A couple of weeks ago, a nice woman wrote me about hardships physically challenged people encounter every day. She wondered if it was worthy material for a regular column, and asked us to consider it (we are). In the meantime, the universe works in strange ways. This piece, by Michael Coleman of Rockport, showed up the next day on Facebook. With his permission, I cede my space and welcome your comments and stories.


“Gobsmacked” by Michael Coleman

Warning! This essay contains language that may offend the sensibilities of nice people.

It's embarrassing to use handicap mobility carts in big-box stores. It's a rarity when one is fully charged, but it's early and I'm lucky. I ran out of charge on a prior visit and needed pushing by an annoyed 20-something staffer; not an experience I'm anxious to repeat. I don't come often, but superstores have all the items on my list. One-stop shopping is an energy-saver for someone in my situation; I'll only have to drag myself and the walker out of the van once.

I find the motor oil in the far back corner. A dizzying display of containers, colors and confounding specifications to choose from. No shoppers around, I stop in front of a likely choice, digging out phone to Google and confirm manufacturer’s viscosity recommendation. The guy approaches from behind; I don't notice him until he stops beside me. He is immediately irritated, gesturing, holding his hands in an attitude of WTF.

Cromag Man: You're kinda right in the f##king way. Get off the phone and move. You're probably not even getting oil, just looking at your phone.

Me: Speechless.

Surprised at his attitude, not sure I heard correctly, I reach for the control lever to back up, careful not to hit him, or his two young kids who have now appeared.

Cromag: Jesus Christ, move.

I'm not sure if he's speaking to me or the kids. At this point it doesn't matter. My hand accidentally slips off the control lever. I only end up moving the cart a few inches; unintentional. Honest, for real … my hand just slipped.

Me: Are you talking to me?

Cromag: What are you, an idiot retard?

I understand my speech sounds like I'm intellectually challenged, but it's shocking to hear these appalling words. It's gut-wrenching, because although I've read about bullying, I've never experienced it. This vile human, using disgusting words, is addressing me. In the far corner of the store, no other adult around, I'm face to face with a bully.

It's astonishing how quickly my blood boils. I should roll out of there, but don't move a single inch. I should take a picture, video him, get an employee to mediate, but I don't. I try to follow the former first lady's adage: “When they go low, we go high.” Sorry Michelle, I can't rise above it this time. Instead, I lower myself to his Cro-Magnon Man level, responding in a way I think he’ll understand.

Me: (typed on phone and held out, hoping he can at least read): F#ck you, asshole. I am getting oil.

Cromag: (Loudly) Great, you calling me a f##king asshole in front of my kids.

I widen my eyes to indicate it wasn’t me speaking in front of the kids. That thought appears too complicated for him. The kids understand something is happening; having seen this scene before. They wander to another aisle.

Cromag: Hey, f##king retard. Isn't there a bus with your friends waiting for you? Oh wait, I bet you probably don't even have any friends.

Me: Furiously typing an insulting retort that is just sophisticated enough to almost go over his head. I won't repeat it; offends even my own sensibilities.

Slowly, the meaning registers, anger moves across his face. He tries to grab/knock the phone from my hand. My phone has become an important tool in my ability to be independent. I don't part with it easily, keeping a death grip on it.

Unsuccessful at getting my phone or bullying me into moving the cart, his only choice is to walk away pissed, or punch me in the face. I'm hoping, waiting for the punch.

Cromag: F##k you, retard.

I move forward the few inches I had backed up, put a quart of oil in my basket. Phone safely in jacket pocket, I raise my left hand. Atrophied fingers curled inward don't convey the meaning I intend.

Using my right hand, I slowly fold down all but the middle finger. I stare, glare, glower, scowl — daring the punch that would put Cromag's face in the police blotter and the arrest column of the newspaper, and ultimately in jail.

I'm guessing, for a bully, it's frustrating to argue with someone who can't speak or walk, but can think. For me, arguing with a bully who can speak and walk, but can't think, is ragingly frustrating. I'm so shocked and angry that I sit in my van fantasizing running him over. Of course I wouldn't really do that. But the thought of him with an injury that cripples him enough that he has to experience riding a crappy low-charged mobility scooter in a superstore, being bullied by an asshole, is satisfying.

I'm parked in a handicap spot near the crosswalk leading from the entrance. When he exits, the kids run across the walkway, racing for their car. “Stop f##cking running,” he yells, muttering “god damn kids” as they run on. Now, he's crossing in front of the van. I start the engine; he looks over, sees me behind the wheel. If looks could kill, I'd be in jail.

All the way home I brood. I think about my friend who works at the YMCA through the Workshop program. A sweet, friendly, helpful, always-smiling man. No doubt he's encountered this behavior during his life. It breaks my heart to think of him being, harassed, ridiculed, bullied. There are reasons (not excuses) why a person bullies, including having been bullied themselves.

I should feel compassion for Cromag Man. I do not.

Cromag Man is just a bad person, or maybe a weak person who has let bad happenings define his young life. In either case, I could have handled the situation differently, better, more higher-browed.

My wife says when emotion (stress) is high, actions tend to be governed by the lower, more primitive regions of the brain. When stress is low, we’re better able to think and act from the higher-level regions.

I hope, for the sake of Cro-Magnon’s kids, he can find less stress over motor oil.


“The best theology is probably no theology; just love one another.”

—Charles Shultz, cartoonist (1922-2000)