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Some straight talk from a ‘crooked’ guy

  • Written by Bob Rakow

Bobs Column - The B SideI know a guy who, unfortunately, developed a growth on the side of his face. I always thought he made the best of it despite the fact that the people stared at him constantly. On one occasion, he told me, he was browsing in a bookstore when someone asked, “Are you a palsy?”
I recall us laughing about the absurdity of the remark. Sometimes you need to rely on humor to cope with the cruel things people are capable of saying.
Apparently, those who make hurtful remarks do not possess in their brains the filter that stops most others from making such insensitive commentary.
I have a nephew who has a large, red birthmark on the side of his neck. It’s fairly noticeable, and he took a fair share of grief for it during his childhood. It looks like a scar or a burn and people asked him endless questions about it.
As he’s gotten older, he’s learned how to respond to these ignorant folks and their queries. In fact, he told me recently that he has developed several stock answers—exposure to nuclear fallout, skin-eating disease—the kind of crazy stuff that leaves the other person with no response and feeling a little stupid.
I know someone who has prosthetic legs and another with a prosthetic arm. Never would I consider asking why they were missing a limb. Another man I know wears braces inside his shoes because he has flat feet. He volunteered that information. I never asked, “Hey, what’s with those things on your feet?”
I’ll turn 50 in October, and, for the most part, have enjoyed good health. My shoulder hurts most days from a long-ago car accident; I wear reading glasses, am not in the best physical condition and have high blood pressure. Other than that, well, things could be a lot worse. I’ve twice used this column space to write about friends who have passed away.
But there is one nagging ailment I’ve dealt with for many years: high arches. I forget the exact medical explanation for how they became so high, but it really doesn’t matter. What matters is, the condition makes it tough for me to stand for long periods of time, and walking long distances is no picnic either.
If I had an ounce of sense, I’d see a podiatrist or at least go to an athletic shoe store that develops specialized shoes and arch supports. In the meantime, I buy the best athletic shoes I can find, but the soles wear out unevenly because I tend to walk on the outside of my feet.
I’m not preoccupied with what I consider a minor malady. But what truly bothers me are the nasty remarks I’ve heard from others over the years about a condition that is out of my hands.
For example, I recently was told that I “walk crooked.” Wow. An adult told me that in a very matter-of-fact way. I was shocked. It wasn’t the first time someone has made such a remark, but it was the first time in a long time. The comment stuck with me for awhile. I thought about why any reasonable adult would make a derogatory remark about another person’s shortcoming or disability.
And, there wasn’t that moment that sometimes follows the offensive salvo when the individual realizes he’s gone over the line and attempts to apologize. No, I walk crooked. Statement of fact. Enough said.
I’ve heard remarks about the way I put one foot in front of the other for years.
I was a substitute teacher in a middle school for a time. Once, while walking down the hall, I could sense a boy walking behind me, mimicking my gait. I turned around and asked what he was doing. “Walking,” he said, with a sheepish look on his face.
I wasn’t upset because he was 12 years old. Mimicking and mocking is what kids do. As adults, we teach them that such behavior isn’t appropriate. Some get the message, apparently some do not.
Once I had a job that required attending big trade shows. Lots of walking required. One of my colleagues, who worked in a different office and did not know me well, asked yet another colleague if I had been injured in Vietnam. I was 35 years old at the time, a bit young to be a Nam vet. It was tough to be offended by such an absurd comment.
On another occasion, however, I was described as “Jell-O legs” by a man who helped lead a church youth group in which I participated. A fine example he set. A true leader. This was about 35 years ago. I remember it like it was yesterday.
Funny how that works. The mean remarks, the thoughtless things that didn’t have to be said can stay with you a very long time. Too bad the people who take the shots don’t know that.