Friday, June 29, 2012

Better - and older

I got my new chair. At long last, after nearly six months - actually nine months since my doctor signed the wrong prescription for Medi-Cal - it was delivered to my door on Monday morning. Actually, it was unexpected, not what I had planned for the day - it turned out someone didn’t e-mail me during the previous week - and somewhat unreal after waiting so long, but I now have it!

It’s a Quantum Edge (google it) put out by Pride Mobility (how appropriate!), and it’s pretty much a Cadillac among wheelchairs. With a central axle and four small auxiliary wheels, along with some hefty springs, it is extremely agile, with a remarkably smooth ride (more so than with my past chairs) - remarkable because the chair looks topsy-turvy.

For me, this is more than a new wheelchair; it is a new lifestyle. I have to make a number of adjustments in my life. For example, after always having rear-wheel drive, I need to get used to this front wheel - actually central wheel - drive. (When I want the front to go left, the rear goes right - weird!) I need to figure out how to attach a cup holder to the chair. And lights - something the chair company determines to have nothing to do with. Also, a huge issue I have to face is that, in this chair, I can’t access my backpack because of the headrest.

Yes, the chair has a headrest. I’ve never had a wheelchair with a headrest. I never thought I needed one. But, although I insisted that I didn’t want a chair that confined me or pinned me down like I was paralyzed, one of the best things about the chair is that I sit much better, helping my back and my butt, because it is like the seat is molded to my body.

Another great thing about the chair is that I can tilt the entire seat back - far, far back - which is heavenly. When I start to tilt back, I go into another space, and when I’m all the way back, with my knees far above my chest and my feet dangling, I am completely safe and relaxed - more than when I lay down. It is like I am being held. Like I said, it is Heaven. When I go back to the upright position, I really feel refreshed, with a burst of energy. I’ve been wishing for a simple way of resting during the day for years.

I wonder about tilting back in public. Will it frighten people? I’d love to tilt all the way back at concerts. I will probably tilt back part way at lectures and shows and during meeting for worship. (The chair can be driven with the seat tilted back to a certain extent - yes, I’ve been playing with it! - but, so far, I can only control it with the seat tilted back only a few inches.)

I realized the other day that the biggest change is that, in this chair, I am older. With the headrest, the tilting seat, the molded seat, it feels like this is a chair for an old man. There is a part of me that is fighting this, but it’s okay, because this chair will make my life easier. And - guess what - I am getting older.

The other good thing about having this chair is that it means I’ll get my Vmax speech device back. The DynaVox guy is coming to attach it on Monday, when he gets back from Hawaii. Whatever.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Missing an opportunity

Believe me - I wanted to like this movie. I really did.

There was even an article about it on the front page of the Los Angeles Times. On the front page of the main news section - not in the entertainment section. Intouchables, or The Untouchables, a French film being released in the U.S, had been a huge hit - reportedly bigger than Avatar or The Avengers - in France and had won critics’ raves and a slew of awards. This was big news.

What was even bigger news was that the movie is about a severely disabled man. What’s more, it’s a comedy. It’s a comedy about a man, Phillipe, who is immobile and uses a wheelchair and who hires a “bad man,” Dris, an immigrant from Senegal with a rap sheet and whose mother has kicked him out, as an attendant, reasoning that such a fellow won’t pity him. Based on a true story, the film is about how the two became lifelong friends.

I had to see this. This was going to be a realistic, unsentimental and not sappy depiction of life with a disability. At long last! And it was a blockbuster! I rushed out on its first weekend of release to an outrageously expensive matinee showing about an hour away.

As I said, I wanted to like it, and I tried to, but the more I tried to like it, the more I didn’t like it. In short, the movie misses a wonderful opportunity. There is a line between funny and silly, and, while having a subject matter that is rich with unique, provocative, perhaps challenging humor, the movie too often slips over the line into the silly. When it could have been a thought-provoking, stinging “Odd Couple,” it ends up being a slick, screwball “Odd Couple.” Perhaps most upsetting for a French film, it is more of an empty Hollywood summer comedy than a rich, insightful European comedy.

There is a scene in which Dris balks at putting support stockings on Phillipe, saying that a man shouldn’t do such a thing with another man. This is good, meaty - yes, challenging - funny stuff. Too bad we couldn’t see Dris dealing with a catheter! Far more typical, though, was the wince-inducing scene in which the black, poor Dris shows Phillipe’s white, very rich family how to “get down” at a party. (Part of my problem with the film might be that Phillipe, unlike the disabled people I know, is quite wealthy.)

The scene in which Dris, driving Phillipe, careens down the road and Phillips fakes a seizure so that Dris won’t get a ticket when stopped by the police is funny (and not that far-fetched!), but it shouldn’t have been the opening. It was too over-the-top and set a frantic tone for the film. My favorite part of the film, perhaps the saving grace for me, was seeing the real-life Phillipe and Dris during the end credits.

Here are a few better bets for movie-going (although I tend to believe that, in general, going to the movies is a waste between May and September):

“Men in Black 3" - actually quite smart and funny.

“Moonrise Kingdom” - a sweet, if curious, hoot if you can stand director Wes Anderson’s increasingly obsessive hyper-stylization.

“Rock of Ages” - just a lot of summery fun, sweet, sticky, with loads of ear and eye candy, and who knew that REO Speedwagon’s “Can’t Fight This Feeling Anymore” is a coming-out anthem!

Friday, June 8, 2012

Commencing along in Claremont

Following is my column which appeared in Wednesday’s Claremont Courier. I will add that Cameron Munter’s mother has long been active in the Claremont Quaker meeting where I’m a member.


Something revolutionary happened here last month.

Angela Davis was in Claremont. More specifically, the famous - or infamous - black, radical academic and activist was back in Claremont lecturing. Even more specifically, she was in the honored position of being the main speaker at Pitzer College’s graduation.

When I first heard that Ms. Davis was giving the commencement address at Pitzer, I wasn’t at all surprised. I thought, “Natch!” After all, Pitzer is well-known as the most liberal of the Claremont colleges, at least, and for proudly being pretty out there in terms of activism. But, as I was reminded during the bright Saturday morning ceremony, this was more than Pitzer being Pitzer, with the graduates choosing a provocative speaker; Ms. Davis speaking there was the triumphant closing of a circle and, in a sense, a sweet, victorious homecoming.

I knew that Ms. Davis had taught at the colleges, but I had forgotten just how controversial the appointment, made by the joint black studies department, was. I didn’t know that Ms. Davis accepted the position before it could be withdrawn and that the classes were essentially held in secret. The classes were scheduled on Friday evenings and Saturdays in different locations which the students had to swear not to divulge.

It was 1974, and Ms. Davis had been fired - twice - by U.C.L.A for her controversial views, her Communist sympathies and her activism. She had also been accused of murder, only to have the charge dropped. Ronald Reagan, who was then governor and an U.C regent, vowed that she would never again teach in California.

So Claremont was a refuge for Ms. Davis. Not only that, it rebooted her teaching career. Most ironically, she ended up holding a distinguished professorship for many years at U.C Santa Cruz. And Pitzer College President Laura Trombley said during the graduation that she is welcome to come and teach at the college anytime.

Such making a victory out of a defeat was one of Ms. Davis’ theme during her address. So was freedom and how it demands that we share our knowledge and talents. After asking the graduates to “look at all the men, women and trans-people around you,” she quoted author Toni Morrison, saying, “The function of freedom is to free someone else.”

And aren’t such turn-arounds and reaching out what Claremont is about? Isn’t it this revolutionary activity that puts Claremont on the map?

Angela Davis wasn’t the only one here talking revolution last month. There were many revolutions going on in Claremont, as there are every Spring, with thousands of students graduating from Pitzer and the other colleges.

This is what Claremont is known for, after all. Millions of people have come here over the years to learn and to grow, to find out who they are and perhaps, yes, reboot. Each Spring, we see the results, displayed with all the majestic regalia and pomp and circumstance, with a flurry of commencement exercises, as all these people are sent off into their lives and into the world with their new knowledge and inspiration.

Not bad for Claremont. “Claremont,” as student speaker Benjamin Tumin pronounced with some disdain the next morning at Pomona College’s graduation. To him, if not to all his fellow students, Claremont is, as he said, “nice retirement town.”

But, as was evident at Pomona College’s commencement, the colleges aren’t the only thing in Claremont producing revolutions. Growing up in Claremont can be revolutionary. Proof of this was Cameron Munter, the main speaker and a honorary degree recipient.

Mr. Munter didn’t attend one of the Claremont colleges but was raised here - he gave a Mother’s Day’s shout-out to his mother, Helen-Jeane, who, along with his father, Leonard, was in the audience and still lives in Claremont - and became a foreign diplomat, serving most recently in Pakistan.

Such a job is definitely not for the faint of heart. Much hope and faith is required. Mr. Munter said that a good preparation for this was growing up in Claremont, “a sun-dappled place where peace and all was possible.”

He talked about spending hours wandering around the college campuses as a kid. He also recalled his fellow Claremont High schoolers building a huge statue on top of Bridges Auditorium and adding the name Zappa, as in Frank, to the composers listed on the facade.

There are plenty of these sorts of memories of growing up in Claremont. There are plenty who have these memories. Some are still living here, and many are living far away and all over. They are all changing the world, whether in big ways or in tiny ways, and some of that is because they have these memories of growing up in Claremont.

Put all of these together with all of the students who come from all over to the colleges here and that’s a lot of lives, a lot of revolutions, shaped by Claremont. We see this, as we do every year, with the graduations, both at the colleges last month and with our high school students this month.

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Harder and harder

“Illegals are like fleas on a dog... By definition, they are a class a criminals, and you romanticize them. I am voting against the tax increase. Perhaps we can starve them out without benefits.”

This kind of rhetoric regarding illegal immigrants is ugly and disturbing, to say the least, but what is even uglier and more disturbing is how common it now is. It is not only all over talk radio and the internet; it is at least cited in mainstream newspaper columns, and most of the Republican presidential candidates tried to outdo each other in saying how tough they would be on illegal immigrants.

The quote above was in a recent newspaper column - a column in the Los Angeles Times by Hector Tobar. The columnist, who often makes it clear that he takes great pride in his Latino heritage, wrote that this is what a guy named Steve wrote to him after a column Tobar wrote about literacy in Spanish-speaking household.

Never mind that what this guy Steve says is completely illogical - and to a dangerous extent. Not voting for the tax increases on the November ballot is inane. The vast majority of the increased funding won’t go to illegal immigrants. It will go to desperately needed services for us all - schools, healthcare, home-care for the elderly and disabled, police, fire, road maintenance, libraries, parks, etc. As Tobar says, “But starving that old dog called California won’t kill the fleas, Steve. It will kill the dog.” And, yes, there is fraud, ballooning pensions, etc., but this calls for restructuring, not destruction and the slashing of services we all rely on.

What is really disturbing is the dismissing of people not only as “illegals” but as “fleas” that are to be “starved out.” It’s the dismissal of a certain set of people as less than human.

But, as I said, this anti-illegal immigrant talk, as disturbing as it is, isn’t new. What is new and thus even more disturbing is people saying that young adults shouldn’t get help and aren’t being responsible. A while ago, I wrote about a letter in the L.A Times ridiculing the provision in the new healthcare law allowing kids to be covered by their parents’ health insurance until they are 25. Who knew that this is bad, that it keeps children from grows up?

A letter in the Times last week stated, “Unfortunately, our government encourages delayed adulthood by requiring parents’ health insurance policies to cover children until age 26, thus incentivizing the delay.

The people who write these letters can’t stand other people having it easier than - or even as easy as - they did. I guess I’m not surprised that a recent study by the Pew Research Center found that 54% of Republicans reject the idea that the government has a “responsibility to take care of people who can’t take care of themselves.” But I’m still disturbed.