Sunday, March 29, 2015

Imaginary Lines

Some people will tell you that they always have music playing in the background.  Whether they are commuting to work with an ipod and headphones or doing things around the house with a CD playing, they will always be listening to music.  Some people tell you that as they get ready to leave their home in the morning, and when they return later in the day, they will always have the radio tuned to public radio.  I am neither.  Though I like music, and I like public radio, I hardly ever listen to either.  With the later, when I donated my car in 2009, I almost completely eliminated radio from my life.  The only time I'd ever listen was when I drove around town.

Nowadays, if I listen to either the radio or to music, it's only if I've rented a car.  Last weekend, my wife and I rented a car for a trip to Wisconsin.  On the trip to and from Chicago, we listened to public radio.  It was probably the first time I listened to public radio since the last time we rented a car, over Thanksgiving Break in 2014.  On Sunday, on the way back from Wisconsin, we listened to This American Life, the hour long program that is broadcast on hundreds of stations across the country.  Last week's episode, episode number 551 of the program, was called "Good Guys."  One segment within the episode resonated strongly with me.  A comedian named Mike Birbiglia shared a story about riding the bus in New York.  Besides Birbiglia, there was just one other passenger on the bus. At some point, an attractive woman boards the bus  Birbiglia looks at the woman, then quickly forces his gaze down to his feet to avoid staring at her.  However, the other passenger openly gawks at the woman.  The other man makes no attempt to shield his stare.  In the segment, which is a comedy bit, Birbiglia asserts that the difference between himself and the other passenger is a line that separates acceptable behavior from creepy behavior.

As a dwarf, I get stared at a lot.  That's why the "This American Life" story resonated with me.  Though I'd like to think that I share some kind of bond with attractive people who suffer through the stares of others, there are significant differences between the stares generated by dwarfs, even attractive dwarfs, and those generated by attractive people in general.  The differences aren't just about the motivation behind a stare.  There is also a difference within the consequences of those who stare. In his routine, Birbiglia looked away from the woman because he knew it was wrong to stare.  He talked about the dividing line between acceptable behavior and creepy behavior.  In my opinion, that line exists because attractive people are held in more esteem than others.  They hold power over others.  With dwarfs, that line doesn't exist, at least not to the same extent as it does with attractive people.  If it does exist, it exists in a space that is farther away from acceptable behavior, which allows the average person to stare much longer before crossing over the line of creepiness or rudeness.  Dwarfs do not hold the same esteem as the average person.  No matter economic or social class, must any average stature person assumes he or she has power over a dwarf, which gives the average stature person justification to stare without crossing the imaginary line about which Birbiglia joked.

That's the best thing about radio, public radio in particular.  It's full of programming that makes one think.  Whether or not what I have to say makes any sense, I recommend the "Good Guys" episode on "This American Life." There are plenty of good segments on it. Some are funny. Some are sad.  Each is thoughtful.

Saturday, March 14, 2015

No luck and no holiday spirit

Today is Saturday, March 14.  Officially, St. Patrick's Day is not until Tuesday, but Chicago is celebrating today.  This morning thousands lined the river along Wacker Drive and Michigan Avenue for the moment when the City ceremonially dyes the Chicago River Green. At noon, the annual St. Patrick's Day Parade stepped off from Balbo and Columbus Drive.  Following the parade, the crowds fanned out across downtown Chicago, filling the bars to the point they bubble over with people.  Outside of the bars, large groups of people dressed in green and white, wearing green and purple beads draped over their necks, with four leaf clover decals painted on their faces, tramp up and down the sidewalks, occasionally bursting into chants or songs.

I am an introvert.  Even if the Chicago Cubs won the World Series I would never venture out in the midst of a celebration that included thousands, if not millions, of strangers who had been drinking alcohol since not long after sunrise.  With St. Patrick's Day though, I find other excuses, besides introversion, to lay low during the holiday.  While some little people use the holiday as an opportunity to make money, wearing a Leprechaun outfit to earn a paycheck, other little people feel uncomfortable with the holiday revelers.  Some believe, within large crowds full of intoxicated people, a loose link is established between the traditional Leprechaun and any random little person, inspiring some within the crowd of intoxicated people to approach, handle or taunt an unsuspecting little person who may find themselves out and about on St. Patrick's Day.  For those who want nothing to do with drunk strangers, this creates a hostile environment worthy of staying inside all day long.

Several years ago, when I worked as the Vice President of Public Relations for Little People of America, the Huffington Post would reach out to me around the time of St. Patrick's Day.  The reporters, running with the idea that St. Patrick's Day was an uncomfortable day for many little people, would ask me for my comment on what they were framing as a "Day of Mourning" for little people.  After one or two of those media inquiries, the stories got old.  Day of Mourning is a little dramatic.  Perhaps some little people do get harassed within large crowds on St. Patrick's Day.  The harassment is unacceptable but (since I brought the Cubs up once already) it's probably no different than Wrigleyville after a Chicago Cubs night game.  Also, I realized a while back that my aversion to St. Patrick's Day has more to do with my personality than any connection between St. Patrick's Day and the harassment of little people.  There are plenty of little people, even those who don't make money in a Leprechaun costume, that enjoy St. Patrick's Day.

This afternoon, around 2:30 p.m., I decided to go outside.  I was in search of a pair of shoes I'd found at Burlington Coat Factory store on State Street several months earlier.  In a way, I also was curious.  I was curious how drunk people wearing green would react to me.  I wanted to see if I am ultra sensitive to crowds on St. Patrick's Day, or more so than on any other day.

The streets were busier than I thought they'd be.  I mistakenly thought the parade started early in the morning, not at noon. I thought that by mid afternoon the crowds would have thinned out.  But the crowds were thick, especially at intersections.  As groups waited at a street corner for a light to turn green, people piled up behind them, to the point that it looked as if people would burst out into oncoming traffic.

On my way to the shoe store, I maneuvered through many large groups of people.  Some people probably stared, some may have made comments to their friends, a few may have taken a picture.  But again, that could happen on any day in the life of a little person.  Only one person tried to make physical contact with  me.  As he and I crossed paths, walking in opposite directions, he held out his hand, hoping I would slap his as I walked passed.

All in all, despite large, annoying crowds, it wasn't bad.  I wasn't able to find the pair of shoes for which I was searching, but I am glad I went outside, if only to prove to myself that St. Patrick's Day isn't really so bad, and this "Day of Mourning," if I ever bought into it, may just be in my head.