Sunday, May 27, 2012

There was a sheet of plywood outside the submarine

that the Carnegie Science Center maintains. For all I know it is still there. It had a hole cut in it and the rule was that you had to be able to get through the hole before you were allowed to board her.

I was downtown and for some reason found an empty parking spot near her so I decided to take a tour. There was this kid on the wrong end of the hole sitting there in a wheelchair with mom waiting as dad had the other kids on board going through on the tour.

There was something about the kid, an intangible of some sort. I can't really put a point on it but something came over me. Maybe I was thinking about getting by with a little help from your friends, maybe I just wanted to be a pain in the ass to the system or maybe I was just in a kind and generous mood. Still, that kid had some kind of special air about him. Ten or twelve years later I still can't figure it out. Something told me this kid was worth something.

I looked at the kid, "Hey, Kid. Wanna take the tour?"

He looked sad. 'Yeah, but I can't because I can't get around too well. They won't let me."

"Hmm." I said. I noticed it was a manual wheelchair. I figured the kid likely had 'wheelchair arms', meaning pretty strong from wheeling himself around. "Your arms work OK? Any tube or wires sticking you to that wheelchair?"

"No," said the kid. "My legs don't work. That's all."

Of course, the mother spoke up as mothers are supposed to do and pointed out that there was no way a wheelchair could get through the hole in the plywood.

"Howzabout you let the kid and I take care of that," I said, with a broad smile.

"But I don't understand..." she started.

I did a deep knee bend in front of the wheelchair. "Kid, grab my neck, wrap both arms around it and hang on. I'll get your legs as soon as I get straight up."

A couple of seconds I had the kid piggyback. I looked at the mother, "Shall we?" I asked.

"You don't have to do this," said the mother.

"All I have to do is die and pay taxes," I replied. "This is my pleasure.

"Well, OK," she said, a little dubiously.

We were through the hole in the plywood in no time.

The gatekeeper started to say something but I interrupted him. "A problem here?" I asked in an intimidating tone of voice.

"Well, there are areas below that..." he started. "The rules say you have to get through the hole on your own power."

"Keep your shirt on. You ain't no stripper and this ain't the Kit Kat club," I said, conversationally. "The kid and I are taking a tour. Howzabout you keep an eye on his wheelchair?" and I simply shuffled past him. The mother had folded up the kids wheelchair and really didn't know what to do. She simply followed us.

I turned to the kid perched on my back. "Kid, if I drop you off outside the plywood, can you drag yourself through?"

"I sure can!" he said.

I turned to the gatekeeper. "You wanna watch this guy scrape his legs on the plywood, or are you gonna give him a break?"

The gatekeeper, still in a little shock, simply took the folded wheelchair and parked it where he could keep an eye on it. We got to the assembly area as there was a group big enough for a tour and we joined in with the tour guide agape for a minute.

The tour on board guide looked and, of course, suggested I rethink what I was doing and I told her that it wasn't her problem. Then in front of her, I briefed the kid.

"We're going on board a genuine US Navy fleet submarine,Kid." I said. "It's cramped and there are about a jillion and one levers, wheels, controls and all sort of stuff you can run into and smack yourself on. We gotta look out for each other. Keep your eyes open and if you see something I don't, speak up. No one gets hurt, see?"

"OK, Mister," said the kid.

"Don't call me 'Mister, Kid. The name's Pic."

"I'm Jeremy, Pic." he answered.

We took the tour.

The mother spotted her husband and the other two kids. They were on a tour that started earlier. She went over and explained what was going on and the father gave a surprised and concerned look that went away as soon as he saw the look on the kid's face.

When I had an opportunity, I'd park Jeremy on a bunk or table to get a breather. A couple times I would have to either fireman's carry the kid or lug him around like a sack of potatoes but between the two of us, we got 'er done. I had to watch every move to keep him from bumping his head a couple of times going between compartments. At times I knew the kid was uncomfortable but he never complained, in fact in one compartment where there was no place to set him down, he let go of my neck and grabbed an overhead pipe of some sort and pulled up to get some his weight off of me.

When he was pulling on the pipe, I said to him that I had half a mind to walk out from beneath him and make him take the rest of the tour himself by swinging on things like a chimpanzee.

As to be expected, a lot of the people in our little tour group gave me a dirty look and I felt the kid chuckle from where he was. The 'get silent when a handicapped guy gets on the elevator' crowd had spoken.

The kid got his tour. Two tours, actually. The tour the guide gave us and the tour I gave him. He was curious and between the pair of us asking the tour guide questions the guide had a difficult time with the two of us.

I'm pretty knowlegeble about subs so between the guide and I think we gave the kid a pretty good basic knowledge of the workings of a submarine. Being a weekend day the local radio club manned the radio shack and it was pretty cool watching one of the guys bang out about 30 words a minute on the old key on the old Navy AM set.

The diesel room was fun. I parked him atop a piece of machinery and explained to him that it was so noisy in there they couldn't talk. "They talked like this," I said. Then I stuck my finger in the kid's ear and shouted, "Hey, Jeremy!"

He put his finger in my ear and shouted back, "What, Pic!"

One of the other people on the tour asked, "Really?" and the tour guide confirmed this. I explained that the shouting would send just enough vibration down the arm into the finger that the ear could pick up the words.

I had to do a deep knee bend to give him a shot at the periscope, and I guess he looked out at the city. When it was my turn I checked out some broad in a scoop necked top and a short skirt. Because I was holding the kid's legs, he held the periscope handles for me. It was surprising how fast we had turned into a pretty good team.

While we were in one of the more cramped areas I looked at the tour guide. "I can imagine sitting it this pigboat sweating bullets listening to the click-click of detonators a nanosecond before the blast and spasming as I wondered it it was going to be my last second gefore I got crushed into jelly," I said. "I'd bet you the cigarette smoke was so thick you could cut it into cubes and mail it home."

Some hippie sounded off, "They let people SMOKE in this thing?"

"In 1944? Yeah. 90% of American males smoked," I explained. "The figure among servicemen was a lot higher than that. Nonsmokers were a rarity back then. That brown on the bulkheads is most likely nicotine."

"I wouldn't have sailed on one of these things if people smoked," he said in an uppity tone.

I smiled. "Not to worry, you just failed the preliminary Silent Service personality test right here and now," I said.

"Whaddya mean by that?" he demanded.

"You are intolorant," I answered, without rancor. "You let other people's habits bother you, and you are a snob." I was being patient and tactful. What I wanted to say is simply, "You're a selfish asshole." His tone of voice told everyone he was in fact a real asshole.

"And you?" he asked angrily.

I smiled. "I suppose going for a couple of months unwashed and in cramped quarters wouldn't bother me too much. After all, I just got out of the joint. Pulled three years for cracking the skull of a hippie that told me to put my cigarette out. Split it wide open. He's a pants wetting slobbering vegetable in a state hospital these days."

The hippie went into a huff and stayed well away from me the rest of the tour. Most of the rest of the people in the tour smirked. A couple outright laughed.

The kids mother looked at me concerned over my imaginary criminal record until I gave her a smirk and a sly wink. She looked relieved and a minute later she looked at the hippie and turned away from him to keep from laughing outright.

When we got through with it, the kid thanked me as if I had pulled him out of a burning building. I grinned at him. Of course, his parents thanked me, too. I think the father was a little embarrassed, but I have to give him a pass because after all, he did have two little kids to watch and hauling his crippled son along with watching two kids would likely be a little much to ask for.

"What's next on the agenda?" I asked the kid. "A little skydiving? Swimming lessons?"

The mother looked concerned. "He can't do those things," she said.

"Sure he can," I answered. "His arms are already strong enough to pull himself through the water and I suppose he can tie a pillow to his ass and jump. Hell, maybe even tie himself into his wheelchair and have someone roll him out the back of a C-130. If he puts his mind to it, he can do almost anything he wants. He's a pretty sharp kid. He'll figure out a way."

When I said that the kid's face lit up like a Christmas tree.

Thank you," said the father, simply. The look on his face said it all. I knew he was going to go home figure out a way to sit down with his wife and reassess a few things. It was obvious that the mother was babying the kid a just little too much. I didn't envy the guy because I figured he was going to have to deal with an emotional woman, but maybe not. She seemed to keep her mouth shut during the tour, so maybe she'd be all right.

I glanced at my watch.

"Later, Kid," I said, and started to walk off. I noticed the father following me so I stopped.

"My wife said you appeared out of nowhere and offered to take my son through the sub, for that I thank you but I'd sure like to know why."

I shrugged. "Seemed like the thing to do at the time," I said. Then I grinned. "Let's just say I enjoy stirring a few things up. I have fun bucking the system, but only when I think some good will come of it. Truth is I had a pretty good time hauling the boy around. He got to see the sub and I got to swim upstream for a bit."

I took my leave.

As I look at my career at sea I don't have second thoughts. However, I suppose if I didn't decide to work on the water, I could have done a whole lot worse than working with handicapped youngsters or maybe even busted up GIs because I know two secrets about them. First, most of them are no different than anybody else and secondly most of them truly want to overcome their handicaps and given some support, encouragement and in some cases a boot in the ass, most of them can.

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  1. I love your blog. Im a lurker on

  2. good man,those of us with handicaps need someone to offer that to get our mum's to ease off.