365. A Conversation Piece

Living alone has its drawbacks, but for me, one of its blessings is that I can be who I want to be. Being disabled makes that even more feasible. Alone, I don’t seriously embarrass people by being noticed in public. And disabled, I don’t elicit disapproving looks from strangers who think I should act my age. Actually, I do act my age, which, at the time of this writing, is forty-eight. But I may not act like the forty-eight-year-
old some people have in mind.
A few weeks ago, I was taking a bus to the center of Amherst. There was a toddler throwing a little temper tantrum in the front of the bus, and since toddlers, unlike their parents, don’t worry so much about their public images,
the toddler had power. But luckily for the mother, there was a guy in the back of the bus who didn’t have to worry much about his public image, or didn’t think singing loud on a bus would hurt it. I was on my electric scooter (itself a potential conversation piece), and I started singing a song about what was going on.
The song was not one of my best – certainly won’t climb the charts. The lyrics went something like this: “There’s a guy in the back of the bus, sitting on a funny-looking thing. I don’t understand why, but he’s starting to sing. I don’t think I have a chance to understand why. But everyone’s looking at him, so I’m not gonna cry.” The tune was even less memorable than the lyrics, but I encouraged those who were willing to sing along with me, and a few passengers did. The child was intrigued, and the temper tantrum stopped. The mother gave me a relieved and grateful look. And as far as I know, nobody was embarrassed.
Some of the inhibitions we learn as we go through life are quite practical. Some are considerate. Some of the people who know me have occasionally been in situations wherein they’ve tried to pretend they didn’t; it took me years to learn that it’s inconsiderate to be conspicuous when you’re in the company of people who would rather not be so conspicuous.
Having succeeded at getting passengers to sing along, and having been thanked by the mother of the toddler several days later, I’m enjoying my new role. I carry some props with me now, so that if I’m having coffee in a cafe when a child near me starts to act up, I can quietly take out my toy frog or puppet and be something for the child to think about. Children don’t misbehave at playgrounds as much as they do in more adult-oriented settings, because there’s other stuff for them to do. In fact, I’ve sometimes seen adults who haven’t seemed to know how to behave in a playground. In my role as a conversation piece, or at least as a distraction, I make cafes a little more child-friendly.
Most of you don’t have the freedom to be conspicuous whenever you feel like it, and many of you rarely feel like it anyway. But I thought you’d enjoy hearing about this niche I’ve found in the little paradise called Amherst.

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