After Hawking

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The downside of my celebrity is that I cannot go anywhere in the world without being recognized… The wheelchair gives me away.
— Stephen Hawking (1942-2018)

The passing of theoretical physicist & cosmologist Professor Stephen Hawking earlier this week leaves a big, gaping hole in the scientific world. A black hole, surely, of infinite size, depth and velocity— so powerful that probably only Dr. Hawking, himself, could describe it. I won’t pretend to attempt it because my scientific knowledge is limited to shit I’ve read in National Geographic Magazine. And random stuff I’ve Googled on Wikipedia.

So, yeah, I’m not very sciencey.

Professor Hawking was also probably the most famous person in the world that happened to use a wheelchair. A real-life Professor Xavier from X-Men… only with glasses and a better haircut.

For the majority of his life, Dr. Hawking had ALS— a progressive motor neuron disease. Due to advancing medical science, and the top-notch home care he had available to him, Professor Hawking’s lifespan exceeded that of many others with ALS. (Which speaks to the importance of self-managed home care for those with disabilities and why it should be more readily available— and covered!)

His life was even the subject of the 2014 biopic, The Theory of Everything, starring Eddie Redmayne. Eddie won the Academy Award for his portrayal of Hawking, which was not surprising because everyone knows that the best way to win an Oscar is to play a disabled character. Of course, the caveat being that the actor, himself, can’t—under any circumstances— be disabled in real life. Because that would be stupid.

I thought the movie was fairly decent up until the end… when a brief scene actually made me yell aloud in disbelief: “As if!”

While at a lecture to receive an award for his many, many achievements, the filmmakers inserted a moment where Professor Hawking witnesses a student at the lecture dropping a pen. The writers have Hawking daydream that he can stand up out of his wheelchair and pick it up.

Really??

A man that thinks in fucking lightyears and units of measure that literally NO ONE ELSE UNDERSTANDS is going to pause while receiving an award, to muse, “Gee. Screw science and my accomplishments. If only I could pick up this pen…

I call bullshit.

But, you see, that’s what society would believe that he’d be thinking. Because to be seriously disabled is so scary to most people that they can’t even fathom it. To someone able-bodied, of course, Hawking would yearn to pick up that pen. But, in reality, he probably was thinking nothing of the kind.

As someone disabled, I can honestly say I’ve never seen someone drop a pen, and then lament, “Gosh, my life would have SO much more meaning if I could pick up that pen off the floor.

Anyway, I seem to have digressed.

In the days since Professor Hawking’s passing, the internet has been awash with obituaries and tributes to him. His scientific achievements merit such accolades, that’s without question. While many of these tributes are extremely well-meaning, they miss a key element of the man that was Stephen Hawking…

He achieved everything he did with his disability, not despite it.

Stephen Hawking didn’t overcome his disability. He lived with it— achieving great things in the process. His infamous wheelchair wasn’t a trap, or a road block… it was a vital tool of life.

I’ve seen several cartoons and graphics circling the internet this week, showing Hawking drifting out of his wheelchair to stand and walk among the stars. Implying freedom. That he’s free from his wheelchair now. Free from the bounds of his disability.

Many seem to find this touching. Which is why these images have been shared thousands of times. But, when I see that, it makes my gut clench.

No matter how much Stephen Hawking had accomplished in his life, his story wasn’t complete without this magical metamorphosis. Floating free from his bonds to stand upright. To walk among the cosmos on two working legs. Because, heaven forbid anyone drive a wheelchair through the stars, instead.

While I’m not anywhere close to Hawking’s genius and epic achievements (by lightyears), as a disabled person, I’ve got a few things in common with him. His passing, and the response to it, has made me reflect upon what others may think about me.

When I die, will people think that I’m free? That I no longer have my wheelchair and disability to bind me?… burden me?… hold me back? Has my life boiled down to that?

I can say one thing for certain. If you draw a cartoon tribute of me floating out of my wheelchair after I die… or say that I’m “free now”… I will personally haunt you until the end of your able-bodied days. Not a cute haunting, either. A really annoying one where you hear whispers of “Fuck you” whilst you drift off to sleep. You’ll also never find your favorite pair of socks and your coffeemaker will always seem to malfunction when you are tired and/or hungover.

You will RUE. THE. DAY.

In fact, if it were theoretically possible, I’d come back to life, like Jesus Christ, just so that I might run you over with my wheelchair. Yes, I would definitely do that. Resurrection is a small price to pay for revenge.

So, your best bet? Don’t be comforted by thoughts that I’m “free.” Rather, please be sad that I’m dead. Okay?

Something tells me that Stephen Hawking would agree with me.

xoxo

Stephen Hawking NASA 50th

(photo via NASA)
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That 70’s Show

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I’ve heard it said that fashion is cyclical. What was once in style is sure to become fashionable again— if you just wait long enough. While I’m not sure if that’s always the case, I think the cliché is more true than not.

I’ve noticed that over the last few years that the color palette of the 1970s seems to be creeping back in vogue. While I wasn’t alive during that decade, I’ve seen enough of my parents’ Technicolor photographs to verify this as accurate. You know those little square Kodak photos with rounded edges featuring your relatives with well-coiffed hair and bright floral outfits?

Yeah, those things.

I’ve been seeing lots of clothes and decor with those colors recently. And in places where, frankly, I’d prefer they weren’t. For example, a couple of years ago, I lamented a paint job that had been completed at my doctor’s office here in Patterson. When I told my doctor that the color of his building resembled the shade you’d find inside a baby’s diaper, he told me that he had no part in selecting that particular color palette. While this reassured me of his decision-making ability, that hasn’t stopped me from having to look at those colors each time I go for a flu shot.

I regret to say that this 1970s color invasion has claimed another victim. Today, I had a few errands, so I had to stop by the bank. I hadn’t been inside the bank in quite some time, so I was too busy saying hello to the nice ladies that work there to notice that the interior had undergone a redecoration. Once I was in line for the teller, I looked up and felt my nose instantly wrinkle in dislike.

My beloved bank had been painted a shade of yellow that, if seen in a toilet bowl, Dr. Oz warns us is a sure sign of dehydration.

I mulled on this revelation for a few minutes— looking around the walls as if expecting to feel differently about the color. Once it was my turn at the teller, I nearly asked her about it, but I stopped myself because I didn’t want to make the staff feel bad for having to work at a place that resembled a urinary tract infection.

However, since they are probably reading this column right now, it’s too late for me to worry about that at this point.

In conclusion, I’d like to add the following: I am not the most fashionable person. My sense of style is highly circumspect— just like my ability to walk, which is decidedly nonexistent. So, I’d take my fashion opinions with a hefty grain of salt— just as you would all the things that come out of Donald Trump’s mouth.

I’m sure these buildings and these 1970s colors are super chic— and I’m sure real, honest-to-goodness designers made the color choice. I’m also quite sure that many people must like them.

BIMG_4228ut, definitely not me.

Summer, Flip Flops, and Tony Danza

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Ugh. As I sit here typing this, the thermometer is registering 95°F. It’s barely May and only 4 days ago I still had flannel sheets on my bed. And now I’m sweating and my jeans are sticking to my ass. Why couldn’t the summer heat arrive gently? Like the slow bloom of a flower… or water dribbling down a clogged drain. Why, instead, does it have to be so blunt and nasty? Like a bull, or Steve Bannon, in a china shop?

I HATE SUMMER! There, I said it. I don’t like the heat, the sun, or even the clothes. I much prefer the styles of the cooler months— my cabinet full of scarves is a testament to that. Plus, I can’t wear most summer clothes, like shorts, because I sunburn in mere minutes. This isn’t dramatic hyperbole. One time I got a sunburned in the time it took to go from the front doors of the shopping mall to my handicapped parking space— which was IN THE FRONT. Yes, I really am that white.

Now that we’re on the subject of summer attire, I also don’t understand flip-flops. They seem unnatural and highly dangerous. Why would you want to walk around on something so unstable? It’s a shoe that’s barely attached to your body. You are one thin plastic strap away from disaster. It’s a good thing that I can’t walk, because if I had to wear flip-flops in the summer, it wouldn’t end well for me. First I’d get a bad sunburn on the top of my foot, then I’d fall and break my nose on the nearest object, like a ficus plant. It would be like an episode of The Three Stooges, only less funny and less Jewish.

If all that weren’t enough, the slapping sound flip-flops make is also decidedly unappealing. Do you intentionally want to sound like a walrus flapping their hands together? Because, I hate to be the one to say it, but you really do sound like that.

Anyway, thankfully I have air conditioning to help me during these trying times. It’s currently humming in a soothing way that reminds me of those noise-canceling machines that they used to sell at Bed, Bath & Beyond next to the display of soda-making kits that NO one ever buys. The same ones that have been on sale since 2005. If you are thinking of buying one, you might want to reconsider; I’m sure those flavored syrup pods expired back during the days when Bush Jr. lived in the White House.

Those were simpler times, though, weren’t they? We didn’t have a president with orange skin and hair… and Michael Jackson and Whitney Houston were still alive— so we could listen to their music without the sad pang of nostalgia. Those also were the days before the word taxi had been replaced by Uber. Before long the nerdy folks at Oxford will just drop that word from their dictionary entirely… and a hundred years from now little children won’t even know what a taxi is, let alone that it was yellow and usually driven by strange foreign men with accents— or Tony Danza.

IMG_3914It’s only May, though, so I better get used to this heat. If you need me, you can find me sitting in front of the fan, grumbling… and not wearing flip-flops.