On Being Useful

In my hand, I hold a Victor Reader Stream.  It belonged to my mother-in-law.  It plays Talking Books, audio described movies, music and recorded messages like shopping lists.  It has a broken charging port.  The port was defective from the get-go and my mother-in-law finished it off by jamming the charging cable into the port too hard too often.

My mother-in-law was a voracious reader.  When she was diagnosed with macular degeneration, I was already two decades into RP and two years into my Victor Reader Stream.  I became my mother-in-law’s librarian and tech tutor, downloading her chosen titles and demonstrating the Stream.  She would sit in her armchair, listening to her Stream, stabbing the buttons, earbudded, entertained, silent, satisfied.

My mother-in-law was the eager student of the Stream and I the eager instructor.  My urge to pass the torch of mastery came, in part, from her habit of turning thumbs down a ten-hour book after ten minutes, resulting in her demand exceeding my supply and, at times, my patience.  Her oft-repeated preamble, “I know you’re busy…” preceded the inevitable, “but I need books.”  I was, usually, happy to comply, for I, too, love reading.  I’d just never run into a person who could read, partially or completely, eleven books every seven days.

Prior to her macular degeneration-induced need for tech support, my mother-in-law viewed me as a marginally useful man introduced to her by her daughter, my then potential, and now late, wife.  With the Stream, I became indispensable.  I taught my mother-in-law the tricks of the one-handed NLS download, whereby an imagined book Wi Fi’d into her Stream in five short minutes.  And, while the iPhone confounded her and Braille proved beyond her, her Stream became her best friend and I, by association, became useful, even valued.

My mother-in-law’s Victor Reader Stream now resides with me.  I’ve found a workaround for its broken charging port.  But more than its usefulness, I value its heritage: the help I gave and the pride I felt, the gratitude she gave and the joy she felt.  And all it took was realizing that the best way to help myself cope with blindness is to help someone else with the same struggle.  That’s what it takes.

Playlist:

This Is Us” by Mark Knopfler and Emmylou Harris, from All the Road Running (2006)

These Are Days” by 10,000 Maniacs, from Our Time in Eden (1992)

The Way It Always Starts” by Mark Knopfler, from Local Hero (soundtrack, 1983)

When I’m Sixty-four” by The Beatles, from Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band (1967)

Education” by The Kinks, from Schoolboys in Disgrace (1975)

When the Water Falls” by Collective Soul, from Collective Soul (1995)

Transistor Sister” by Freddy Cannon (1961)

Show Me How This Thing Works” by Cracker, from Sunrise in the Land of Milk and Honey (2009)

Mother” by Police, from Synchronicity (1983)

Marion the Librarian” from The Music Man (1957), sung by Robert Preston, Hugh Jackman

Space Captain” by Joe Cocker, from Mad Dogs & Englishmen: Live at Fillmore East, 1970

Wild Theme” by Mark Knopfler, from Local Hero (soundtrack, 1983)

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From the Jalapenos Mailbag: Snap out of It

Dear Mister Jalapeno (or is it Mister Oatmeal),

In your blog, “A Hundred Forms of Fear,” you talk about blindness and anxiety.  Well, I have a  friend, Romeo (not his real name), who has anxiety disorder and has been told to “just snap out of it” by various people including family.  That bothers him and it bothers me.  What can I do to help my friend, Romeo?

(signed) Anxious Friend’s Friend

Dear Anxious Friend’s Friend,

Thank you for reading that Jalapenos blog and for writing about your friend, Romeo.

Anxiety is a condition that affects all kinds of people.  Regardless of its source, anxiety and anxiety disorder are legitimate emotional states that people can’t “just snap out of” by sheer will power.  If they could, they’d have done so already.  Having others insist they can, just makes them feel more helpless.

Telling someone with anxiety to “just snap out of it” comes from two places.  First, it reflects the speaker’s frustration at feeling powerless to fix the problem.  Second, it reflects their misunderstanding of the nature of anxiety.  We’re not born knowing, so learning about anxiety is the best first step for friends and family.

For your friend, Romeo, if anxiety interferes with his lifestyle and impacts his personality and his potential, seeking help through therapy and/or a support group may be the best course.  Among many factors, anxiety may be exacerbated with blindness.  If so, blindness service agencies have the tools to help.

We come by the “just snap out of it” approach honestly.  It’s all over our culture, from the John Wayne rugged individualist to the French chef CPA soccer mom who never breaks a sweat.  This self-reliant, overachieving mentality contributes not only to anxiety but to the guilt and shame felt by people who try hard but can’t move the mountain.  Asking for help connects people, increases intimacy and gives another person the opportunity to help their fellows.  Rather than a sign of weakness, asking for help is empowering.  Learning how to ask and learning how to help are goals that benefit all parties.

Thank you for your desire to learn and for being a good friend to your anxious friend, Romeo.

(signed) Sigmoid O’Scope

Playlist:

Let it Bleed” by The Rolling Stones, from Let It Bleed (1969)

About Damn Time” by Lizzo (2022)

Get Rhythm” by Johnny Cash (1956)

Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood” by The Animals (1965)

It’s a Struggle” by Keith Richards, from Talk Is Cheap (1988)

Call My Name” by Them (1966)

Reach Out (I’ll Be There)” by The Four Tops (1966)

Try a Little Tenderness” by Otis Redding (1966)

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Yes, We Have No Bananas

I’ve broken my resolution to make no resolutions.  I resolve to keep apples, strawberries, pineapple and bananas on hand at all times.  Such fruit doesn’t imply a health food fad—strawberries don’t go well with potato chips.  For 2023, my need for fruit transcends fads and resolutions.

Hairy and Fifi are hosting their 35th Annual New Years Party.  Fifi’s sister, Mimi, is bringing crudites or charcuterie, I forget which.  Sadie is preparing bacon-wrapped dates, which she calls something on horseback, I forget what.  Scooter is mixing his potent libation, Swedish glog, or something like it.  Lola and I are bringing a fresh fruit platter, or so we intended.  Sad to say, Lola has become infused with a virus strain not neutralized by this year’s flu shot.  Never fearI’ll assemble the fruit platter with Lola’s virtual oversight.

I log in to Safeway Online and grab my carb and calorie favorites, then head to foreign territory for fresh fruit: apples, strawberries, pineapple and bananas, which Lola cautions turn brown if peeled prematurely.  An online coupon pops up for $6 off a $60 order.  I snicker and clip it, then stuff my cart with Chunky Soup and Dawn Dishwashing Detergent.  One banana brings my subtotal to $59.34, two bananas to $59.58, three bananas to $59.82.  I hold my breath and add a fourth banana.  $54.06!  Jackpot!  I’m playing with house money—time to cash out.

Safeway tells me delivery is scheduled between 1 p. m. and 2 p. m.  At 1:05, the doorbell rings.  I tap my way to the front porch, call, “Thank you!” and hear “You’re welcome!” from the retreating Door Dasher.  I feel around and find one paper bag containing carbs and calories and a second full of Chunky Soup and Dawn Dishwashing Detergent.  I swing my white cane left and right like the third musketeer but come up empty for a third bag with apples, strawberries, a pineapple and four bananas.

My call to Safeway’s Delivery Hotline begins with being urged to take my business to their online chatterbox, which I ignore, then being urged to enter my phone number, which times me out before I can enter all ten numbers, then hearing music and messages telling me how important I am to them and then being connected to a real person named Jeannette, to whom I state my order number, phone number, first and last name and to whom I describe the curious incident of the missing fruit.

Jeannette, courteous and understanding, tells me she will refund the cost of the undelivered items.  I tell Jeannette I’d prefer having the undelivered items delivered.  Jeannette tells me that replacement delivery is permitted only when undelivered items exceed $25.00 and my undelivered items total only $23.86.  I then ask Jeannette to call the delivery driver and tell them to feel around for the bag of fruit still in their car.  Jeannette tells me she’s unable to contact the driver.

I absolve Jeannette of blame, then request she forward my ensuing comments up the Safeway policymaking food chain—to wit, I find their $25 replacement delivery threshold arbitrary and their inability to contact their drivers absurd.  Jeannette replies that she understands my point.  We part friends and I feel proud that I chose not to lay a heavier dose of guilt by telling Jeannette I am blind.  My discretion reflects no virtue—I’m sufficiently outraged being the victim of undelivered fruit without needing to play the blind card.

I stand in my kitchen alongside shopping bags devoid of apples, strawberries, pineapple and bananas.  I fleece my cupboards, refrigerator and freezer for a fruity workaround.  Do raisins count as fruit?  Anyone for prunes?  I’m blindsided by the vision of that Ghost of Christmas Past—Swedish Fruit Soup, that vile concoction with dried apricots floating like severed ears atop brown broth.

Here and now, compared to Swedish Fruit Soup, undelivered fruit seems a blessing.  I intone the Serenity Prayer.  I hum “Auld Lang Syne.”  I resolve to have Crazy Carl’s deliver Pineapple Pizzas to Hairy and Fifi’s party.  Pineapple Pizza rivals Swedish Fruit Soup on my gag me scale—but it’s the best I can do and I’m in the business of doing the best I can do.  That…and I resolve to keep on hand apples, strawberries, pineapple and bananas for Hairy and Fifi’s 36th Annual New Years Party.

Playlist:

Bringing Home the Bacon” by Procol Harum, from Grand Hotel (1971)

Who Can It Be Now?” by Men at Work (1981 Australia; 1982 U. S.)

Yes, We Have No Bananas” (novelty, 1923), covered by Louis Prima’s Orchestra and others

Fresh Fruit” by Procol Harum, from Exotic Birds and Fruit (1974)

Day-O (The Banana Boat Song)” by Harry Belafonte, from Calypso (1956)

Banana Boat (Day-O)” by Stan Freberg (comedy/parody, 1957)

Raspberries, Strawberries” by The Kingston Trio (1958)

New Years Day” by U2, from War (1983)

Redemption Day” by Sheryl Crow (1996), covered by Johnny Cash (2003)

Safeway Cart” by Neil Young & Crazy Horse, from Sleeps with Angels (1994)

Auld Lang Syne” by Susan Boyle (Traditional; from the poem by Robert Burns, 1788)

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Walking My Pet Snake

It’s not like I’m packing for an Arctic trek.  It’s only a walk to the mailbox.  I’ve done it hundreds of times.  Still, today marks my first trip using my white cane instead of my guide dogand therein lies the challenge.

I’m deliberate in my preparations.  I lay out each item: hat, scarf, coat, gloves, boots, keys, letters, white cane.  I don’t want to arrive at the mailbox and discover I forgot to put stamps on the envelopes and have to turn around and walk all the way home through the snow.  I want to do this scene in one take: hit my marks, follow my cues, deliver the goods.  So, I double-check my inventory, open the door and step into Colorado powder.

“Where’s Tundra?” calls the neighbor who lurks in shadows and startles me with sudden interrogatories.

“Seems the frozen tundra has found us,” I reply.  “As for Tundra the guide dog, she’s at the veterinary day spa for wash and set, manicure, pedicure and teeth cleaning.”

Without breaking stride, I set my internal GPS and head west toward the mailbox.  I shoreline the curb to my right and count 99 steps to the—PING!—stop sign, then another 25 steps to the left turn to the mailbox.  So far, so good.  No slips, no slides on the dusting of snow.  I retrieve my incoming mail and post my outgoing mail.

Homeward bound, I shoreline left, step right while sweeping left and step left while sweeping right.  With the cane, I am vigilant.  With Tundra, I remain focused but relax into sharing the controls with my canine copilot.

After 124 paces, and right on cue, comes the sudden interrogatory from the shadows.  “Well, whaddya make of that?  Most days, I track you and your dog.  Six footprints.  Today, looks like you took your pet snake for a walk.  Whaddya make of that?”

“What I make of that is that we’re both lucky neither of them bites,” I call over my shoulder as I sweep away from the shadows toward home.

Playlist:

Walking the Dog” by Rufus Thomas (1963), Rolling Stones, Aerosmith and others

Rattlesnake Shake” by Fleetwood Mac, from Then Play On (1969)

Please Mr. Postman” by The Marvelettes (1961), The Beatles (1963) and others

The Letter” by The Box Tops (1967), Joe Cocker (1970) and hundreds of others

Return to Sender” by Elvis Presley, from Girls! Girls! Girls! (1962)

Return Post” by The Bangles, from Different Light (1985)

A Dear John Letter” by Jean Shepherd & Ferlin Husky (1953), Skeeter Davis & Bobby Bare, Loretta Lynn & Ernest Tubb and others

Dear John” by Hank Williams (1951)

Crawling King Snake” by Big Joe Williams (1941), John Lee Hooker (1948), Buddy Guy, The Doors (1971), The Black Keys  and others

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Endless Summer

Tortured genius: Vincent Van Gogh… Sylvia Plath…Robin Williams…Brian Wilson.

Brian Wilson created the Beach Boys sound.  He imagined tone poems and translated them into his own language.  He listened to music, disassembled it into components and put it back together—an ensemble of good vibrations. 

Brian, brothers Carl and Dennis, cousin Mike and buddy Al sang about sunny California, fast cars and sweet girls.  They sang about fun, fun, fun.  And they sang about fear and insecurity.  They sang “Surfin’ U.S.A.” yet only Dennis surfedBrian said the ocean was too big for him to feel safe in.  Across the water, The Beatles were British cool fashion plates while the Beach Boys’ sporty garb demoted them to the ranks, said Brian, of “golf caddies.”

Brian Wilson: struggling with mental illness, LSD-addled, morbidly obese, deaf in one ear from a blow from his abusive father.  Brian Wilson, who told his high school counselor he wanted to be a psychologist because “people confuse me.”  How, then, did Brian Wilson compose some of the most beautiful music every landlocked American teen dreamed of?  Listen to his biographer: “It is easy to romanticize someone with addiction or mental illness.  Brian had his problems and he was brilliant and created despite those problems, not because of them.  He made great art despite being a mess.”

We’re all damaged.  We do our best in spite of it.  Painters paint, writers write, performers perform.  I have a disability that I live with every hour of every day.  Living with this disability led me to create this blog.  So there is credence that I write because I am blind.  But the challenge and frustration of day-to-day living, the obstacles I encounter, lend credence to my belief that what I write comes in spite of, not because of, my blindness. 

With blindness, I learn new ways to do old things.  I tie my shoes.  I cross the street.  I resist being romanticized for learning these new ways.  I am no hero.  I am a human struggling to do my best.  I shrug the mantle of being called “inspiring”  on days I feel uninspired.  I cringe when I hear I am “amazing,” with “…for a blind man” implied but unspoken.  And, while being the object of lofty expectations, mine or others’, brings only added pressure, sensing your pity would be the worst insult possible.  We’re all damaged.  We do our best with what we have.

Playlist:

Do It Again” by Brian Wilson, from I Just Wasn’t Made for These Times (released 1995)

I Get Around” by the Beach Boys (single, 1964)

In My Room” by The Beach Boys, from Surfer Girl (1963)

When I Grow Up (To Be a Man)” by The Beach Boys, from The Beach Boys Today (1965)

California Girls” (vocals) from Good Vibrations: Thirty Years of The Beach Boys (box set, 1993)

Surfer Girl” by The Beach Boys, from Surfer Girl (1963)

I Can Hear Music” by The Beach Boys (single, 1969)

Good Vibrations” by The Beach Boys (single, 1966)

You Still Believe in Me” by The Beach Boys, from Pet Sounds (1966)

Don’t Talk (Put Your Head on My Shoulder)” by The Beach Boys, from Pet Sounds (1966)

God Only Knows” (tracking session) from Good Vibrations: Thirty Years of The Beach Boys (box set, 1993)

God Only Knows” by The Beach Boys, from Pet Sounds (1966)

Love and Mercy” by Brian Wilson, from I just Wasn’t Made for These Times (released 1995)

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Thirteen Things I Like about RP

Last Thanksgiving, I joined friends Mimi and Scooter and their family of twelve.  Around the table, we took turns telling for what, other than friends and family, we were thankful.  I didn’t mention RP then, but I’ll mention it now:

*RP won’t kill me.  Unless I get hit by that bus I don’t see, that is.

*RP is not painful.  At least, physically.  Emotional pain is a different story.

*RP doesn’t require expensive treatment.  No treatment + no cure = no expense.  Yet, I figure I’ve lost over a million dollars through periodic, blindness-induced unemployment.  A million dollars lost is expense enough.

*I don’t think about RP all the time.  At least, not while I’m asleep.

*RP has given me a way to stop the aging process.  When I look in the mirror, I see the same thing I saw twenty years ago.  And my partners always look great, too!

*RP saves me from enduring other peoples’ vacation videos and pictures of their pesce con cabeza platter from Puerto Vallarta.

*RP lets me play with a lot of really cool gizmos and gadgets.  My friends call me the James Bond of blindness.

*RP has teamed me with three wonderful guide dogs.  With them, I never walk alone.

*RP has helped me become an active listener.  When I can’t look around at stuff, what else is there to do when someone else is talking?

*RP helps me not to judge people by appearance.  But if you talk nonsense, I’ll judge you a fool.

*RP has led me to kind and generous people.  People who help me fix my computer, find the bus stop, fit in in a crowd.  People who work for a cure.  People who help me cope in the absence of a cure.

*RP has given me a mitzvah.  A mitzvah is giving another person the blessing to help meand feel like I’m gaining rather than losing in the transaction.

*RP gives me something to help others get through.  I’ve learned the best way for me to get through this is to help you get through this.

Playlist:

You Can All Join In” by Traffic, from Traffic(1968)

Life is Just a Bowl of Cherries” (1931), by Rudy Vallee, Judy Garland, Doris Day and others

Singin’ in the Rain” by Gene Kelly, from Singin’ in the Rain (soundtrack, 1952)

Get Happy” (1950) by Judy Garland, Frank Sinatra, Art Tatum and others

On the Sunny Side of the Street” (1930) by Ella Fitzgerald, Tony Bennett with Willie Nelson and others

O Lucky Man” by Alan Price, from O Lucky Man (soundtrack, 1973)

Smile” by Nat “King” Cole (1954) and others

The Tears of a Clown” by Smokey Robinson & The Miracles (1970)

Happy Days” by Pratt & McClain (TV theme, 1976)

That’s Life” by Frank Sinatra (1966)

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A Hundred Forms of Fear

First thing every morning, I face a hundred forms of fear.  A hundred forms of fear I cannot see.  Fear I’ll trip and fall on my face.  Fear my sister-in-law will be swept away in a hurricane.  Fear my nephew’s daughter will be shot down on the playground.  Fear that forces of fear and hatred will destroy our democracy.

I come by fear honestly.  I was diagnosed with RP, then diagnosed with anxiety.  Today, less sight means more fear of forces unseen.  But, rather than call anxiety my “disorder,” I see fear as a rational response to a society disordered by mass shootings, climate crises, racism, misogyny, inflation, intolerance, Covid and corrosive social media.

Every morning, I race fear to the finish line.  Meditation and music, reading and writing carry me forward.  Mornings are when I do my chores.  Mornings are when I walk on the treadmill.  Walking on the treadmill, I walk without fear.  Without fear that my next step will be my last.  Without fear my feet will fail or my head will be nailed by a street sign.  Walking on the treadmill, I let loose.  When I don’t fear falling on my face, I can face anything.  For sixty glorious minutes, I keep on truckin’.

I walk and I listen to music.  I listen to music loud.  I’ve selected 990 songs beating from 2.5 to 4.5 miles per hour.  I start slow.  When I’m warmed up, I kick up the speed and kick out the jams.  Then I cool down with cool sounds.

Some say the treadmill is walking far and getting nowhere, talking loud and saying nothing.  Some say it’s the hamster wheel, an exercise in wasted motion.  But I like walking on the treadmill.  I don’t know details about cardiovascular benefits.  I don’t know the names of brain chemicals that produce the pleasure I feel.  All I know is that walking on the treadmill helps me keep pace with those hundred forms of fear.  They don’t disappear, but I can face them eye to eye.

Playlist:

(Wish I Could Fly Like) Superman” by The Kinks, from Low Budget (1979)

The Magnificent Seven” by The Clash, from Sandanista! (1980)

Ship of Fools” by The Doors, from Morrison Hotel (1970)

I Wanna Be Sedated” by Ramones, from Road to Ruin (1978)

The Bends” by Radiohead, from The Bends (1995)

Mercy Mercy Me (The Ecology)” by Marvin Gaye, from What’s Going On (1971)

Cloud Nine” by The Temptations, from Cloud Nine (1968)

Thela Hun Ginjeet” by King Crimson, from Discipline (1981)

Apeman” by The Kinks, from Lola versus Powerman and the Moneygoround (1970)

Rambling On” by Procol Harum, from Shine on Brightly (1968)

Blue Sky” by Patty Griffin, from Flaming Red (1998)

Ramble On” by Led Zeppelin, from Led Zeppelin II (1969)

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The Cat Who Came in from the Cold

12:48 a.m.  I awaken to hear Tundra whining.  Tundra is my guide dog; when she speaks, I listen.  She is saying, “I want out!”  I rise and let her into the frigid midnight.  Even as I hold open the door, I figure there’s no way Mulligan the jail-breaking house cat will choose this cold night to dash to freedom.

12:54 a.m.  I walk the floor, calling for Mulligan, shaking his jar of treats, brushing my free hand across his cold and empty bed.  I conclude Mulligan has again answered the call of the wild.  In past escapes, I’ve wandered the great wide open, calling his name and shaking his jar of treats until he tires of the wild and howls for home.  Those pursuits occurred on sunny summer afternoons.  Tonight, I refuse to traipse around in the cold and dark.

1:17 a.m.  I decide to go back to bed, lie quietly and listen for plaintive howls.  Ten minutes into my vigil, I hear Mulligan meowing outside my bedroom window.  I rise, open the door to the cold and dark wild and wait while Mulligan takes his sweet time strolling toward and, eventually, into our warm and safe house.  I follow him into the kitchen and drop cat treats into his bowl.  Hopalong the cat follows us, so I drop cat treats into his bowl.  Tundra follows us, so I drop dog treats into her bowl.  I leave the kitchen to the sound of happy chewing.

1:44 a.m.  I lie in bed, pondering the past hour.  Though I didn’t see events in the visual sense, I feel their full effect.  As I count my blessing that our little family is reunited, I hear one or more cats shoveling litter in their cat box.  I add the blessing that we all do our best to keep our home clean.  I bless the dog who goes to her fenced-in outhouse.  I bless the cats who abide by our agreement that whatever they need to do they do in the cat box.  And I marvel at Mulligan, who so honors our house and garden code of conduct that he comes inside to use the bathroom.

Playlist:

Stray Cat Strut” by The Stray Cats, from Built for Speed (1982)

Stray Cat Blues” by The Rolling Stones, from Beggar’s Banquet (1968)

Rosie, Won’t You Please Come Home?” by The Kinks, from Face to Face (1966)

Homeward Bound” by Simon & Garfunkel, from Parsley, Sage, Rosemary and Thyme (1966)

On the Way Home” by Buffalo Springfield, from Last Time Around (1968)

It Won’t be Long” by The Beatles, from With the Beatles (U.K., 1963)

Beware of Darkness” by George Harrison, from All Things Must Pass (1970); by Leon Russell, from Leon Russell and the Shelter People (1971); and by George Harrison and Leon Russell, from The Concert for Bangladesh (1971)

Phenomenal Cat” by The Kinks, from The Kinks are the Village Green Preservation Society (1968)

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Terror at 10,000 Feet

Five days in this Rocky Mountain lakeside cabin!  Who could ask for anything more?

Me!  I ask to see rainclouds on Mount St. Mary, morning mist on Silver Lake, aspen leaves on a shingled roof.  Me!  I ask to see that thousand-pound moose before it charges and flattens me.  Me!  I ask to see what I don’t—truth and beauty, ferocious and sublime.  I ask to see out there—beyond my thousand-yard stare, beyond how I’ve learned to see, beyond my mind’s eye.

Five days in this Rocky Mountain lakeside cabin!  Who could ask for anything more?

Lola!  We booked this idyllic retreat sight unseen for me, website snapshots for her.  Now, we behold.  Lola sees a Rocky Mountain lakeside cabin gone to seed.  She’s thinking those snapshots were airbrushed or snapped in 1963.  Now, we behold.  I’m thinking Lola is struck dumb by beauty.  I see what I’ve learned to see, what I want to see.  I see only what will not hurt me.

We advance.  The steps sag.  The porch sways.  The inside smells foul and filthy.  I ask Lola, “What do you see?”

“I cannot tell a lie,” she replies.  “I see we have company.  We have Mickey Mouse and Minnie Mouse and generations they begat.  And you and me, OMG, we forgot to bring the cat!”

We’d have fled that night save mortal fear of driving down the mountainside through dark and falling rain.  At first light, we pack the car we’d unpacked at last twilight.  We conspire the story we were run off by moose, not mice.

Lola pilots the VW Turbo from cruising altitude, downshifts through switchbacks, steers through morning mist.  “My sweet Lord,” she whispers.  “Rainclouds on Mount St. Mary…golden boughs of aspen.  This first day of autumn.  It’s magic.”  She pauses, then adds, “Should I be telling you this?”

“Yes, paint the picture, please.”

Lola tells me there’s a stream rushing alongside the road.  We listen.  I see what I hear—white water, rustling leaves.  I hear what I see.  I feel at peace.

Five minutes with Lola beside this Rocky Mountain stream!  Who could ask for anything more?

Not me!  Not here in Colorado Rocky Mountain high!  Everything sublime!  Except for this one little thing.  I ask how to silence this John Denver soundtrack streaming through my mind.

Playlist:

Shady Grove” by Quicksilver Messenger Service, from the album Shady Grove (1969)

Goin’ to the Country” by Steve Miller Band, from the album Number 5 (1970)

Holiday” by Weezer, from the album Weezer (Blue Album) (1994)

Holiday” by The Kinks, from the album Muswell Hillbillies (1971)

House for Everyone” by Traffic, from the album Mr. Fantasy (1968)

Three Blind Mice” by The Kiboomers, from the album 150 Toddler Tunes

Dead End Street” by The Kinks, from Anthology 1964-1971 (2014)

Mighty Mouse Theme Song (Here I Come to Save the Day)” by Fresh Forte (2013)

We Gotta Get Out of this Place” by The Animals, from the album Animal Tracks (1965)

Man of Constant Sorrow” by Rod Stewart, from The Rod Stewart Album (1969)

The Angler” by Gary Brooker, from the album Lead Me to the Water (1982)

Go Back Home” by Stephen Stills, from the album Stephen Stills (1970)

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Oganize or Suffer

I hate losing things.  My antidote for losing things is organizing things.  I feel safe when everything is in its place.  Call me OCD and I’ll call you a loserI need not pathologize my need to master or, at least, coexist with my environment.

Losing the can opener presents not only the practical question of how to open the can of soup but also the existential dilemma of how to survive on peanut butter and popsicles.  But losing things threatens more than nutrition and survival.  When I lose something, I betray my childhood spent putting things back where they belonged.

Losing things has more dire consequences for blind people like me.  At least, it’s harder to find things I can’t see.  I lost my 44-inch Identification Cane and now fling F-bombs at my measly 36-inch spare—not just from frustration at losing my ergonomic stick but from the pain of becoming stoop-shouldered and hunchbacked.

From white canes to can openers, tax returns to turtlenecks, I’ve devised an organization system which usually works and, occasionally, works well.  Kitchen cupboards, fridge and freezer.  Bed and bath.  Home office.  Witness my filing cabinet shrinking from four drawers to two drawers to one-third drawer not because I indiscriminately toss print documents, but because I scan important papers and convert them to electronic versions.  Read me, save me, retrieve me!  For irreplaceable papers, like my “God Save the Kinks Fan Club” certificate, I affix a Pen Friend label or emboss with Braille characters.

If I had a nickel for every minute spent searching for lost things, I’d be rich.  But rather than hiring a sighted butler, I’d relish self-sufficiency within my environment.  And I’d more perfectly practice the credo I’ve adopted as gospel: Organize or suffer.

Playlist:

Lost and Found” by The Kinks, from the album Think Visual (1986)

Losing My Religion” by REM, from the album Out of Time(1991)

Can’t Find My Way Home” by Blind Faith, from the album Blind Faith (1969)

Find the River” by REM, from the album Automatic for the People (1992)

Still Searching” by The Kinks, from the album Phobia (1993)

Lost in the Supermarket” by The Clash, from the album London Calling (1979)

(I Know I’m) Losing You” by The Temptations, covered by Rod Stewart on his album Every Picture Tells a Story (1971)

I Found Love” by Lone Justice, from the album This World Is Not My Home (compilation, 1998)

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