I live in a pretty cool part of my city, a neighborhood busy with weekly concerts in the park, monthly art festivals, sports of all sorts–5Ks and .05Ks and the like, beer gardens, food trucks, and street festivals. It’s a hipster haven, it’s LGBT friendly, it’s fairly liberal, it’s crazy with cool new restaurants, it’s got good schools for families–it’s got a lot going on along all the right trajectories.
Saturday was the Bay View Bash. It’s a one-day close-down-the-streets four-stage cover band palooza. Lots of craft vendors and artisans hawk their wares, and there’s more patchouli (eewwww) and street food than you can shake a waffle on a stick at. Also, beer. Lots and lots of beer is available, and lots of beer is imbibed. I don’t like beer. GASP! How can I hail from Brew City and dislike beer? I just do. Dislike it, that is. The smell of beer makes me kinda dry-heavey, and no, it’s not a holdover from having drunk too much beer when I was 22. The smell of Southern Comfort holds that special place in my colorful history–I wasn’t always the angel I am now, you can probably imagine. This is not a post about judging people who drink too much. I do love a well-crafted cocktail, wines of all shades, and would dive into a pool of margaritas and slurp my way out with a straw if such an opportunity presented itself. I’d be the world’s jerkiest hypocrite if I pretended I’d never previously gotten my sauce on in an overindulgent way.
No, this is a post about judging people who look down at people who appear different. And by look I mean stare slack-jawed and by stare I mean, “wow, you’re really acting like an asshole.”
I encountered two people in motorized wheelchairs at the Bash. One individual garnered little attention. He looked “normal” (yes, quotes intended for there is still no font for my tone of voice), except for the wheelchair. For a period, we ended up behind this gentleman in traffic as we all wove our way through the throng. Passersby straight up stopped and stared at him as he traversed the crowd, and I don’t know why it surprised me, but it did. This dude isn’t the one that’s got me all contemplative though–it’s the other man. Now I will grant he was not wearing a shirt, and I’m always pro-shirt when it comes to street festivals, so maybe that could be factored into the stares. But his body was more physically different than the first guy. Markedly different. Markedly physically deteriorated; his legs were contracted and his arms moved with considerable, rigid effort. His head canted to the right and into his chest.
I know what you’re thinking, so stop it! Wendy, obviously YOU were staring at him as well since you’re such a reliable informant on his physical being. For a chunk of time, my family was walking behind him, and yes, he stood out. Yes, I watched him from behind. I mentally extend sincere apologies to wheelchair users I pass, because now I do think about wheelchairs when I encounter someone in a chair. I wonder if my son will land in a chair like one of those I see some day–I do actually check out the various chairs’ features–and I wonder if people will stare at my boy. I wonder if sidewalks and buildings will be accessible for him. I wonder how he will feel
if when people make assumptions about him.
What prompted me to write this was a woman’s (I hope it was booze-infused because I don’t want to live in a world with this level of overt uncouth and unkind) loooooong stare down as she approached from the opposite direction. The stare would have been enough for me to react negatively to her, but the stare coupled with the SNEER, huff, and shriek of OH MY GAWD to her friend, whipping her head around to continue to stare at his back as they went in opposite directions. It was awful. She was awful. I sincerely hope she was that drunk. He is a PERSON, you malevolent beast, not an attraction. Sure he looked different, but I bet he knows that already. I bet everyone he passes recognizes that too, so probably no one needs that pointed out.
Who knows? Maybe he did something jerky to her last pass? Maybe they have history? Maybe he was a giant ass to her first–people with physical disabilities can be jerks as easily as anyone else. Maybe I’m making too much of it because I view things through the lens of my son’s future. Maybe it was the conspicuous absence of the shirt? Maybe it’s none of my damn business?
Except it is everyone’s business to be kind. BE NICE, PEOPLE! Which is a lovely segue into my next topic. If not for Jenny Lawson’s effing amazing blog, The Bloggess, which you should totally click here and read, I’d never have discovered Wil Wheaton’s blog. I haven’t read every syllable he’s ever written, but I do enjoy his writing style and perspective on many topics. I LOVED this message he relayed: Whenever you can, do something kind for future you. Read Wil’s full blog post here. It’s much better than what you’re reading now. I’ll wait til you come back, I promise.
Of course I was reading his post while mindlessly stuffing my face with Doritos (there’s nutritional science and psychology behind why they’re the perfectly perfect engineered snack, people), but the crunch inside my head was so loud, it took awhile to shush sufficiently that I could hear what Wil was saying. I stopped gorging myself in that instant, and did something future me would appreciate: I stopped jamming Doritos into my pie-hole. I also stopped feeling guilty at keeping my hair appointment. My husband got called into work second shift today and tomorrow, and I felt like I should stay home to shuttle little one to football practice. I asked another set of parents to pick up and deliver him, and they did. There’s much more to come on this subject, but my takeaway was a new twist on a familiar mantra: be kinder than is necessary–you are your ground zero.
It’s my birthday, so happy birthday to me! Birthdays are not exactly time for not-resolutions, but it’s always appropriate to take stock and think kind thoughts, right? And not just for future you, but for right now you too. Thank you to everyone in my world for starring in the role of being just who I need. If you made me happy, thank you. If you made me reflect, thank you. If you made me want to throat punch you, thank you for the lesson on what I don’t need and/or want. You are each exactly who you are meant to be in my life, you each fill the space you were meant to inhabit for little old WW. As is her annual tradition, my friend Nikki occupies (among her many roles in my life) the role of outdoing herself creating personalized, often inappropriate Barenaked Ladies-themed household items. Apparently the traditional gift for one’s 49th (holy shit you guys, I’m 49 in less than two hours!) birthday is a photo collage blanket of me with my favorite musicians on the planet. It’s amazing and hilarious–Nikki deemed her effort epic, so please enjoy. Oh, Nikki, you kill me. You fill that role like no one else in the world possibly could! #ketchupandmustard ❤️💛
I thought my birthday present from Nikki would be the piece de resistance of birthday swag, but that was until I got home fully blonded-up, just as nature intended. Epic though my blanket may be, and it IS epic, right, #Ladiesladies?–it’s not this rare glimpse into the psyche of my seventh grader. His English/Language Arts teacher charged kids to create a poster about something “real” in their lives, and this is what he designed, thus far in draft. I could barely speak. The birthday gift my big kid gave me isn’t even meant for me, but the gift of his perspective is more than I can manage tonight. My hold on acknowledging 49 is tenuous enough, but this? I can’t speak. But I don’t need to–he, in a rare and special turn, spoke volumes. Happy birthday to me.