Scalp Treatment


Have been spending a few weeks off the clock. First class accommodations at County General and a nearby skilled step down facility where a strategically placed skin graft takes hold and I become acquainted with my surgical bonus colostomy. Yay!

Aaaany-hooo . . .

It’d been a while — a long while, actually — since my last true, non P-sss-sss-sst dry shampoo, scalp cleansing. That was remedied this morning. I’m pleased to tell you the slick was contained quickly, and the entomological analysis of my rinse water showed no signs of head lice. There were indications, however, that a clandestine regional Annual Ladybug Picnic just getting underway, and the much awaited though unsanctioned Big vs. Small Critter Football Championship were both washed out. Sadly, the Ladybug Picnic Knock-Knock Joke-Off was cancelled on account of flooding, as were the sack races and jump rope contest. Last year’s Knock-Knock Joke Champion, Dot, was “not there.” And, two Small Critter All-Star centipedes, who are known to take an unusually long time to put on and tie their cleats, narrowly escaped their stadium locker room as water levels rose to historic levels. Both players (and one-hundred pairs of cleats) were soaked but otherwise unharmed.

The wash was invigorating and it is expected that my head won’t suddenly slide off the pillow anymore.

See you next year.

Stink Eye


Most days, after undergoing a very involved morning routine that begins at 7:30 AM and ends at about 9 AM, whose details will remain undescribed, I roll into my executive handicapped bathroom to brush my hair, shave with my Norelco electric razor, and brush my teeth. Having acclimated to the calibrated use of Coumadin to keep clotting factors in line, I took a bold step and bought a shaving brush, two round cakes of shaving soap, a mug in which the soap is lathered-up, and a Gillette razor with real nick producing (potentially) blades. I tolerate a not so close electric shave most days. More like a whisker thatching, really. About once a week, for a true close shave, I lather up and raze the face.

On my countertop, in the corner, there are three bottles of Cologne and aftershave that stand like little soldiers. My wife got me these. She researched this scents, got samples, and gave them to me on special occasions.

For months after returning home from my first rehab experience, these manly scent containers were absolutely ignored. After all, most days I dressed in athletic stretch pants, a T-shirt or possibly a polo shirt, white support hose and knockoff crocs. Not exactly making any fashion statements. I only made appearances at places like Target, or when I went on trips around the neighborhood in my manual wheelchair. None of those were reasons to smell fancy.

Sundays were different, as I got to dress in real khaki pants, a button-down shirt, black support hose, real Docksider shoes, and my navy blue Duluth Trading Company presentation jacket, before heading off to church. Until one fateful Sunday, my visits to church, like any other day, were non-scented occasions.

On that predestined day, in a surreal moment, I heard one of my bottle-soldiers speak to me through his suddenly articulatable atomizer-mouth. “Pssssst!” I turned to my right and heard him say while at A-Ten-Hut! “Requesting permission to speak, Sir!” I granted his request — you’d have done the same. “Go on. Smell good, Sir!” I couldn’t believe it! So, with my right hand, I reached over and began to push Lieutenant Christian LaCroix Noir in my direction. Before pushing him off the edge of the countertop, I clamped him between my right and left palms, and removed his top with that other useful appendage: my teeth. This revealed his atomizing spray pump which I aimed in the direction of my neck. Cradling him in my left palm, I began to push his atomizing spray pump with my right palm. One, two, three, four, . . . . Nothing. I put on my cheater glasses and squinted at his now silent atomizer hole to see if it was clogged. As far as I could tell it was in perfect mist-emitting condition.

So I moved him back onto the countertop, aimed his atomizing spray pump to the left, and pounded it with my right palm. Success! A perfect Underwriters Laboratory mist was emitted. So, I held him once again in my left palm and prepared to push his atomizing spray pump with my right palm. The muscles in my neck, right shoulder, right triceps, right forearm tensed for an instant. In the blink of an eye, I forced his atomizing spray pump down. With the velocity of a speeding bullet, a textbook mist was emitted . . . directly into my left eye.

Its autonomic, reflexive blink was not fast enough and for a moment, I was disoriented, fearing I was going to be half blind. I waited. Did a systems check. Determined my vision was not significantly impacted. Sent Lieutenant Christian LaCroix Noir to his barracks — all leave cancelled.

Off to church we went. And, despite the burning and watering, my eye smelled great.

A Charles’ Dickie Christmas


He explained he wasn’t real sure how the tradition began, but over the years, while enjoying all the commercial glam of Christmas, he and his sisters took especially great pleasure in giving one mean gift at Christmas. Dianne loathed pork rinds, and Sue’s gag reflex took over at the mere mention of mushrooms. He had a rash-causing aversion to those false turtleneck sweater fronts, known as “dickies.”

These dislikes were known by all. Each had honed his and her ability to leverage them to great effect, going to great lengths to be opportunistically mean gift givers. There was the Christmas Dianne received Li’l Abner Pork Rinds disguised as Eagle Brand Premium chips. Another year, Sue received a stunning pair of dehydrated mushroom earrings presented in a luxurious blue velvet Hartzburg’s jewelry box.

“Why, poppa! Christmas isn’t supposed to be mean!” his little cherub-daughter exclaimed. “Why did you dit a dickie?”

Hearing her question, he was transported back in time . . . .

Charles stood nervously on the edge of the Michigan playground. His dad’s company had moved him from the metropolitan prairies of Shawnee Mission, Kansas – a mid-year move that placed him in a new school setting just before the Christmas holiday break. Trailwood Elementary. Day one. Recess. Clear. Bright sun. Windy. Cold. A game of tag had sprung up, and the primary grade herd stampeded, like so many zebras running from a lion. That lion was J.R. Franks. Big, bad J.R. Franks. The BMSGOC – that’s right, the Biggest, Meanest Sixth-Grader on Campus.

Tag in the Michigan winter, in between snowfalls, when the snow and ice melted enough for the pavement to reappear was J.R.’s specialty. J.R., quite simply, was just not very nice. When he wasn’t limited to merely pelting you with snowballs, he was famous for his speed, agility and vice-grip. In dry conditions, he could catch any one, but he especially targeted schoolmates who wore turtlenecks – Michigan’s de rigueur winter wear and easily accessible even when his victims wore their winter coats. He had four main objectives when in tag-pursuit: Spot a turtleneck. Yank the turtleneck up from behind, then down suddenly over his victim’s head. Smear the hair. And, untuck the shirt’s bottom hem from slacks or skirt.

As the kids scattered, J.R. rocketed toward the Trailwood newbie, and locked onto his royal blue lycra-reinforced rib knit collar. Flat-footed, Charles was no match for J.R.’s intercept speed. Coming from out of the sun with Charles at four o’clock low, J.R. gripped the royal blue lycra-reinforced rib knit collar and yanked. Charles’ head disappeared into the fabric sleeve, and he went down like a steer hooked by a bulldogger.

Still in full stride, J.R. assessed the effect of his blitzkrieg attack. Head and face covered? “Check.” Smeared hair? “High probability.” Shirt untucked? “Negative! I say again, Negative! Wait! What’s this in my hand? Wing Commander, we have a dickie!”

Charles’ mother thought dickies were very practical Michigan winter-wear. But at that moment, as J.R. was joined by a mob of classmate zebras, all gleefully braying, “What the heck? What the heck? Can’t afford a turtleneck?!?” his faith and trust in his mother was severely shaken.

Over the years, he would warily scan the packages under the tree, wondering which of them would reveal the decoyed dickie. He was skilled at locating the soon to offend package. It was always conspicuously light, and silent when shaken. He’d only missed his mark one year, when Sue crocheted a dickie on a ceramic duck ornament hung weeks earlier on the Christmas tree.

As the family members each opened respective gifts, Sue’s mushroom earrings, Dianne’s premium pork rinds, and his camoflaged dickie were inevitably discovered, drawing predictable laughter from all.

The Christmas Charles recived the first dickie, as his stack of opened gifts grew, he slipped the dickie out of sight to be destroyed. Later, when no one was looking, he’d burn it, or toss it in the trash. Given parental mandates in force at that time, concerning the proper use of matches and other incendiaries, burning it wasn’t practical. So, into the trash it went. In fact, it wasn’t buried deeply enough in the trash and so Sue would easily retrieve it. He would receive the same dickie the next year. This time, he’d bury it at the bottom of the trash. Sue would still find it, and he would receive the same dickie again the next year. So, he would hide it in his dresser – back right corner of the sock drawer – never suspecting that his mother was a treasonous double agent. She was, after all, intimately familiar with his dresser drawers, and kept them stocked on laundry day. Next year, same dickie.

The years passed by. Family members aged and passed on. Children were born. Mean-gifting sisters became “beloved Aunties,” and the long-practiced, much refined tradition of mean gift giving seemed to wane.

To this day, however, in anticipation of and at Christmas gatherings, the younger generation still asks for and listens with rapt attention to the pork rind, mushroom and dickie lore secretly hoping at least one package will reveal the famous Christmas Dickie.

Written 12/2008.

Three Equal Parts


My sisters and I had dinner together this past Labor Day Weekend. Sue drove over from Wheaton, and Dianne drove down from Philadelphia. I was a seven-eighths bachelor. The kids – all but Caleb – were scattered out of town. Allie, the “outest” of town, was in Sweden, Chip in Mt. Airy, and both Em and Gin were shepherding Calvin, Gracie and Gifford in Williamsburg. Alice and her mom had traveled to Boston. So, it was a rare quiet weekend at home for me, visiting with Dianne and Sue.

Dianne’s life recently took a complicating turn. She’s been diagnosed with neuro-endocrine cancer and will begin chemo in a week or so. Her diagnosis was the thing of which we all were aware, but about which we were somewhat reluctant to speak. At least I was. Still, it framed the occasion, and for much of the evening, this news channeled the conversation to lighter things. We talked about our jobs, nieces and nephews, the new roof, the gate I’d repaired, my plans to do some edging for flowerbeds. But it had also given a particular culinary purpose to the evening.

These days, barbeque sauce comes out of a bottle with trendy additives: onions, mesquite, Jack Daniels. No real prep. No real gourmet artistry. Just slice the paper seal. Twist off the cap. Squirt it out. Slather it on. Dianne knew her chemotherapy would begin soon. In anticipation of its side effects, and wanting to strike while the appetite was still hot, she phoned with a very simple request. My mission, should I decide to accept it, was to recreate Frank Heidel’s barbeque chicken.

I can remember playing basketball on our Tobin Circle driveway as a junior high and senior high schooler. My neighborhood friends came over and we rammed around, firing jumpers, laying lay-ups, dribbling well with our right hands (not so well with our left hands), fouling each other, and complaining when we were fouled. It was on this driveway where my dad would spot and fire-up the charcoal grill for some delicious chicken. Not infrequently these pick-up hack fests were the sideshow to Frank’s barbeque. “Watch the grill,” he would caution us in a low growl, not sure we were ever really listening. “Yes sir, Mr. Heidel,” was the reflexive answer. Surprisingly, we never knocked over that grill.

To fire up the charcoal, Dad used a large coffee can whose bottom and top were removed. With a traditional can opener, the kind with the pointy curved beak and the small hook that would grip the ridge at the bottom of the bottomless can, Dad poked a series of triangular openings evenly spaced around the very bottom edge of the can. His favorite can opener had a white plastic handle with a screened-on Chevrolet logo, and a red tip. The reengineered coffee can was placed on the bottom grate of the grill. Charcoal would be dumped into the can, and then was dowsed with charcoal lighter fluid. A match was tossed in, and Woof!

Reminds me of a joke – When does a cat sound like a dog? When you dowse it with lighter fluid, toss a lit match at it, and . . . . WOOF! I digress . . .

It was the carefully poked series of bottom side vents around the opening at the bottom of the can that ensured optimal airflow, once the charcoal and lighter fluid were ignited. This “Dad design” put the coals into a glowing red state quickly. With tongs held in an oven mit, he lifted the can. The briquettes found themselves suddenly without walls and tumbled, scattering evenly just inches below the cooking grate which was dropped into place.

The chicken pieces, skin on, were arranged on the grill by rank. Breasts with breasts. Thighs with thighs. Wings with wings. Drumsticks with drumsticks. The barbeque lid was lowered, and they all cooked an initial 15 minutes so as to be heated-through.

While Kraft and others may have perfected their flavor varieties in the lab, trying to home-style-ize their offerings with white lab coated motherly looking spokes-chemists, my dad was not their audience. His recipe for barbeque sauce was simple. Three equal parts Worcestershire sauce, A-1 Steak Sauce, and butter, heated in a pan until the butter was melted and ingredients thoroughly combined.

Poultry parts in formation, Dad would then begin to loooove that chicken. Dipping a pastry brush in the pan of sauce, he began caressing the top side of each piece. The sauce was painted on slowly – more like an anointing. As the elixir clung to the chicken, some dripped on the coals. Tsissssss . . . tsissss . . . tsissss. This was not a sad thing. It was an aromatic thing. A smell locked in my olfactory memory. Seven to ten minutes later, the sauce thickening, the chicken would be carefully turned over, in poultry-rank order. Dad would loooove the chicken some more, completing the base layer. Seven to ten minutes later turning the pieces again and adding another coat — coat after coat — the sauce layers would gradually thicken, turning darker and darker – until it looked like the chicken had been dropped in black ash. I can’t explain it, and probably can’t persuade the uninitiated, but the end product was absolutely, stunningly, counter-intuitively delicious.

We all have rights of passage as adolescent boys. Not uncommonly, one of these is learning to swear. My friends and I had long since passed that right, but we flew nimbly under the parental profanity radar. At home we spoke Ivory Soap. When out of the house, we were excellent swearers. As we rammed around the driveway shooting, dribbling and fouling, the color commentary was nothing less than polyphonic profanity. “He shoots! He swears!”

Dad had gone into the house to get additional barbeque provisions. As I drove the lane, my friend stepped in front of me. I slammed into him, knocking him over. He fell, then got up yelling “Charge!” and angrily shoved me. I shoved him back. He swore at me. I shoved him back again. He swore at me again.

Dad was a bit hard of hearing – wore a Miracle Ear that would whistle occasionally. Once, when we had a garage sale, a man spoke to my dad, inquiring about the price of a bauble. Dad just walked past him and went into the house. The man looked at me, confused. I was watching the money box and explained apologetically that dad was hard of hearing, pointing to my left ear. The man waited until dad came back into the garage. When dad appeared and walked past the man, the man held up the item he wanted and shouted in the direction of dad’s right ear, “How much for this!?” Startled, Dad looked at him like he was crazy. The man looked back where I was sitting, but I wasn’t there anymore.

Just as dad came out of the garage, the argument continued, and I dropped the F-bomb on my friend. Dad may have been hard of hearing, but he heard that. Didn’t like it. His eyes met mine and had me in their tractor beam. Somehow I knew we’d be talking later. Perceiving a teenage conflict had erupted, he growled “Knock it off, you two.” We knocked it off. The game ended. Cagers went home for their dinners. Dad and I talked. Then we ate some chicken.

I approached my cheater gas grill. You see, these days Folger’s coffee cans are plastic. Besides, I can’t find the can opener with the pointy curved beak and the small hook that would grip the ridge at the bottom of the can. Presuming the absence of charcoal and lighter fluid would be excused, I arranged the poultry in ranks as Dad would have, but with skin off (times change). The Worcestershire and A-1 sauces had been married with the butter – three equal parts. All had been heated until the butter was melted, and the ingredients thoroughly combined. I began to loooove that chicken and imagined back to those noisy adolescent driveway basketball games.

About 45 minutes later, I stepped into the kitchen with a platter full of ash covered chicken. Sue and especially Dianne closely scrutinized the pile of poultry parts. You could see the approval spreading gradually across their faces. Then the aroma found them. As we filled our plates at the kitchen island buffet, and then began to eat, all agreed that I had channeled Frank Heidel at the barbeque. The ash covered chicken was absolutely stunningly, counter-intuitively delicious.

In fact, that evening our conversational currents would carry us into the tropic of cancer, but we also shared lots of laughs, most at Dianne’s expense around the Scrabble table. Sue won, having used more than her fair share of triple word score squares. Dianne had a stunning misapprehended double word play. However “not” is not spelled n-t-o. Sue and I considered extending Scrabble dispensation to Dianne, but as her chemo had not begun yet we both agreed – no mercy. Much more laughter. But the best part of the evening was that we ate some chicken.

Written September 2009.

A Thanksgiving Re-Tale


On Thanksgiving day, 2009, they left Atlanta for home.

For two weeks after “graduating” from inpatient therapy, he battled a urinary tract infection with an antibiotic that unleashed his gastrointestinal nemesis, C-Diff, for the umpteenth time. She had traveled to Atlanta for what was to have been a controlled two-week outpatient program with support close-by, during which time they would both experience what it took to live more or less independently. Instead, she was nurse-maid and laundress to a 50-year-old poster child for diarrhea (apologies for the indelicate reference — may not be the last). This condition lasted the better part of those two weeks, at the end of which he was eating only foods that would firm up his bowels. Their endgame was to travel a total of six hours on Thanksgiving Day via airport shuttle, then an Airbus 320, and another airport shuttle — without any “accidents.”

For 72 hours in advance of their trip, for “relaxation” and to gain a little separation from her poster child, she confirmed airport shuttle arrangements, cleaned, laundered, packed, and boxed three month’s worth of clothing, medical / lifestyle supplies, gifts and other belongings. Those things they expected to need were packed in suitcases. Those things that wouldn’t fit in their suitcases were boxed and given to Atlanta-based friends to be shipped back home. In the hour before their airport shuttle arrived, rivaling any Himalayan Sherpa, she hauled all of their suit cases and carry-ons down to the pickup point.

The shuttle arrived on schedule, but the driver was not familiar with the particular lift and restraint system. It took a full 20 minutes to get him situated. The driver was pleasant, and he was a training opportunity. Despite this bumpy beginning, they reached Atlanta’s Hartsfield International Airport in plenty of time to make their flight. They had a wheeled escort through security, who delivered them safely to the departure gate. When it was time to board, two huge Georgia boys lifted him out of his wheelchair, placed him on a very narrow wheelchair, and wheeled him onto the plane. Dianne, his eldest sister, sprang for two first-class tickets, which allowed him to avoid being placed in a cramped three across row. Instead, he was lifted and placed in a very spacious two across arrangement. The flight was very smooth and uneventful. They arrived on time into Baltimore-Washington International Airport where his other sister, Sue, met them. Next-up, a quick shuttle ride home.

The Super Shuttle wheelchair accessible van they had reserved was a no-show. Seems the reservationist who confirmed their reservation for a shuttle on Thanksgiving (reconfirmed two more times prior to their travel day) was juuuuust kidding. After haggling with the Super Shuttle representative for the better part of two hours, Sue was able to arrange for a registered regional airport cabbie to pick them up and take them home. The cabbie was an immensely gracious man who lived in Mount Washington, north of Baltimore city and left his own family’s Thanksgiving dinner when he received their call. A real angel of a guy.

Arriving at home, he was wheeled out the back of the van, and was greeted by all of his children, Dianne, and a Swedish friend (now his son-in-law). Such a greeting. Warm house, familiar decor and furnishings, modifications he’d heard about or only seen in pictures, delicious aromas, hugs, tears. And a lavish and delicious Thanksgiving meal (for a mere crowd of 15) provided by his cousin Carlie.

While she often said how much she longed for both of them to just be back home, both of them thinking the conveniences and familiarity of home would make living this way much easier, in fact things were soon quite hard again. Three hospitalizations in the next three months. Generally frail health. Very taxing physical demands. Nagging infections. Wounds slow to heal. Labyrinthine medical referrals and appointments. Financial uncertainty. Shivering winter cold. Historic snow accumulation. Discouragement, like the snow, seemed to never let up.

The snow did melt, much the way a good Narnian thaw melts discouragement, confounds the bad guys, and infuses vim, vigor and pluck throughout the realm. Their condition began to lighten. His appetite improved. Somewhat hollow cheeks filled out. Arms strengthened. Mobility improved. Wounds healed. Work resumed. Routines requiring her close involvement became easier. as he showed signs of greater independence. Things were looking up.

Mind the Gap, Pops


He sat compactly folded in his wheelchair on the Greenbelt Metro platform — his joints rigidly articulated at knee and hip. Though seated, it was clear, were he a literal, fully-unfolded pedestrian, he would stand six feet plus. It had threatened rain earlier but was still just dry and overcast. “So far, so good,” he thought. He was hunched slightly forward, and his arms hung loosely placing his hands just below the rear wheel hubs. He wore odd looking bright red fingerless gloves made of leather with an inlay of some “secret-sauce” material on each palm. This material, when dry and pressed against the plastic that coated the chair’s outermost push-rims, would grip and not let go. When wet, the glove-rim reaction was Slick-50, but on a dry day, the wonders of shear-friction took over where his hands — which had no real grip strength — left off. His fingers were along for the ride, but of no real help. Still, with his bright red fingerless secret-sauce friction gloves, he was able to get around.

He could often be seen striking up conversation with an exotically tattooed and pierced part-time University of Maryland student who usually brought her bicycle aboard. Bicycles, actually. Sometimes she’d bring a sleek thoroughbred Specialized Roubaix road bike. Other times a sturdy quarter horse Felt cyclocross. This morning’s pedaled steed was a lime-green-framed “fixie” with liberally applied Florida Gator orange and blue accents. Its front rim was orange. Its rear rim was blue. Spokes were white. Tires were yellow. Shear understatement. She worked for Washington Express as a bike courier, and during her workday could be found executing perfectly balanced track-stands at many a DC intersection, waiting for the light to change or for bombastic drivers (who seldom seem to change) to clear out. Her name was Delia Spinoza, and they’d first become acquainted when he complimented her on her choice of frame accents years earlier. Each asked about the other’s origins, line of work, families, etc., and she was shocked upon first learning he had eight children – apparently, her ecological sensibilities had been offended. He calmly told her to relax, because they recycled, only bathed twice a month, and had solar panels on their roof. Later on, they both began turning up regularly for the area cycling club’s Wednesday evening group rides, and predictably Delia would take pleasure pointing him out to newcomers as “’Pops’ who has eight kids.” He loved thinking back on those days. April through September, 50-60 riders of all ages, shapes, and sizes, 30-40 miles depending on daylight. Leaving together from the Marriott parking lot, the large group (peloton) would soon split into a half-dozen smaller bicycle-trains known as pace lines, each pace line maintaining average speeds of 20+ miles per hour thanks to that magical 30+/- percent energy-efficiency boost from drafting. Each rider was expected to take his or her turn “pulling” at the front before “drafting” behind. He loved and could still “hear” the distinct siren whirrrrrrrr of properly lubricated spinning and enmeshed chain rings, chains and rear clusters. Wednesday regulars became known for their pace line utility. Delia was pixie-like  and could zip up hills. He was a 225-pounder who could rocket downhill, and motor full-bore on flats for miles. “Hammerheads” were seriously fast, raced competitively, could do it all, and were bitterly envied for it.

Their first meeting on the Greenbelt Metro platform in over a year and a half was warm. Delia’s confusion upon observing Pops was now riding a wheelchair was cleared away, albeit sadly, upon learning he’d been hit by a motorist, suffering complete paralysis below the chest. Speaking of pedaled steeds, his “Old Paint,” a smashed up Specialized Allez Elite, still hung on a garage wall bracket. He planned one day to strip it of any parts or accessories others could use. He’d already peeled away a few parts that now occupied prominent spots as desktop memoir-paperweights. Other parts yet to be harvested might ride again, once gifted to former pace line cronies, but he half expected there’d be no takers due to “bad mojo.” Since that reunion, no longer in the peloton, he appreciated their platform discussions more and more. Each looked forward to speaking bike, and she offered up the latest cycling club gossip. Desperately wishing he was back there, talking about there provided surprising solace.

This particular morning and hour, the platform crush was not too severe. He had attempted earlier subway commutes, but at those times, platforms were not just full. They were seething mosh pits of impatient, nervous, moody, hostile (late) metro-suburbanites whose erectly-postured, tunnel visioned lines of sight were easily a foot and a half above his head. His cruising altitude was 55 now inches — and quite below their radar. He’d been walked into, stepped on, tripped over, and profanely greeted (an added bonus) enough times to persuade him that non-prime-time commuting was the trick. Even so, wheelchair commuting was a daily slog. Boarding and exiting subway cars was precarious at best. Time being “of the essence,” he would have to quickly move through the opening of subway doors that remained open for too brief durations, flanked both sides by impatient pedestrian boarders, while battling the contra-current of equally impatient off-loaders afoot. Waiting anxiously at each subway line exchange, he would jockey to a spot he hoped would be dead-center in front of the subway doors. As the subway pulled in, his face took on an intensely competitive expression. His daughter had once been an adrenaline-amped elite gymnast. She would stare down the runway at the “horse,” before sprinting and stomping precisely on the spring board, taking flight, careening off the horse, twisting and spinning in space, and sticking her landing. As the subway doors opened he began his sprint. Picking up speed, bent slightly forward at the waist, when just inches in front of the platform-doorway gap, he abruptly and with an additional burst of strength pushed his rear wheels down and forward. Timed well, at speed, and with proper  “gap-minding” technique, his wheelchair’s front casters would rise and sail over the gap, and the rest of the chair behind and hauling him would bump aboard.

The same intense, time compressed anxiety would be replayed each time he exited the train. Perhaps to an even higher degree. On his first attempt at subway wheelchair commuting, his hands in an atrophied condition, when popping over the gap, his size 12 wedding band slipped off his size 10 ring finger and bounced ding-ding-dingingly away down the platform. He couldn’t see it. He could only sit and listen as its ding-ding-dinging grew ever more faint. Hope revived when a stranger stepped in front of him and asked with startling disinterest, “This yours?”

Over time, awash in a sea of adaptive challenges, he’d come to be a more confident wheelchair commuter. Technique and timing were honed and more instinctive. Entering subway cars from approximately the same platform spot each time had proven helpful as well. He usually posted-up near the front of the train where the operator would see him when craning his head out the side window (no doubt looking for flailing limbs caught between closed subway doors). Turned out a lot of commuters post themselves at favorite spots. It seemed many “regulars” had lost their appetites for the mosh pit, were far less hostile, had re-calibrated their sight line radars to capture 55-inch high rolling “bogies,” and increasingly were overtly helpful. His and their familiarity engendered something akin to community, and in an odd way, he was beginning to enjoy the ride again.