When someone is disabled or strange looking (and I’ve been born both) people think you are stupid. People think you are beneath them. Even the people showering you in what sounds like empathy do so while crushing you under their feet. They patronize you. They think you're weak.
Every instance in my life where I was talked down to this way is alphabetically recorded in these filing cabinets. Isn’t that neat? See how far this place stretches. Squint your eyes. You can’t see the end of it can ya? “Is it wise to hold onto all this like this?” I hear you asking. “It seems unhealthy to cling to all this stuff.” You might say. “It could breed ulcers. Hatred”. Well, fine sir slash madam, I'm glad you asked. I catalogue all this so that I can know when I am being talked down to. Sometimes it's hard to tell. People will sound like they are complimenting me but if I cross reference their words with the words of this database I’ll discover that wait hey, they are patronizing me! Their honeyed words espousing my heroism and bravery are no less pitying than being talked to like a child. I won’t let anybody's pity slip into my subconscious. “Oh.” I see you saying. Oh indeed. Here. You need an example. I’ll let you sample a bit of the catalogue. It will be fun! Here, here is the S section. I'll close my eyes and pluck a file out at random and….
Santana Muzak 2003/November/ID No. 56824-387
My tiny arms bulged against heaps of heavy dishes as I pushed the busboy cart into the washing room. I grabbed the spray wash hose off the hook and while I rinsed the dishes I made a mental list of all the songs I wanted my friend Andrew to burn for me. There was this new thing called Limewire where you could pull any song out of the clouds and put it on a CD. It seemed magical to me and I couldn't stop dreaming up mixtapes. Maybe a bit of Linkin Park. A dash of DJ Sammy’s Heaven cover. Oh and Michelle Branch. I started humming if I want to I can save you I can take you away from here as I pushed the dishes into the dishwasher and leaned against the hot aluminum.
A muzak rendition of ACDC’s Highway to Hell crooned through the restaurants loudspeakers and the cooks shouted and swore in the kitchen. I didn't understand why the cooks were so angry all the time. You'd think the smooth sounds of Kenny G-ified rock hits that constantly wafted from the restaurant's speakers would mellow them out a bit but nay, they yelled foul language and banged plates and threatened to disembowel one another.
Ian, the other dishwasher, who looked like a youngish, more trailer trashy version of Henry Rollins, barreled into the washroom covered in brown oil.
“Fucking grease!!!” he said. I knew he wasn't talking to me because he tries not to swear around me. I ignored him and scrubbed a scrambled egg infected plate.
He threw his apron into the laundry basket and grabbed a new one off the rack. Steam billowed from the dishwasher as I opened the door and set the plates on the drying rack.
The muzak shifted to smooth jazz Whitesnake and I heard Ian regaling the cooks with a profanity laced Tale of How Ian the Brave Dumped Out the Leftover Grease. I drifted off into my own world again. This time my mind spun through pixelated hills gobbling up all the rings in sight. I started to get dizzy from all the loop-de-loops in Green Hill Zone as -
“Could you handle it ok while I was gone?” Ian said, rounding the corner. He made sure to talk slowly. So I could understand.
“Yeah.” I said. Perturbed that he had scrubbed away my daydream and eager to go back into my own head. But if I’ve learned anything from being alive it’s that most people don't like it when other people daydream. They want to talk. Incessantly talk.
“It's not too busy in here for you is it?” it was a Wednesday. It's never busy on a Wednesday.
“Good! Good job!”
He put on gloves and began scrubbing the plates in the sink that were too dirty to put through the dishwasher. He bobbed his head to the musak.
“You know who this is?” he asked.
“Santana. And Rob Thomas.”
“Wow!! That’s really amazing! Who taught you that?”
Snow Guy, The 1997/December/ID No. 63564-096
I found a porno VHS tape in my attic. It was buried in the box of my stepdad’s crap that he forgot to take when he left. I had to show my friend Razor. He was an authority on these things. So as I was getting ready for church I stuffed the tape into a pillowcase and then shoved the pillowcase down my pant leg and tied it to my belt buckle with string. I made sure to wear my most baggy slacks. My mom said I looked ridiculous but I told her baggy pants were The Cool Style. She was too tired to argue with me and we were running late for the service anyway so she let it slide. All through the service I felt it bouncing against my leg, its triple xxx branding my outer thigh with I don't even know what. I wasn't sure what exactly happened in a porno. After the service I hustled to the vestibule caught Razor by the arm and said I just had to show him something hurry hurry. We huddled beside a dumpster behind the church, cradling the VHS tape in our hands. Pretty ladies made funny faces on the cover that I had never seen anyone make in real life.
“The ladies are really pretty.” I said.
“You sound like a homo.” he rejoined.
“Little girls are pretty. These are Hot Bitches.” he said with authority.
“Ah!” that didn't sound quite right to me, but I deferred to his judgement.
“This is a good one too. Wet N Wild 14. My Dad has this one.”
“So like...how does it work?!”
“Well, you take out your weenie and start rubbing it while you watch.”
“That sounds dumb.”
“Just do it.”
Ladies in fancy dresses strolled by and gave us funky looks. We beamed our most God fearing smiles. They beamed back and smoothed their dresses. The church was starting to empty at a rapid clip. I had to hide the tape again and fast.
“Just make sure no one is home when you do it.” he said. “They get mad.”
“I dunno. They just do. That's what they are for.”
I stuffed the porno back in my pants via the (devilishly ingenious) pillowcase.
A man had stopped in front of us and watched us intently.
“Oh shit.” Razor said as he bolted away.
“Hey you-” I groaned. I was in deep trouble now.
The man strolled up to me. A light snow fell.
“Little Gregory!” he said.
“How are you?” he raised his voice an octave like he was talking to a baby.
“Um fine. Just fine.”
“Oh that's so wonderful!” he said.
I didn't know what to say. I was eager to go home and try the weird things Razor explained...wait what did he say to do...rub...rub your weenie while you watched...I still didn't get the allure. It seemed stupid. I was eager to try anyway.
The old man opened his palm and let a few flakes land on his hands.
“Do you know what this is called?” he said.
I didn't have a clue what he was talking about.
“This is called snow!” he said “Isn't it pretty?”
“So Special!” 1994/July/ID No. 24509-889
I was seven or eight or something, strutting through one of the many street fairs Middle of Nowhere, Pennsylvania is so obsessed with. I plodded through the packed street with a large, purple teddy bear slung over my shoulder. I was on top of the world. No one could hurl darts at multi-colored balloons like me, boy. I reached up and clicked my hearing aid off, and the screaming kids and drunk adults and high pitched whines and bleeps and bloops were muffled into something more akin to gentle ocean waves. Now I could focus on my own inimitable awesomeness. My sneakers pounded against the pavement and I was lulled into a trance by the muffled noises and the night sky decked out with lights. God could I chuck darts, son.
The world was peaceful.
Sparkly and shit.
I saw someone hidden by shadow, leaning against a tree. Its gaze didn’t leave me. When it stepped out of the darkness I saw it was a woman dressed in baggy, polka dot pantaloons, a red afro and peeling face paint.
I blinked and she darted closer. She moved farther than a human being should be able to move in the span of a blink. As she crept closer I could see the pity and ignorance glistening between her gobs of black eye makeup. Heeere we go again...I thought. Before I could figure out a last second avenue of escape she was next to me. She flung her arm around me in a death grip so there was nowhere for me to go. Her breath was stale, fetid with bleached holiness as she looked down on me. Her eyes were shrouded by the ferris wheel shadow and her face throbbed with the light of the tilt-a-whirl. Her lips trembled with pity. I felt the jubilation seep out of me. Yep, there it is, all my old happiness and contentment there on the ground in a shimmery puddle. Sir! Don't step in my joy! I’ll need it when this clown releases me. I hope it releases me.
“You're so brave.” she said, without preamble, clutching me closer. The over sized polka dot pantaloons billowed around me, wrapped around my nose and mouth like plastic bags. I struggled for breath. I tried to shrug her off but she was too strong.
“I just want you to know that you are special, ok? You are so so brave, young man, and Jesus loves you. Jesus don’t create no mistakes.” I wonder if she knows that by implying that Jesus didn’t create any mistakes when referencing me she is clearly hinting that I couldn't be faulted for thinking that I was a mistake.
By then I learned to just humor people when they think they’re showering you with empathy so I tried to be polite. To smile and nod. The trick is make them think they are having a deep, lasting impact on you. Then they will release you and you can resume your regularly scheduled life. So I said “wow thanks.” But this didn’t mollify her.
She grabbed me by both shoulders and whipped me towards her so I was forced to look into her eyes. I guess I wasn't compliant enough for her, not rapt enough in my worship of her kindness. Her fingernails bit into my shoulders and the flickering lights threw the long shadows of her fingers across my back and they danced like aggravated rattlesnakes, so so ready to pounce on my throat. She hissssssssed poisonous platitudes into my ears and forced love to spurt from her eyes.
“You are so special!” she said through gritted teeth-or was that a smile? She clutched me to her chest, choking the breath from my lungs. She hugged me in silence before finally opening her death grip and releasing me. I gulped down the air and ran into the crowd clutching my hard won teddy bear to my chest. I was terrified that she'd followed me so I peered under everybody’s legs and saw her waving into the darkness. She was confident that she'd touched my heart enough, that even though she couldn’t see me, I was waving back.
Greg has Treacher Collins Syndrome, which makes life beautiful and surreal. He's been a plumber, a janitor, a dishwasher and has been published in several online journals. His site is gerburky.wordpress.com!