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.