Legally Blind #8 – Magooing It Up

When it comes to my eyes, it’s a strange thing to try to define the line between what’s okay to joke with me about and what isn’t. I don’t take well to mean-spirited joking of any sort – if you’re the sort of person who makes sexist jokes about women getting black eyes because they didn’t listen the first time, seriously, here’s a bag of dicks – please chew on them the next time you have a hunger pang. Same with racist jokes. Same with any jokes that would put anyone in any sort of discomfort.

I do not like your sense of humor. You can be funny without being a fucking asshole. Try it.

And let me get this absolutely clear right out of the gate – if you make fun of anyone for having a disability, pay very close attention to the next few seconds. See that thing looping towards your face? That’s my fist. Say hi. Give it a little kiss. With your teeth.

That being said, there’s a lot of periphery stuff about being blind that is hysterically funny, and it might seem weird and hypocritical, but that stuff is – at least when you’re talking to me – perfectly fine to laugh at… if it’s me or someone I’m very close to telling the story.

For example:

About five or six years back, I went down to the bank to cash a check or deposit money or beg on my hands and knees for them to quit charging people fines for having less than $200 in their bank accounts. Yep, that’s a thing. And it’s delightful, particularly when your income is marginal and you’re… you know… trying to save so it isn’t.

Anyways, our bank is a rustic, A-frame styled thing with log walls, high log-supported log-ceilings, log interiors, and logs on logs on logs. Why? It’s better than bad, it’s wood. And if you get that, give yourself a pat on the back, 90’s kid.

I settled into a leather chair, no doubt wincing and wishing I was about fifty pounds lighter so I didn’t feel like I was about to bust the sides off the chair. The very nice clerk asked me how my day was going and what I’d like to do. I caught something out of the corner of my eye and thought, “Oh, shit, I totally cut in line ahead of someone.” So I turned, me being me, and said very politely, “Oh hey, sorry, didn’t see you, I’ll be done in just a second.”

The person I’d snuck in front of in line? It was a log support beam.

I started roaring with laughter, and the poor clerk looked like she was either about to cry or join in, and couldn’t make up her mind. I use that as my favorite example of when it’s okay to laugh because in that situation, you’re laughing with me. It’s a silly thing to happen – and guess what? I do it practically every week. Not necessarily at the bank, but I couldn’t tell you the number of stop signs, fire hydrants, or lamp posts I thought were people and started to say hello to before I can finally see them.

Like I say, this is most definitely NOT universal, but here’s the best litmus test as to whether or not it’s okay to laugh with me about this crap – if you’re actually wondering in the back of your mind if it’s okay to laugh, you’re definitely the sort of person I want to laugh with me. If you’re the sort of person whose response is to immediately laugh and think that stuff’s hilarious… well, maybe stop for a second. Are we close? If yeah, then by all means, it’s fine. But if we’re acquaintances, maybe watch for my cue. In general, I’m going to show you it’s fine by laughing deliriously myself, and in that case, go for it.

It’s kind of like being in a group in a bar. If you the loudmouthed asshole laughing hardest at everything out of your own mouth and you can’t ever seem to recognize that, I’m not comfortable with you laughing at my Magoo moments. You do not understand your own boundaries or the stress you are putting on other people by making them emotionally uncomfortable.

But if you’re one of those magical people caught between doubt and wanting to laugh with me, congratulations. You’re my people and I love you and it’s okay to laugh with me when I look right past a clerk and tell a bubblegum machine hello.

Absolutely none of this makes sense. I understand that. I guess the point is… just try to be self-aware.

Legally Blind #7 – Fear and Loathing in Colorado, Part Four

Only family can make you want to give them a hug with one hand while you’re throttling the life out of them with the other. And in that regard, a lot of my CCB companions aren’t just friends – they’re family.

Now that we have the awkward business of the, erm, business of the Colorado Center for the Blind’s affiliation with the NFB out of the way, let’s cap things off with stories. We’ll finish everything off with a quiet moment, a strange little story that maybe will help you define who I am. Or maybe it’ll muddy the waters even more. I don’t know. But before we get there, let’s talk about New York.

I guarantee you, if you mention literally any food on planet Earth, my friend Tommy Needham will tell you it’s invariably better in New York. No matter how good the gelato, slice of pizza, sandwich, or drink in your hands, Tommy’s got a restaurant or a guy who can do it up better. If his stories in Braille about the culinary El Dorado of his hometown were to be believed, all one has to do to attain infinite orgasmic bliss is to have a slice of mozarel from the deli down the street.

I love Tommy to death. I also wanted to thump Tommy’s noggin about a dozen times a day. Both of those things are true.

Tommy is probably the first person I really recognized on a day to day basis, simply because of his strong “New Yawk” accent. His love of all things wrestling didn’t hurt either, and to this day, I don’t think I’ve met a more hardcore old school fan of the sport. His gregariousness in classes drew me out of my turtle shell, and he helped make me feel a lot more comfortable around the students.

As time went on, Tommy became my rock for entertainment. In the earliest weeks there, before I moved in with a different roommate, I didn’t have anything around to entertain myself but a few paperbacks bought from some secondhand store or another. I don’t even think I had a lamp in those days, so when the lights went out, I was either out exploring Denver or I went to bed as early as possible. I was of a mindset that I was there to learn as quickly as possible so I could get out of there and land a job.

But eventually I moved in with another roommate, and suddenly I had access to a TV again. With that came Tommy’s assurances that I’d love the Sopranos if I sat down and watched them. As weird as it sounds, having something so simple as someone loaning me DVDs isn’t a common thing for me, even now, and the simple human kindness of the gesture was something I needed, whether I knew it or not. I know that’s an odd thing to single out, but it meant a lot to me, and even more so when i left in December, as Tommy proudly gave me the first season as a parting gift.

Tommy also invariably knew a guy who knew a guy, and one of my fondest memories was when he called up a guy he assured me was a cab driver, just an unlicensed one. We took a trip to the ass end of nowhere to go to a Wal-Mart, me wondering the whole time if we aren’t going to get shanked. This sounds frightening, but in a funny way, that’s very much the definition of my life in Denver. I have enough similarly themed “holy shit, why did I do that?” stories to fill up a dozen of these blogs.

Tommy was – and is – a passionate, very outspoken friend, and for his easy acceptance, I thank him for making me feel sort of human there.

Now we move on to Matt Palumbo, Interestingly enough, just by observing Matt on a day to day basis taught me quite a bit more about myself than I ever expected to learn. Matt is a happy, intelligent guy with an enthusiasm for things that baffled me (and if I’m honest, they still kind of do). He adored the crap out of kid-like cartoon things like My Little Pony, but he wasn’t at all weird about these things. In fact, his attitude might have been the most “normal” of the bunch at the CCB. He’s just, in general, a pleasant guy to get to know, and once you get him talking about all his interests, you realize just how remarkably intelligent and genuinely good he is.

I have a very hard time opening up to people about my hobbies. I assume everyone thinks I’m weird (I am) and that they don’t actually want to hear about my love of books, Shakespeare, and video games. It’s my instinct to try to become someone else no matter who I’m around, a self-defense mechanism of mask-wearing that’s become so ingrained that I’m not even sure there’s a single person out there who knows who I really am, apart maybe from my brother. It’s still not easy for me to be who I am around individuals. Women can smell my insecurity a mile away, and when you combine that with my other less-than-pleasant attributes, I might as well be holding a sign that says “Don’t bang this guy.”

But watching – or rather listening – to Matt there at the CCB, I realized it doesn’t matter if other people are interested or not. If’s about my attitude towards things, about standing firm being the person I am. His attitude, his non-abrasiveness, his easy-going nature… these are remarkable things.

Matt also inspired me to start traveling a bit within the realm of what was possible in the greater Denver area. I don’t know if he invited me or I invited myself, but we took up travels to malls, random out of the way places, and in one memorable moment, a bookstore way the hell out in the middle of nowhere because it had games stuff there and both of us were basically ready to go anywhere “just because.” With him, I learned my favorite pastime in Denver, one I wish I could manage here, and that’s just to get out and see things.

Those were good times. Some of the very best of them. When Matt graduated from the CCB, I was losing my best friend. It hurt, but it was a good hurt. Matt’s the sort of friend who comes into your life like a damned tornado and I’m honest-to-God a better man for having known him.

If I’m being completely truthful here, and that’s the point of this thing, I have one more Matt story to tell you, and it’s not a pleasant one. Not because of anything he did, but because I’m a temperamental son of a bitch and this story deserves to be out there for any future person who think’s I’m a cool dude. Because I’m not. Oh man, I’m not.

Matt and I frequently hit up malls all across Denver, because both of us are basically dyed-in-the-wool mallrats and pbbbffffft, like we need reasons. We made plans to hit up one mall, I forget which one, because it had this day-glo mini-golf course in it, the sort of thing meant for acid-droppers and college kids. It looked like a blast and we were pretty enthusiastic about it.

This young woman – we’ll call her “Susan” – loved adventures too. Loved being right in the middle of things, loved experiencing everything she could. Looking back, I can’t blame her one bit and I even applaud her for it. At that time, though, I was irritated. “Susan” was completely blind and she’d never gone mini-golfing. But she wanted to go and we agreed to take her.

I went from irritated to ugly in about an hour. She chopped at the ball, whacked around the course with cheerful abandon, and kept trying to understand as best she could what we – or really Matt, by that point, because I’d had enough – was trying to teach her. Then, at one point, through no fault of “Susan’s,” she accidentally pushed me into a sharp edged object on the golf course, a neon mushroom or something. Though the cut on the back of my leg was minor and we’d paid damn good money to go there, I got pissed and declared it to be the end of our little foray that day. I don’t think I could have handled it like more of a spoiled dickhead and it left her in tears. I didn’t care. I was angry my day was spoiled, I was angry I couldn’t teach her. Most shamefully of all, I was angry because she was blind.

Do you understand that? The sheer assholishness of that statement? Because that’s me, ladies and gentlemen. That’s me to a motherfucking T. Once you scrape away all the joviality and the pleasant exterior, what you’re left with is a snobbish, angry dick who wants his perfect little world all to himself except when I can control it.

I don’t think I’ve talked about that story with anyone but Matt. So there it is. Me. Hi.

Moving on.

When Matt graduated, whether I knew it or not, i was about to meet another new best friend there at the CCB. Shortly after, couldn’t have been a week or two at most, I was asked by one of the teachers there to show a new arrival the ropes. She had sight, sort of like me, so they wanted to get her acquainted with someone going through the same things. It was a nice gesture, I thought, but who the hell was I to be showing someone around?

Well… enter Rebecca Burke.

To this day, I don’t know what drove her to get as close to me as she did, but it’s a feat no woman’s managed to stomach so well before or since. Rebecca is a joy. She’s deeply religious, has the cutest damn southern drawl I’ve ever heard (get her to say situation and try not to fall a little bit in love with her, I dare you), and she’s a meteor of attitude and warmth and passion.

To tell you how weird my friendship was with Rebecca, let’s start with the end of it – when she found out I was leaving the CCB, she didn’t speak to me except monosyllabically for… two weeks? Something like that. Two. Weeks. And while we weren’t exactly crammed together like sardines, there wasn’t a lot of places I could go within the school where she wasn’t.

Time hop back to that first day. I didn’t physically see Rebecca until that evening. Our first day was spent mostly talking, and in a funny way, that maybe was the clincher. I think if  I were to meet any woman with her class and grace – and let’s face it, downright beauty – and I wasn’t blinded by sleepshades, I’d have been a bumbling wreck. Surprisingly, I wasn’t, though I did like her immensely right off the bat. It was clear she was a bit nervous about the school, but she was a lot more even-keeled about it than I was my first day, and approached everything and everybody with an easy-going southern charm.

I invited her to dinner that night downtown at the Hard Rock. I don’t remember if I’d seen her face by that point or not, but I was very glad she said yes. Tommy, good old Tommy, threw himself in there too, and the three of us had a fun time downtown (though I’ll admit, the Hard Rock was a terrible choice for me financially – I think I had ten bucks to my name and wound up having their mac and cheese. Hah!).

Rebecca and I didn’t have a relationship, not the way you think we did, but… yeah, we kinda did. I don’t mean physically, but in a very real sense, I consider her to be one of my great loves. We started to spend a lot more time together, not because she really needed the help – she was pretty much nailing it from the get-go – but because… frankly, I don’t know why on her end, but on mine, she was good. Aggravating at times – oh my God, she can be stubborn as a mule, and grumpy – but like my friend of a very different nature in Matt, Rebecca was – is – a fundamentally beautiful person, not just on the outside, but inside too.

She started traveling with me on my little journeys. Those were good times. I showed her some of my favorite malls, different hangouts, that sort of thing. She cooked for me more than once, including an amazing Thanksgiving dinner and a farewell lasagna sendoff that’s gonna bring me to tears if I think about it too much.

When I mentioned having to be separated from a friend during Braille a blog or two ago, it was from Rebecca. We goofed off a bit and class, and I still get little goosebumps when I think about her dotting my shoulders with her Braille pen – B-A-T, for a little Halloween inside joke.

Our friend, Bertha, once found out I was only twenty-four or so, and blurted that she thought I was closer to seventy or eighty. Combine that with another inside joke that Rebecca, when fully decked out in her big coat, looked like a starfish, the group of our friends, spearheaded by Rebecca, started calling me “Grampy Star.” To this day, it’s the only nickname of mine, apart from my grandmother’s “Stinky Butt” (yes, she really calls me that, and in public) and my immediate family’s “Cambo”, that I like.

Rebecca could scare me, too. Her passing out on one of our ventures is still something I have nightmares about, and there was a time near the end of my stay at the CCB when I genuinely thought our friendship was going to be left with her bitter at me leaving. That would have been a cruel cut, by me or by her, I’m not sure. But she was dating someone, a banker, and I thought, as I always tend to do, that there could be some measure of relief for me in knowing that she’d be with someone… secure. I was twenty three or twenty four, I had no major job prospects, I was earning maybe three hundred bucks a month from SSI. She fell in with a banker. How am I going to say, “Hey. Take a chance on me?” That’d be selfish and kind of cruel.

Wouldn’t it?

I’ll leave off Rebecca’s section in this with one last story of her and the group we traveled with. This is THE Rebecca story, apart maybe from the gift she gave me when I left (a notebook filled with pictures and mementos of our time together).

I don’t remember the name of the mall – Colorado Mills or Cherry Creek spring to mind – but Rebecca and I made plans to do some Christmas shopping over the Thanksgiving weekend. I was still feeling a bit of guilt over the trip with “Susan” months before and when some of our fully-blind friends wanted to tag along for the shopping, I agreed. Well, mostly because Rebecca would probably be taking on the lion’s share of leading them around because they really liked her. But also, you know, because I was trying to be a better person and crap.

I don’t know when we woke up to leave, but let’s assume it might’ve been twenty hours before the butt crack of dawn. Our crew assembled on a bitterly cold day in Denver (Montana friends, if you haven’t been there, Denver is basically a populated version of Montana, complete with its “I want to kill you now” winters), and we hopped on our bus, Rebecca already giving me askew smiles and glances when the younger kids wanted to know where all we’d be going and doing.

The two words I’m about to tell you are going to sound disingenuous, made-up, a blatant bald-faced lie. But absolutely nothing in this blog has been fictionalized or made up in any way to entertain, and this isn’t either.

Sixteen. Hours.

Guys, if that makes your testicles want to jump right on back up into your crotch, you’re not alone. Mother of God, sixteen hours of shopping sounds like hell to me even right now and I’ve endured it. And keep in mind, this is with entirely blind friends, though these were much more experienced and easy to deal with in comparison to the earlier story. Also… well, because Rebecca really did wind up helping them out way more than I did.

It was a huge mall, from what I remember, and of course Thanksgiving weekend made it even busier. We hit a huge number of shops, though not as many as you might think because of frequent stops to explain things and verbalize what was available. The staff was invariably great and patient, or really great at acting. I don’t remember stopping for a full-blown meal, but I do remember trying cinnamon-dusted freshly-roasted nuts and I still can’t get them out of my mind over a decade and change later.

That trip was, on paper, my version of pure hell, and yet it’s in memory one of my all-time favorite memories of the CCB as a whole. Rebecca had the patience of a saint, the kids we traveled with were experienced travelers and kept up well, and by the end of it, all of us, saddled down with bags and bags of purchases, had one hell of a memory.

My friends from the CCB taught me what I needed to know about my future. Oh, sure, I learned Braille and how to use a computer without a monitor and how to make a surprisingly okay shelf completely blind. But one of the things I needed to know most was that my world wasn’t going to end if I went blind. That I could still do meaningful things, that I could still have a remarkable life. And as funny as it sounds, even now, those six months I lived more than I ever have with any degree of sight. Every day left me exhausted, happy, angry, confused, joyous. Every weekend, I tried to find something to actually do. I was amazing and terrible and so damned electric.

I have one last story I wanted to tell you. I was going to title this particular blog “end of the Line,” but that sounds much more depressing than I wanted to leave things off on, especially since this is a good story, and one I’ve not told many people.

The first weekend I spent at the CCB, I knew I either had to shit or get off the pot. I was fooling myself, I thought. I didn’t want to be there. I didn’t want to be alone in an apartment with a crazy roommate who thought six inches was outside my personal bubble. i didn’t want to be walking into traffic. I didn’t want to be burning my hand on a BBQ grill. I wanted to be home. I wanted to be working. I wanted to be miserable.

At that point, I still had nothing but my suitcase full of clothes. I needed essentials, even if I was going home soon. I was gonna go stir crazy if I didn’t get a book or something to entertain myself, and I was tired of living on bread and lunch meat sandwiches.

I knew the basics of bus travel in theory. All I had to do was go two stops to the south, and I’d be at a Kroger, or I could jump the light rail, head up two or three stops, and walk half a mile to a Wal-Mart. Easy (well, it was at the time).

For whatever reason, with no one in the world knowing where I was going or what I was doing, I decided to keep going. Just to go somewhere, do something. I had no idea why at the time. I stuck it out near the front, my cane held tightly between my knees, taking in what I could of the suburbs. I had no idea if I was in a good part of town, a bad one, or even the foggiest where this bus was going.

I rode that bus to the end of the line. The driver, a little irritated, told me that was it, that I needed to get off now. I asked him the way back to my cross street, and he showed me the little map brochures they had. I plucked out a few, sat on a bench outside, and read through them, trying to understand the routes and times I’d need to get back to that grocery store.

I should have been nervous, and I was, I guess. But here’s the thing. You ask me why I write, why I love trying to go to new places to eat, to read new writers, to explore so much music. The answer, without any real definition, is that kid – and let’s face it, even if I was approaching my mid-twenties, I was a kid – riding that bus to the end of the line, not because he was depressed, not because he was stupid.

But so I could see.

Legally Blind #6 – Fear and Loathing in Colorado, Part Three

Let’s get this up front – the NFB has done amazing things for the blind. I have nothing but the utmost respect for the policies they’ve helped push through that genuinely make it possible for the blind to not let their disability define them (that’s actually sort of their mission statement, come to think of it, and it’s a good one). When I was in Denver, one of the big things they were helping push were those little pop-up dots you see on street corners, which help give definition to corners for those who need it, and now in 2017, my hometown finally has those, along with clearly defined pedestrian crossing lines that will – hopefully – stay painted on a more regular basis.

That’s one tiny example of the things they’ve done that has affected my life, but there are many, many more. They are, in general, a terrific bunch of individuals and I want you to understand up front that what I’m about to say should in no way deter you from supporting their efforts. Cool? Cool.

That all said, just like every other ideology out there, the NFB can sometimes put themselves first above the whole, and just like every other ideology, it can be self-righteously abrasive.

Yes, I probably just insulted your particular -ism. In fact, I’m sure I did. There’s a point to be made here that’s not going to please a single one of you, and I want you to understand I’m including myself and my particular beliefs in this as much as I am yours, okay? So just gimme a second and oil up your torches, because it’s gonna get a little worse before you (hopefully) see what I’m driving at.

Every ideology, be it religious, political, spiritual, or even rational, breeds a certain subset of thinking that tends towards an “us versus them” mindset. This tends not to come from the “normal” individuals within a group, but those who latch onto its ideals as a parasitic means to affirm their own self-worth. That’s pretty obvious, right? Except you get enough people of that mindset together in a room and isolate them from the whole and suddenly you’re breeding jingoism, xenophobia, and a destructive sense of self-importance.

That’s when things get uncomfortable for outsiders – and ironically, why it breeds even more xenophobiastic (is that a word? I’m making it a word) belief systems, until you’ve wound up with two or more groups shouting at each other because they’ve stopped looking at things as a whole and can only peep out from within their own metpahorical fortress.

That self-fulfilling prophecy of separating one’s self (or group) for the sake of believing you’re “right” about how to think, behave, and act are why I’m loath to identify myself in any particular ideology. I’m wary of anyone who identifies themselves as a whole because that will invariably lead to mud-slinging and radical behavior as a group when they feel threatened or needy and I don’t agree with that. Don’t get me wrong – I’m a judgmental asshole of the nth degree, but I do it on my terms, without associating with a group or mindset of anyone else.

Am I Christian? Sure, in the sense that I like Jesus’s teachings and the basics of the Ten Commandments, and I like to believe in both heaven and a greater kinder force than what we are capable of as people. I do not adhere to one particular subset of that belief because to do so is to willingly blind myself to the harm my group can cause, regardless of if we believe we’re in the right or not. It… hmmm. It narrows myself to a degree that I don’t like. Faith, I think for myself anyways, should be somewhat flexible so long as what is good is being stood for. Does that make any sort of sense whatsoever?

It all kind of goes back to something a history teacher of mine, Pat Morris, used to say about being the one person in a room full of “yes men” having the guts to say “no,” even if you sort of believe in saying yes – all because critical self-examination is a necessity. Those are my words, not his, but you get the gist of it.

In any case, I don’t much like -isms or factions or whatever people choose to identify as because the minute you start identifying as a sole group, you are cutting yourself off from the world as a whole. Protecting your own when it’s necessary is an absolute must, but the definition of what is necessity should always be weighed and measured against the world as a whole at that moment. Or to probably misquote Star Trek, the needs of the few should not outweigh the needs of the many. I probably butchered that. I’m not a fan of the show – wait, come back! I like that Picard guy!

Anyways, I give you that lengthy preamble because the National Federation for the Blind is just as capable as any other group of producing a mob mentality of self-righteousness. Weekly cheerleading sessions for the NFB – who backed the Colorado Center for the Blind – were kind of informative at first. These were group bullshit sessions where questions would be poised tot he students as a whole and we’d answer them, always with a slight nudge towards a sense of “go us!” Which is AWESOME, don’t get me wrong – those sessions helped me become less nervous about my own blindness, but often times, those questions were pushed in such a way as to give it a slight “us versus them” mentality.

We were given presentations too, speakers from the NFB’s mass collective (and holy shit, if you want to look at some impressive numbers, do some research on how big of a lobbyist group they really are, and how many strong the NFB is). These were far more obvious in their hoorahing. I, ah, didn’t do very well sitting on my hands in these ones, and I’m sorry to say that as the months wore on, I grew less and less patient with these presenters. I wanted to be there to learn Braille and function on a day to day basis, not have a belief system crammed down my throat, but considering how many days of school I skipped out of exhaustion and frustration, that’s hypocritical.

Perhaps, though, the greatest example of why I don’t count myself among the NFB’s legion came from a state conference in Denver that fall. We were told we’d be staying in a pretty damn nice hotel for… either a night or a weekend, I don’t remember. Regardless, the conference would take place over a couple of days, and we were told this was mandatory. Fine, right? I mean, hey, it offered up a new experience and got us a view of how the NFB worked to push city, state, and national policies for the blind which could have been a really cool experience.

By the end of that conference, I was done. Utterly done. The clock wasn’t ticking yet on my decision to head home, but that was definitely the beginning of the end for me.

By that point, I was already grumpy about NFB pushiness within the school. A lot of the individuals who went to the CCB were my age or older, and who were perfectly capable of making up their own minds about how to think and what to take with them ideologically, but a great many of the students there were fresh out of high school, with this being their first real experience on their own. I’d experienced the harm of being innocent and shoved into sudden acceptance in a group setting  (I was deep into a Christian group my freshman year of college just because I’d never fit in anywhere and I was grateful to have people around me), so I became very paternal about these kids and tried to make sure they recognized that there were other ways to think than the NFB’s.

That didn’t win me a lot of favors, but maybe for the first time, I was well and truly satisfied that I was being that one guy in a room full of yes men to say no for a damn good reason. Come the conference, and the realization that I was trying to plug up a river with my pinky finger.

Much of the conference was just figures and presentations being made about stuff that was of interest to the blind at large. Not exactly thrilling stuff, but hey, seeing the inner cogs turning is necessary. But then there came a larger meeting wherein policies were being discussed about things the NFB wanted to push for the city and state to do for them, and that’s when the klaxon sirens went off.

Let me give you the firmest example I distinctly remember. When we traveled by bus from point A to point B, it was commonplace for us to ask the bus driver to call out the two stops ahead of ours. That’s a pretty simple thing to ask a bus driver to do, and I never remember any problems with it.

At that conference in Denver, the NFB wanted to make it a policy for bus drivers to call out ALL stops regardless of their necessity to us. All of them. Because… reasons. We would be creating more work for bus drivers without justification, who would then be regulated by whatever watchdog group tracks that stuff, and it would become a mandatory pain in the ass for them. A very minor one, but here’s the gist of what I’m getting at – this was the way it was with a staggering mountain of stuff the NFB pushed back then.

And therein lies my inherent beef with the NFB as a whole. Among the many great things they do for the blind, there are a dozen unnecessary actions considered that disregard the potential effect on the whole for very negligible benefits that can be obtained just by asking. Whether that bill passed or not, I have no idea. I don’t follow the legislation of Colorado or Denver and by the end of that conference, my mind was whirling with the sheer ego of the group as a whole.

The whole thing left a greasy taste in my mouth, one I still can’t shake. Progress for those in need is a great thing, something that should be fought for. But when it comes at a cost of blinding the self to the whole… I don’t know. Believe what you believe. But always remember there are others out there believing what they believe too. A whole world of them. And if you purposefully blind yourself to hurting or discomfiting them for a greater sense of self of self-value, you do yourself or your ideology any good.

And unfortunately, that was how I felt about the NFB – so much potential to do good, but so much potential to put themselves first too.

In the next blog entry, we’ll return one last time to the Colorado Center for the Blind to talk about what ended up really mattering to me there, and why I went home feeling like I’d learned what I needed to. Thanks for reading.

Legally Blind #5 – Fear and Loathing in Colorado, Part Two

I’m kind of an asshole. Okay, you can leave off the “kind of” in that statement and still be wildly accurate. I tend to speak my mind and to hell with the consequences. I tend to get especially vocal about deliberate ignorance, ideological domination, and my anti-ism nature. My social media pages are devoid of family largely because I’m so abrasive. It’s neither a good or a bad thing – it’s a part of who I am and I embrace that. Call me flippant, call me an asshole, call me whatever you like if you need to label me, but I will never sacrifice who I am for the sake of keeping the peace or playing politics. It’s come back to bite my on the ass so often that I’m surprised my behind hasn’t been chewed off entirely.

I say all that because you’re going to need to understand the National Federation of the Blind, the way they ran the Colorado Center for the Blind, and why I struggled every day there with their sometimes-rabid faith in their politics. It influenced everything about that school and was (at least at that time – I can’t speak to changes they may have made since) the truest backbone of the school and why I ultimately sucked so hard at getting along with many of the teachers. Some were born educators and genuinely great people, even if I don’t necessarily agree with their idealogies. Some were very much… well, not that, and seemed largely like NFB cheerleaders sent there to spit in the eyes of anyone with sight. If they were just pricks, I could probably forgive them, but they were also terrible teachers too, who opted to only teach fundamentals when it suited them.

Part of that stems from the never-ending flow of students through the CCB. Induction and graduation weren’t a regular thing. People were admitted any time, and graduated when they were ready – or in the case of people like me, when the student and/or the Blind and Low Vision counselors agreed the student had learned enough. Or, also like me, when the daily knocking of heads against each other grew too much and all parties agreed that it’s for the best for the student to head on out.

Now that we’ve got that pre-amble out of the way, let’s jump back to my second day. My roommate “Steve” pointed me in the general direction of a bus stop, where we lined up with a few other students, all of us armed with canes. Mine was different than theirs – mine was a folding cane with what’s called a marshmallow tip (because it looks like a marshmallow, in case that wasn’t apparent), and every single one of theirs was a normal stiff cane with metal tips. Cool little side note – there’s a reason for that. The metal tipped canes have a better tactile feel to them, though they wear out so rapidly I personally think the trade-off isn’t worth it if you’re familiar with the areas you’re traveling in.

In any case, I immediately felt weird and out of place, but I’d been feeling that since I flew in, so it wasn’t so bad. I don’t remember anyone in particular that first morning. It took me a while to acclimate to getting to know people by their voices, and that first morning, I was more or less pissing myself just trying to remember the route I needed to go each morning. What I do remember about the group that morning was how diverse they were, not just in terms of skin color and backgrounds, but in age and health. Some were fit as a fiddle, some were grossly overweight (as was I – I think I was in the 250 lb. range back then, and I’ve since packed on another hundie, something I’m working to change). Some were beautiful, some were handsome, some were strange to me, some were “normal,” some clearly had physical problems and limitations. With my thick glasses, I’d always felt out of place, but in with them, I actually sorta felt for the first time like I wasn’t on the fringe of normal society. I didn’t realize it yet, but these were very much my people, as weird and individualistic as we all were.

Apart from the tragedy of the Littleton high school shooting, that’s actually a really nice suburb, and it’s really simple to navigate via the bus routes in Denver… once you know what the hell you’re doing. I’m a slow walker, and that day, when we finally got off our bus, I was hustling my ass off to keep up with the group of students. I forget the specifics, but it usually took about half an hour or so each morning to reach the school, including a pretty neat light rail system I still really like.

The CCB claimed they couldn’t teach people with varying degrees of sight in an equal fashion, and made everyone with sight wear sleepshades in order to teach everyone equally. It’s an idea I can understand, but I don’t think their solution was ideal. Sleepshades. In the summer months, that was nothing short of insane. We’re not talking velvety soft ones, or something light you might put over your eyes. These were foam-backed plastic pieces of garbage that accumulated sweat and grossness without a great way of keeping them clean. Cleaning them with soap and water helped, but after a couple of weeks, regardless of how well you kept them, they stank and fell apart. Despite the continued barrage from sighted studnets like me that there had to be better ways of doing this – painted sunglasses being the most obvious solution – they insisted that the sleepshades blocked all of a person’s vision and leveled the education among all of the students.

Let me reiterate that point. Even when I pointed out the existence of the sunglasses used by those recovering from surgeries that covered up all the field of view, they still insisted sleepshades were the best solution because… well, I have no clue even to this day. It was obtuseness for the sake of its own stubbornness, and it was this kind of thinking that led to me clashing with my instructors time and time again.

The school itself was based out of what I believe was once a gym/rec hall type building. Built on several levels, the main floor overlooked the open-air classrooms, which were once squash courts, I think. Also on that central floor was a reception area, several offices, a kitchen, and a cafeteria that doubled as the “home ec” type classroom, which wound up becoming my very favorite part of my education because the woman who taught it – and I’m afraid I don’t remember her name offhand, which aggravates and saddens me – was the best of the bunch and a born educator.

I was run through my day’s schedule, set up in chunks like a regular school. Travel, Braille, Computers/Tech, Art/Woodworking, and Cooking/Home. Those weren’t the official names of the classes but that’s how I thought of them and continue to do so. There were usually weekly activities of some sort that got us out of the building, or put us in conference room lecturing settings. More on those dreadful things later, because boy howdy, do I have things to say about their cheerleading sessions.

I had, at that point, very limited cane experience. I knew the basics of walking with a cane – you tap with the cane in front of you on the opposite side of the foot you put forward, so that you have enough reaction time to stop yourself before you go plunging over an embankment or a curb. There are also larger sweeping motions you make when you’re not in a crowd of people, but by and large, the former is much more useful inn real world settings.

I was told to stow my folding cane and my glasses, and was given a new cane with a metal tip and my sleepshades. Then I was told to keep up while a group of students took a walk down the block and around in a big loop.

That’s pretty much the extent of my travel training almost for the first month. See any problems here? The travel instructors weren’t instructors. Not in the slightest. They didn’t teach, they told. They talked a lot about throwing people in the water and letting them swim, but when you’ve never seen a fish and you’ve only ever put your toes in the water, that’s no way to learn. And it almost led me to quit my very first actual day there.

That walk was the most humiliating, terrifying time in my schooling there. I felt like an idiot when I was told consistently my cane techniques were wrong without anyone taking the time to actually show me how or why I was doing things the wrong way. I was expected to learn from the other students, whose names I hadn’t even caught yet, and I was expected to learn immediately. I managed most of the walk okay by keeping up with the group, but that was a facade and the instructor knew it. So he had me cross a street.

In high traffic.

By myself.

You’re thinking at this point they were right to throw me in the deep end, that it would energize me to realize I can do this, that it’s not so bad. No. There are situations where I’m at my absolute best when my back is to the wall, but that situation is most definitely not downtown Denver when I’m already feeling like quitting and going home. It’s definitely not with a smirking instructor who continually, in all my months there, treated me like a weird second class citizen because I had sight.

I was afraid, and I was angry, and not the good kind of angry, the kind that can motivate a person to do great things. I was just… angry. I stepped out onto the street when I thought the time was right. I walked forward five feet. And I whacked my cane right against a very moving car that came to a screaming stop only feet away from me.

At that point I ripped off my sleepshades, used what little sight I had without glasses (mostly shapes and colors at that point – nowadays I couldn’t manage even that), and got across the street, so scared I will unashamedly admit I think I pissed myself a little. That was the first time I took my sleepshades off during travel periods. It was far from the last.

To this day, I can’t understand what the point is of teaching a travel class if you’re not going to teach on a regular basis. Lumping the sighted people with each other so they could learn the basics would have been a smart move. Giving someone individual courses so they could warm up and get the basics down would have been a smart move. Throwing someone at the fucking sharks and expecting them to not get torn to shreds? That’s not teaching. That’s straight-up jackassery of a degree that still infuriates me to this day.

And that was my very first course.

Thankfully, Braille was next, and the instructor was much more decent at… you know… teaching. I’d never learned even the slightest bit of Braille, but this was the class most important to me. See, I know I can go blind nowadays because I know I’ll always have books on tape and Braille. Back then, I was terrified that if I went blind, I could never read again. An absurd fear, to be sure, but you’ve gotta understand, at that point, going completely blind was the apocalypse for me. That was the end game. If it had happened before I went to Denver, I would have curled up and probably withered into a husk of who I am.

I argued with my Braille instructor more than once. In fact, our irritation with each other once led to me and my close friend Rebecca getting separated in class like we were a couple of lovestruck teenagers who didn’t know any better and weren’t absolutely killing it in terms of progress. We argued ideologically, too – again, more on that later – and I get the feeling he plain just didn’t like me in the same sense that I got from a lot of the fully blind instructors there. By and large, though, I liked “Bob,” and if he wasn’t pushing the NFB agenda, I think we would’ve largely got on just fine. In any case, he was a good instructor, and when I opted out of travel courses later in my education when it became clear my time in Denver was numbered, I doubled up on Braille.

But still I was on the verge of quitting. That travel class had really pissed me off and I wanted out immediately. Enter the cooking/home ec class. This was the most chill, relaxed class in that school, and it was, oddly enough, the one class I never felt like removing my sleepshades, despite working with knives and hot stoves. The instructor was harried on that first day – I forget why, but she was busy with something or someone, and I was told to make some chicken salad for sandwiches out of some chicken breasts that had been cooked by an earlier class. Thankfully, she buddied me up with a good guy, my buddy Matt Palumbo’s former roommate who would graduate about two weeks later.

Chicken salad. Easy enough, right? Except imagine doing this all blind. The student I worked with showed me the ins and outs of the kitchen, and did a remarkable job of showing me how I could feel things out without any real danger to myself. But he’d also never made chicken salad either, so the two of us figured out the best way NOT to do it. And that’s by hitting the puree button for a minute, rather than the fifteen or twenty seconds it takes to whip chicken salad into shape.


But this? This was a harmless mistake. It was the sort of joyfully funny thing I probably should have experienced first rather than the outright terror of that travel class. We tried our liquefied goop, we laughed about it, and we cleaned up. And… it was okay. It was strangely okay.

I didn’t know it then, but that’s when I started to realize the education I needed in Denver wasn’t going to come from the instructors, but from my friends that I’d make there, in seeing how they functioned, how they dealt with things, how they lived a day to day life and what I could avoid. Through our daily mishaps, I wound up becoming okay with the future and the idea that I could live a really great, fun life even if I became fully blind.

I’m gonna leave this blog entry off with one last note from those earliest days there. My second day at the school – very literally my second one – I was asked to man a barbeque for a student’s graduation. Flipping burgers sounded easy enough, so I took it up. Surprisingly, it’s easier for me to cook meat completely blind than it is sighted. It’s easier for me to tell when the meat’s done than if I just look at it. Pink meat? What the everloving hell does pink meat look like? But slightly firm and with only a little give? That i can understand.

So I manned the barbeque. And I was happy with it, really happy. Right up until the point when I flipped a burger on the back burner and realized it was a two-tier barbeque by jamming the back of my hand against a very hot grill. Up until I was thirty, the hair on the back of my hand never grew back right.

Still beats the hell out of potentially getting hit by a car, though.

Part 3 will come soon. I want to reverse the order of things – we’ll talk more about the NFB and the reasons why I ultimately left Colorado before I get intot he joys of the life there. Thanks for reading.

Beast – A Look at the First Chapter

Here’s an excerpt from my upcoming freebie Beast, exclusive for people who sign up for my newsletter! Enjoy!

Chapter 1

“She’s a witch.”

If she was, she didn’t look like one. Mrs. Fulton looked… well, like a mom. Middle-aged, a little frayed around the edges, her makeup perhaps caked on a little thick in the vain hopes of pushing time back a decade. She strode down the street, pushing her little red grocery cart in front of her, a pair of earbuds trailing down to a cell phone holster. Mrs. Fulton could have been any other suburbanite woman on her way back from the store.

Well, save for the braid of long auburn hair tied to the handlebar of her cart, anyways.

“That’s human hair,” Chris said from the driver’s seat, sounding not so much scared as amused. “My dad says it’s some kind of Wiccan thing, like a calling card to let the others know she’s a witch.”

“Serulian,” Becca corrected absently, eyes locked on Mrs. Fulton as she glanced over her shoulder and smiled. She couldn’t have overheard them. They were a quarter of a block away at a red light. But still…

After finishing a deep drink of her Dr. Pepper, Trish asked, “What, like the color?” Becca’s best friend was sharper than she usually let on, but didn’t bother hiding her book smarts with the two of them. Becca had been her best friend since grade school, and Trish had lived with Chris since they were three, after their parents had hooked up at a drunkfest of a Christmas party and decided to get hitched a week later in Vegas.

“No, with an S and an I.” Becca spelled it out for Trish, who wrinkled her nose. Behind them, a car honked and Chris shot forward guiltily. “They’re… I don’t know, hardcore witches, I guess you’d call them.” That wasn’t true, not by a long shot. The Sirulians worshipped something they called the Blight, but what that was she had no idea and it was easier just to explain away the details in a vague fashion.

Becca was fascinated by the splinter group, as she was with everything horror and occult related. When the news reports started leaking that last winter about a small town to the east of Rankin Flats just appearing out of nowhere, its citizens all apparently dying within a day or two, something had woken up in Becca. She’d always liked writers like John Saul and Dean Koontz, but that had been at a distance, and purely for entertainment. Something about that little town, Hamber, and the way the government tried to cover it up made her hungry to learn more. She gorged herself on every book, popular or obscure, that dealt in the history of ghost towns and the occult in the area. And with it being Rankin Flats, one of the most dangerous and storied cities in the world, there were plenty, enough to fill whole sections of libraries.

That rabbit hole led her to start reading up on magic practitioners, common or uncommon to the Flats. Serulians weren’t written about much, mostly because they kept to themselves. There weren’t covens or thinly disguised gab clubs devoted to the Serulian ways. The tenets had yet to be discovered by the hordes of liberal arts majors dabbling in witchcraft in head shops and the backs of libraries. All that was really known about them were generalities. Chris wasn’t wrong about the hair being a symbol of the craft, at least according to what she read. But Wiccan? No..

Becca turned in her seat to keep watching Mrs. Fulton. The woman turned to glance back at her, a smile flickering just for a moment across her face. She’d known Becca was there, looking. Creepy.

* * *

Darcy and Derek, known affectionately as the Double Ds, met them at a Brisktro not all that far from their school. The couple were practically twins, both dressed in flannel, jeans, and cowboy hats too big for their heads. Becca had grown used to not rolling her eyes when the pair were around. Derek, not all that long ago, had been a dyed-in the-wool geek who wore nothing but 90s referential t-shirts and cargo pants. Ever since he’d started dating the cowgirl at his side, he’d changed up his entire wardrobe for her, not to mention his lifestyle. Weekends and evenings spent obsessing over Overwatch and track turned into enthusiasm for rodeos, farm work, and country music. Becca wouldn’t mind so much if he didn’t try so damned hard at being this faux cowboy. It was douche and not a little slimy.

To her credit, at least Darcy wasn’t trying to force the changes on him, but she wasn’t exactly discouraging them either. In her tight jeans, it was easy to understand why Derek would lose himself over to a slavish devotion to his girlfriend. Darcy really wasn’t a bad person, though. She was the one friend Becca could call night or day and have a friendly ear to talk to, and she didn’t ever seem to share secrets, something even Trish couldn’t manage.

They ordered their favorites – Trish a chai tea, Derek and Darcy iced coffees (even if Derek used to hate coffee), Becca a hot tea, thinking about the lonely five-dollar bill in her handbag. She hoped this was the year she could finally pass for old enough to get a part-time job, but she looked years younger than she actually was. A blessing, some of her aunts called it, but to Becca, all it meant was that she couldn’t get away from home, couldn’t buy herself any of the day-to-day things her friends enjoyed, couldn’t get anything more serious than yardwork and babysitting jobs.

When Trish sweetly but naively told her she could have whatever she wanted because it was on her, Becca grew red as a beet and tried not to storm off. “Just tea,” she said through gritted teeth and a forced smile. Becca darted away from the group, trying not to let them see her balled fists. Pity. She hated that word more than any other in the English language. Well, except for “I’m sorry.”

At a table near the window, she dug out a tattered copy of Edgar Sawtelle, her latest favorite find from a Friends of the Library sale. Once upon a time she’d owned a Kindle, bought with money carefully saved from babysitting two little brats in her trailer park, but after only a few weeks, she’d come home to find it missing and her father Luke armed with a trio of new bottles fresh from the liquor store. Becca had cried and cried, and he’d even apologized in his fumbling way, but he’d never bought her a new one. Now she never bought anything he could sell.

Not even a sentence into the book, Chris dropped into the chair beside her. Her sense of smell always grew sharper just before her period, and she imagined she could sniff out every drop of delicious sweat coming from his pores, not to mention his sporty deodorant and the hint of aftershave. Just a year older than her, he was still the only boy she knew who wore the stuff and make it seem natural instead of like a boy playing at being a man. His easy-going smile did things to her stomach that no one else’s could. It wasn’t just a girl crush, either, but full on lust. If Chris told Becca to sneak away to the Brisktro’s men’s room, she’d have gladly followed him in there and let him do whatever he wanted for however long he could, preferably over and over again.

“She means well,” he said quietly, covering her free hand with his. She wondered if he could feel her heartbeat rev up like a NASCAR racer’s engine.

Drag me off, she pleaded internally. Make love to me for days. I’m yours. “Yeah,” Becca muttered.

“It’s not a pity thing. It’s just Trish trying to be sweet.”

Becca didn’t say anything to that, just buried her nose further in her book. He squeezed her hand, sending a delicious little jolt of electricity up and down her arm. Trish slid into the chair across from her and pointed a finger at her stepbrother. “You’re so not hitting on Becs, are you?”

“What if I am?” Chris said, and trailed his fingers up and down Becca’s arm. That caused her to drop her book in shock.

Approaching the table as Becca scooted her chair back to swipe up her book, hoping the rest of them didn’t see how red her face was, Derek snickered. “Smooth, Becca.”

“Shut up,” she said, finally coming up with Sawtelle in hand.

Behind her boyfriend, Darcy asked, “You okay, Becky?” She was the only one who called her that. Becca hated the nickname – she didn’t even care much for Becca, but it was what everyone called her and she went with it meekly.

“Yeah fine,” she said, fast enough that it became one word – yeahfine. “Just got startled, that’s all.”

“Must be my sexy lips,” Chris said, and made a kissy face in Becca’s direction. This time she was positive everyone could see her blush.


* * *

When Trish and Chris dropped Becca off back at her trailer, Chris hopped out and told his sister he’d be just a minute. She made some moaning sounds and giggled when Chris thumped the door to get her to shut up. Becca’s whole body quivered as she waited for Chris to talk.

“So. Um,” she finally said, kicking herself for her inability to say anything cooler.

“So,” he said, and scratched his head. She liked his clean-cut hairdo. Most of the boys in her class thought the shaggy dog look was still in, but Chris… Chris was classier than that. As young as he might be, he’d almost look right at home in a boardroom somewhere if he owned a suit and a tie. “I’m sorry about that.”

“It’s okay,” she mumbled. He could only mean one thing – the coffee shop incident wouldn’t leave her friends’ minds easily and they’d use it to fluster her whenever they wanted.

“No, it’s not. Let me make it up to you.”

“H-how?” She thought boys were the only ones who suffered from squeaking voices, but hers went as high as a mouse’s.

“Let me take you to dinner or something sometime. And maybe we’ll see a movie or something. We’ll-”

“Yes,” Becca said, practically shouting it.

Chris grinned. “Cool. It’ll be fun to hang out as friends, just the two of us.”

Her heart, soaring so quickly just a moment before, crashed into her gut and burned. “As friends. Right.”

Chris pulled her to him for a quick hug. “See ya then.”

Becca watched them off down the street until the car was just a speck in the distance, then yanked at one of the hairs on her head. It was an unhealthy coping mechanism for her stress and she hadn’t done it in weeks, but now her fingers plucked away like a first chair violinist. Before she could storm inside, a neighboring trailer’s screen door popped open and fifteen pounds of panting furball bounced down the stairs and across the grass to her. Spotted with mud and burrs, Frisco was badly kept and half-starving, but he was a gleeful little thing and Becca’s heart lightened a little seeing him.

She knelt down to scratch at his ears as the dog’s owner Shea appeared at her screen door. The elderly woman had to come out of her trailer from time to time, Becca was sure of it, but damned if she could remember when. “Frisco!” she called sharply. “Get your ass back here!”

“it’s all right, Shea,” Becca called out. Frisco waggled his butt as if to say, yes, it’s quite all right, I’d like to stay here now, preferably forever so long as I get my butt rubbings.

Shea muttered something under her breath and called Frisco back. The dog reluctantly returned to the house, stopping only to lift its hind leg and spray down an old broken barbeque. Becca raised a hand to wave at the old woman, but she was already retreating inside the house and didn’t return the gesture.

“Fuck you too, then, you old bitch,” Becca muttered and felt a little better.

Becca hadn’t been expecting her father to be home. His old Cutlass hadn’t been parked out front and she’d thought she was safe for the evening to head into her room, shut the door, cry herself out, and then try to figure out just how the hell she was going to start earning some real cash. When she smelled the meat frying, every instinct in her body told her to turn around and run. Her father never cooked. Luke’s meals came from a can, or on very rare occasions, the microwave.

Meat meant something was out of the ordinary, and in the Pratchett family, out of the ordinary meant trouble. He was in the kitchen, his graying hair tied in a ponytail with a rubber band as he whistled something she vaguely remembered hearing on the radio, some old-timey honky-tonk rock song. Cooking and whistling. This wasn’t good. This wasn’t good at all.

When the screen door banged shut, Luke turned and grinned at her, giving her a little wave with his spatula. She hated her dad’s smile. That beguiling, charming twinkle to his eyes. The way his nose crinkled just a little bit. It was the smile of an addict in momentary denial and with it would come a tempest if she wasn’t careful. And Becca was in no mood to be careful.

“Cooking some ham and eggs!” he hollered at her cheerfully. “How do you want ‘em? Scrambled or over-easy?”

“Um. Scrambled.”

“Atta girl. Just like her poppa.”

Becca didn’t sit down. Didn’t move away from the door. She didn’t trust her dad when he was like this. Not one bit. Him standing over her bed. “You look so much like your mom,” he’d whispered. She shuddered involuntarily.

“Where’s the car, dad?”

Luke stiffened but kept right on cooking. “Got a new job today. The bank! Gonna be their janitor.” He stretched the word out – jan-it-tore. “Mop their floors, clean up after their shits, say yes sir, no sir, why lemme get that for you, yassir!”

Any other day, that might have been great news. Luke hated his job at the gas station down the street. Now she just waited for the other shoe to drop. “That’s good,” she said, her voice flat.

“Fuck, Becca, can’t you be a little happier than that?” The words might have been harsh, but his tone was still chipper. He turned, flipped a piece of ham in the air for her amusement, and caught it with the frying pan. It had been a trick she’d loved as a kid. Before her mom had died. Before it had all gone to shit. “You know what this means, baby girl? Money in our pockets.”

“Did you sell the car?”

He slammed a fist down on the counter. “Damn it, Becca-” There he was, she thought to herself. The beast come out to play.

“You pay the water bill? The electric? Anything? Or did you just buy a few groceries and, oh, hey, the liquor cabinet’s restocked again?”

The pan came flying at her a moment later, still searing hot. She ducked it easily but where it landed it sizzled the carpet. Burn, motherfucker, burn, she thought idly as she spun for the door. “Becca, wait, I’m sorry,” Luke shouted after her.

But she was already moving, already running out the door and down the steps.

Legally Blind #4 – Fear and Loathing in Colorado, Part One

I used to be afraid of the dark.

Unless you know me particularly well, “the dark” isn’t probably what you think it means. I’m not afraid of the night, or things that might or might not go bump in it – hell, my paychecks are now based on the boogeyman and his merry band of asshole buddies. What I mean is blindness. Waking up one day with another detached retina, or the slow fade into total blindness through macular degeneration used to terrify me in some subtle ways.

It’s not an easily describable fear. It wasn’t like it kept me up at night – though it certainly did, sometimes, when I’d contemplate how little I could actually do if I went completely blind (which is a falsehood, by the way – the blind can do plenty). It was more like a creeping dread, a sense of inescapable quicksand into a continued loss of functions we take for granted each and every day since we’re born.

Most of all, I was afraid of being helpless. By the end of college, I’d already lost my ability to drive, leaving me hoping for a single room in dingy college dorms probably best torn down. It left me without a great many of the activities I liked to do – suddenly I couldn’t play games online with my mom because I genuinely thought the eye strain would screw up my good eye. It left me straining to read books because my good eye wasn’t my dominant one.

Fear and helplessness leave me an angry, bitter mess. I’d bet you ninety nine times out of a hundred, abusive husbands hit their wives out of impotent rage. They can’t hit the thing they truly want to hit, so they find someone they think they can lord over and go to town, verbally or physically. I wish I could say I was different, but I know that need. It’s been the passenger in the seat next to me my whole life and it’s something I still struggle with every day. I’ve hit my brother so much over our lifetimes that the guilt of it crushes my shoulders on a daily basis. I’ve been in a dozen stupid fights, ostensibly because I was standing up for something or someone, but really because I just really fucking love the feel of my fists hitting something fleshy.

I hate myself for that. And don’t try to tell me not to. That contempt I feel for my anger is what drives me to seek peace with myself every single day. What all the hippy-dippy types don’t tell you about trying to find yourself is that when you do, you have to live with looking in the mirror every day.

None of that seems relevant to blindness, except it all is. Blindness isn’t the only thing that makes me angry all the time, but it’s a large part of my continual disappointment in myself. Imagine wanting to live your life as your own man and then having to ask for help from people who are never going to say no because they love you and pity you. Imagine how much that grinds you down. It’s exhausting.

I say all that about the present because back in 2004, these feelings were all still new to me. Up until 2003 or so, I had my issues with my temper, but going blind added a mountain to my back. If I’d been focused on what I could do instead of what I couldn’t, I have no idea where I’d be right now. I’d have tried for an acting school on the east coast, almost certainly. Who knows where I would have gone? What I would have done?

But fear had me and I don’t really blame myself. Thankfully, though, that temper of mine can sometimes work as a positive every once in a great while. I was tired of being afraid. I didn’t want to live my life on Social Security (which would later become kind of ironic, since that’s what I’ve been doing for eight years). I wanted to figure my shit out.

So I did. I talked to my Blind and Low Vision rep here in Montana, and the individual pointed me towards a place called the Colorado Center for the Blind. A few months later, and I hopped on a plane with a small suitcase and no idea what I was headed into. None. All I knew was that I’d be staying in Littleton, Colorado – yes, that Littleton – and going to school near there.

“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times” is incredibly apt when it comes to Denver. No six months of my life has ever been so eventful, made me feel so damned alive or so miserable. There are people I love from that period of time more than I have the ability to express. Rebecca Myers. Matthew Palumbo. Tommy Needham. Thirteen years later I still tell people stories about them, still laugh, still kinda wish I’d never left, still kinda glad I did.

When I hopped off the plane, I was greeted by an old man in an outlandish Hawaiian shirt, who promptly dropped me off at a surprisingly nice apartment complex in the suburbs. I was told that someone would be by… well, eventually. Eventually turned into a couple of hours of disbelief that this was suddenly my life, spent waiting outside in the blistering June heat. I couldn’t even get into my apartment because there was some SNAFU with the apartment keys. So I waited.

Enter my new roommate. Completely blind and looking kinda like a wet rat, he whacked his cane up and down the sidewalks and… promptly walked right by our apartment building for the one next door. I didn’t realize he was my roommate at the time, and “Steve” as we’ll call him had absolutely no sense of direction whatsoever. So I waited more. And more. And when he came back down the street, I asked him if he knows a guy named “Steve.” His face lights up – and if you’ve never seen a completely blind person’s face light up, it is one of God’s great joys, and I’m not even being the slightest bit sarcastic about that – and we finally get our housing stuff sorted out.

The apartment was sparse – a few bits of furniture leftover from various tenants and bedroom accouterments were about it. No TV, no entertainment, nothing. I slung my suitcase on my bed and sat down to enjoy the air conditioning for a while until “Steve” barreled right through my bedroom door and stood – I kid you not – half a foot away from me to ask me a bevy of questions.

He then asked if I wanted dinner. Since I hadn’t eaten since before the flight that morning, I was all for it. I wasn’t sure what I expected, but “Steve’s” next words kinda took me by surprise. “Sorry,” he said, “I haven’t gone grocery shopping in a while. All that’s in the fridge is hot dogs and spinach leaves.” And come to find out, those spinach leaves were rotten.

My first dinner in Denver, Colorado was a boiled hot dog, followed by my new roommate following me around like a lost puppy.

As far as first days of anything important in my life, it’s by far the weirdest. And that night, when I laid down listening to “Steve” whack his cane up and down the street trying to find a neighbor I didn’t know in a different building, I wondered just what the everloving hell I was doing there and how long I’d make it. Privately, I gave myself three days.

Turns out I lasted six months. Six grueling, happy, miserable months where I learned more about myself than any other time of my life. But more on that in Part Two, coming soon.

Band of Fallen Princes is available now!

Heya folks! My latest Rankin Flats supernatural thriller Band of Fallen Princes is now live on Amazon! This one centers around four childhood friends, once the victims of vicious bullies, as they become four criminal masterminds behind the scenes in the big sprawl that is Rankin Flats. When one of their own is brutally executed in an apparent gangland hit, the remaining three cut a bloody swath through the city to get their revenge. Can Garrett and Murphy stop them? After the events of Bone Carvers, are they even capable of trying? Well, read on and find out!

I’ll be pursuing the paperback version in June, but for now, you can buy your copy on your Kindle for just $2.99. Hope you enjoy, and welcome back to Rankin Flats!

Fallen_Princes Final

Mailing list problems have been resolved (kind of)

Hey folks!

I’ve set up a new mailing list page. If you’ve already signed up, you’ll be automatically added and don’t need to do anything. If you haven’t signed up, you can sign up here! Joining the mailing list will nab you Beast, a free horror novella set in the Rankin Flats universe. A standalone story, it follows Becca, a teenager being stalked by a hound straight from the pits of hell.

One quick note – if you try to sign up for the mailing list directly from the ebooks themselves, I have not yet uploaded the changed links. If you don’t receive a confirmation email when you sign up, please contact me via a private message here or on Facebook or Twitter and I’ll get you hooked up.

As always, thanks for reading!

Regarding my mailing list

There appears to be some technical troubles affecting people trying to sign up for my mailing list. If you don’t receive a confirmation email when you sign up, please drop me a comment below and we’ll get you sorted. You can also PM me via Twitter or Facebook with your email address and I’ll add you manually.

I’ll have more details soon, but newsletter subscribers will receive exclusive access to a free short story/novella titled Beast. Set in the Rankin Flats universe, the story follows Becca, a teenager being stalked by a dog-like creature straight from the pits of hell. This is a standalone story, and features all-new characters. Should be fun! More info to come soon.

Legally Blind #3 – Tools of the Trade

My vision’s affected every part of my life. That pretty much goes without saying when you’re staring down diopters in the -30 range (my vision doesn’t even really work with the 20/20 scale, that’s how bad it is), but the truism of it doesn’t really hit you until you start to see the minutia of what I do on a day to day basis that might be different from your own life.

Let’s start with the most obvious stuff as pertains to just writing. Larger fonts on PCs are an absolute must, but by and large I prefer to use the magnifier built into most Windows operating systems. It’s not the most ideal tool in the world but it’s pretty damn close to being perfect for my needs. This is something not everybody’s aware of, but you can find it by searching for “Magnifier” in your search bar next to your Start button. It’s super handy. I use the full-screen version at a 300% magnification, then minimize the tool to the taskbar so it doesn’t get in the way.

It’s not ideal for everything – games can be kind of hit and miss with it, unless they can be windowed, in which case it usually works great. But for simple web browsing, video watching, or Microsoft Word (the program I use ten times more than any other), it’s ideal and simple, and doesn’t cost a thing.

I tend to set up my computers to run at slightly larger fonts, as mentioned before, and this is another something people might not be aware of. Check your settings in your browser of choice – usually the font sizes are either under accessibility or advanced options. Going too large will tend to screw with the line placement and text wrapping, so be warned it might look funky.

I don’t tend to read much on paper anymore, unless I’m proofing one of my paperback novels. The reason isn’t so much my vision – you’d be surprised at how great the publishing world is about supplying large print versions of their books – as it is lighting. As mentioned in my previous post, I don’t see light the “right” way anymore and shadows interspersed with light can really screw with my eyes. To that end, I either like to read in full daylight or with the aid of a supremely bright reading lamp angled over the top of my head. This isn’t always feasible, so I tend to do a lot of my reading on my iPad or Kindle, both of which have adjustable font sizes and a relatively high contrast between the font and the “paper.” If you have a low-vision family member with a bit of technical savvy, I cannot recommend one of these two options enough. Sure, we all tend to prefer books on paper, but when the alternative is eyestrain, migraines, or worst of all, no reading whatsoever, then make the smarter choice and go for the tech. I did and I don’t regret it.

The iPad also has a nifty high contrast mode, which reverses the text and the background, so that the font shows up as white and the background black. That’s really handy for nighttime reading, though I do wish the iPad allowed for a greater font size. It’s nitpicky but when your vision is this bad, you want to be able to control your fonts to the greatest extent possible.

For walking, I get by without a cane but I do have a fold-up travel cane I take with me to unfamiliar places when traveling, especially if I’m going to be walking at night by myself. Our little community finally (in 2017!) has corners with dots on the sidewalks to let you know where the sidewalk ends. I tend not to need these, but believe me, when every painted curb looks like it could be a ramp, it’s extremely nice not to come off a curb the wrong way and twist my ankle needlessly. Now I now, “Oh, hey, I can cross here and it’s not going to be a drop.” Again, this is maybe a decade late coming, but we’re also talking about a town that’s just now getting a Redbox, so “behind the times” doesn’t quite do us justice sometimes. We’ve also had an update to our town’s lights, or at least as far as Main Street is concerned, which is a blessing. Being able to see the sideewalks at night isn’t just awesome for the blind, but lends the town a less murderous feel when you’re out and about. Now to just get the residential areas up to snuff so I’m not tripping over the billion potholes. Another battle for another time, I suppose.

Around the house, one of the more useful things I have is sticky dots of various colors for buttons on my microwave and stove. Although my microwave’s buttons are big, they’re not high contrast or particularly easy to define since they all feel exactly the same, so adding dots to the “time cook,” “cancel,” and “start” buttons is a pretty good alternative. Same goes for the stove. I like that my stove has its dials right up front as opposed to near the back – I get that it looks old-fashioned, but it also means I can see the dots and line them up where they need to be.

There are some other little tools I keep around. Gel pens, while a bit messy, tend to write thick enough to make handwriting legible (or would, if my handwriting was legible to begin with). Magnifiers don’t work very well with my glasses for whatever reason, but I have a couple I keep around that do help a little. I keep a largeprint notebook (with extra thick lines) next to my computer for writing minutia. That’s handy, but honestly, unlined notebook paper would probably work just as well.

One note to gamers out there – if you have a PS4, check into your accessibility settings. They’ve been doing some amazing things, including adding a magnifier. It’s not ideal – you can’t control the action and be zoomed in at the same time, so it’s largely limited to games with frequent pauses like JRPGs or text-heavy games. But it’s a fantastic little touch to make things just a little easier. Hell, given how small those fonts are for some games, I’d recommend it even for my well-sighted friends.

For information on where you can obtain most of this type of stuff, contact your state’s Blind and Low Vision (or equivalent) service. At the very least they’ll point you in the right direction, and in a best case scenario, maybe they’ll even pick you up as a client.

That does it for this blog. As always, if you have any questions or comments, fire them off below.