Saturday, July 31, 2010

Big Wheels

It made no sense at all to be afraid of a man with the body of a child, paralyzed from neck down, who had no way of perambulating except by means of a motorized wheelchair that had a special air tube he could blow into and control the speed and direction of his special vehicle.

Nevertheless, he was intimidating. You could feel his drive and determination -- it was so intense as to be reckless. If you wanted something and happened to be in his way -- move aside. He was indominatable, or at least seemingly so.

I guess he always had been. After all, that's how he got in this condition in the first place. He possessed a daredevil will. When he was young, he raced four-wheelers -- the kind you see down in sandy riverbeds that tear up point bars and egg-filled nests of endangered turtles and sand tortoises.

For the most part, he was lucky and very skillful. He had a wall of trophies as testament.

One day, he wasn’t so lucky. He flipped. He landed on his neck and broke it in four places.

That was fifteen years ago.

Now, he was paralyzed from neck down. He could not move his hands, arms, legs, feet, toes, or anything in between.

He could still speak, but had to breathe through a tube. When you looked at him or spoke to him, you would never think “invalid.” I never felt pity. Instead, I had the distinct feeling that if I crossed him, something terrible would happen to me, my family, and/or my dogs.

Ordinarily, I would not care, but he was my next-door neighbor, and before I had a good sense of who and how he was, I lodged a complaint with the neighborhood association because someone had parked in front of my home and blocked my driveway, effectively imprisoning me in my home.

I blamed him. It was before I knew he did not drive.

When I realized my mistake, I started sneaking out the back door and taking the roundabout way to my garage.


His wife was what one might gracefully call "statuesque." She was achingly hot, with boom-boom breasts and an equally booming backside. She was more than a trophy. She was the red, roaring cherry light on the top of a police car.

She was what announced that the law was after you, when the law was inutterably corrupt.

You couldn't say "no." You couldn't say anything at all.

You just looked down on yourself, as though your spirit had already divorced itself from your body, and was sailing off to a world of no pain, no sorrow, no existence, while your hand dipped into your wallet and handed over whatever folding green or warped plastic you could, just to forestall the inevitable...

Right now, you look at her and you imagine she’s saying "thank you" with those fuel-injected lips, pink tongue flickering just within the bounds of your mind's eye.

You should have been with me -- I watched the whole thing from behind a crepe myrtle bush on the edge of my patio. I saw his wife on the miniature porte-a-cochere that partially encircled their home, their front lawn. He was there. I held my breath, and I could hear the backpack-sized breathing machine doing its mechanical wheezing from behind his neck.

You wondered how large he was before his accident. His body looked rubbery and childlike.

He knew everyone must think he had a lot of money to keep a hot piece like that at his side. Was that all? Was there something more?

She seemed almost afraid of him.
He seemed almost afraid of her.

She was wearing black lycra shorts, a shredded lace camisole, 5-inch platform spiked sandals. Her body was the color of cinnamon toast. Her knees spread apart as she dropped down into deep squats that might have been considered plies in a ballet class, but here, at the side of the motorized wheelchair, the kneebends looked earthy, sweaty, agonizingly hot, wet, and crude.

Beads of sweat ran down his forehead. She seemed ready to lick the sweat off his brow with her tongue.

I could swear he was laughing. He loved watching her. She knew how to pull him in.


Ted Bundy used to wear a cast on his arm when he was at his most predatory. He used it to elicit sympathy from young co-eds, who immediately felt sorry for the cute, fumbling, young man...

John Wayne Gacy use to dress up like a clown when he was at his hungriest. He would don his Pogo, the Clown costume, paint his face white, his lips red, his eyelids dark blue, and then hold up his goofy, half-helpless white-gloved hand and wave to the small boys in the audience...

The Pied Piper played cheerful and irresistible tunes on his flute...


My neighbor was napping in the sunlight. His wife was painting her nails.

In the distance, cloud piled up, bunched together, and threatened to combine enough to produce rain, perhaps even hail.


Click on the pencast for audio of this "palm of the hand" story (inspired by Kawabata)