Cartoon Image: Man drops coins into cup of man in a wheel chair, who is looking away. The word awkward is diagonal between the men.

Shrink on Wheels

Cartoon Image: Man drops coins into cup of man in a wheel chair, who is looking away. The word awkward is diagonal between the men.

The interaction of human beings has always fascinated me. It’s funny to watch the reactions of some people when they meet someone who’s disabled. Most of the time, people are normal, but there’s always a few that seem a little uneasy. Sometimes, it’s hard to get direct eye contact from them. Maybe they think, “I better not get too close, I might catch what he’s got.” Some are afraid if they asked a question, the person with a disability would answer in grunts and hand gestures while they stood there, dumbfounded, trying to figure out what the other person is saying. “Is this what you want? A bottle of water? A tissue? A chicken?”

mother and son enjoy a meal of Barilla Past sitting on a window seat

There have been times where people feel pity for the person who is disabled. They talk to them in a soft whisper, “You’ll be okay. God loves you.” I’m glad folks tell me that. Who would’ve ever thought that God could love the disabled people of the world? I thought He only liked the lepers and the chubby lady who sings in church. I’ve had religious believers come up and pray over me. They’ve even tried to stand me up for a miraculous healing. When it doesn’t work, they claim my faith is weak. I disagree. I tell them I had the utmost faith that this “healing” wasn’t going to work. They don’t bother me. Bless their little hearts for caring. Besides, a guy like me can use all the prayers he can get.

I’ve noticed some people are scared to talk to the person who is disabled. Maybe they just don’t know what to say. Maybe they’re afraid they might offend the person. Maybe they think the person will blurt out something and spray slobber on them. I don’t know. It’s tough to say. Everybody’s different. One time I was on a date in a restaurant and the waitress took the order from my date, and then, without looking at me, asked her, “And what would he like?” My dating companion huffed, “I don’t know. Why don’t you ask him?” So she turned to me and politely asked, “And what can I get you?” I blurted a series of babbling moans and groans as drool dripped down my face. I know… it was wrong, but I just wanted to make a point.

On the flip side, there are those folks who won’t stop talking to you. Many times I’ve gone out to a bar to enjoy a beer and, I don’t know what is, but the wheelchair attracts the drunkest guy in the room. He staggers over and usually starts out with a “wannabe funny line,” referring to my wheelchair, something like, “What kind of mileage does that thing get?” Before I can give him that fake, insincere, forced chuckle, the lush is cracking up at his own joke and telling his friends what he just said. Then he has to rephrase it to me several times to make sure I get it. “Do you get better mileage in the city? When’s the last time you had it in for a check-up? You know you should take it in every 10,000 miles.” Yes, he’s laughing after each line. No, I’m not laughing. I’ve heard the routine over a hundred times. It’s lost its punch. And no, I don’t get better mileage in the city. I can tolerate these intoxicated buffoons. They usually feel sorry for me and buy my drinks. Who’s complaining?

Sometimes, people approach me and I guess they want to feel empathetic.

“I know what you’re going through,” they’ll say, “I had to spend some time in one of those wheelchairs.”

“Oh really,” I reply, “What happened to you?”

“Well, I had pretty bad infected ingrown toenail and was laid up for almost a week.”
I sympathetically nod, “Well it must’ve been hell on ya, buddy. Damn, I only broke my neck.” At least I can get a pedicure.

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by Jeff Charlebois

Cartoon Image of Jeff with a mic next to his book, "Life is a Funny Thing".

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