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Monthly Archives: July 2013

Things I Miss Least About Chicago

Things I Miss Least About Chicago

I lived in Chicago for five years and was hoping to set roots down. It’s not the world’s best-kept secret that I miss the place, and so I briefly considered a list of things I miss about it.

When I started giving it some real thought, though, I realized such a list would be completely impossible. There are several reasons why, but I won’t regale you with the boring ones. I’ll just mention the big two: The first is that such a list would be a bit too personal for my own tastes and include concepts that are way too broad. Some of the stories I have from my life in Chicago go on quite a bit, and trying to condense them all in a list would necessitate the creation of an entire blog. (Which, by the way, I created a couple of years ago!) I would have to explain a lot of background details and in-jokes for a list like that to really fly.

The second reason is that there are simply way too many things I miss about The Windy City. It brings me a second time to the problem of it making the list too long.

Oh, what to do, what to do, what to do? Well, as I sat in a luxury hotel room on the set of a movie I was working on recently, me and a few other staffers and cast members conversed about this nasty heat that’s been holding the entire east coast hostage. As we lamented the heat in Buffalo, we began comparing it to the heat we had all felt in other places we had visited. Of course, the Chicago summer was what I had easily the best acquaintance with, so it became my immediate conversational victim. Then the idea hit me: I’ll write an anti-Chicago list, featuring everything I hated about the city! And that’s how we got to this point!

The warmest season and I were never on the best of terms in Upstate New York, but while the humidity could be unbearable, the heat was at least usually temperate. People from Buffalo take great delight in telling those from out of the area the city has never had a 100-degree day, and that the city averages only three 90-degree days per year. The big lake next to Buffalo sort of conditions the air.

Chicago’s summers have the very same type of weather, but with a quantification of about ten times. It gets hot, sticky, and uncomfortable. The sun beats up on people on clear days, and when it rains, it’s like the sky is taking one of those ongoing, powerful drunken leaks. All storms are severe – my first summer in Chicago, there were three tornadoes that stopped just short of the city in one month. In Mostly Harmless, Douglas Adams wrote this about New York City: “A lot of the inhabitants of New York will honk on mightily about the pleasures of spring, but if they actually knew the first thing about the pleasures of spring they would know of at least 5,983 better places to spend it than New York, and that’s just on the same latitude.” Ditto Chicago in summer.

Whenever I discuss the weather in Chicago, people always ask me about the cold. I always tell them that if you’ve spent any real time living in Buffalo, the cold isn’t anything they can’t handle – it’s the summers they have to watch out for.

Lack of Civic Pride
Buffalo knows it’s never going to be the world class metropolis New York City is, and there’s a kind of dignity in knowing that which lets the people here attend to their business without a care about what happens there. Yes, we hate the place politically, but that’s mostly because it’s so disproportionally represented at every political level. Beyond that, though, the only real thing in New York City that’s of concern to upstaters is the fortunes of the New York Yankees, the favored baseball team across the state.

In terms of civic pride, Chicago is a classic bully. Chicagoans will always be the first to attack any other city to make themselves feel good about living in Chicago, even though Chicago is a world class city in every possible way. Unless, of course, there’s a possibility that the city in question might actually be some kind of rival to Chicago in some way – attacks on major cities like San Francisco, Los Angeles, or Atlanta inexplicably aren’t seen that often. And if New York City is dragged into the equation, well, a cursory glance at any of the newspapers or civic websites reveals the motherload of inferiority complexes; newspapers and civic websites are always clogged with people moaning about how Chicago will never be like New York City.

A daily free rag published by the Chicago Tribune, Redeye may be the most insipid newspaper on Earth. I’m saying this, and I grew up reading The Buffalo News. Redeye has lists of bars, restaurants, and events, but those lists are microscopic in terms relative to the size of the city. There’s two or maybe three pages of substantial news events, all overshadowed by sports and celebrity coverage which is equal that length, written completely in bullets and blurbs, and consisting mainly of photographs and captions. For the first few years I was there, it also featured a sex column written by a womanizer.

Redeye may be the very symbol of Chicago’s inferiority complex. All other city-bashing starts in Redeye, and the celebrity buzz tends to treat celebrity sightings like the most amazing thing since Al’s Italian Beef, even though several celebrities call Chicago home and can be found roaming the Lake Shore Trail or soaking in Cubs games.

A friend of mine once delivered a speech at a religious convention in which she used the day’s Redeye as a prop. She mentioned the cover, which contained a picture of George Clooney, and got a laugh. Then she said – tongue completely in cheek – that she opened it in the hopes of finding something substantial, and got the biggest laugh of the convention.

Chicago is Not Broad-Shouldered
The Windy City is called The Windy City because the title was bestowed by a journalist who was covering Chicago’s notoriously corrupt politics. He called it The Windy City in regards to the fact that the local politicians were blowing hot air. Well, when the people there tell you how tough they are, they’re also spewing hot air. They take the smallest slurs against Chicago to heart. Most of them don’t know anything about how to properly weather out a bad winter, either, unless it’s by going to Florida for the season. This is not a populace that would ever think to lower itself to picking up snow shovels and digging out of a storm manually, as Buffalo did in 2001 when eight feet of snow fell in four days. They’ll buy out the local grocery store and wait for the city plows to bail them out – and that’s not a guarantee, since the snow removal department tends to run out of money.

Living Costs
My apartment in Chicago was one of those stereotypical walk-in closet-sized spaces. In Buffalo, it wouldn’t have been $400 a month. In Chicago, it cost $800 a month, and was considered a steal. I was rarely able to buy meat.

Buffalo is one of the worst cities in the country in taxes, so people in Buffalo have a hard time believing Chicago is even worse. The city has a ten percent sales tax, which was reduced TO ten percent! With the nasty income taxes being what they were, I was basically reduced to life on a $20 budget every week because I was an independent contractor who was making sub-minimum wage before taxes. This is why my life suddenly went south – it was too expensive to live there.

You would think that in a city with such excellent public transportation (and I mean that; yes, I complain about the CTA, but it never fails to get me where I need to go. If you don’t like it, try using the NFTA in Buffalo for a month!), more people would be willing to catch the bus and the L. Then again, there are 2.8 million people who live there.

I can’t forget the time my sister visited me and had to park two blocks over from my street. Or the time me and a girl I befriended at a local hostel tried to go to Millennium Park for an afternoon, but there were no open spaces in The Loop. I didn’t own a car, so this didn’t affect me most of the time, but tell any car-owning out-of-town buddies to bring their walking shoes.

Chicago Cubs
The Cubs are one of the crown jewels of Major League Baseball, and one of its most popular teams. Yet, the fans always appear convinced that there’s some great baseball conspiracy against them which keeps them out of World Series contention. Listen to fans complain about the collapse of 1969 or some rule about where the 1984 NLCS was played which they pulled out of their asses.

In my article about the Cubs, I made a few particularly harsh blanket remarks about the fans. Now, I didn’t mean them using complete blanket terminology; there are good people and devoted, knowledgeable fans in the Cubs’ base. Unfortunately, there tends to be a frat party mentality surrounding Wrigleyville, and during games with big opponents or at certain times, drunkenness takes over and invites a lot of boorish behavior which isn’t confined just to the stadium. Being in Wrigleyville during a Cubs game can be a trial of patience because the stadium, unlike every other baseball stadium, is right in the middle of the neighborhood. The team seems to encourage this – the Harry Caray statue in front of Wrigley Field comes off as an endorsement, and the celebrity rotation singing “Take Me Out to the Ballgame” doesn’t help.

Also, the owner of Wrigley Field doesn’t mind endangering the fans. The field is clearly falling apart – some spots are literally held up by nothing more than loose fishnetting – but it’s privately owned, and so the owner keeps refusing to repair the place. The fact that he’s using the White Sox’ public funds as leverage to get taxpayer cash of his own is the single greatest argument American sports has against public money being involved in professional sports.

Cycling in the Wind
Yes, The Windy City gets its share of the blowy stuff. If you’re into cycling, trying to ride a bicycle in the wind is like drinking a potion that allows you to walk through walls, then trying to walk through a cliff.

The Bid for the 2016 Olympics
So Mayor Richard Daley decided he wanted to wipe out a large public space in a poor neighborhood to build a big stadium and athlete housing which would have been used for two weeks. He wanted to add a fifth star to the Chicago city flag representing an Olympics he hadn’t even won yet.

This bid in and of itself, by the way, cost $50 million in taxpayer dollars. You want to know where all the tax money is going? Here’s your answer. The most offensive part is that his entire urban development plan seemed to hinge on getting the Olympics.

Frankly, one would have to be a complete fucking moron to even want and apply for the Olympics after knowing the kinds of wreckage they’ve been responsible for leaving in their host cities. Chicago would, in preparation, have gone through terrible traffic delays, small business shutdowns by the special, gestapo-like Olympics Police, construction, and poor people being herded out of the areas they lived in so the athletes could take over for two weeks. All on the public’s dime, of course, and in a city which wasn’t able to pay for it.


The Other Side of the Looking Glass: Life on a Movie Set

The Other Side of the Looking Glass: Life on a Movie Set

It’s the dream of every movie nut who ever lived to be able to get a job in movies by impressing the interviewer with a fiery analysis of a movie. Well, in March, I sat in a small library being interviewed by the director of a locally-produced independent movie for a job as a screenwriter. He told me to tell him about the last movie I saw, and what I thought of it. Now, every film nut who ever lived has a strict set of deep analysis of well-known classic movies he’s just dying to unleash on the first poor, unsuspecting listener who brings up the subject. I’m no different. I could have lied and launched into my prepared attack on Alfred Hitchcock’s movie Vertigo with real gusto. But I like to be honest, and the last movie I had seen at the time wasn’t a heralded staple of film classes. It was Premium Rush, a silly action flick with Joseph Gordon-Levitt playing a bicycle messenger, and it was fresh on my mind. So I launched into a high-powered, half-hour long dissection of a silly, bad movie. It got me the job.

My first day on the job was the following Monday, when I sat, read, and re-read the script for a movie for eight straight hours, correcting little details I happened to notice. I started the day with an outline, which I threw out after the first page and a half because the outline was for a version of the script that was so early, it came straight from the jurassic era. My doctoring the script eventually involved re-writing one of the characters so he would come off as a little bit angrier, and I touched up a handful of scenes so they weren’t so generic. My official credit for the movie eventually became Production Assistant and Still Photographer, though, because the truth about my writing contributions is that they were a light dusting at best. Proofreading here, small changes there, slight editing at the other. I spent more time at lunch than I did screenwriting.

Anyone who has ever taken a serious filmmaking class knows the process isn’t exactly a cakewalk. In college, I once spent two hours sitting around in a cardboard box painted up to look like Spongebob Squarepants while the film crew that wasn’t playing a real role in the student flick diddled around with the light riggings. Even after that, we weren’t prepared. Our eight-minute student production took close to three hours to film. We took three or four takes, and our actors missed cues, screwed up dialogue, and forgot everything by magnificent margins. Our best take involved the actor who was playing The Count (yes, THAT Count) getting confused, standing up from his talk show chair, and wondering exactly what he was supposed to be doing. We did, however, get a great performance from our Casper, who sounded like a stoner; thus, we inadvertently learned why Casper was so friendly.

Even being crammed in that box didn’t prepare me for the marathon days of pre-production. These were not fun or interesting marathons, either. Through most of them, I was stuck in front of the computer, writing out new shooting schedules or promotional letters. It was the kind of work which makes it hard to stay awake through the whole thing, and I did catch severe fatigue a couple of times, no matter how much coffee I pumped into my arteries or how much sleep I got the previous night. For the initial month before shooting began, I went into the production office twice a week to assist the director by writing out organized lists of props and scenes as he made phone calls for filmmakers’ insurance. The most trying day was one on which I had to recall my telemarketer skills to make cold calls in the hopes of getting free or reduced-price catering. After about four hours of phone calls, I remembered exactly what I had hated about telemarketing in the first place. It was the director and me in the office for my first month and a half of involvement. I would go in, work at the computer, eat lunch, sometimes discuss basketball – the director turned out to be an avid NBA fan – and leave when the time came.

It was weeks before I met anyone else involved with the production. The first person I met who would be working on the movie was one of the actresses, who dropped by the office to meet with the director briefly on a day I happened to be there. My own chat with her didn’t go very far beyond a hello before I turned back to my assignment, but she exuded a glow like a light bulb. She actually reminded me a little bit of Leslie, the singer I had been acquainted with in Chicago. (The actress turned out to also be a singer.) After she left, I was told that she had a powerful energy he thought matched the character, and that’s why she was given the part. About two weeks before filming began, our sound engineer started becoming a common presence at the office.

I had to miss the first two weeks of filming. My first day on set was at a location where we were shooting a series of scenes from characters’ apartments. That was the first day I was introduced to most of the people I would be working with. Before shooting began, I asked the director about letting me photograph the set in order to keep from getting bored during the long setup times, and he was nice enough to agree to it. Just my luck that my camera finished eating up my batteries on that first day after the first hour or so, but I made up for that misfortune by suggesting a finish to a scene in which the actors both felt like they were left hanging: I suggested that, after a pivotal conversation, they just sit on the couch and watch TV. They did a brilliant job improvising their dialogue.

The movie was conceived as a short, but it wound up swelling into a feature. Due to the movie’s plot, there was a lot of mall filming at some of the local malls in the Buffalo area. Due to transportation issues, I was only able to put in a couple of days at one of them. The other was closer and a lot more convenient to my father’s schedule, and I suddenly found myself spending more time there than I ever had in my entire collective life before.

Most of my duties revolved around whatever I was needed for at any given moment, which meant that most of my work was photography for the movie’s Facebook page. Generally, I was the the guy who served to do whatever was necessary. On various occasions, I was the one on clap board duty; the one pushing equipment around; and the one standing guard for the equipment at times we couldn’t move it. During the times I wasn’t needed, there wasn’t a lot to do to amuse myself, so I got in everyone’s way trying to get good angles on my photographs. In a small capacity, I also got to play actor on extra duty. In one scene, I mock the main character by throwing small paperballs at him. Our lead actor seemed genuinely surprised by that, mostly because, for authenticity, I had neglected to tell him I was going to do it. Being a pro, though, he worked with it. In another scene, I’m in the background of a local restaurant, talking with another extra.

It wasn’t until the mall shoots that I met our main cameraman. I liked him immediately – he helped keep spirits on the set high and told entertaining stories. In a way, he was also our Mr. Hollywood guy. He had worked on big-time movies; he was on set for several bigger movies. I learned more watching him than anyone else on the set. Getting good shots at the malls was difficult because we didn’t have permission to use many of the stores or money to throw at lawyers if they sued us if we did it anyway.

Filming is a long and difficult process, and without a Hollywood budget, we had to be creative. At one point, to keep shoppers from tripping over the camera track, we turned butterfly nets into warning signs. New extra footage was created on the fly as it was dreamed up. There was one point where we filmed the lead doing push-ups as stock footage, something which the crew was inspired to do when he began doing them to warm up for a scene. There was another time when the lead actress grabbed all the shampoo bottles from a store display and ran off for no other reason than hey, why not? Her method of doing it added a cartoonish zing to the scene, so an offhand improvised act she dreamed up for fun was kept in every remaining take. It became one of our best scenes, and turned into one of my best photos. The mall security team were sports about letting us use their property. They added a couple of extras themselves, and let us invade and make over a kiosk right in the center of the mall for a series of scenes.

About a week before filming was supposed to end, the crew caught a bad break when one of the actresses was forced out of the production by personal issues. It says a lot about the temperament of the crew that no one seemed mad or upset at her despite the fact that the timing was monumentally bad and she was playing one of the leads. After learning of her departure, I joked that, if asked, I could write in a quick scene addressing the sudden, tragic death of her character. It probably wouldn’t have been too difficult for me to do, because this particular actress was the single cast member I never met. But as much as we joked about it, the character’s story was too important to the movie to leave any real options except a complete recasting of the part. Less than a week later, our new cast member came in for her first day of work, and she formed a quick rapport with everyone on the set and integrated with the cast and crew so seamlessly, it was like she had been there all along.

I had to phase out most of the locations from my own personal schedule because they were too far away to reach at a moment’s notice. The one time I was able to get to a place that wasn’t either a mall or an apartment scene was when filming was at one of the local strip malls, in a women’s clothing store. The lack of scenery changes made creative photography a little bit difficult for me, because it’s hard to be original in a location you’ve already shot a million times. My last two days of filming were for the reshoots of many of the apartment scenes. I didn’t make it all the way through the first day because the shoot ran until midnight. It was due mainly to an argument with two of the performers having problems with the way one particular scene was written. After hours of back and forth debate, I made a basic suggestion of how the scene should go that helped get things moving again.

If I ever make it big in filmmaking, I’ll always look back on this experience as where it all started. Maybe someday it’ll catapult me into a career in a big studio bureaucracy, and I’ll find myself reminding one of my co-workers from it of the good old days, blurring out the names of major chain stores, trying to direct mall traffic away from the camera, taking pictures, and sitting down whenever possible to keep my feet from cramping too much. No, we weren’t working with Hollywood cash, but there was something pure about making a film with pennies and unassailable belief in the project and in the people bringing it to life.

A Rebuttal to the 16-Bit Silver Era

A Rebuttal to the 16-Bit Silver Era

Gamers of my generation look at the 16-bit generation as the greatest generation of video games. I stand voraciously by this opinion myself, but that doesn’t keep any one of us from looking at those years through a pair of rose goggles. Just because the 16-bit Era was the best era doesn’t mean we haven’t managed to overrate it a little bit.

The other day, I was unwinding by playing a little bit of Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic. I’m too early in this game to really form much of an opinion on it yet, but while it has so far been very engaging, the combat system is a real mess. I got my ass kicked repeatedly by a Sith Lord early on, and after finally throwing my arms up, I shut the game off and decided to forget about it by going into the very distant gaming past. I grabbed my Nintendo DS and plugged in a 16-bit classic – Donkey Kong Country. A real game, from a real gaming generation, a good old platform game where you only have to run from the left to the right of the screen. After screwing up the combat in Knights of the Old Republic, it would surely be a refreshing break.

Unfortunately, I was at one level in Donkey Kong Country at the time in which I had to frequently transport myself using barrels that were cannons – I jumped inside the barrel and it would shoot me out, to another part of the level. I don’t know exactly how the things work, but the barrels – which were stationary – would frequently shoot me just short of a place I had to land, or I would fall into a bottomless pit and die. This seemed to happen completely at random, so I didn’t pass the level until the game apparently decided I had suffered enough. The game had been torturing me for fun.

It was then that all the bad aspects of the 16-bit Era came flying back. The bugs, thoughtless design, gameplay quirks, hit throwbacks, and all sorts of other things which made me wonder whether or not a game had visited the testing lab before being thrown out into the world. Controls not being quite as good as they should have been, and the computer frequently being cheap as hell.

What sucked about games in the 16-bit Era was that if you died, first of all, you were thrown pretty far back in the level after fighting through an impassable obstacle, and would have to do it all over again. Second, a game’s controls always had the potential to fail in big trouble situations, so if you ended up dying, it was quite frequently safe to blame the game for your death. How often did you make a last minute save by hitting the jump button just as you reached an obstacle, or a projectile reached you, just to see it cancelled out?

Furthermore, have you ever been in one of those situations where you had to use a glitch to beat a boss or get through a level because the thing was otherwise impossible? Levels back then weren’t quite as creative, either: You would always have to fight through a number of cliche levels, like the fire level, ice level, water level, and those damn chase levels where some big rolling thing was always on your tail and would kill you, no matter what, the second you came into contact with it. No matter what the game was or how original it was, there were a lot of variations on one several particular kinds of levels, and very few of those varieties were any fun.

Aiming in many different directions is now something we take for granted. But some of the brightest stars of 16-bit games – I think primarily of Mega Man – couldn’t so much as fire their basic weapons to the left or right. This mechanic alone could drive gamers mad because it turned very small and simple nuisances into major threats which we had to jump all over the screen trying to shoot down. If you were playing a game in which your character got knocked back while facing an enemy like that, chances are it would happen over a series of short ledges, where the flying enemies all hung out.

If you think movie licensed games today are bad and shameless, in the 16-bit Era, things were a lot worse. Every bad movie got an even worse game of its own: Last Action Hero, The Addams Family, Demolition Man, Judge Dredd – which was actually used in a gaming championship one year – and Toys, among a million others, got games of their own. It’s pretty bad when the infamous movie bomb Waterworld not only got a game of its own, but one that was completely sensible when compared to the Home Alone and Baby’s Day Out games.

There was a lot less work being put into good video games back then, too. Hence the glitches. Gaming back then was still very much a geek thing and an outcast thing, so a lot of places that developed games were always thinking that if they made one, people were obviously going to buy it. It was an insulting way of looking at things if you really think about it. So while we may miss the good old days a lot, in some ways, we have to be glad they’re gone forever.

For Those Who ARE Bicycle Friendly….

For Those Who ARE Bicycle Friendly….

Sadly, I don’t have a way to work this into anything I have to write. However, bicycling is something I truly believe in, and I received an email recently from someone asking me to promote a website graphic where you can buy bicycle racks for your car. Since this is something I’m big on, I’ve decided to post the graphic and the link. Here’s hoping he gets business:

guide to buying the perfect bike rack for cars

The Need for Bicycle Racks

The Need for Bicycle Racks

It didn’t occur to me very often in the past, but it just occurred to me in one of my last bicycle trips. I’ve made no secret in the past that the suburbs – hell, the greater Buffalo and Erie County area in general – are resoundingly shitty when it comes to bicycle friendliness. The locals outside the cool parts of the city – Chippewa, Allentown, and Elmwood Village – are neanderthals. There’s little sense of curiosity or want of experience expansion in Buffalo, and so adults who ride bicycles are reacted to uniformly with a singular emotion: Scalding hatred. Going out on a bicycle in The City of Good Neighbors is always a risk because no matter what the law says, those who enforce it always side with motorists.

My most recent occurrence happened when I took a nice long ride through some of my usual haunts and noticed something very common to them: With the exception of the library, they ALL lack bicycle racks. There’s no rack at the strip mall, no rack at the real mall, no rack at any of the places I seek a mid-ride snack. At the strip mall, there’s not even a decent place for me to improvise a rack. All the signs are in the parking lot, so I have to throw a tiny wire around a large stone column.

The lack of bicycle racks anywhere is inexcusable. In Buffalo, it proves definitely to outsiders the dangerous aspect of the city’s mindset, which is that Buffalo is obsessed with its past and will never change for the future. Specifically, it’s obsessed with the 50’s All-American vision – the common WASP inhabiting a McHouse and driving a gas guzzler, forgetting – or more likely these days, desperate to ignore – the fact that the world doesn’t revolve around their narrow existence. And that’s what it is, an existence.

There are more bicycles being sold these days than there have in many years. The economy is a wreck, gas prices are sky high, and people are taking a greater interest in their health. What’s the perfect way to get around? Bicycle! So the fact that the area appears to be actively forcing us to drive is another reminder of Buffalo desperately loading up the old time machine and going against its increasingly bicycle-oriented traffic. Not having racks is an implicit form of prejudice against cyclists. Since there are very few other places to attach a bicycle to, what are the cyclists supposed to do?

The Buffalo government, for everything wrong with it, has realized that, and there are city bicycle racks and bicycle paths set up around various points. So the real pain is that it’s not the incompetence of those at City Hall screwing up, for one. It’s the people, on their private business property, who aren’t making the rack investment. For a city which is basically southern and conservative at heart, this doesn’t make any sense. Don’t places lose business without racks because cyclists don’t have anyplace to park? I really get the sense that more bicycle racks would be a win-win situation, and for the life of me, I can’t figure out why there are so few of them.

We can do this, Buffalo. For god’s sake, there are places where bicycle rentals are available in the city. It’s pretty bad that we have places to rent bicycles, but nowhere to park them. Buffalo’s terrain also makes it a challenge to ride for veteran cyclists, so by not having very many bicycle racks, we might be missing out on some potential tourists. The war zone known as Detroit is embracing its recenetly-born image as a cyclist paradise because the city is all flatland, which makes it easy to get around by bicycle. San Francisco, Denver, and Portland, Oregon are also known as cyclist havens despite their respective hills, thin air, and rain. Buffalo – with its high concentration of collegiate institutions – should make it a natural place to promote cycling. The city a good place to promote cycling, not discourage it.

The Truth About My Infamous Arm

The Truth About My Infamous Arm

Well this puts me in a real pickle, now doesn’t it? I have a friend who argues that a disability is something society gives handicapped people which makes them think they’re not quite as capable in certain things as the norms. If that’s a standard, then I’m qualified: I have lost jobs I would have otherwise gotten out of human resources folks dismissing me because of my arm. It isn’t fun. Officially, my deformed arm prevents me from doing very little; my parents always taught me to never outright believe there were things my arm would prevent me from doing. Unfortunately, a wrist broken in a 2006 bicycling accident taught me otherwise. For three long weeks I had to become a right-hander, and a lot of the little, everyday abilities I take for granted were suddenly impossible: I couldn’t write. I couldn’t shave, ride my bicycle, comb my hair, brush my teeth, and perform a few other things that I had to do on a constant, daily basis. This was only months after I moved to Chicago, too; at the time, I had no friends to speak of who could have made things easier.

I’ve learned to overcome my deformed arm in a lot of ways, but breaking my left wrist made me face up to the reality that my disability is a legitimate disability. It hasn’t kept me from doing a lot of things people tend to associate with disabled people not being able to do. Riding a bicycle became my very job not too long after my wrist recovered. I managed to teach myself a little bit of guitar, and I taught myself piano by playing my sister’s keyboard when I was about eleven years old. I’m hoping to learn to drum, if I ever get around to it; I own a pair of sticks. I can shoot bow and arrow and firearms. I played organized racquetball and hockey. I keep myself in shape partially by doing pushups, but that could be an argument FOR the fact that I’m disabled because I face a pair of insane obstacles in getting them done. (In fact, lifting weights in general is extremely difficult business for me. There are some weightlifting exercises I’m simply unable to do.)

Naturally, I tend to hold my head high and insist I’m on perfectly equal footing with everyone else. That makes it difficult that my next step is to march into the accessibility office and ask them for financial aid – if that’s what they do, anyway. It took many years – especially after being dismantled by my asshole peers in junior high school – but the message that there was no shame in having a birth defect did eventually sink in. I’ve taught my right arm to do a lot of different things, even if I’m not capable of performing certain daily tasks with it. Furthermore, I haven’t tried to hide it in many years. Yet, despite its legitimacy, it’s still a real blow to my pride to want to ask for disability aid. My appointment with the UB Director of the office comes in about a week and a half.

The truly odd part of this weird situation is that I’m sure I don’t stand a great chance of receiving any benefits anyway, because people who share my laments about disability tend to be on an edge. No matter how bad it really is, disability to the norms relies heavily on perception. There’s always a distinct chance that I could walk into the office completely without my arm and not be considered disabled. Maybe my wrist will straighten out and my two missing fingers will grow in and my arm will grow another 12 centimeters so its length is equal to that of my left arm. Disability is an abstract concept, so that might still be considered disabled if the circumstances are right.

Whether or not I can get any aid from it, I am legitimately disabled. There is an odd comfort in knowing I have limitations with my arm, though: It means I have a much better awareness of what I can and can’t do. I’ve also learned that in spite of my disability, I can do a lot more than people think I can. Hell, sometimes I can do a lot more than I think I can.

I stopped playing piano after about three years of sporadic practice, and now I can barely remember what the Center C sounds like. I was never serious about it, never challenged or pushed myself, and was always rather dismissive of it as more of a ten-fingered thing anyway. Besides, I never learned to read music anyway. I regret that attitude now, because it would be really cool to impress the norms by playing an instrument that requires the use of every possible free finger when I have a two-finger handicap.