than you let on.”  

Was this metaphorical, a sweet acknowledgment of the depth and poetry of my soul, its keenness,  its probing insight, and my penetrating, extrasensory sensitivity?  I hoped so.

“How’s that?” with an optimistic smile.

“You’re not as blind as you make yourself out to be,” she cooed sweetly.  

Somehow I remained hopeful, as a fight with this woman was the last thing I wanted.  I scratched the back of my neck hoping I misunderstood.  Furrowing my brow--and keenly attuned to my accelerating pulse—I queried, “Do you mean literally?  That I literally see better than I let on?”

“Yes.  I don’t think your eyes are as bad as you’d have us think.”

“OK, what am I hearing here?  I really see fine, but for some reason I’ve decided to act otherwise?”

“Look, I’m just saying you seem to get along really well, and you’re looking at me right in the eyes, and I get the feeling you’re not as bad off as everyone says, or as you say.”

“How bad off do I say I am?”

“Well, you have that cane, which means you’re blind.”

“First off, I’m visually impaired, not blind--I have some vision.  Second, do you have any idea what an insult that is?  Do you know how much I hate having to use this stick?”  I slammed it on the table.  “Do you have any idea how long I resisted getting it?  How are you able to tell what I can or can’t see?  That’s pretty fucking impressive you know how well I can see!  And what am I after here: pity?” 

“Hey, settle down!  I’ve seen blind people and they can’t get around well.  You see pretty well because you do get around well.  And yeah, maybe you are using this cane for pity.”  She was getting hostile and defensive.  I was on the offensive and wasn’t going to let this girl off the hook.

“Who the fuck are you?  How dare you accuse me of being a fraud?  You’re telling me to my face I’m deliberately playing up my disability for pity?  Fuck that and fuck you!”

“You’re walking around here with a cane, but you’re making eye contact with me right now!  How is that possible?”  

“God you’re stupid!  I don’t know where the hell you get off making that kind of accusation, or if you’ve even thought about what you’re saying.  Unbelievable.”  It wasn’t at all unbelievable, but I wanted her to think she was the only fool who’d ever said something like that to me.  I could feel her whole body trembling across the table. 

“Well…well, fuck you then!” as she grabbed her purse and stomped out, not bothering to pay her bill.

A similar situation happened with a friend of a friend whom I’d met previously while not using my cane.  She seemed pleasant enough when I first met her.  A couple of weeks past, and six or seven of us--including her—were sitting around a table at a local bar and grill called Humpy’s.  After I’d I caned my way through standing crowds and had found my friends, I ordered an IPA and took a seat next to the woman I‘d previously.  My friends and I laughed and drank and carried on as usual, when she leaned in and whispered in my ear, “So what’s with the white cane?  Are you pretending to be blind?”

The first question was fine.  The second was not.  It wasn’t the fact that she didn’t know I was visual impairment.  Why would she?  We’d only met once before and I didn’t’ have the stick with me then.  If the question was, “Dave, I noticed you have cane--are you visually impaired?” I would have been fine and answered her.  I’m not sensitive about the mere fact that I experience the condition, and indeed, it’s better people know.  For years, among certain groups of friends, I’ve been distinguished from other Daves as “Blind Dave.”  Am I bothered by thehandle?  Not at all, even though I don’t consider myself blind (though the law does).  But it has a better ring than “Visually Impaired Dave” (although that would be funny) and this way people know right away what’s up, stick or no stick.  Once at a party, a newcomer asked me “So Dave, why do they call you ‘Blind Dave’?” to which, before I could open my mouth, my friend Heather snapped, “Cuz he’s deaf, you stupid motherfucker.”  (No one gets more peeved with by foolish questions and accusations than my friends.)  People have asked me what’s the deal in a lot of funny ways.      

But, “Are you pretending to be blind?”  Eh, no.  

In situations like these, I’m often reminded of the scene in The Big Lebowski (1998) when Walter (John Goodman) decides that Jeffery Lebowski—the millionaire and paraplegic based on General Sternwood in Raymond Chandler’s The Big Sleep (1939)--is a fake.  In the film, much of what we think is true about Mr. Lebowski turns out to be false, and Walter assumes the man’s paraplegia is, too.   

“I’ve seen spinals in Nam, and this guy’s a goldbricker!” Walter grumbles to The Dude (Jeff Bridges) as he—Walter--bear-hugs the man, lifts him out of his wheelchair, and flings him aside, only to see the paralyzed man collapse to the floor in tears of abject humiliation.  If you live in Outer Mongolia and haven’t seen the film, it might surprise you to know the scene is hilarious.  But in real life, and when it happens to me, it’s less so.
The conversation with the women progressed as they usually do, with my rising pulse and refusal to let it go without an apology and an admission of stupidity.  As with the one at Darwin’s, this conversation ended with the woman stomping out of the bar in either frustration or embarrassment, except this time, she dumped my pint of IPA on my bald head.

Jason--who’d been pinned between two other friends in the back of the booth--seemed somehow to spring over the table like a magic cat as he chased her out the door hissing vows of vengeance.  When he returned a few moments later, we asked him what he said to her.

“She was getting into a cab.  I ran up and threw some ones through the driver’s window and screamed ‘Get this stupid cunt out of here!  I don’t care where you take her!’  She was crying in the back seat.”

To her credit, she gave me an apology card and a beer pint a few days later. I dug her sense of humor about it, and we’re friends now.  She’s probably pissed I’m telling you about this.  The moral, however, is that in the end it’s possible for understanding to occur.  It’s also advisable that I cultivate a better sense of humor during these harassments.  I should ask myself, “How would a visually impaired Chevy Chase respond?”

As ridiculous the questions, as inane the suggestions, and as stupefying the stupidity of strangers, people learn and things can turn out okay.  This is less likely to happen after a reactionary response on my part, despite the seething impulse to lash out.  I’m in a unique position to educate the ill-informed that human vision exists on a spectrum and not everyone fits nicely on one end or the other.  Who knows how much change I can affect in others?   I do know I can change the way I react to the world’s overabundance of human ignorance.  Like I could start by refraining from phrases like “the world’s overabundance of human stupidity.”  If I must.

And ladies, if you could refrain from accusing me of pretending to be blimd, maybe we can get back this notion of me being handsome.