This is Episode # 2 from Daniel Malito’s storytelling series TalkingJoints. “Staring Contest” is a look at the way people look at you when you’ve got RA. Some of them actually speak. Daniel wonders who’s the one with the handicap. To hear Daniel voice the episode, you can go to TalkingJoints_Staring Contest
Welcome to the second episode of Talking Joints. I’m Daniel Malito, or, at least that’s what the voices in my head tell me, and my joints have been talking for more than twenty-five years. Unfortunately, all they ever say is “ow.” Having rheumatoid arthritis can be rough, but it can be entertaining as well, believe it or not. Because my case is so severe, I’m now classed as “officially disabled,” and I have the scars to prove it. You might think this would be cause for depression, but it’s also an endless source of entertainment.
When I go out in public, people literally fall over themselves reacting to me, and making “normies” uncomfortable is one of the great pleasures of being disabled. Some people get embarrassed and treat me like I wasn’t disabled at all, and in order to prove just how equal they view me, they say absurd things like, “What about you? Why didn’t you sign up for the triathlon?” “Me? Oh, well, I checked, and they just won’t waive their strict no-scooter policy. Pfft, I know, Neanderthals right?” Then there are the people that pretend I don’t even exist. They always act shocked when I speak to them like a normal human, you know, instead of grunting and pointing, while pooping my own pants. “Uh oh!” There’s even some people who are so guilty that they aren’t disabled that they feel compelled to give me whatever junk they happen to be carrying – gum, candy, money – one time this crazy woman tried to give me an obviously rotten homemade blueberry muffin! I’m not sure how hungry and stupid you have to be to consume a muffin from some Typhoid Mary’s kitchen, but apparently, being physically disabled qualifies you for that particular culinary distinction! Eh, it tasted like crap anyway, too much arsenic.
Recently, I was at the local CVS hair care section, perusing the thousands of brands of shampoo, conditioner, and something called “volumizer,” and a woman there would pick up a bottle, turn slightly in my direction, and then pretend to study the label like shampoo was a new invention and she wasn’t quite sure if she was ready to take the plunge. She kept nodding and shaking her head, confirming and denying things written on the bottle. “Hmm, rinse, yes, that sounds sensible, hmm, but this repeat, though, definitely sounds suspect. I‘ll skip that step.”
After the four seconds it took to see through this woman’s Oscar-winning performance, I noticed she would steal quick peeks in my direction. Obviously she was attempting to decipher my disability because, as we all do, I keep the name of my disease hidden somewhere on my clothing at all times, like a Where’s Waldo Wheelchair Word search. I found it! The R.A. was hidden behind his excruciating pain all along!
After a few minutes of less-than-covert surveillance, the woman’s handi-hunter app must have alerted her about a paraplegic at the Key Food next door, because she ran out of there after scrutinizing every label on the shelf like one of them contained the Colonel’s secret recipe of 11 herbs and spices, but didn’t even bother to take a bottle with her. You’d think that I was at least worth an 89 cent bottle of White Rain! I guess I should be thankful she tried to disguise her rubbernecking at all, there are people who don’t even try to camouflage their abject gawking.
For 27 years of disease, I’d never had someone ask me simply, “What’s wrong with you.” That streak came to an end last year. I was at the store, shopping for bacon or ice cream or some other health food, and as I was perusing the shelves, I caught a man out of the corner of my eye. He was standing in the middle of the aisle, mouth hanging open like a Venus Fly Trap and he turned to me and said, “What’s wrong with you?” Now, those of you who know me probably realize I was literally hopping with pure ecstasy at the anticipation of responding to this insanely inappropriate question. So many different things were flying around my brain, I was drowning in a sea of snarky replies. Finally, though, I smiled, put on my best drawl, and said, “Wrong? Oh y’all mean my foot? I hurt it ranglin’ a gator. Got the sucker, though.” And then I smiled my best Gator-wranglin smile. The man stood there for a second, looking confused, and after another minute, he simply said, “oh,” and walked off, presumably to terrorize another unsuspecting shopper, as lunatics often do. Or maybe meet up with several other maniacs and strip naked in a luncheonette – who can say? Why he seemed so unimpressed is for someone smarter than me to figure out, but the point is that there is no end to the parade of winners that people like me have to deal with.
I know TV shows and movies have convinced the public that every handicapped person has a sunny yet slightly sad outlook on life, and that we always have sage advice to give, but just like most things from Hollywood, it’s a steaming pile of cra-ftily invented lies. Most of us are not rolling quote-a-day calendars, and the ones who are don’t say the type of things people share in polite company. We’re human just like you and we make mistakes just like you. So next time you see someone limping or in a wheelchair, please don’t stare, we’re not monsters. Besides, it only makes us angry, and you wouldn’t like us when we’re angry. These are Talking Joints, and I’m Daniel Malito.