By Mark E. Smith
At 42, I sit here with my office door shut. I’m staring at a shiny prototype power chair drive wheel that’s balanced upright on my eloquent black desk. The light reflects off of the angles machined into the polished rim like a diamond. No one knows I have it. Sure, eventually I’ll return it to my company’s R&D design group. But, for now, like stealing a great painting from the Musee du Louvre simply to possess greatness, I stare at it, awestruck by its form.
When I was eight, I loved the liberation of my power chair, but hated its wheels. They were hospital-gray mags, the first power chair drive wheel incarnation that wasn’t just a beefed-up spoke wheel. But, they were ugly, bulky, and gray – on a hospital-chrome frame, no less. I lay in bed at night, staring at that power chair, emotionally struggling between loving and loathing it. Yes, it empowered my life, propelling me through public school at a motor-growling three miles per hour. Yet, there was nothing cool about it – not the gray and chrome power chair, not the other kids staring at me as I growled by. It was ugly. All of it was ugly.
So, I scrounged up a few bucks, went and bought two cans of black spray paint, and wasn’t going to live with the ugliness anymore. Sometimes beauty does come from the outside, in.
With no one home, I slid out of my power chair onto the back yard grass – no way of getting back into my chair – and I opened a can of paint the best I could. I shook the can, just wanting to paint the rims, just wanting to get rid of the ugliness, from the outside, in. And, as I tried to spray, paint went every where until, with tenacity and patience, all was black – the wheels, the tires, the frame, my face, the dog – it was an explosion of black. And, it was the coolest thing I’d accomplished to date. The greats weren’t great because they could paint, but because they dared to paint.
My mom came home, finding me sprawled on the grass, surrounded by blackness, and simply said, “You know, you have to live with that chair that way.”
And, I thought, “That’s right. Just the way I want it, beautiful from the outside, in.”