Saturday, June 14, 2014

Dead Centre

I am blocked.

The fellow in front of me is standing right in my way, leaving no room to pass on either side of him. He has centred himself such that the space he uses makes all other space unusable for people, like me, who use wheelchairs. Even for others who need to get by, others who walk, they have to twist themselves to make it passed him. He is with friends and they are all talking, animatedly, about the upcoming weekend. Laughter fills the area. I ask him, twice, at increasing volume, to please move over a bit. He doesn't hear me. Finally someone in his group does, she reaches over, pulls at his shirt, he is startled into awareness and turns to see me. He laughs, bringing me into the party, and says, "Sorry, I was overstimulated by all these little bottles of rum," he shows me several tiny bottles in his hands. As he moves aside I am laughing with him.

I am blocked.

The fellow in front of me is standing right in my way, leaving no room to pass on either side of him. He has centred himself right in the dead centre of the cut curb. The cut is narrow, not like some of the generous ones where I could easily get round one person standing. He is listening to music and texting on his phone, I call out loudly several times. There are people around, they turn, notice and turn away. I am in the street. It's a busy one and the light is changing. Finally, and it's always my last resort, I reach up and touch his shoulder. He swings round at my touch, anger in his eyes, he sees me, understands instantly, the requests and steps back letting me pass. He says nothing. I scoot by.

I am blocked.

The fellow in front of me is standing right in my way, leaving no room to pass on either side of him.
He is standing, reading a text or an email, in the middle of an aisle. I ask for room to pass. He doesn't respond. I ask again. He doesn't hear me. I look to see if there is room for me to turn around and go to another aisle. There isn't. I am about to reach out to tap his shoulder to get his attention when someone coming the other way, taps his shoulder. He looks quickly from her to me. This time the anger that enter his eyes doesn't leave. He says something so cruel that I choose not to write it here. The other shopper is shocked, I am not. There is a moment where I know that the decision is being made regarding what happens next. I have no control over what happens next. He decides to say something hideous to her and something threatening to me. The space is now free.

The stress is in the not knowing. A social situation that begins the same way every time has vastly different outcomes. It is impossible to predict how the negotiation of the use of public space will go. It's impossible to tell what the outcome will be. In these three examples, all recent experiences, the other person was male - it's even trickier when the other party, the one blocking, is female. Reaching out to touch another guy is very different than reaching out to touch a woman. Shoulder or not, the touch can be received very differently.

The stress is in the not knowing. While I have never been physically struck, it's been close. A woman reacted badly to the touch on the shoulder, her husband rose in defence of her. I got away only because I had the wisdom to disengage and to flee with my apology in the air behind me. My disability requires me to have interactions with more people than I would otherwise. I speak, on an average sunny Saturday, to probably 50 or 60 people as I make my way along a crowded sidewalk. Most times nothing happens.

But it's the not knowing.

The not knowing leaves me tired to the point of exhausted upon return home.


Anonymous said...

Such a scary experience Dave. One that I hope you never have to live through again- sadly knowing that you will... we will... it is even scarier these days with the violence we see and hear within our communities. We never know when violence will strike.

I noticed in your Blog entry, that 2/3 individuals who displayed anger were texting- distracted by a handheld device. This unfortunately, has become the norm. We are no longer "socially engaged" with each other. We are "socially engaged" with an electronic device. This has and will continue to have a serious negative impact on how we interact with others- how we relate or NOT relate with others. Empathy will become no more than an icon...displayed in a browser. This is very dangerous.

I am sorry Dave, that you experienced this. You should, we all should be respected and treated well by others- regardless of their mood.

Hugs from the East Coast! Heidi

Anonymous said...

I think you need a horn. A quick horn blow, longer if not responded to, would let these people respond to the universal 'make way' signal, instead of to a touch.

One of the kind you put on a kid's bike, with a rubber bulb, would allow you to vary the squeezing force, and thus the sound. Kind toot to 'get the heck out of my way!' could be managed.

Or an airhorn - compressed air noisemaker for emergencies.

People are more and more clueless as there are more and more of us - it makes me want to reach out and take their handheld device and stomp on it, but that's just me. I will continue to resist.


Anonymous said...

I want to suggest one of those grabbers that you can reach up and pick something up with, but I figure pinching bottoms with it might not win you more friends. I'm sorry so many people are clueless and plugged in and oblivious to the humanity around them. Nobody ever asks me for the cure for such things, or electronic devices would cease to operate outdoors or in public places. I'm very happy, though, that this computer has connected me with you! I love reading your blog, considering your writings and feelings. It makes my day when there's a new post here. :)

Connie said...

I've noticed that far too many people are involved with their iPods and can't hear—or choose not to hear—my bicyle bell so I'm assuming you could have the same results with the rubber bulb horn. Still, it could be worth trying.

Mary said...

Alicia, I see what you're saying but I think horns and bells and suchlike on mobility devices are a really, really bad idea.

Consider how the third man responds to a tentative tap and a polite "excuse me!" Lashing out verbally at everyone around.

Now imagine how he's going to respond to being peremptorily beeped at, rather than spoken to. It's an aggressive move and outright dangerous.

Consider road rage. Consider the people who, when beeped at, will actually exit their vehicles and start trying to break into the car of the driver behind them.

Now imagine that the various barriers of them having to decide to get out of their vehicle and attempt to obtain entrance to yours are removed, imagine that they don't have the time it takes to unbuckle their seatbelt and walk to your car to decide that much as they want to punch you maybe they should just explain why they've stopped. Instead, you've annoyed them by beeping at them and now your unprotected face is right there for them to punch.

It might only be that one in a hundred, one in five hundred, would respond with such aggression - but since I think I'd easily have to ask 500 people to move within a year, I'll stick to doing it as non-aggressively as possible. :)

Glee said...

Mary is right. I have a beep horn built into my wheelchair an electronic one that people don't even hear. "Excuse me" said in ever increasing volume starting medium and going up to loud if they don't hear is the only way. When I stop I get off to the side but it seems the uprights know that the world is their oyster and they are going to use all of the space in it if they want to. But if I stop in the middle they tell me I am taking up too much space. It's frustrating and horrible.

Anonymous said...

Wow. Thank you for sharing.

I'm autistic and the anxiety of not knowing how social situations will go -- even if I'm exceedingly polite and 'appropriate'-- is just exhausting. It has gotten to the point where I'm basically terrified of people I don't know.

My interactions with most people involve me starting from a place where I am frantically trying to appease people before they even open their mouths, desperate to ensure they won't be angry. (Then my family wonders why I don't want to do anything that is in the slightest bit 'social'...)