This black cowboy hat seemed like a better idea than it is. The tight fit and cheap felt locks the heat in my head like an oven. I’d take it off, but it’s too late – removing the hat would ruin my image.
I bought the hat after seeing a country music video of a saddle-sore hunk wearing one, and reckoned that a black cowboy hat would be a good look for me, too – a look that would hopefully antagonize my family and friends into further questioning my sanity, as I have no country kid in me whatsoever. So, I went online, ordered a nineteen-dollar black cowboy – the cheapest that I could find – and called it a night. But, when the hat arrived a few days later, and I pranced into our kitchen with it on my head looking every bit a wheelchair cowboy, my wife merely smiled, noting that nothing I do surprises her anymore. It was then that I decided that I would wear the hat to my next public event to see how far I needed to take the theme until my wife gave me her you’re-out-of-your-mind stare.
So, here I am on a Saturday evening, leaving a speakers’ panel engagement at a New York City bookstore, wearing a white oxford shirt and black cowboy hat. My sister said that I looked hot in the hat, and I feel it, too, having worked up a sweat talking in front of fifty people for the past hour – and now I can’t wait to get in my van, rip this cow bucket off my head, and get home by eleven.
“Mark,” this woman says as I weave through the crowd, heading for the door and the cool, marine-layer breeze outside.
I slow my chair, look to my left, and a late-twenties woman bends down slightly, peeking at me under the brow of my cowboy hat. She’s tall and slender, with what my mother always called a bobbed hair cut, brunette hair chopped at shoulder length. And, she’s wearing funky, grandma- type glasses that point out on the sides. Overall, a sexy librarian, I think – always my type, smart and sexy. “Yes, hi,” I say.
“You know, I heard you speak, and you’re fantastic,” she says, kneeling down beside my chair.
I typically hate when people kneel down to speak with me. Kneeling down to speak with someone who uses a wheelchair is too scripted, taught in corporate handbooks as the best way to make customers with disabilities comfortable during conversation. I’m just under five-feet tall when sitting up straight in my powerchair, and figure that unless you want me looking down at your bald spot if you’re a man, or down your blouse if you’re a woman, it’s not preferable to kneel when speaking with me. And, this young woman is proving my practice true, as I struggle to keep my eyes above her loose-fitting, low-cut sweater.
“Well, that’s very kind – I’m glad you enjoyed the panel,” I say, noticing the constant legs in motion behind her, people making way past us as we all but block the store’s main aisle.
“Do you have a publicist?” she asks.
I laugh. “No – no publicist,” I say.
“Seriously, I’m a publicist, and would love to take a look at possibly working with you,” she says, reaching in her handbag, pulling out a business card, handing it to me.
I look at the card and it’s some sort of communications agency. “Are you Karen,” I ask, reading the name from the lower corner of the card.
“Yes,” she says, with a little too much excitement, as if she’s won something.
“It’s my pleasure to meet you, Karen,” I say, struggling to stuff the card into my shirt pocket. “But, truly, I’m the last guy who needs a publicist.”
“Everyone needs a publicist,” she says.
“Name one,” I say hoping to stump her.
“You,” she says.
“You’re quick,” I say, smiling, impressed with her wit. “I’m flattered, but no publicists for me – I’ve got enough going on.”
“Who’s publicizing your book?” she asks.
“Me,” I say. “It’s really an Internet project, focused within the disability community.”
“Well, what if we could take it mainstream?” she asks. “I get my clients on all the top media outlets.”
“I appreciate it, but, really, I’m focused on my wheelchair career – writing and speaking are after-hour pursuits,” I say. “I don’t have any wish for more press or anything like that.”
“Please think about it,” she says.
“Hey, what do you know about country venues – like country-and western magazines and networks?” I ask in a moment of inspiration.
“Sure,” she says, glancing up at my hat. “I’ve gotten clients interviews and press with all the country media outlets.”
“Cool,” I say. “More and more I’m drawn to the country lifestyle. I’ll tell you what, I’ll talk to my wife about my doing some country press, and give you a call.”