By Mark E. Smith
One couldn’t say that I have an anger management problem by any stretch. In fact, I’m among the easiest-going, happy-go-lucky guys around – very little ruffles my feathers. But, that doesn’t mean that I’m not fearless – arguably to an absurd point – where I won’t grab a guy by the shirt who’s being a jerk in public, welcoming a little scrap with another dude when called for.
I’m sure that my brother helped instill fearless bravado in me when we were growing up. After all, it makes no intrinsic sense for me, as a guy with cerebral palsy, using a power wheelchair, to be the one guy in a scene to grab a jerk by the collar, pull him into my spit-firing, vein-bulging face, and tell him in words that I can’t use here that if he doesn’t settle down, I’m going to rip off his limbs and eat his heart while it’s still beating. See, my brother and I are six days less than a year apart, and we were raised very much like twins, right down to always having the same clothes and toys. In a psychoanalytic way looking back, I think that we were both always trying to distinguish ourselves from each other – and that included via never-ending brotherly brawls.
For better or for worse, it never seemed to matter that I had cerebral palsy and my brother didn’t – when we fought, we really fought. In no mixing terms, we beat the heck out of each other, both playing on our strengths, as well as the other’s vulnerabilities. He knew that he could punch me and run, and as long as I couldn’t catch him, he would win, leaving me with a black eye, busted lip, or such. Yet, I knew that if I got my hands on him, he wasn’t getting away – I’d throw my good, strong right arm around his neck, and try to choke the life out of him. I know that child psychologists frown upon sibling rivalries nowadays – and I don’t tolerate such violence among the kids in my own family, where I’m always reprimanding my two nephews for antagonizing each other – but, when my brother and I were kids, duking it out seemed par for the course.
As adults, my brother and I laugh about it all now, and joke about how inherently bold it made both of us. After all, in my brother’s case, if he’s beat-up a kid with cerebral palsy, that’s probably not a guy scared of punching just about anyone. And, in my case, as a kid with cerebral palsy raised to give and take punches, an absurd fearless toward fist-to-cuffs has stuck with me, as well. In fact, my buddy, Jeff, and I inadvertently ended up in the front row of a concert not too long ago, and when the drunk idiots around us started going nuts, bumping into me, I started swinging. Jeff seemed a bit concerned at first, but once I grabbed and punched a few people – and the crowd figured out to stay away from this guy in a power wheelchair – Jeff seemed a bit reassured that I wasn’t going to get us killed. I suppose people figured that if I was crazy enough to be in a mosh pit in a wheelchair, swinging on people, they should probably just stay away from me.
Now, my brother and I are both successful in our careers, with kids of our own – living as wholesome, law-abiding, God-fearing citizens – and neither one of us are the types hanging out at country-n-western bars looking for fist fights (beyond my inadvertently ending up in a mosh pit, that is). However, my one short fuse relates to jerks in public, especially those disrespecting women – and I’ve become bolder in my reactions since raising my daughter. I have zero tolerance for guys disrespecting women in public – guys gawking, making inappropriate comments, or such – and I have no qualms about straightening out the situation in real time.
Word must have gotten around about my short fuse because I was out with a female friend, and she commented to me that a creepy guy was staring her down. However, before I could turn around and see who it was – and impulsively roll over and pick him up by his shirt – she asked me not to do anything, not wanting a scene. I did as she wished, didn’t move, and continued with our conversation. However, I wondered how she knew that I was the kind of guy who would create such an over-the-top scene, that I wouldn’t have any hesitation about grabbing a guy by the shirt and explaining to him in four-letter words how to act around ladies in public?
A few days later, I asked my friend how she knew that I was immediately ready to roll over and grab the guy by his shirt? She said that she recognized me as the protective type, and when she saw me intuitively go for my power wheelchair’s joystick, ready to spring into action, she knew to talk me down quickly.
I’ve always wondered what has gone through the minds of those few individuals over the years who I’ve confronted regarding their poor behavior? When a well-dressed guy with cerebral palsy, using a power wheelchair, rolls up to you, and says things into your ear that could never be said in a PG-rated movie – adding up to, If you don’t leave right now, I’m going to rip your heart out and eat it as an appetizer – what really goes through your mind? Or, on the few occasions when my words weren’t convincing enough, when I’ve literally picked them up by their shirts, what were they thinking as the weight came off of their feet, as I pulled them over my armrest, into my contorting face?
The real question is, how have I not been beat-up by now? (Heck, I would have beaten myself up by now!) I reckon that the answer is a combination of factors. Firstly, every guy I’ve dealt with was either really drunk, or a slender creep – both of which have been surprisingly easily manhandled. Secondly, I think there’s some shock to having a cartoon-looking guy in a power wheelchair, with cerebral palsy, grab you by your shirt and threaten to eat your heart – why take the chance of second-guessing a guy like me who’s seemingly crazy enough to confront you? Thirdly, my strength and appearance has to freak them out, where I’m strong to begin with, and when I spasm, it’s then unbridled strength (I broke the arm off of a 250 lb. chest press machine, when the weights were maxed-out, simply by spasming), so it has to be unsettling to be tossed around, seemingly uncontrollably, by a guy in a wheelchair going spastic with such force, where I’m breathing like an angry bull, trying to control the both of us. (As cerebral palsy comedian, Josh Blue, puts it, if a guy with cerebral palsy gets mad, someone’s going to get hurt by the palsy punch, and no one’s sure where it comes from or where it’s going, especially the guy with cerebral palsy!)
Nevertheless, there’s always a chance that a guy could start swinging on me – and I’d be fine with that. In my adult life with cerebral palsy, I’ve taken some hard falls, with bell-ringers to the head, so I don’t doubt that I could withstand a close-quarters punch to the head or two. I might even be flattered by the equality of it – at least until the third punch sent me snoozing into Lala Land. But, the goal, much like with my brother when I was a kid, has to be for me to never let it get to the third punch. Again, in theory, like a boxer holding his opponent close, as long as I’ve got my hands on him he’s not going anywhere. And, if he wanted to take me to the ground, a 400 lb. power wheelchair is going with us, and since I’m strapped in, I’m likely not the one it would land on.
Ultimately, though, my absurd, in-your-face antics toward jerks in public are arguably foolproof: No matter how jaded our society, if people see an able-bodied guy trying to fight a guy in a wheelchair in public, some bigger dude is going to knock his lights out for picking on a guy in a wheelchair – there’s still that stigma that you shouldn’t punch a guy in a wheelchair. So, no matter what creeps do in public to tick me off, they’re going to have a tough time winning in the end – which is why I’m always courteous enough to offer them the opportunity to leave before I tear their pulsating, blood-dripping hearts from their chests and eat them (or before they’re torn apart by an angry mob for beating the daylights out of me, a poor, defenseless guy in a wheelchair).