99 ProblemsThe daily struggles of urban living as a quadriplegic explained one by one. It's so much more than not being able to find a parking space.
99 Problems — #4 Strangers touch me.
One Saturday morning on a downtown Los Angeles walking tour, a grey-haired man in a grey pin-striped suit touched me as he passed by. Technically, it was more of a shoulder grab followed by a question.
“How are you doing today?”
The exchange happened fast, the grab unexpected. I would have thought it a figment of my imagination if it weren’t for the confused look on my husband’s face when I looked up at him directly afterwards. Still, after three years together the random stranger touching comes as a surprise. But not to me. After 14-years of being in a wheelchair it’s something I’ve become accustomed to. For some reason strangers have an innate urge to touch me, like hands to a pregnant belly. And most of the time they want nothing in return.
During this particular stranger encounter, the man didn’t wait for a reply to his question. He simply squeezed, smiled, made his statement and then continued strutting passed our tour group, all fifteen of us, cheerfully swinging his brown leather briefcase. That’s right, he was the kind of guy that carried a briefcase on a Saturday morning.
Other encounters of the stranger kind include a homeless woman praying for me in the middle of the street, a man resting his hand on my shoulder while waiting to use the crosswalk, and also a fifteen minute conversation in the grocery store aisle while trying to buy pasta, hand on shoulder–and it doesn’t stop there. No matter where I go it seems, someone, somewhere, is waiting to touch me. And instead of trying to make sense of it, I’ve learned to simply play along. I mean, it could be worse. I could be untouchable, a real life sitting monster people fear to touch. And as far as I’m concerned, that seems much more emotionally damaging in the long run.
So for now I take my stranger touches in stride. And then secretly put them in my stranger categories, which go something like this:
The Touchy Offenders:
Petters. No adult should ever touch the top of another’s head, ever. But a Petter will, and he or she will do so with pride and dignity as if loving on an animal. In extreme cases, Petters even goes as far as to stroke the hair, which is totally creepy and completely unacceptable.
Prayers. Oh Prayers. They mean well but walking up to a disabled person in public and asking for his/her hand for in prayer implicates one of two things: “You look sad.” Or “My life is better than yours.” So yes, this can be an awkward situation (especially on a first date). Instead of denying prayer service, because this surely will cause confusion and create quite the scene, I oblige and then say my own little prayer later. I ask the universe to help people become less judgmental.
Kids. What’s there to say? Kids are kids. Babies and toddlers violate everyones personal space, so I don’t particularly consider myself special for having this category. Although in my case, the touching doesn’t happen to me directly but more the joystick atop of my wheelchair. It’s inevitable. Any human under 8-years-old will attempt to grab it at some point in passing. So when in any room of children, or even say shopping at Target, it’s important I be on guard at all times. A child will never be blamed for running him or herself over, even if he or she is at fault. Spoiled little rug rats.
Do-Gooders. Like Prayers, Do-Gooders have good intentions. However, recalling motivational quotes aloud, tilting the head and rubbing my back upon a first encounter comes across as, well, condescending. And while Kids put up a good physical game, the Do-Gooders are emotionally exhausting. They will inquire and chat about my injury, or the injury of a friend, or even a friend of a friend, for hours, forgetting or completely unaware that I’ve been dealing with my injury for a very long time. And that’s because in their eyes they’re processing the adversity as if it was Day 1.
Trippers. These oblivious pedestrians trip or fall (on top, in front, or behind) me depending on what part of my wheelchair they snagged in passing. Embarrassed, they usually casually collect themselves, laugh it off, and then spend the next few seconds apologizing while looking around aimlessly, as if assuring everyone the social faux-pas wasn’t their fault. Although, I like to make sure everyone knows it was the Trippers fault regardless if it was or not. If we’re going to play this game, let’s really cause a scene!
Gropers. Ironic to the name, Gropers are the most harmless of the offenders but still considered like the extreme sports people of touching. They either over-touch in conversations in attempt to hide their uncomfortableness of adversity AND/OR over-touch to prove their openness for diversity. They also may reach out to touch for their own sake, just to take a little self-evaluation of their humanity level. ie. The I-did-something-nice-today test.
Eye Fuckers. These people don’t have to touch physically because their acute stares are equivalent–or actually even more violating–than any other touching offense. The intensity of an EF’s stare can even make a one-eyed unicorn feel uncomfortable. So at all costs I try to avoid eye contact with Eye Fuckers, or at the very least imagine that they’re simply admiring my outfit. In reality, however, I know they are probably trying to figure out what is wrong with me and if it’s contagious. So that’s fun and always something to look forward to.
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You want more problems. You know you do.
99 Problems #1 Attack of the Flying Pens
99 Problems #2 My Kitty Has Super Powers
99 Problems #3 Los Angeles Sidewalks Are Cracked Out
99 Problems #4 Strangers Touch Me
99 Problems #5 I Once Offended a Woman With Lupus.
99 Problems #6 I Hate Parking Garage Ticket Dispensers