Bob Ness and I are hurtling down the Dan Ryan Expressway in his adapted minivan. I say to him, “I have this assignment where I’m supposed to write about gimp hygiene. And it has to be funny. Got any funny hygiene stories?”
I knew I could count on Bob to get me started. He’s been a quad for 13 years and his bemused take on himself and the world around him gives him a good eye for the funny war stories.
He tells me about the time he was tent camping when suddenly he had to take a mean dump. So after quickly assessing the logistical possibilities, he had the buddy who was camping with him push two picnic tables together. “I climbed up on top,” says Bob, “put a cheek on each table and downloaded.”
Bob seems to have a lot of euphemisms for number two. My favorite is “dropping the kids off at the pool.”
And he had a good theme, I thought. Improvisational hygiene. The gimp away from home. The fish out of water. The turtle on its back. Bob says he was in a hotel in Amsterdam once and after a few days he had to break down and look for something to use as a shower chair. “I can only take birdbaths for so long before I start growing a few science experiments,” he says. So he used the wooden desk chair and checked out, leaving it waterlogged for the next guy.
I imagine all wheelers have embarked on that great journey, wandering the hotel grounds like Diogenes in search of a decent shower chair.
I always look down by the pool because the chairs are made of plastic. But the damn things are usually chained down.
I spent a night at a KOA kampground outside Buffalo, N.Y., a few years back. These places are spooky enough to begin with because they’re like these happy little kingdoms where everything begins with a K. We stayed in what they called a kamping kabin. But then all the girls who worked in the kamping store wore name tags and their names were Kathy, Karen and Kerry. And the manager’s name was Ken. I kid you not! Ken said it was all just a koincidence. But I think it was some kind of kult! They all had the same lobotomized grin. I slept with one eye open.
Anyway, I bought a cheap lawn chair at the kamping store figuring it would make a good on-the-road shower chair. It worked fine at first but as I should have known, when you subject cheap metal construction to a steady flow of water and then factor in my lard butt, you’re asking for trouble. And after about the fourth or fifth use, the chair collapsed beneath me, leaving me sitting in the bottom of the tub atop its twisted wreckage. My attendant had to grab a passerby to help him lift me out of the tub. At least that passerby will have a story to tell for the rest of her life about the time she was headed for the ice machine when suddenly …
Michelle Hlavek, a quad from Orlando, Fla., has also been a victim of collapsing shower chair syndrome. It was several years ago when she was recovering in a nursing home after major medical complications.
“After several months of daily birdbaths,” she says, “I was ready to conquer a real shower. An attendant wheeled me down the hall to the shower stalls. It was a beautiful experience as I sat under the warmth and comfort of my friend, the handheld shower head. It was as if the steady stream of water was penetrating my soul, and we became connected in a spiritual sense.” That ethereal union ended when the seat of the chair fell out from under her. “Someone had obviously failed to make sure the detachable seat was positioned properly. Thank goodness I had both of my arms hooked around the two push handles, which kept me from becoming one with the earth. The attendant saw the fear in my eyes and scooped me up in his arms. As he tried to be my savior, he failed to realize that my hindquarters were waving hello to the geriatrics as we flew down the hall. To this day, I feel proud to know that I did a good deed for mankind. I flashed the entire Alzheimer’s ward!”
And speaking of showers, here’s something I learned in the shower: Leonardo Da Vinci did extensive research on the cause of erections. I was told this fun fact by Brian Brady, one of the three or four dozen attendants who have passed through my life in an endless parade over the years. He told me this while he was helping me in the shower, which is what makes this a hygiene story.
Somehow we got to talking about the Mona Lisa and Da Vinci’s diverse contributions to the advancement of humanity when Brian informed me of what is perhaps his greatest contribution of all. It sent me scurrying to the library to see if it was true and sure enough, it was. In Leonardo’s day the prevailing belief was that erection was achieved when the penis filled with pneuma or vital spirits. In other words, air.
But Leo was skeptical. He knew a lot about the properties of compressed air in a cylinder from his work designing submarines. He also kept his house full of human body parts for research purposes. Da Vinci was known to attend public beheadings and negotiate with the executioner for the head. He once kept a deathbed vigil with an old man just to get dibs on the cadaver. I guess demand for cadavers exceeded supply in those days.
There were lots of reasons why the Beach Ball Theory of Erection made no sense to Da Vinci. He once wrote, “Wind provides neither weight nor density but makes the flesh light and rarefied.” He also wondered why so many hanged men at executions remain erect long after their bodies are devoid of all oxygen. And the kicker for him was his chance encounter with a winded but horny mule.
Da Vinci wrote, “I once saw a mule that was almost unable to move, owing to the fatigue of a long journey under a heavy burden. On seeing a mare, suddenly its penis and all its muscles became so turgid that it multiplied its forces as to acquire such speed that it overtook the course of the mare, which fled before it and was obliged to obey the desires of the mule.”
Thus did Da Vinci usher in a new age of enlightenment.
The Long and Short of It
During the potty break of the weekly meeting of my playwrights group, I asked if anyone had any good gimp hygiene stories. Sitting next to me was Todd, who is going blind. Sitting next to him was Mike, whose disability has the boring name “congenital abnormalities of the limbs.” His legs are short and his hands are up by his shoulders because he has practically no arms. Sitting across from Mike was Mary, a little person who walks on crutches.
Mike said what drives him nuts are those high toilet seats in the so-called accessible rooms in hotels.
“Oh I hate those too!” Mary said.
“They’re too damn high,” Mike complained. It takes a helluva running start for him to fling himself onto one. The last time Mike stayed in a hotel, there was one of those damn bowls again so he went down to the lobby to tell the guy behind the desk to put him in an inaccessible room. The guy behind the desk was completely baffled. So Mike had to stand there explaining to him in great detail exactly why he couldn’t use the toilet.
But I felt empathy for the guy behind the desk. The week before, he probably had a guy in a wheelchair like me bitching about how the toilet is too low. Damn cripples need to hold a toilet summit and reach consensus!
Todd said he recently became close friends with a guy from England who, like Mike, had no arms. “Finally I felt comfortable enough with him where I could ask him, ‘How do you wipe your ass?’”
I was relieved to hear Todd say that. I guess I’m not the only one who wonders about such things.
“He said it depends on how sanitary it is,” Todd said. “If it’s sanitary, he does it like this.” Todd mimed wrapping toilet paper around the seat and wiggling against it.”But if it’s unsanitary, he does it like this.” Todd mimed spreading toilet paper across the floor and wiggling against it.
I said, “I imagine people ask him that all the time.”
Todd said no. “But somebody came up to him on the street once and asked him how he masturbates.”
Mike raised his hand. “That happened to me!”
“Well,” Todd said, “how would he do it?”
“Oh, you manage,” said Mary.