Bully Pulpit: In-Fighting

Tim Gilmer“It was only a body blow, but for some reason it stunned him, and he dropped his guard.”

Increasingly, we live in a world controlled by images. Photo ops, advertising and promotion, entertainment, sports marketing and the universe of commercial products are all about creating memorable images.

Each month the NM editorial staff chooses our cover images. The cover is the face of the magazine, and for over two decades we’ve tried to follow one unwritten rule: Only wheelchair users on the cover.

This is our 222nd issue — a lot of cover images, a lot of wheelers. But one cover I’ll never forget. Number 220 — Artie, the nerdy smartass from the fictional world of Glee. Because he is a phony wheelchair user who knows little or nothing about the world of disability, many of our readers blasted the editorial staff for putting him on the cover with the words, “Seriously? Person of the Year?”

Did we make a mistake? If so, that’s one out of 222 cover images, which means we get it right about 99.54955 percent of the time.

But that tiny fraction of a percent that was called into question is so important to a few readers that they threatened to cancel their subscriptions. One called us a bunch of “Uncle Toms.” Another wanted the resignations of the entire editorial staff. A persistent angry caller insisted that someone call him back. The job fell to me.

“I’ve been a reader for a little over a year now, and I’m not impressed,” he told me. “The magazine is nothing but fluff. I can’t believe that you put such an insulting image on the cover.” Less than a minute into the conversation my nose started to bleed. I wheeled into the bathroom with the phone pressed to my ear and began stuffing toilet paper up my nose.

The incensed reader continued to pound me. “This is idiocy. The guy is not real and he doesn’t even use a wheelchair. What were you thinking?” I replaced the bloody wad of toilet paper with a clean one. A glop of blood landed on my shirt. The caller swung again and connected squarely on the bridge of my nose. Blood gushed out, ran through my moustache and soaked into my beard.

I held on to the towel rack as he tried to beat me into the toilet. I caught a glimpse of myself in the mirror. My face was a bloody mess, and I hadn’t landed a single blow.

Finally, I gathered my strength and fought back. “We were calling attention to a topic, an issue. It’s called irony. We weren’t honoring Artie, we were questioning his existence.”

“Ridiculous,” he countered. “Mere fluff. Stupidity.”

“Then give me your story idea, a cover image, a nomination, and we’ll consider it. We do that all the time.”

It was only a body blow, but for some reason it stunned him, and he dropped his guard. I could have put him down with a solid left hook to the chin in that instant, but instead I rolled away, tracking blood all the way back to my computer.

I’m saving my punches for our real enemies.

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