Driver's Side Airbag #45

My Big Day Out
by Dave Riley

I first concluded that most people are emotionally retarded dimwits when I was but a sprout in the suffocating grip of single-digit age. Back then, the same adults to whom I was supposed to look up talked down to me as if I were a domesticated animal. The notion that I was surrounded by a bunch of clueless sponge-brains clung during my adolescence when I, right on schedule, was disgusted by the inability of those around me to recognize the fact that I knew everything there was to know. Then I entered my twenties and "grew up". I was routinely encouraged to curb my cynicism and embrace the intrinsic goodness of all human beings, to acknowledge that it is ignorance and a crappy environment, not sheer stupidity, that render some folks insufferable. What a load of horseshit! My experiences of the past several years have bolstered the opinion that I've held all along.

I use a wheelchair, and tend to slur my speech, thanks to a stroke I had in 1993. Contrary to popular belief, my condition is not due to a botched suicide attempt or drug overdose; I inherited it from my mother's side of the family. This may seem an unlikely cause, but it's Yahweh's truth, and not uncommon. Being saddled with this type of legacy is kind of like getting stuck with a receding hairline, only a much bigger pain in the ass. Many stroke recipients can walk and talk just dandy, but are mentally impaired to some extent. Me - my marble pouch is still full.

Clearly, only maladjusted idiots and egocentric cowards feel the need to pigeonhole people. If a person doesn’t fit neatly into a pre-existing, popularly known category…well, you’ve probably heard this a zillion times before, and hopefully you managed to figure out what’s what a long time ago. If you haven’t, may I inform you that you are a patent imbecile, and advise you to arrange to have your body cremated, then shove the barrel of a gun into your mealy mouth and pull the trigger in order to make room for those people who deserve to live.

Last week I ventured to a Best Buy to purchase batteries for my Walkman (actually, an Aiwa personal stereo). Regardless of what the powers-that-be would have you believe, a considerable number of wheelchair-accessible beveled curbs in the city of Chicago are, it’s been my admittedly limited experience, good for two things: shit and nothing. This prohibits the use of most public transportation. There are three private transportation companies contracted by the city; each commands a fleet of vans equipped to accommodate wheelchairs. I always schedule rides with the company that operates twenty-four hours. They are relatively punctual, and when I travel with them I usually get to ride in the front like a human being, not in the back strapped down like cargo. Because I’m more often than not the only passenger, I don’t have to deal with unsophisticated, disheveled young men who nonchalantly, and at regular intervals, break the foulest wind imaginable. Or wizened blue-haired old ladies who wear special shoes and insist on playing Nuremberg trial inquisitor:

“So, young man, do you prefer being called physically challenged or differently abled?”

“I’m fine with worthless damn cripple.”

That always shuts ‘em up, damn betcha.

The van idled in front of the Best Buy; the portly driver who smelled of dry sweat assisted me as I maneuvered my chair onto the pavement. He cheerfully bellowed, “OK, guy, enjoy your big day out!”

Big day out? You hapless galoot, I’m just going to the Best Buy for a few lousy batteries! I fondly remember the time I sojourned to my bank to make a deposit, and I once I journeyed to a Target for sweat socks - now those were big days out! And then there’s the time I felt supremely ambitious and made a pilgrimage to a Jewel to buy caramel chocolate chip rice cakes and a bottle of Louisiana hot sauce.

As I approached the automatic front doors of the store, I heard someone hollering. I slowed, turned to my right and saw a man frantically running towards me like a pit bull had chomped him in the ass. He skidded on his heels and stopped when he got to me, and repeatedly pivoted his head back and forth between me and the door.

Befuddled and breathing heavily, he said, “I was gonna open the door for you - I always try to help people who’re, y’know, less fortunate than me - but I guess I don’t gotta on accounta they got them, y’know, openy doors.”

I’m not making this up.

I continued, unassisted, on my way inside. He frowned as he watched his chance to amass karmic/brownie points go swirling down the toilet. I guessed he was going to buy the latest Dave Mathews Band CD.

Once inside, I headed straight for the Duracell display kiosk in the main front aisle perpendicular to the check-out lines. I always follow a certain modus operandi when I shop for sundry items: decide in advance what I’ll get; go into the store and get it; pay for it; leave.

No sooner had I reached my destination than I was accosted by a female salesperson who wore an expansive smile and the regulation Best Buy blue golf shirt. She was homely and had an astonishingly big butt.

“May I help you find something?” she chirped.

I politely explained that I was in the market for some batteries, and here they were right in front of me so I didn’t need her help thanks very much.

She didn’t move, kept smiling: “Well, if you decide you need my help, just let me know. What exactly do you need batteries for?”

"My Aiwa personal stereo.”


“My Walkman.”

She tilted her head and cooed, “A person like you - I mean in your condition - must take great comfort in music. I really like Beatles and I listen to WLIT - the Lite - and the oldies station. What kind of music do you like? You look like you listen to that alternative rock station Q101.”

That did it.

“Come to think of it, I guess you can help me,” I suggested. “A poor, unfortunate creature like me gets mighty lonely. I sure could use a blow job.”

Her smile melted, her jaw dropped, her eyes opened wide, the color drained from her pudgy cheeks. She placed a hand to her chest, stood mute for a few seconds while she shook her head in open-mouthed disbelief. Then she took off, trotting up the boxed-set CD aisle. I think she was crying.

I was tempted to corral the manager and complain that my eager salesperson had finally been of no help at all, but I decided to reserve my energy for the gargantuan chore ahead. I took a deep breath, reached out and pulled an 8 pack of Duracell AAs from the rack in front of me. Took all of 1.3 seconds, I immediately knew that when I got home I’d have to soak my arm in Epsom salts, then take a nap to recover from such a taxing ordeal.

Outside, I was sitting in my chair, minding my own business and waiting for my ride, the newly-purchased batteries were hidden in my backpack. A middle-aged woman walked up to me and thrust a dollar bill under my nose. This has happened several times before. I’ll be sitting, waiting for my ride, not talking to anybody, and some bleeding-heart will assume that I’m panhandling. And the cheap bastards usually only offer a buck, maybe two. For a twenty, I’d put on a show: I’d drool on myself and employ the voice that Adam Sandler often affects in his many well-publicized but ill-fated attempts at comedy to profusely thank the do-gooder. I’ve found that polite refusals or vicious insults only encourage these jerks to continue pestering me with patronizing admonishments that I not be stubborn, that I graciously accept the kind and generous help of selfless people like themselves.

I looked up at the woman wielding the dollar bill, acted annoyed and said, “Pipe down, willya? Can’t you see I’m trying to raise the Kundalini?”

The woman humbly apologized and scurried away.

My ride eventually came. The driver emerged from the van, confirmed my name and destination, then used the exaggerated tone of a kindergarten teacher to ask if “we” had been shopping. I answered that I’d been building a nuclear submarine, I suspected that she had parked in an alley, napped and had had a romantic dream in which she did Paul Hogan’s laundry. She didn’t respond; in fact, I don’t even think she was listening.

I’m truly giddy with excitement at the prospect of my next adventure; I plan to check my P.O. Box.

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