I once saw a man in a wheelchair shout "fucking arsehole!" in the middle of the street.
I have no idea who he was talking to, nor did I crane my neck about to find out - I'm middle-class and able bodied so I just ducked my head and kept walking like nooothing was happening do-do-do-I'm-just-walkin'-down-this-road style.
The incident struck me as pretty weird though, for a number of reasons. Firstly, assuming wheelchair man (I'm sorry, I know the nickname is gross but anything I think of, "wheels" for instance, sounds somehow much worse) wasn't just mad and shouting obscenities for no reason what did said fucking arsehole do to anger him in the first place and why? I mean... who fucks around with the disabled really? Hitler maybe, in fact Hitler definitely, but anyone else? Surely even people who want Colin Barnett in charge of their State steer clear of THAT kind of shit.
Secondly, and I know this sounds even grosser than the whole wheelchair man bit but aren't the disabled supposed to be, um, nice? Has fiction lied to me when it trotted (ok, wheeled) out stereotype upon stereotype of kindly disabled people who, by virtue of their injury (natch) have developed a zen attitude towards life that the able-bodied miscreants who come into contact with them can't help but admire? Vietnam Vets aside I've always secretly thought that people in wheelchairs existed, at least partially, to make me feel better about myself in a "wow, if SHE can live a perfectly happy life as a limbless torso and still trot out a quick quip why can't I?" kind of a way. Um, but that's a secret because it makes me sound like a heartless bitch, a Conservative voter or both.
Now, having made myself sound like a member of the Hiter's Youth Party (or at least a One Nation voter) allow me to get to my point. Which is that on the weekend I had occassion to spend a day in York with a friend in a wheelchair and had my perceptions changed a bit. Oh no, don't worry, not in an afternoon special sort of way, I assure you.
You see the thing is that people are scared of people in wheelchairs. They seriously are and so, now that I come to think of it, am I. I am not scared they'll back over my foot, or call me a fucking arsehole, I'm scare of what they represent. And as a result I - and a lot of other people - bend over backwards to be nice to people in a wheelchair. It's ridiculous. Anyone else steals my parking spot or runs over my cat and I'd lose it. If the dude behind the wheel in both cases had a wheelchair riding shotgun beside him I'd offer to clean his car.
When you actually ARE a person in a wheelchair, or pushing a person in a wheelchair, it's easy to take advantage of this fact. It's not all that wrong: people want to be nice to you and you want to let them. People want to give up their seat and you, well, you can't say no. People want you to ram the wheelchair into their shins - twice - so they can pretend it doesn't hurt and you're only too happy to oblige.
It can do terrible things to a person though. Standing in line at the bakery while my own wheelchair man waits on a nearby bench I select an array of pastries and hot beverages suitable for frittering away a drizzly afternoon.
"Is that for both of you?" The bakery girl asks, nodding towards my wheelchaired friend.
"That's right," I say, trying to look like the brave buddy of someone crippled forever by a tragic hit-and-run instead of a glass-boned boob sidelined for two months after a broken leg incurred two weeks earlier in a soccer game.
"That'll be $11.50," the bakery chick says.
She wants me to pay? I think, just briefly. I'm standing here with my friend in a wheelchair, having lugged his arse all over town all day until my arms are ready to fall off and she wants me to pay?? For all she knows he's dying tomorrow and I've brought him here as a last supper before he has his fucking useless legs cut off and donated to science and she wants me TO PAY??
"Here you go," I say, handing over a twenty.
Fucking arsehole, I think.