Public Nuisances

When Push Comes to Shoving Cripples

October 09, 2012

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When Push Comes to Shoving Cripples

Poor Richard Widmark.

He made over 60 movies, but when he died in 2008, obit reels highlighted one infamous scene from 1947’s Kiss of Death, the film that made him a star.

The actor was doomed to be remembered best as a sadistic reverse Sisyphus, pushing that screaming wheelchair-bound woman down the stairs—forever.

Although the passing decades have brought us other shocking cinematic sights—from bloody shower stabbings to incestuous toddler rape—Widmark’s star turn (shove?) retains its breath-stopping horror.

Maybe it’s because some of us secretly dread being the perp, not the victim, in that scenario—finding ourselves helpless in a different way, incapable of tamping down our inner Tommy Udo.

Because I’ll be honest with you: Sometimes cripples get on my nerves.

“The handicapped insist on living like the rest of us—and almost always at our expense.”

I’m indebted to my colleague Gavin McInnes, whose essay about attending the London Paralympics made it safe—you might even say “accessible”—for me to use that anachronistic noun.

I first noticed my impatience over twenty years ago while smoking outside a writers’ workshop at one of the older, ivy-covered University of Toronto colleges.

A fellow rolled up in his two-wheeled transport and tsk-tsked theatrically:

“I can’t beLIEVE this building doesn’t have a RAMP.”

If not for his bratty pomposity, I might’ve refrained from snapping back:

“Yeah, how dare those long-dead Victorian architects design this joint without consulting you?”

Old and tired? Demanding a burger at Woolworth’s lunch counter. New hotness? Closing down a beloved burger joint because the counter’s not low enough.

That just happened to Ford’s Real Burgers in Sacramento. Meet Scott N. Johnson, a quadriplegic who fancies himself the Rosa Parks of the Hoveround set. Outside agitator Johnson filed an Americans with Disabilities Act lawsuit against the family owned restaurant, claiming the eatery wasn’t “accessible.”

Despite testimony to the contrary from a longtime customer in a wheelchair, Ford’s lost the suit and duly shut down, unable to afford the renovations required to bring the restaurant into compliance.

Hey, maybe the owner could’ve gotten a loan or even an outright gift from his persecutor: Since 2003, “Johnson has filed several thousand lawsuits, collecting a net income of more than $2 million annually in statutory penalties.”


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