And Pig Guts

The other day I sent Lirio into my local bank to get some money out of my rapidly dwindling account. I would have gone myself but Bancomer has set up their local branch with a narrow doorway, with five high, very high steps that aren't very accessible so I send Lirio instead.

Some of us who have been in wheelchairs long enough have gotten past bitching about this shit. At one hospital I was in they had the staff take a day off to travel around town in a wheelchair, no cheating, so they could get some sense of our real world. When I picket Bancomer and their building designers, I'll suggest that they send their architects out into the streets in a wheelchair for a day or so so they can see how the other half lives with these narrow doors and eleven-inch riser steps.

If I am in a crabby mood, being in a wheelchair always adds an extra dimension to my crabbiness. Everywhere they set up these walls, curbs with no cuts, six steps into my favorite restaurant, eleven steps down to the beach, five steps into the bank, five steps out of the bank. Some of us don't take lightly to being carried in or out of buildings or on or off beaches or in or out of banks.

Then there are the passersbys. One night I'm sitting in the "adoquin," the pedestrian part of town where all the gringoes go to eat and buy gee-gaws and ice-cream, and I'm minding my own business, sucking my thumb, and this guy comes by and he pats me on the head and says, "God's gonna cure you" and then ambles on down the street.

He looks like a normal enough guy, no dueling scars on his face to indicate that he is into abusing himself (or others) --- but he doesn't know beans about those of us who live in wheelchairs. He also obviously doesn't know that we have a special reaction to being patted on the head like a doggie, especially when it's accompanied by a slightly skewed message from the divine.

Most of us crips live in the eternal "Show-Me" State --- so when someone presumes to speak on God's behalf, we are often eager to know about their credentials, how they can speak with certainty. We expect such messengers to show wings and halos, or at least a divine glow. This guy didn't have wings, haloes, or glow --- at least as far as I could tell --- so I didn't pay much attention to his pontificating.

When people do the head-pat and deliver the message of cheer, they are assuming that I am in despair, and that I am in need of words of hope. But since I've been in a wheelchair off and on for about a half-a-century, they are addressing a part of me that probably doesn't exist any more. It certainly doesn't respond well to their message.

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Lest you think that the world is made up only of fools and nitwits, let me tell you what happened last week in the public market. Lirio is pushing me around and up and down between the stalls so we can find some lunch.

First I should tell you about Lirio. He is the master chauffeur, the Pusher Divine. When they give prizes at the next Convention of the Americans with Disabilities Association, I'm going to nominate Lirio for Gold Metal with Silver-Leaf Cluster for his mastery of The Wheelchair Get-Around.

There are wheelchair people who run you into walls and tumble you down cliffs and stairs. These we tend to avoid. Then there are those who are merely competent...they can get you up a curb or down a hump in the road without dumping you, but they don't do it with any art.

Lirio? He's the Tiger Woods of wheelchairy. He sees things long before I do. Pits in the roadway, channels in the sidewalk, tubes under the macadam, arroyos in the dirt roads, dogshit just around the corner on the sidewalk that anyone else would miss.

In your typical Mexican public market, there is always a puddle of smegma somewhere about, usually next to the meat section. With or without smegma, the meat section is a study --- filled with dark red, striated hanging things, full of a thick hair-curling eye-watering nose-wrinkling stink, and a superb collection of flies. It's enough to make you a permanent vegetarian.

Somewhere near the meat-and-fly department of the public market is a run-off area --- a runnel of dark, ominous liquids, made up of blood, rotten exudates, upchuck, stool, and dead baby --- all collected together into a thick and loathsome puddle.

Now if Fredo or José was pushing my chair, they'd breeze right through those smegma marshes, not a care in the world, not thinking that in a couple of hours these selfsame wheelchair tires will be coursing through my home, bearing in the treads unseen billions of bacteria, germs, virus, an overdose of Ebola.

Lirio knows better. He always gets me over or around the pipes and cables and holes in the cement and the dog poop, keeps me well away from the smegma puddle so I won't have to worry about whether I am carrying an army of festering bacteria along with me.

§     §     §

Last week Lirio and I were in the public market looking for a place to eat among the thirty or so stalls with tables and five or six chairs and a kitchen so small you have to go outside to change you mind --- trying to find one that might have something to satisfy this gnawing in Lirio's tum. In the stall marked "Dońa Alicia" there's a lady watching us, a lady with her hair pulled back in a bun and the face of one who has lived in this area long enough to know that it's no piece of cake trying to make it through life in what is in effect the Mississippi of Mexico. When she sees me coming down the aisle she steps out from behind the counter and hands me five pesos. What to do?

This stuff happens all the time. In the old days it used to drive me crazy. I mean, one of my monthly payments from Social Security alone could take care of this hairbun lady and her eight children and drunken husband for the next year. What to do? Give her back her five pesos and say thanks but no thanks?

There is a better solution, and Lirio figures it out at once. He shoves my chair up to the table of her café and asks her what's to eat. She tells us that she has arroz y frijoles --- beans and rice. Also caldo de pollo (chicken soup), and, finally, sopa de panzita de puerco (tripe soup).

I opt for the beans and rice; Lirio takes the tripe. The perfect solution: the meal costs 35 pesos --- about three dollars fifty cents US --- which means I can leave a five peso tip, no problem.

Later, Lirio claims she poisoned him with her gut soup because he had problems with his own tripe that evening. I say no. I tell him that she's a nice lady, possibly a saint, that he can trust her and her food --- that anyone who has no more than five pesos in her pocket yet comes out and offers it as a gift to the tall gringo with the dewlaps and the shaky hands in his wheelchair is OK by my book.

I also point out to him that anyone who chooses to eat a bowl filled with tripas de puerco --- pig guts --- well deserves what they get.

--- Carlos Amantea

Note: This story also appeared in slightly different form at salon.com

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