You Wouldn᾿t Believe the Day I᾿ve Had
Had you not been their father, these white flakes
did challenge pity of them. Was this a face
to be oppos’d against the warring winds?
to stand against the deep dread-bolted thunder?
in the most terrible and nimble stroke
of quick cross lightning? to watch—poor perdu!—
with this thin helm? Mine enemy’s dog,
though he had bit me, should have stood that night
against my fire, and wast thou fain, poor father,
to hovel thee with swine and rogues forlorn
in short and musty straw? Alack, alack,
’tis wonder that thy life and wits at once
had not concluded all.
One fact about being a spinal cord injury that I still have trouble with, even after three decades, is that I need help moving my bowels and cleaning up afterwards. It is, literally, a shitty job, and I am beyond grateful to the many who have helped me throughout the years and who have treated me with dignity. Occasionally, as with every other person I᾿
I᾿ve ever met, my bowels become inconveniently soft. My family and I call the really embarrassing mishap an involuntary, but you call it what you want: diarrhea, Montezuma᾿s revenge, the Hershey squirts, liquid draino, a mess! the connotations are the same; it is humiliating on the most primordial level, especially when it happens at work. Imagine a 220+ pound man as his stomach starts to rumble, creating enough noise to make him start voluntarily coughing, uttering barbaric guttural sounds in an attempt to conceal the involuntary churning of his visceral discontent, then hearing the unmistakable sounds of liquid fecal matter effusively exiting with the grace of a pubescent acne-ridden ballerina—not pleasing auricularly, ocularly, or aromatically.
I was at work when the incident so wonderfully described in the previous paragraph happened to me. It was just after lunch and the skin around my stomach was so tight that if anyone would᾿ve thumped my abdominal dome it would have sounded like the singular chirp of a baby chick, so maybe it was my gorging that caused the mishap. At that time, I had had innumerable problems with our city᾿s para-transit division (the people within the Transportation Department involved with transporting patrons who are wheelchair bound), so I knew that I wouldn᾿t be able to count on this service to carry me home. (The head of Metra’s para-transit department (Dail-A-Ride) ungracefully strutted around on her two incongruously large feet in full possession of an infinitesimally small IQ and an inversely proportional gargantuan self-esteem that tended to inflate for no other reason than to take up more gaseous space in her otherwise vacuous skull… but I digress.)
I asked a friend of mine at work to assist me out the door so that I could ride my electric wheelchair back home. My parents had just moved out to Hamilton, a hamlet about thirty minutes north of Columbus, the Fountain City, and they didn᾿t have a phone yet; my uncle and aunt, who worked at a local high school, weren᾿t available; another aunt had just changed jobs and I didn᾿t have her new number; I only had my attendant᾿s number at my house, not at work; it was a cool spring day, and I figured I could make it to my grandmother᾿s house (she lived right behind me) and she could open the door at my house so that I could call my attendant who would help me change my soiled attire. It was a good plan, a plan I had used before, but this time pernicious powers prevailed.
Back at work, I told my friend Jeff the plan and asked him to inform those he thought needed to know about my special dilemma. I started off from work feeling confident as the cool breeze reminded me how lucky I was that it was not later in the season when I᾿d be suffering from the asphyxiating heat. As I passed what used to be Ballastini᾿s Cleaners on the corner of Fifth avenue and Eleventh street, I remembered an earlier incident when I was making the same trip from work to my house, but on this particular occasion, my wheelchair had stopped on that very corner, and I didn᾿t know what had happened. I had been sitting there for about five minutes when a policeman drove up to the stop sign across the street. I flagged him down; actually, I flailed my arms like a hyperactive epileptic, and the officer noticed, so he pulled up beside me. As I was explaining my situation to him, a maintenance man from TSYS, where I worked at the time, pulled up behind the police car, got out, and approached me. He took a look at the situation and said he could easily fix it. I᾿d like to be more detailed in describing the mechanical failure, but I don’t know nothin’ ’bout no ‘chinery! All I can honestly tell you is that I thanked the officer, and David, the maintenance man who (along with the rest of the guys in maintenance who helped me more times than you can shake a stick at) made my chair work when it wasn᾿t working just moments before. Needless to say, but I᾿ll say it anyway, on that particular excursion, I made it safely home after David fixed my chair; however, this trip would be more adventurous.
Jeff opened the security doors for me to leave my work place, and the sun was shining brightly as the breeze played a lovely serenade through the leaves of the trees while branches waved bon voyage. Since my accident, I really don᾿t get much time by myself, so I enjoyed the quasi-voluntary solitude; however, just after I passed Weracobra Park, aka Lake Bottom, I realized that my wheelchair was slowing and that it probably wouldn᾿t complete the trip. I was wheeling through one of the more affluent neighborhoods, so my chief concern was that my chair was going to die and the citizens of that particular section of town would be so involved with their lives that I᾿d go unnoticed until the stench of my carrion would cause enough communal concern to warrant an investigation into the effluvium caused by a week-old dead man with shitty drawers.
I altered my course to head down one of the busier streets of the Fountain City. Hilton Avenue has many costly architecturally impressive homes that stand a good 200 feet from the road, but it is widely traveled and it was my hope that if my wheelchair stopped, a policeman might come to my aid after a phone call from someone worrying that I might be casing the joint for a future burglary. I knew that on the corner of Hilton and Warm Springs Road was a Chevron gas station, and it was my hope, nay, my determined ambition, to pamper the wheelchair to that location and see if the petrol guardians would hook me up to a battery charger and thereby enable me and my trusty chair to complete the journey home. It was about 1:30 p.m., and I was a little concerned that I wasn᾿t even going to make my newly chosen destination.
Luckily, when I got on Hilton at the Country Club Drive junction, there was only a small grade hill that inched its practically straight course upward for about a hundred yards, then it indiscernibly sloped downward towards its intersection with Edgewood Drive, an intersection that looks infinitely more perilous when viewed from an electric wheelchair that was now making a top speed even slower than a pregnant ant or constipated turtle.
I know next to nothing about batteries, be they the small batteries that fit in one᾿s portable cassette player, the nine volt rectangular batteries that fit so easily in the palm of one᾿s hand that facilitates the action of throwing it a hefty distance, or the two twelve-volt deep cycle batteries that power my wheelchair. To me they᾿re all just tangible examples of magic. Things work just because batteries are used; however, in the thirty years I᾿ve placed my fat butt into one of these battery powered wheelchairs, I have noticed something for which I can give no explanation: if the batteries from my wheelchair completely die, and I turn off the power and wait for about five minutes, then turn the power back on, I will go forward for a good six to twelve inches! It also works similarly if my batteries are just about dead, crawling ever so painfully along until I turn off the power, and when I turn the power supply back on, I can race forward at a blinding centimeter per hour! I think I shall call this phenomenon the Rigor Mortis Interruptus!
When I reached the nefarious Edgewood intersection, I was indeed crawling with the celerity of an octogenarian snail with arthritis. So, I turned off my machine (to employ the thaumaturgical syndrome Rigor Mortis Interruptus) and watched the occupants of the various automobiles that went by as they looked at me curiously, debating the immediacy of my situation in a nanosecond and determining that I needed no assistance without looking in the rear-view mirror for verification. I let the light change about five times before I decided to turn my machine back on and chance crossing the thirty feet of asphalt. I pushed the control lever forward and felt the surge of power that almost made a wisp of my hair jerk back from the force, and I inched across the intersection wondering how many drivers I was seriously angering because I may have held up their progress for the paltry fifteen seconds that must have seemed a lifetime to them. I did make it to the other side and kept the throttle determinedly forward because I was going down a slightly steeper hill and I was cruising twice as fast; that᾿s right! I was traveling two centimeters per hour!
I had enough power to cross the railroad tracks, barely, but I was still a good football field length away from the gas station that was my destination, and it was on the other side of a four-lane road. I could see it before me, the chevron pointing to the exact point for which I was heading, but the road leveled as I approached the tri-colored traffic signal that taunted me, gaily swinging like a pendulum of a clock, reminding me that my time was almost up, and the gravitational momentum that I was experiencing just seconds beforehand slowed to a more rusty gait. Again, at the intersection of Warm Springs and Hilton, I clicked off my machine and waited, anxious to test once again the powers held within Rigor Mortis Interruptus.
It took about twenty seconds to cross Warm Springs then twenty more to cross over Hilton, which seemed an eternity as glaring eyes darted ominously from tinted car windows masking Corinthian leather seats that supported the well-fed bulk of a driver intensely striving to save every possible second used in operating his automobile so that the actual time he accumulated through his frugal saving᾿s plan could be used in a more pragmatic pleasure, like watching television; but I made it! Not even pausing to savor the victory, I ever so slowly pulled into the garage, and to my delight, the petrol guardian had a battery charger to which I was quickly hooked. As I sat there, with my trousers full of waste and a dead battery, the owner of the car on the rack beside me approached. He was 83 years old, about five-eleven, one hundred and seventy pounds, and his short cropped gray hair was covered with a hat that had on its front the logo of a local bank.
“You wouldn᾿t believe the day I’ve had,” he softly said walking so spryly towards my defunct wheelchair.
He was an affable man with marble gray eyes that sort of sparkled as he explained his rough day, shaking his head every now and then in disbelief at his seeming lack of luck. He had pulled out of his driveway, apparently one of the palatial architectural structures that line Hilton Avenue or populate the surrounding suburbs, when his car had a flat. He had to use his car phone to call the wrecker to tow his Lincoln Townscar to the service station we both now employed, a few blocks from his abode. Then he had to wait an excruciating thirty minutes until the serviceman returned from a warehouse with the size and style of tire he needed. That was it! That was his rough day!
He asked me if I were waiting on someone to which I solemnly nodded; I had no desire to explain my situation, which made his rough day seem as intolerable as having sex while using a condom. After a few minutes, his car was ready, and with the agility of a teenager on his first date, he swept into his ride, rolled down his tinted window, and called back to the mechanics, “Next time I need tires, I᾿m coming here.” He put the car in drive, waved amiably at his new friends, and said, “Thanks!” as he drove out of the station.
The rest of the time I spent at the garage was relatively uneventful. I perused the calendars that adorned much of the available wall space, eyeing a particular treasure who seductively smiled, a voluptuous brunette with large, inviting… uh, eyes! yes, eyes… and dressed in a bikini that covered very minimally the parts of her divine body that people who are morally annoying or grossly overweight find offensive, and I was wondering if men bought tools from the company whose name was written in bold type above the smiling minx just because she was endorsing products from which they earn their living or if they actually purchased tools because of their usefulness and quality. Logic makes me assume that people who earn their living by using tools buy the best tools for their trade, but if this is so, what pragmatic reason would the company have for exploiting this really attractive woman᾿s body? Not that it bothers me in the least, mind you; it᾿s just that I think it would make more business sense if the company spent its earnings promoting its own merchandise instead of furthering stereotypes.
I had been eyeing the clock rather anxiously because my mother was supposed to go to where I work to help me at around three p.m., which was quickly approaching, but sit and wait was all I could do; having no other options made the choice that much easier. After about forty-five minutes, my battery was re-charged.
I drove through the Rosemont Shopping Center onto Rosemont Drive, which is actually the street on which I live but on the other side of Manchester Expressway, an eight-lane road that, oddly enough, takes one to the city of Manchester, but it has a grassy medium down its middle that is as inaccessible to me and my wheelchair as the eyebrow of Teddy Roosevelt on Mount Rushmore. Once I got to Manchester Expressway, it was my plan to turn right (heading east) until I reached Armour Road, cross at the light, head back down Manchester Expressway (heading west) and cruise the rest of the way to my beautiful front door and wait for my mother, who I knew would have come from my work place after finding out from Jeff my dilemma. But, oh how even the third revision of a master plan can still have hidden areas of foreboding.
I was now out of sight of the petrol distribution area when my wheelchair, once again, began to slow. The nigh elation I felt as I burst from the garage quickly metamorphosed into that area of concern one feels as a child at the realization that the Easter Bunny is just a symbolic rodent used to commercialize a religious celebration. My mind began, once again, to reel: Could this be happening again? Maybe that yokel attendant with the rag flaccidly dangling from his back pocket didn᾿t know what he was doing. Were those sparks I heard as he was applying the charger to the nodes? It᾿s a wonder he didn᾿t blow me up. How many brain cells does it take? I᾿m going back there and bleed all over his knuckles… or… maybe my batteries are truly dead. They are over three years old. How stupid can I be? Maybe I should᾿ve called someone!
I made it to the Manchester Expressway intersection, using Rigor Mortis Interruptus four more times. Automobiles, trucks, step vans, conversion vans, even a bus slowly pulled around me, yielding at the red triangular sign that silently commanded every one of the drivers to YIELD, to slow down and observe their immediate surroundings. I then watched the myriad vehicles as they sped past me, engulfing me oftentimes in the waste of their effluvial exhaust. I saw rosaries dangling from mirrors, the star of David, Vishnu, Brahma, Siva, bumper stickers that praised Jesus, another that designated that the driver was a clergyman, yet another that exalted a gospel singing group, but no one assisted me—an immobile wheelchair occupant just off the road, not even on the sidewalk, didn᾿t connote to anyone that something might be askew. Then, across the street, maybe 400 yards down Rosemont Drive on the other side of the bustling eight lanes of vehicular chaos, I saw my mother᾿s white van pull into my driveway. I whistled as loudly as I could, almost hyperventilating from the effort, but there was no way possible for her to hear me from that distance and all the accompanying traffic noise.
I concluded that my only course of action was to remain where I was and hope that when my mother left my house, she᾿d come towards me instead of turning a block from my pad to head toward Armour Road where she wouldn᾿t see me. Of course, my decision was based on conclusions derived from the extensive analytical thought process using logic and reasoning to arrive at the most efficient and pragmatic plan of action: I could do nothing else but sit and hope; however, not long after I had accepted the plan, a deep burgundy Accra pulled up beside me and the large woman driver asked me if I needed assistance. She was driving five others of various ages, and I assumed it was her family. I excitedly tried to point to the white van and explain that I wanted her to drive down Manchester and hang a U-turn at the Armour Road intersection, take a right on Rosemont, which was on the other side of the grassy medium straight in front of me, drive to the white van that was as obvious as a pimple on a teenage model, and tell my mother where I was. I must have done a halfway decent job of explaining myself because she did exactly as I had planned it in my head, regardless of how inadequately I actually expressed it.
I watched the benevolent woman drive her burgundy life-saving chariot back towards me, and I waved at her as she turned right. About ten minutes later, I saw my parents walking towards me. My father obviously accompanied my mother to my work, and they were both coming to help out their poor, innocent crippled boy. You may find this hard to believe, but the closer that my parents got, the bigger they got! and as they approached I couldn᾿t help but ruminate upon the words of the amiable octogenarian I had met earlier at the service station: You wouldn’t believe the day I’ve had!