Friday, February 22, 2013

Seeing things on a visit

Shortly after the new year, I got a large envelope in the mail from my brother who lives up north in the Bay Area. Inside was a colored-in paper doll cut-out with a letter signed by my six-year-old nephew. The letter was a form letter clearly written by a teacher and explaining that the paper doll was Flat Stanley, a character in a children’s book who loves to travel, and part of a class project. I was asked to returned Flat Stanley along with a letter and photographs and other memorabilia.

I had never heard of Flat Stanley, but the project sounded cool, and I was happy to do it, although it did get to feel like homework or even a take-home final after a while. My contribution was about my life with a disability as much as it was about Claremont. I also had fun with Flat Stanley in my column which came out in Wednesday’s Claremont Courier and appears below.

The project was also a nice way for me to be more involved with my brother and his family that I don’t see much. In addition, it made me think about maybe writing a children’s book about being disabled. Mmmmm...


Dear Flat Mom,

I don’t need to tell you that, like being green, being flat isn’t easy. You’ve been telling me this since I began life as a little paper cut-out. Especially when 3-D has been all the rage - although I recently heard that those movies aren’t quite so popular now. There was this one guy, a grown man, who saw me a couple weeks ago and couldn’t stop laughing. Ouch!

But, as you also told me, being flat makes it a whole lot easier to travel. I don’t need to worry about getting a seat or paying those insane fees for baggage. I am baggage! Just put me in a suitcase or a backpack or even an envelope and I’m there. For a guy like me who loves to go places and see new things, this is one sweet deal and sure beats bumming rides!

An envelope was what I was in when I arrived here in Claremont, where I’ve been staying with a man named John. In fact, I was mailed here from the Bay Area in Northern California from his younger nephew along with a letter. I guess I’m part of a class project. Whatever. As long as I get to be out on the road.

John was very surprised when I showed up at his house. It wasn’t that he had to have a bed for me or to feed me or anything. I was happy just laying on the couch. (Another advantage to being flat and an easy traveler!) But he said that he had never heard of me.

Maybe I’m touchy, but this bugged me. But on the first day that John took me out, a woman who walked by said, “Oh, you’re with Flat Stanley!” It was nice to hear her talk about how there’s a very popular children’s book all about me. So much for that man who couldn’t stop laughing at me!

Actually, other than that laughing man, Claremont has been a really nice and interesting place. I think what I like best about Claremont is that it is a small town but has a lot going on and a lot of interesting people.

For one thing, there are eight colleges here in town, and they are all pretty well-known and regarded. John took me all around the campuses and showed me a lot of great buildings. There is the ornate Little Bridges and the gigantic Big Bridges at Pomona College, and Scripps College has Garrison Theater with awesome mosaics of scenes from Shakespeare’s plays on its facade. John said there are lectures and concerts going on all the time at the colleges - often more than one at the same time - and he loves going to many of them.

One night recently, John went to see Charles Krauthammer, the Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist and commentator, speaking at Scripps College. It was part of an annual program to bring conservative voices to campus. The young woman who was ushering asked John, “You here to see this guy?” and then rolled her eyes and said, “Should be interesting.” John told me that it is important to hear people who have different viewpoints. That way, he said, you know how to talk to and argue with them.

Even so, John was surprised at the warm reception that Mr. Krauthammer got - there was a thunderous standing ovation when he appeared on the cozy office set on stage - and when all the questions people asked him were soft balls. John, who is disabled, said that if he had had his wits together, he would have asked Mr. Krauthammer, who also uses a wheelchair, how the disabled would get the expensive equipment and help they need if the government offered fewer services as he and other conservatives advocate.

The colleges aren’t the only things that make Claremont interesting and unique. There are a lot of artists and musicians living here, and the downtown area, called the Village, is full of nice, creative shops, as well as good restaurants. If you’re ever in the area, you should check out the Folk Music Center. And there are also a lot of incredibly active older adults, including the not-so-retiring retired church workers living at Pilgrim Place.

One weird thing, though, is that there is a City Council election going on that looks to be not much to do about nothing. The vote is on March 5, in less than two weeks, yet there has hardly been any discussion or debate, because, apparently, nobody thinks that the guy who made a late entry to run against the two incumbents for two seats has a chance of winning or something. I don’t know. I don’t live here, but it looks pretty silly, not to mention like a big waste of money.

Speaking of weird, John can’t get over the fact that, as of March 1, the newspaper in Claremont, the Courier, will no longer come out on Wednesdays and Saturdays, as it has for as long as he can remember. We’re talking decades here. The paper will come out once a week, on Friday, because there will no longer be Saturday mail delivery. John says that he is happy that, unlike with some other newspapers, the Courier will still be coming out in print but that this all (including the part about no mail on Saturdays) is about as shocking as a pope resigning for the first time in 600 years. Times do really change.

Perhaps the best thing about Claremont, at least at this time of year, has been the spectacular weather. The Bay Area was wet and cold when I left, and most of the country has been frigid and snowy, most days here have been sunny and bright, relatively mild, with snow magnificently capping Mt. Baldy nearby. John still laughs at the guys at the colleges, probably from freezing states, walking around in shorts and tees and flip-flops on chilly nights and even in the rain.

On a drive up on Mt. Baldy after a recent storm, the little village up there was covered in white, and John said that he keeps forgetting that there is another world up there so close by. His friend, who was also from out of town, commented that Claremont he it all, with the mountains barely half an hour away and the beach and Los Angeles about an hour away.

I couldn’t agree more, but it’s time for me to be moving on. You know how much I like to travel!

Your son,

Flat Stanley

Friday, February 8, 2013

But what about me?

I recently saw The Impossible, the powerful, harrowing and ultimately inspiring film directed by J.A Bayona about a family that survives the huge Indian Ocean tsunami on December 26, 2004 while on a Christmas vacation at a luxury beach resort in Thailand. Naomi Watts is up for the Best Actress Oscar for playing the mother.

There are horrific scenes of the mother and the oldest of the three young sons (breathtakingly played by...I forget who!) surfacing after the initial wave and thrashed about by seemingly endless subsequent waves and debris as they frantically try to swim toward each other and a place of safety. I couldn’t help but be struck by how much courage and gumption they had.

I also found thinking myself that I’d be out of luck, to say the very least, strapped as I am in my heavy wheelchair, even if I could swim.

I have the same thought every time I’m in an elevator and see the sign saying not to use the elevator in case of fire. How will I get downstairs and out of the burning building alive? Can I count on someone, perhaps a stranger, to carry me?

There was recently an article in the Los Angeles Times about an earthquake warning system, like the one that saved many lives in Japan, being developed here in California. People will theoretically be notified a few or perhaps more seconds before an earthquake. Would I be able to control my nervous spasms enough to maneuver my chair to a safe place, if not to open the door and get out (if I’m home, not in bed, alone), in time?

But, although I have gathered some emergency supplies, I often wonder if I want to survive “the Big One,” when all will be chaos, to say the least, and my attendants may not be able to come.