I went shopping yesterday with a friend. Normally, I ride the electric carts or someone pushes me in my wheelchair.  However, my friend and I figured we could get my wheelchair out of my car, but probably not back in.  So I decided to rely on the kindness of the stores.  At Bed, Bath and Beyond, there is no cart to ride on, not even a manually operated wheelchair.  So I toughed it out and trekked through the store leaning on a regular shopping cart.  At the end of a circuit of the store, my knees were killing me.  The next stop was Randall's, who, God bless them, have several electric carts available for shoppers.  Here, the only problem I encountered was other customers.  You see, like many stores now, Randall's had some moveable stands in the aisles.  The problem was that one of them was placed right by the product I was shopping for..  You may also not realize that a  pair of bifocal wearing eyes has to be positioned just so to be able to read the labels on the shelves.  Unfortunately, that position is more or less right in the middle of the aisle.  Between my cart and the freestanding displays, I was blocking traffic..For the first minute or so, I was alone on the aisle, so there was no real problem.  Then along comes a woman with her cart, in a hurry.  She walks up right in front of my cart, purses her lips and stands there, waiting for me to get the hell out of her way.  Now, for my shopping purposes, it would have been better if I could have pulled forward.  No, I had to put down my shopping list and coupons and back the cart up since she was firmly planted in front of me and clearly not in the mood to back up herself.   Once I moved, she sort of flung her hair, huffed and pushed past me, making her displeasure at having to wait on me abundantly clear.  I wanted to wheel around and run my cart up her ass!  OK so she's gone.

I moved back into position and resumed my interrupted shopping task.  The next person comes up along the aisle behind me.  Oddly enough, I didn't see her as soon as she pulled up behind me.  Instead of saying "excuse me"  she must have stood there a bit waiting for me to move out of her way.  Since I was consulting my coupons and the labels on the shelves, I was unaware of her presence until she coughed.  Sort of the disabled shoppers version of having the person in the car behind you honk if you don't jackrabbit forward as soon as s light turns green..  Again, I put down my list and coupons, interrupting my task again and move out of her way.  For the next fifteen minutes, I experience this sort of thing at least a dozen times, including a time that someone had gone around me and was now purusing the shelf in front of me as someone again comes up behind me and eventually loudly clears her throat.  The woman in front of me seems completely oblivious to what is going on, so I turn around in my seat, and smile sweetly and say "I'll be happy to back up and get out of your way, but you will need to back up and give me some room so that I can."  She looked at me like I had just pointed a gun at her and demanded all her money and the groceries in her cart.  I won't even attempt  to describe the incident with the woman on her cell phone.  The point of this is that what would have taken me a maximum of two minutes to do ended up taking over 15, because every woman who came down that aisle clearly expected the disabled person to get out of their way.  Only one woman who came down the aisle was at all polite to me, saying "no no, I was looking at something, you're fine." when I said "Oh, sorry, let me get out of your way."  Strangely enough, the few men who came down the aisle were exceedingly polite.  One of them, as I stretched to reach a product, took it down from the shelf and said "Is this what you were trying to get.?"  On almost every aisle, this scene was repeated.  On the frozen foods aisle, a woman barged up and opened a door that was clearly blocked by my cart, slamming it into my cart while she reaches in through a 2" crack and tries to extricate an item that's wider than 2"!  At least she didn't glare at me.  She didn't even meet my eyes, just stood there, holding on to the selected item, until I moved out of her way.  

One of the advantages of a liberal arts education, is that one learns about the behavior of rats left to breed uncontrollably in a closed cage, and how they react to each other when resources such as food and water become artificially scarce.  My friends, we have become a society of such rats.  I am convinced.  What was scarce during my shopping trip was not food or water, but time.  Everyone is in a hurry, and the weak are just climbed over by the strong.

Of course, it goes beyond my shopping trip last night.  It is in our social policies and practices, where the poor, the poorly educated, the traumatized young, the disabled, the homeless, the mentally ill are seen as inconveniences and blamed for their situation. While nobody is yet crass enough to say it, the body language and the attitude is clearly that we should just die and get the hell out of the way of the strong.  How dare we hope for financial help.  We should just get jobs and quit feeling sorry for ourselves.  You know what?  I don't feel sorry for myself.  I feel frustrated by people who don't acknowledge reality.  There aren't enough employers willing to make enough concessions, and many of the ones who do make concessions offer inadequate pay as the price for making those concessions.  Why?  Well, there are plenty of healthy rats they can hire!  Healthy rats who will do the jobs of 2-3 rats and take their stress out on....the unhealthy rats like me.  The employers are also in a hurry to get their work done, get their product out on the shelves and sold, under pressure to maximize the benefit for the cost.

When I look out at the wider world, I see the same thing happening in other nations.  I can't help but think it has something to do with the population growth.  If you look at it, Earth is a "closed cage."  Now while I grant that God has the power to suddenly make its surface double in size, He has yet to take any steps in that direction. I am the kind that asks "What does He want of us?  We were commanded to love Him, to love our neighbors as ourselves, and to be stewards of earth."  I don't think He wants us to be a society, or a world, of rats, scrambling over each other to make sure each of gets "MY ___"  (money, food, water, dream estate, etc).  To me, the real signs of Christian commitment are how one treats the less fortunate, the sick, the elderly, the disabled,, the damaged -- regardless of whether they have served in the military or not., whether they are "just like me," belong to the same political party, race, age group, economic class, etc.  Perhaps it is also time to ask ourselves if God really wants us to breed without limit and overwhelm this earth to the point that we live in a constant state of war over water and food.  Forget oil.  You can live without oil.  Humans did so for thousands of years.  You cannot however,live without clean water to drink, food to eat and air to breathe.  Think about it, and get back to me. And be warned, the next time I go shopping and am treated the way I was yesterday?  I won't get out of your way.  I'll make you wait, because my time is just as valuable to me as yours is to you, and I am worth every bit as much as you are -- mobility impairment and little electric cart and all.  I am God's child just as much as you are, and while you may not love me (and I 
The ITO Club stands for "I'm Totally Oblivious."  It consists of people who move their days without ever engaging their minds on the people and situations around them.  I came up with this idea while driving in Christmas shopping traffic.  You know, the drivers who block exits from shopping centers, streets where people are waiting to turn on to the freeway feeder, back out without looking to see if anyone is coming.  Those people.  Some days, all of us belong.  Each of us can have a day so crammed with errands and minor crises that we cannot get our mind off them long enough to look around and see what is happening around us.

Last Saturday at IKEA, I had a particularly disturbing encounter with a member of the ITO Club.  This woman and what appeared to be her mother were in line in front of us.  Mind you, on such shopping expeditions, what we do is form a little train with my wheelchair and the shopping cart.  I hold on to the cart handle and put my feet on the rail beneath it and steer it by exerting pressure on the side we need to turn.  My husband is the "engine in the rear" who provides the forward momentum.  One consequence of this arrangement is that when my bag (it's not a purse, more like a beach bag) rides in the child seat.  Well, guess what?  I cannot see OVER it.  When the cart is full of stuff, I cannot see under it either to see what is directly in front of me.  Another disadvantage is that if I turn to speak to my husband without shouting over my shoulder, occasionally my legs will shift and scoot the cart forward a little bit.  This is what happened Saturday.

I bumped the back of the lady's big yellow shopping bag, completely by accident.  Ron said, "don't hit that lady's rear."  I immediately pulled the cart back with my feet and apologized.  In a few minutes, the lady and her mother stepped forward, and I took the opportunity to stretch my legs out a little.  I have this hinky knee and when I keep it bent up for a long time, it starts whining.  What I hadn't seen was that when the lady stepped forward, she had set her bag on the ground BEHIND herself.  So I bumped the cart wheels into the bag.  I guess I pushed it into the back of her legs.  I don't really know, I couldn't see the bag. She whirled around and growled something I didn't quite catch but it ended with "..what you're doing."  Her tone was both irritated and condescending, like she was speaking to a child.  I said, "I'm sorry,  I couldn't see that your bag was in front of my cart"  She didn't say anything, and she didn't move the freaking bag either!  She just stepped forward one more step.

I got really steamed.  Granted, I'm sure she was inconvenienced.  However, I didn't mean to bump her bag.  What really griped me is that she seemed to completely ignore that anything she had done had contributed to the incident.  Nor did she make any allowance for the fact that I was coping with a wheelchair and a shopping cart.  I said "WOW!  You don't have to be so rude about it.  It was an accident and I can't see over this cart or under it.  I had no idea your bag was on the floor in front of it."  She completely ignored me.  Her mother looked at her and gave a supercilious little smile that screamed "well we both know SHE is the rude one."  I wanted to bowl her off her feet with my cart!

What the Christmas holidays taught me was that a lot of the world has apparently either never given a thought to what shopping from a wheelchair must be like, or they assume that if you are in a wheelchair, your legs don't work at all.  I got several surprised then instantly suspicious looks when I would use my feet to scoot my wheelchair along an aisle, or I would stand up to see something on a shelf.  It's not that I cannot stand or walk.  It's that I cannot do so for long.  the looks I got seemed to reflect a suspicion on their part that I wasn't disabled at all but somehow using the wheelchair for some kind of ulterior motive.  More than once, as I negotiated my way through a store, I got glares as if I were taking up too much of the aisle, or moving at the wrong speed.  Maybe I do both those things.  What floors me is the apparent expectation that I should be moving around as if I were not in a wheelchair, or stay the heck out of the stores.

I am happy to report that a number of people were incredibly kind, even getting things down off high shelves for me, or offering help I really didn't need.  By and large these were Asians, Hispanics, Blacks, and the Caucasians who were kind were largely not American born (I could tell because most of them had accents.)  The most ITO Club members were almost completely Caucasian Americans.  I'm not sure what this says, but from where I sit it certainly suggests a cultural difference in attitudes toward the disabled adults of the world.  I say adults because I have never witnessed anyone behaving toward a child in a wheelchair the way they behave toward me.  I will note that the lady whose bag I injured (I never actually bumped her person) and her mother appeared to be Hispanic, not of the Latin American variety, but the South American. The lady had a slight accent similar to the ones I have heard in Argentinians, Chileans, Colombians, but I could be mistaken.  So it's certainly not exclusive to any group to be rude or to be kind.

What made me laugh were the people who either spoke more loudly or talked in really slow, precisely enunciated sentences with very short words.  I'm neither deaf nor simple-minded.  Still, I give these people points for making an effort be polite and helpful.   The ITO Club can kiss my rims!