Saturday, January 7, 2012

A Mighty Oops

Dear Handicap “Jerk,”

I normally don’t unleash undue criticism on unwitting amputees. In fact, I've only ever engaged in such a wretched act of misplaced saintliness one time. Unfortunately, you were the target. I did not mean to write that dreadful letter lambasting you for NOT being handicap, and I did not mean to leave it under your windshield wiper. What’s more, it was not Tom Miller who spit the venom, it was me. Please, let me explain myself first

While attending college, I worked weekends and vacations at Kmart. I was primarily a “stock boy”, and one of my chief responsibilities was to gather carts from the parking lot. During my initial year of service, I had observed one patron after another park in the handicap spot, and then employ two perfectly functioning legs to skip merrily toward blue light special. What an insult to the poor invalid who had to park 27 spaces from the building and shamble to the sliding entrance door! Although being an employee of Kmart prohibited me from chastising these insolent parking lot phonies, my disdain for them only festered.

I did not like Tom Miller. He was the classic attention-seeking frat bro schmuck. Tom lived two dorm rooms down during my sophomore year of college. Whenever I would leave on a Saturday morning to go punch-in at Kmart, I would inevitably return to my door room to discover that Tom had slid as much trash as he could fit through the inch wide gap between the tile floor and the bottom of my cumbersome wooden door. I spent more than a few Saturday evenings sweeping up the cigarette ashes, gathering the Little Debbie Snack Cake wrappers, picking up crusty napkins, and corralling god knows what else into another receptacle. After several weeks of this childish nonsense, I began to despise Tom Miller as much as the parking lot ingrates.

If only there was a way that I could humiliate both in one fell swoop.

One chilly November afternoon I grabbed a steak burrito at the university eatery, pulled-up a stool behind the countertop that faced the towering glass wall overlooking the cafeteria parking lot and enjoyed my customary Tuesday between-class respite. As I was harvesting the scattered burrito crumbs with broad strokes of my cuffed hands (a technique that I had mastered during the Saturday evening clean-ups in my dorm room), I witnessed a shiny silver sedan slide into the single handicap parking spot. My resentment climaxed when a rangy fellow in a trench coat emerged from the car and strutted down the sidewalk like a man too eager to demonstrate the full range of his unencumbered mobility. As I indignantly steered my stool back underneath the countertop, an idea surfaced. I was going to right two wrongs.
I snatched a piece of notebook paper and a writing utensil from my tattered book bag. My chewed-up pen was a laxative, allowing my constipated frustration to spew all over the crinkled paper. I do not recall the spiteful letter from start to finish, although a few stark phrases remain lodged in my psyche: “Dear ‘Handicap’ Jerk,...are NOT handicap…are undercutting those people who are actually enfeebled...deserve to be criminally prosecuted...let me catch you doing this again or there will be trouble...Sincerely, Tom Miller.” I hastily pinched it under the shiny silver sedan’s windshield wiper and strolled to my next class like a Good Samaritan who had just bolstered his resume.

Later that evening I encountered Tom near the elevators in McEntire Hall, where we lived. He seemed distressed. Although I detested small talk  with Tom,  a spurt of sympathy coerced me to ask him what was wrong. Here again, I can’t recall his ramblings from start to finish, although a few stark phrases remain lodged in my psyche: “Today after biology class my professor pulled me aside...asked me why I would leave such a horrible letter under his windshield wiper...knew that I knew that he had a prosthetic leg...want to crawl under a rock and die.”

This open letter is my confession. Sir, esteemed professor of science, undeservedly QUITE handicap man who may have lost your leg risking your life for my freedom on foreign soil, or recusing trapped children from a fiery overturned school bus, I need you to know that I wrote that letter, and I have felt smaller than a blade of grass for the last eleven years. I do not deserve to ever stumble upon another convenient parking spot in my life.

As for Tom Miller, although he was definitely an schmuck, he was not the a schmuck that I made him out to be.

Matt Bower

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