Sirenita Lake

Sirenita Lake
San Francisco, California,
November 04
I am married in a committed, open relationship that is the anchor of my life. I'm a former high school English teacher, former software technical writer, and graduate of the late, great public interest law school, New College of California School of Law. I'm now on permanent disability from conditions that have finally eased up enough for me to begin exploring the world, at least that part which I can access emotionally, with the recklessness of a teenager. An important part of my life remains my work as a counselor for tenants with legal problems. The rest of the time, I indulge in outrageous adventures in sex and love, which I occasionally write about.


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OCTOBER 9, 2009 1:14PM

Handicapped Parking

Rate: 127 Flag

The angry man was waiting for me as I parked my car in front of my physical therapist’s office building. He was pissed because I had honked at him. He had been having an argument with his teenage son in the crosswalk of a busy thoroughfare, and the kid bolted to the opposite side of the street. The older guy started to follow more slowly, right into oncoming traffic. I tapped my horn. He stood in front of my car, mouthing angry words and waving his arms, forcing traffic to a halt in my lane.

He finally gave up and stepped out of the street. I wasn’t going far, just a few feet to the parking lot of my physical therapist’s building. When he saw where I was going, he stalked after me and stood waiting while I parked in the convenient handicapped parking space and hung my placard with the icon of a wheelchair on the mirror. He was spoiling for a fight, and as the real source of his annoyance had taken to his heels, I would do.

He blocked my path. “Who the hell do think you're honking at?” he demanded.

“It looked like you were about to step into oncoming traffic, so I tried to warn you,” I said as tolerantly as possible. This guy as the hapless father of a rebellious son and I felt no need to put him down for his foolish behavior in the street.

The guy looked frustrated. The argument was not developing satisfactorily. He said the meanest, most irrelevant thing he could think of. “You’re not even disabled! You probably borrowed that placard!”

I replied with the look that used to quell a classroom full of rowdy teenagers, the one that was a study in demonic possession, the change from bland to evil was so startling. He turned and fled.

I don’t know what I would have said to him if he had stayed.

“Not every person with a disability has a wheelchair, regardless of the picture on the placard. I have arthritis in my hips and knees. I have degenerative disc disease. My spine is deformed and without discs, every step on cement hurts. That’s why I have a placard.”

No way was I sharing my medical problems with an asshole. Nor with the rest of the population of San Francisco, some of whom, no doubt, also believed I borrowed the placard. I practice not caring what other people think. One day, I’ll be really good at it.

I went to the doctor yesterday. In the handicapped zone, a guy was sitting in his car. He did not have a placard. I pulled in behind him, assuming he had dropped someone off and was leaving. He didn’t, so I drove up next to him and asked if he was going soon.

“No!” he replied, in a tone that said, “What are you, stupid?”

I was shocked at his rudeness in hogging the parking spot. It showed on my face.

“Do you have a handicapped placard?” he sneered.

“Yes!” My tone implied, “What are you, stupid?”

“Lemme see it!”

I showed him the damn placard, and he had the grace not to question my credentials, but explained that some people pretended to be handicapped. Did that make sense? He didn’t have any right to be there himself.

I hate it. I hate having a disability. I hate having constraints. I hate not being able to do things that I love. I used to lift weights. I used to dance in our Carnaval and Cinco de Mayo parades. I learned to ride horses at 49. There wasn't anything I couldn't do, other than hit a ball with a stick, but I could live with that.

I can’t stand for more than 10 minutes without the possibility of sudden pain so severe that I can’t walk. That means I can’t do my own errands. I was a world-class shopper, but now I can’t wander and look at things in a store. Shopping for groceries with my husband the other day, I got hit by the pain and had to sit on the floor while he went back to the car to fetch my cane. Leaning on the cane, with my husband holding me up, I was able to get out of there.

I don’t go to galleries and museums. I don’t go to anything with a line, unless I know I can find somewhere to sit while someone else holds my place in line. I have yet to try flying, but flying is about standing in line. I pass on most parties, because while my friends have chairs, I don’t want to sit in one waiting for people to come to me. What if they don’t?

I exercised for years and I’m still in good shape, although my torso shows the signs of my spinal deformity in the form of love handles created by the collapse of my lumbar spine. I make myself stand up straight (most of the time), suck in the gut and walk gracefully, if slowly. I try not to bend forward from the waist, the hallmark of a bad spine.

There are still things I can do. They confuse me and make me feel not disabled and, by extension, not deserving of my placard. I can walk for a couple of hours on hiking trails because dirt doesn’t transmit the same shock as concrete. I have no trouble with hills or stairs. I can dance for longer than I can stand because my knees stay bent. I can swim. I can have sex. Now there’s something I don’t want the other drivers to know about. Sex and parking? Nobody deserves that.

Having a bad back is a continual embarrassment. If I’m not collapsing in a store, I’m pissing off somebody who thinks I look fine. I don’t look like someone who has to sit down right now. I have an absurd inner conflict. I try not to look disabled, but  sometimes I need concessions. I hate announcing my disability or asking for help. I’m hyper-aware of looking odd because my disability is not obvious. It’s almost a relief when my back gets so bad that I need a cane. “There, see, I have an old lady cane,” I say mentally to those appraising competitors for parking spaces who think I’m cheating with my placard.

The cane is a passport. I’ve learned to appreciate its power to legitimize my parking placard and excuse my gimpy behavior. I got the cane from my aunt years ago when I tore my ACL. My husband and I had a vacation planned and didn’t want to cancel it, so I borrowed the cane and we took a plane to New York.

Flying with a cane is tough. As I was going through airport security, the guard snatched the cane from my hand and sent it down the conveyor belt. As an afterthought, she asked, “You didn’t need that, did you?”

“No,” I mumbled, painfully limping through the metal detector. I didn’t add “it’s a fashion statement” because those guys are cranky.

On the airplane, the attendant again took my cane. “I’ll just put that away for you during the flight,” as though I would have no need to stand between San Francisco and New York. The flight attendant reckoned without my bladder. Halfway through the flight, I got up to use the rest room. On the way back, the seat belt light came on. We hit sudden, horrendous turbulence and the plane bucked like a pissed off horse. The flight attendants fled to their seats and left the drinks tray blocking the aisle between me and my seat. And me without my cane. After the initial shock of pain, I rode out the turmoil on one leg, like a loopy one-legged surfer. Without a cane in my hand, no one realized that I was injured.

That trip was a lesson in the value of the cane for explaining what I’d rather not, heartless airline staff notwithstanding. I was determined to enjoy New York. As a concession to my injured status, we took a lot of cabs, but back then, before I became generally discouraged, I was willing to venture some risky activities. Once we even decided to take the subway. We climbed into a full car. The only seat available was the front bench, the one with the sign that says to let the elderly and disabled have the seat. Sprawled in the middle of it, taking up the whole thing, was a teenager in full thug regalia, a rag knotted around his head and a look of bored and contemptuous abstraction on his face.

Kids don’t scare me. I was a teacher. I scare them. I went up to the kid and said, “Could I slide in next to you?”

He swung his head around and his eyes widened at the cane. He jumped up. “I’m sorry, ma’am. Please, you sit down.” In the years since I have become a government-certified gimp, I have never seen a clearer example of the power of the cane. Folks don’t believe the placard, but they believe the cane.

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Shaking my cane at the feed...
you are awesome! I can picture "the stare".
glad to finally see a Sirenita post. too few and far between
It sucks that we live in a society of intolerance and complete strangers either challenge you or give no consideration at all.
When did people (in general) become so callous?
You describe the experience of many. I wish the "stare" worked every time! It started a jokes about getting the best parking spaces and morphed into YOU DON'T DESERVE IT as if we were stealing prime real estate. I try to use spaces close to the blue markers so those with greater mobility problems can have the space, sometimes I can't. I have to drive (or just sit and wait) around the hospital parking lot for 30 minutes when I go to the PT. There is construction going on so there are twenty spaces once reserved, that are now gone. No plan to put in replacement spaces close to the door.
Flying is pretty tough, too. There was always the question if I could walk through the scanner without my cane. Just pull me the fuck out, wand me and frisk me. It's better than falling and getting hurt even worse.
Rated for damn right!
"Sex and parking? Nobody deserves that. "

serenita you're always such a pleasure to read...
Well, trig, who was bugging me to post something, huh?

spotted, what I want to know is when did we become so presumptuous that we think we know everybody's story on first glance? Whether it's the disabled parking, or somebody's kid crying, or a scary looking teenager, we do not reserve judgment.

dolores, thanks for coming by, buddy.

Rainee, what's more, there really aren't even that many handicapped parking spots. In San Francisco, most neighborhoods don't have them. University of California Medical Center has about 6 spaces out of dozens on a floor of the parking lot. It's a freaking hospital!
My wife is disabled. When we were married twenty five years ago at the age of twenty-three, she didn't need a cane. The next step was a walker, and now she uses an electric scooter. We bought a mini-van with hand controls for the brakes and throttle, and an automatic side door which releases a ramp. She drives alone every day, and she can shop or visit museums or participate in most any other activity that doesn't involve standing.

I mention this only because the scooter and the van have given her freedom. They weren't cheap, but how does one put a price on freedoom ?
One time I had a parking enforcement officer write me a ticket for parking in a handi-capped space. He said I needed a placard to park there. I pointed out the fact I had handi-capped license plates on the car. He pointed out the sign said that placards were required and wrote me a $400.00 ticket that was thrown out in court by a judge that just couldn't believe how stupid the officer was.
"Presumptuous". Yes. Exactly.
Maddox, you make a good point. I've just gotten used to the cane. I have a ridiculous conflict with my self-image as someone who is tough and athletic. I'm still in the denial phase, but I have a friend with a collapsible scooter and it certainly gives her mobility.

Ric, jesus, just...jesus. What do you bust a guy like that down to, since he's already in Traffic. Records, I guess.
You should use that cane to knock some manners into some of those Cretans. (Is that the right use and spelling of Cretan? I forget) I'd like to drag all of the ass hats that park in Handicap parking out of their cars, but you just can't teach them all. Why would anyone that isn't in need, park in one of those spots? And why would anyone have to justify there need for that spot? I just don't get some people.
My mother is 80 and has had a quadruple and many other ailments over the year. Two years ago she was returning to her car from Foodtown when a cop was giving her a ticket. She had forgotten her Placard and didn't have it with her. (when she feels she can walk more she parks farther from the store, but that is rare these days) The cop gave her a ticket anyway! She had to go to court and pay only court costs, but WTF was the matter with that cop? Same shit. Just another rude asshole. (she has since gotten the license plate)
I know that there are some really lowlife's that get fake Placards and they are the worst of the worst, but I doubt they are more than a spattering of the folks that have and need their cards. I just hate bullies of any kind.

"I practice not caring what other people think. One day, I’ll be really good at it."

Hehehe. Keep that cane handy and don't be afraid to use it!
i bow now and thank them for their teaching. life is too short to waste on fools. it turns the look on their face into a gift.
I will, Michael, although I'm getting around pretty good for simple stuff without it. We do have a self-righteous streak in our culture. And using a fake placard is akin to stealing from widows and orphans.

I"m off for an hour to get physical therapized. Maybe he can do something about my headache. I get some fearsome ones from back and neck tension, plus a head injury I had at 26. A story for another time--how my penchant for risk ended up with my head smashing into a windshield.
I'm sorry about the fools in the world, but I gotta say, I admire your attitude - including asking the "scary" teenager if he'd share the seat. I think, if it were me, I'd carry the cane always - just in case.
From one gimp to another, I understand. I often imagine my cane to be a weapon of choice on the ignorant and compassionless bastards of this world. ~R~
I have a friend with chronic fatigue syndrome. She doesn't need a cane, but walking for more than 2 minutes can tire her and 5 minutes can knock her out for a day.

She really needs her handicapped sticker, but she looks perfectly fit and able bodied.

My father has a collapsable traveling cane. He has no problems with it on airplanes. Of course, he's silver-haired, in his 80s and has trouble standing straight, so he looks like someone who really needs the cane.

One look at him and the cane and the docents at the museums in Moscow switched from snarl-at-the-tourist mode to ushering us to the staff-only elevator so he didn't have to walk up the stairs.
Ben Sen, good advice. It's a waste of time to care what fools think, and yet caring about people's attitudes seems to be hardwired. Maybe it's a survival thing.

Owl, I'm carrying the cane a lot more these days. One alternative is one of those back braces. I ordered one, hoping it gives me a wasp waist.

Chuck, let's form an army of cane-carrying avengers.

Malusinka, there's a perfect example of someone who has a hidden disability and demonstrates why people should withhold judgment. I should look into the collapsible cane. Would be great to have it go into a purse or something and have a hand free.
You have such a great attitude, being a little pissed helps I think. You are still one tough cookie, you were just dealt a bad hand and there is no need to be embarassed about that. I'm sorry about all the stupid people, can't believe there are so many of them.
In all honesty, I do look twice sometimes at the people getting out of the cars in the disabled parking and wonder if they really need to be there. I'll remember this post next time that thought crosses my mind and find compassion before I assume the worst. As for the cane - my grandpa died and left a collection of about 30 of them from around the world. We loved to choose the one that best matched his outfit. A totally functional fashion statement!
Oh Sirenita, thank you so much for this excellent detailing of what it is like to live with some form of back problems. I too have osteoarthritis and I've about used my cane on idiots who think they need to go faster than I can and almost knock me over. I have had two total knee replacements but, as you said, endurance and strength in walking for more than about 15 minutes and send one skyrocketing! Wishing you the best.
oh god, i've missed you, girl. you write most of us under the bus, so to speak. you are fabulous. i know that Stare. i give that Stare more than i would like to have to. i love you, sweetheart. oh, and you know that i know the not being able to stand in line, etc. shit. i'm tired and out of it today but how was new york? when did you go? and what did you see? i'll read this again later and give good comment then. love love love and gratitude and please PM me. if you have free long distance, the people who are calling me are saying that i'm faublous via Voice too. :)
you're a plucky lass, Chris, but what a pain (literally)

your experience with the teenager in full thug regalia is a reminder that a lot of these youngsters are just putting on the style, scratch the surface and you often find the sweet kids hungry for approval
shit, it just came to me!!!! you need a fucking service dog to lean on and they can go on planes, girl. seirously. yes, they poop and shed, but unconditional love is priceless. the info is all at i know i know, you don't want this. i know. just had to put it out there. your doctor can write you a prescription. okay, i love you and just want you tohave the best life possible as i do with all of my good friends. shutting up now.
I empathise completely. My husband suffers from arthritis and has a hip replacement. He also has a disabled parking badge and similar things have happened as to you, because people cannot see his pain.

We were teachers too so aren't scared of kids or speaking up for ourselves, but what sort of a world is it where people only acknowledge what they see and cannot hink beyond that. A sad one indeed.
Ariana, so good to see you. Yes, there are stupid people everywhere. I'm not critical of the ones who keep their doubts to themselves, but picking a fight over my placard? Where's the cane when you need it?

Mamoore, I would love to see your granddad's collection of canes. I really need to get something other than the wooden one from my aunt, but it really fits my hand. I saw some cool canes on that trip to NY on the Upper East Side. Lucite, very arty.

Patie, bless your heart, two knee replacements? Wow. I've had one hip, but the hip is considered easier. My brother-in-law got a gag gift some years ago, a cane with a flashing red light. Wouldn't mind having that now.

Teddy, yes, I finally overcame my writing constipation and shit out a post. I gave myself performance anxiety thinking I have to write steamy blockbusters each time. Re: service dogs. Nothing would be more delightful, but I doubt the cats would approve, especially Miracle I, the Feline Pope in Exile, known to his friends as Milagrito, the blogging cat. He would say something very, very sharp if I got a dog.

Roy, that is exactly what I think about the scary looking kids. They're kids first, and they want adult attention and approval.
Hey, girl! I wouldn't want to tangle with you shaking a cane and giving that look that could kill!
My daughter said to me on Wednesday "Sometimes I just hate people." She was kidding, of course, but the part that gets me is what inconsiderate, callous people sometimes cause me to become.
Do they make handicapped tags for motorcycles?
Have fun!
Linda, your husband and I have a lot in common then. I had a hip replacement, too. Yes, people are quick to judge on appearances. I wish I were one of those people who didn't care what others think, but I have to admit I'm not. As Ben Sen said earlier in this thread, dealing with the projections is practice in being in the world.
Mark, the fools need to learn.

Sharon, I think they do. I heard about someone who was disabled and rode. I mean, they make those scooters for gimps, right? A motorcycle is actually more comfortable than a car in some ways. I wondered how I was going to hang my placard from my fantasy motorcycle ;-)
I went out with a guy once who when we went to pick up dinner put his moms placard on the mirror and laughed...last date. Now my husband has a placard for his truck and I have the license plate. He can't walk far at all and always uses a cane. My kids once asked why I don't park my truck in the zone without their dad with me and we had a long talk.
I'm sorry people are so quick to judge.
oh, shit, i forgot about the kitties. and i'm so glad that you shit out some writing. they might do fine with a puppy, love. my cats accepted Willa pretty well. i had 4 cats. she was old and docile. no wait, an older patient dog would work. serioiusly. and you would be doing such a service, love. the adult dogs never get adopted. not like the puppies. shit, i wish i could fly down there. check out Canine Companions for Independence, there website. and go on Petfinders and search for exactly what you might want, in your area, breed, etc. that's how i found the wonderpups.

fuck those cats. I LOVE CATS. so i can say that. this would make your life so great. and you meet the best people. the animal lovers. i know this could work. i just know it. you remember? how i know stuff? sorry, im' a huge nag. but, no, i'm not sorry.
Lunchlady, my husband is the same way. He won't even put the placard on if he's picking me up somewhere but he's alone in the car at the time. There's is definitely something very unappealing about a healthy guy who uses a handicapped placard for his own convenience.

Teddy, you're so sweet. The cats do their job, although they can't go anywhere with me. There are very attached to me. Sometimes when I sit in front of the computer I end up with one on my shoulder and one on my lap. They are very demonstrative cats and sooth my heart.
Sirenita, I'm sorry that you're in so much pain. Posts like these are great as a wake up call to all of us that judging people can be hurtful. Thanks for writing it.
This just goes to prove the old saying, "cane and disabled".
This post makes me dislike many people for many reasons. You mentioned most of them.
a great post
my husband is a polio survivor
"I don’t go to anything with a line, unless I know I can find somewhere to sit while someone else holds my place in line."

I have the same problem. Can walk for a couple of miles, but standing means death to smoochy.

In 3 1/2 years, I have never had anyone give me a hard time over my handicapped placard. Actually, people have been very kind. Maybe I look too ready to nuke someone.

The cane is good for hooking the stuff on the high shelves in the grocery store. I let other short people use it, too!
Natalie, thanks for reading. The pain is not all the time, thank god. It doesn't define my life -- not yet.

O'Really, that was positively biblical.

Kathy, wow. That's very difficult. I hope he is still mobile. Polio hits people so many different ways. I knew a woman who was a polio survivor and had the use of her legs most of her life but we becoming disabled in her 50s. Before I met her, I had no idea people did not recover completely.
Zuma, they know better than to mess with you. Isn't it odd about the standing? It's not that unusual. Something about standing and letting gravity work as opposed to moving is hell on your back. There are lots of uses for a cane ;-)
"I practice not caring what other people think. One day, I’ll be really good at it."

Likewise, but then I don't have to deal with assholes who think I don't deserve a handicap spot. And like Trig, I'm picturing your evil stare. I've never been able to pull that one off; I just look like I'm squinting.
I do, sometimes, look twice at people parking in the spots - primarily because there was that huge scandal here in LA where a bunch of unscrupulous chiropractors were selling them to people who didn't need them - like students at UCLA who didn't want to have walk so far to get to their classes. So, sometimes I look twice.

My husband teaches a form in martial arts that uses a cane as a weapon - so I consider you armed and dangerous ;)
Surly, those kids and their chiropractors should be sentenced to walking 5 miles a day. Maybe your husband can teach me a few moves.

Nana, sometimes a squint can be deadly. It has to be combined with an avid, psychopathic expression that says "I want to eat your liver."
I'm sorry for the pain you are going through, both physical and emotional. I'm sorry for the rudeness and ignornance of others. I've never been rude to those with handicaps, but I have been ignorant. You taught me a lesson. Thank you.
Elena, we are a judgmental culture. Maybe it's a puritan thing. The benefit of the doubt is not the first thing people think of. Thank you for your good thoughts.

patricia, thanks, and don't we learn a lot of stuff here on OS? Reading about people who have worse disabilities and pain that intrudes on their consciousness all day long makes me feel grateful that I'm lucky in many ways.
Heart rending, and beautifully written. I can't imagine your pain, but admire that you live your life as fully as you can with the limitations your body has imposed. Your wonderful mind, talent and fearsome cane make you a force to be reckoned with. Thank you.
Oh Sirenita I feel your pain. On occasion, I've felt it literally. Fortunately, my back/hip issues come and go, but I have a cane for travel because yes indeed it's a passport.

And I have noticed it's always the people who have NO business in handicapped parking spaces who are always questioning the placard. I've periodically had temporary placards (after surgeries) and I can't believe how people come over to study them and look carefully at me because I'm not unloading a wheelchair. Unbelievable.
PS - what a brilliant response to the man yelling at you. What a quick mind you have!
What a wonderful post. I went through years witnessing the same sort of insensitive and rude people when my husband began to use a placard. He hated it, and if it were not for me being the one who had to get the wheelchair out etc. he would have parked anywhere else to avoid those ignoramuses.

People would do well to remember they too may be in this position, sooner than they think. Compassion and understanding that not every disability is visible. Be well dear, keep the cane handy!

"I replied with the look that used to quell a classroom full of rowdy teenagers, the one that was a study in demonic possession, the change from bland to evil was so startling."

I love that you have this weapon!

What a lot of assholes you encounter, from those who challenge your placard to those who have no shame about using handicap parking when they have no right. There is a huge lack of civility common these days.

I'm amazed at "the power of the can", but I certainly understand why you don't want to use it if you don't absolutely have to.
Sirenita, I feel so very identified with you on this post. I also have a degenerative thing, "arthrosis" in my knees and shoulders. I also look fitter than I really am, and I have also stopped doing many things I loved, like treking (my passion), walking, riding my bike (how I miss that!), etc. And I am also a teacher with lots of experience with teenagers, and have acquired the deadly expression, LOL!
Sex and parking, hehe, you are my idol!
You have my compassion and admiration. :)
You need to get one of those canes with a sword hidden inside it. Whip out a couple feet of cold steel next time someone asks you if you really deserve that parking spot and watch how respectful the cretin will get.
I like Ben Sen's approach. Not giving these angry, entitled people the reaction they're expecting changes the dynamic. I often smile and comment, "It must be very hard being you. You seem very unhappy. I hope you have a better day tomorrow."

That said, I yelled at an asshole in a red Hummer the other day who just about ran over me in his haste to get into a handicapped spot. All of 18, there was definitely nothing wrong with him except testosterone poisoning and a bad attitude.
This is a courageous post.
Notes, thank you so much, and honestly, the pain's not that bad. I'm finding out I have a high threshold of pain, which is why I don't notice degeneration until something actually stops working. But yeah, then it hurts.

Nikki, I wish your hip and back issues would just go! Those folks are judging by themselves, knowing that they would cheat if they could.

Buffy, thank you. You really get it. My dad died when i was a child and at 9 years old, I became the man of the house. I did anything requiring strength or a strong stomach. It's a blow to your pride to wear a sign that says "I'm a gimp."

Suzn, now that you mention it, I do have a lot of weapons! I'm keeping that cane handy, for sure.

Cat, you bet I'm getting that motorcycle, as soon (and if ever) I can learn. Nothing wrong with riding. A motorcycle is just an elaboration on those little scooters they make for gimps.

Marcela, corazon, I'm so sorry to hear about the arthroses. I loved hiking myself. I can still do an hour or two, instead of the five or six hour hikes I used to take. Just being outdoors cannot be taken for granted anymore. It's interesting there there are a few teachers among us who have "the look."

sweetfeet, thank you so much. Now can I have your feet? Mine are hideous ;-)

Trey, great minds think alike. I think it is a waste not to have a sword or a derringer or even a poison vial in the cane. Of course, the airport knows all about weaponized canes, which is why they take them away from gimps.
Emma, that Hummer is a symptom of something, for sure. Oddly, I find it easier to exert control online, where I'm anonymous, than in person. What's up with that?

Scupper, thank you.
Ohhhhhh, dear. I am so sorry it hurts so much. So, so, so sorry. The unpredictability is trying, I'm sure.

Your spirit shines above everything. Your grit. Your love of life. Your good, kind self.

Waking, thank you. I'm not doing so badly. There are lots of fun moments, too.

I just realized that I mentioned "sex and parking" as if these didn't naturally go together ;-)

Excellent post! I can totally relate. In my case, my main difficulties are related to climbing stairs. Thus, I need to use the elevator to go from one floor to the next in multi-floors buildings. In the past, my disability was not that obvious. Thus, I often had a lot of intense looks when I was only going up or down one floor. It used to bother me a lot, but not anymore. I was never challenged for parking in a disabled parking spot though.

You may be interested in an extraordinary traveling experience that happened a few months ago:

Why I won’t fly through Newark-Liberty International again

I still need to write how this episode ended.
I raise my cane and salute your courage and convictions.
I can't drive so when others drive me to my destination I make them drop me off in the front and then they go park. During the time I am being dropped off people get real impatient but I don't care. :)
I had a good portion of my spine removed thru corpectomy and thoracotomy. It has been 9 years, I do not complain and never explain. I do so hate being a gimp after a life of physical activity. I move sooooo sloooooow. Great post.
You have to teach me that stare. You should see the looks I get when I back my 18 wheeler in someplace and break out the sign. Sometimes I feel like just dropping my pants right there in the middle of the parking lot and showing them the 3 feet of scar down the outside of each leg.

I didn't have my hips replaced. I have AVN and they did FVFGs on my hips to try to save them. It's been a few years now. The pain is there if I walk to far. The other thing is when I get out of the truck after sitting for a long period of time, I kind of have to walk my legs under the rest of my body to stand up straight. Sometimes I limp, normally, I'm just in pain.
One more thing. I may still be in pain sometimes, but it is mountains better than it was before my surgery.

Mac Aldridge, you are my hero, and surgeon.
It's a pity you have to even write about this kind of rude, horrible behavior. But it is a reflection of humanity. Or the lack thereof.
Kanuk, I think I read that post. It's funny, I don't mind stairs at all. We are each so different. The fact that we live longer in spite of ailments, that we have such different experiences, means that we can't justify judging people.

Chris, I don't understand what the hurry is. Why do those fools think they have a car radio for?

Rut, that sounds rough. I don't even know what those are but I'll look it up. I know what you mean about moving slow. I hate telling folks to slow down for me. I just say, "I'll meet you there."

Catnlion, you exemplify my point that you can be tough and in shape and able to do some things requiring strength, and still not be able to walk very far. Isn't it great to have a star surgeon? I have a whole damn collection of surgeons. I got lucky and got hooked up with some very eminent guys, who work on professional athletes and such, so after 10 surgeries, my brain is fried, but my body still has a few miles on it.

cartouche, you see the best and the worst when you have a disabled parking placard.

Cindy, thanks. I feel for your friend.
Last! A great read and rated.
Ooops, sorry Old New Lefty... I guess you're not last.

Great post. It needs to be widely read. I don't want to see that look you give that can make a grown man run away, but I admire it. That's an admirable skill! Rated.
"Isn't it great to have a star surgeon? "

I say it is. When he was doing my pre-op he got a phone call he had to take. It was from a doctor in Norway that had a guy flying over here to get the procedure done.
My mother-in-law has a placard. We took her to Laughlin this summer and of course parked in the handicap space. Being the weekend, though, we had to park on the 5th level. By the end of the day, she was too tired to walk across the casino and get in the elevator to go up to our parking space. We said, "No problem, wait in the casino near valet parking, we'll go get the car and pick you up downstairs." I waited until there were NO cars around and then sneaked into the car because I STILL felt guilty just pulling out of the space without her in the car!

And unfortunately, if you live in Los Angeles, there is a decent chance the person with the placard doesn't actually own it. I believe it was UCLA did a bust a few years ago of college students "borrowing" their grandparents' placards so they could avoid parking charges. Pathetic.
Lefty, thanks!

CK, the look just comes naturally to teachers--the ones that survive.

Catnlion, wow, that's what you want, a guy with an international reputation.

zookeeper, you're a good person. It's shocking to me that anyone would use another person's placard, and stupid, too. It's a large fine.
Sorry that I came in so late to comment on your post, but here 'tis: YOU GO GIRL! I have a couple of good friends that are disabled and I have no problem with helping them. They are well worth it, as you are.

Thank you so much for writing about your experiences from your heart. You need to understand that you are educating folks, baby!
This post rings familiar and true to me. I use a cane mostly to aid with a balance problem caused by diabetes and kidney failure and I qualify for a handicapped parking placard. I have suffered the same indignities and suspicions as you.

Thank you for speaking out so artfully in this entry. Disabled people of the world unite! You have nothing to lose but your... canes!
Sirenita-Girl, you go with that cane! It is tough being disabled when it is not apparent to all the idyuts that walk around, or drive a car, or park in the handicapped spots...good post
Plain and simple...just very good writing. A joy to read. Thanks.
Damn, people can be such asses! You what you need to do for YOU, no need to explain or apologize.

"I practice not caring what other people think. One day, I’ll be really good at it."

Ah yes- when you perfect this art please tell me how to do it. ;-) This is a wonderful post, Sirenita.
Damn, Serenita. This is a powerful piece of writing, and it sounds like your death-stare is even more powerful than the cane! Rated.
Oh yeah! The cane gets the credit for certain. The trick to flying? Hang on to the cane when they try to take it and give them "the stare" which says "You will take my cane when you pry it from my cold dead hands". TSA will then give you one of their own canes to walk through with. This trick has worked for me coast to coast! Best of luck and thanks for the share. Maybe now some peeps will think twice when they don't see the disability.
Marvelous post. I feel your pain. I do think that as Boomers age, more will discover that all the hard work we put into exercise and athletics over the years is coming back to bite us. It's not fun, but hey, we can become a whole new cohort of Placard Bearers with canes.
Excellent writing!

I broke my leg a few years back (left one luckily, so I could still drive an automatic). I'll never forget parking in the handicapped spot at the grocery store, putting up the placard my doctor gave me, heaving myself and my crutches out of the car, to a full audience of about eight people. Checking me out to see if I was legit. No one offered to help, they just stood and watched me struggle, then wandered off.

I wondered if I should have put a "freak show" sign on my head, or perhaps "Nothing to see here, move along."

I feel your pain.
I wish there was a cane for brain disorders. My 9 year old son has a severe anxiety disorder that is made even more complex by an impulse control disorder. He is a very sick child who looks perfectly healthy. So, when we are shopping or doing anything else in public and he experiences anxiety and begins to screech and act out because of his disabilities, the stares and comments always indicate that clearly I am not able to control/discipline my child appropriately. I even overheard someone say, "that child just needs a good whoopin'". Sigh.

Unfortunately, there is no subtle way (like a cane) to communicate to people that his behavior is a manifestation of his mental illness, and not a result of my bad parenting or some sort of bratyness on his part.

Maybe I just need to learn your stare, Sirenita.

Thanks for the post. It's always helpful to remember that people can be very sick, even when they don't look like it.
most people can't accept the fact that, if they live long enough, there's a pretty good chance that they will become in some way disabled.
I am so repulsed by that asshole demanding to see your placard before he gives up his illicitly gained convenience. I am sorry this essay was necessary, but glad someone like you is teaching the lesson that shouldn't need to be taught so often.

that last story - the thuggish looking kid who quickly and sweetly gave you the seat - it's easy to forget that even kids who are successful at looking scary are just kids who want to look scary b/c they have no other power. Real danger/evil hardly ever announces itself with do-rags and the like.
So awesome - loved this - can't rate it highly enough.

I relate. Wish I had a cane...
Great post and good that you know how to use that stare. Here's wishing you the best!
Oh, how I understand. I've been carting my cane around since I was 24. Now that I've grown mostly used to the idea of being handicapped, I've gotten really blunt about what I need and what other people need to do to not be in my way. I think it shocks them--but they listen (and I don't feel bad telling people to get out of the handicapped parking spaces, or the no-parking strips on the sides).
Sorry! Jerks are every where. Just stay calm!
Ginny, thank you so much for the encouragement.

Carolina, thanks. I'm surprised at how many of us have the same experience. These illnesses find so many ways to get you.

junk! Good to see you. Thanks for reading.

L&P, hope you're off the cane now. Sometimes when I don't have the cane with me, a little voice says "limp!" but so far, I've ignored it ;-)

McKenzie, thanks so much!

LadyM, I'm working on it! By next week, I don't give much of a damn what they think ;-)

Juli, I was hoping you could tell *me*.
Verbal, yes, the stare is deadly. I would have to crack their skull with the cane to get the same effect.

rose, lol, thanks for the tip!

Sally, you're so right. My physical therapist showed me on his office skeleton how certain yoga moves wear out your discs. Who knew?

froggy, good lord. I get the occasional individual jerk but I've never been met by a committee of assholes. Too bad someone in a uniform didn't say, "move along, nothing to see!"

Karin, I know what you mean. I'm glad you're on our side. With my stare and your force field, we're unstoppable.
Julien, you definitely need the stare. Parents of disabled kids need it most.

noah, you hit the nail on the head.

Sandra, exactly. Those kids are just kids, and the poor kids particularly are often quite courtly to women.

Kate, thanks. I'd be happy to lend you mine ;-)

Pamela, thank you, it comes in handy.

Elven, "mostly used" to it resonates with me. I get used to stuff, but I doubt I'll ever totally accept it. I know I'll develop the same assertiveness in time, when the shock wears off.

Bitch, love, I try.
I hate to hear this, Sirenita. You deserve to be in movement. You're a woman on the move. In so many ways.

I felt your piece - the pain through moments of humor and insight. I want you to be well and whole and able-bodied again. I know there are ways to bring you closer.
i think there's a 'spare the rod...' kind of message to be gleaned here, if a rod's as good as a cane in some cases, that is. but the 'sex and parking' is a true silver lining round the darkness of your invisible disability -- all of which shines in brilliant relief against your stellar telling of the tale. may you always find a seat when you need one and a spot to slide in to just in front of a mean asshole who doesn't deserve it.
I completely relate to so many aspects of this. I, too, despise my disability and the restrictions it places on my life.

Also, like you, my disability is hidden. Though not yet on supplemental oxygen, the range of my walking limited, somewhere in the neighborhood of 40 yards before I have to stop to catch my breath...depending on the weather. On the more humid days, which is mighty moist on Gulf Coast, that distance lessens.

I've received the rebukes and stares for using my placard to pull into handicapped slots and it it indeed angering. I wish I didn't have this, I wish I could do the things I love with no further consideration and the last thing I need is to ward off someone else's suspicions.

I'll gladly give up the parking spot if they can cure my need for it.

Ignorance will never be abated. I applaud you for standing up for yourself in such a way, and am sorry for your illness.
The funny thing is, I don't think there really is a rash of able people parking in the handicapped spots. Honestly, I think that's one of those knee-jerk assumptions that doesn't hold up to scrutiny.

I too have a friend with something like CFS (she has variously gotten the diagnoses of that, Fibromyalgia, and Lupus), and it's eye-opening to see how much pain and fatigue rule her life. I'm so sorry that you have to explain yourself on top of your handicap.
Beth, I'm going to return to the water. That's what sirens do. The weightlessness is more wonderful than ever. Wish I could be a mermaid full time.

Lonnie, I think I'll adapt that comment into a toast for special occasions.

Kevin, that says it all. Your spine for my parking place. Think we'd get any takers?

madcelt, I'm afraid you're right.

Lainey, it happens, but I think the few cases make a big splash and get everyone's attention. I understand the fatigue. I have Hepatitis C and I get patches of fatigue, too. It's not constant, but boy, can it limit your life. It can make it hard to even drive a car, because your brain and your reactions slow down. Sometimes you can't lift your damn head to watch TV, even if there was something on.

I'm not much on the wonders of alternative therapies and I'm a big western rationalist, but acupuncture helped my fatigue. I know it really worked rather than being a placebo effect because it had already failed to help my carpal tunnel, so I had no faith in it. I just went along because the guy was my friend. It's worth trying.
I should mention the acupuncture thing to my friend. I can't believe she/we never thought of it, actually. She's big on massage therapy, and she drinks a lot of wine. She says those two things are the only things that make the pain go away, but each works only temporarily, as in, when it's going on (being massaged or being tipsy). As for the longer term, she notices when she doesn 't exercise, but for her exercise is very mild walking on the cross trainer machine at our rec center. So even though the thought of exercise and the immediacy of doing it is painful, in the long run it's apparently necessary for relief. I'm actually starting to feel some of the chronic pain of skeletal issues as I age and gain weight, and I keep thinking now is the time to ward them off with diet and exercise. Some days I'm motivated, some days not. sigh. :)
Lainy, I have friends who never exercised and they're in better shape than me. Who knows, you may be preserving yourself when you don't exercise ;-)
I've been so banged up over the years that bionic knee and my osteoarthritis could qualify me for a handicapped placard, but I resist. So far the only time I use a cane is when I'm faced with ice and snow. You're right about how the cane works. R&R
I had scifi looking arm splints that looked almost bionic and in combination with my funny posture always succeeded in conveying legitimate need. So I understand the power of props. Now I have no props but sometimes my scars get me offers of a seat I no longer need. Thank you for writing so engagingly about the struggle with legitimate needs that aren't visible to others. I'm off to work on that "evil look" - it's never too late to begin, I think.
Yay!! EP!! EP!! :D Still..Jake can go shove a loaf of french bread up his butt!! :D ~hug~
" The flight attendant reckoned without my bladder"

The way you turn trauma to humor is just wonderful.. and I love you

and look here--me the first comment in 2009
I got the 99th rate!!! That's cool. Who's going to be 100?

I always assume someone is needing that spot if they say they are, I've had too many gimpy people in my family. You write wonderfully well.
"I practice not caring what other people think. One day, I’ll be really good at it."

When my brother, who was intellectually disabled, developed very severe osteoporosis from Cushings, which lifts his spine badly curved, I remember telling a friend of mine I feared he would soon not be able to walk.

"He's a advanced spirit." she replied. "Maybe he doesn't need his legs..."

Maybe you didn't either Sirenita. But I like the thought of a gurl swingin' her cane. ; )
Judging people is easy, it's harder to give someone the benefit of a doubt. I guess? I don't know. The rudeness I can't give a pass to, ever.
I'm not driving so I have a spare placard to offer anyone who has a need.
How 'bout the way people pull through crosswalks looking left and then without looking right again like anyone who's read the driver's manual knows to, punch it to enter a hole the size of krill eggs in traffic.
I witnessed a guy in a chair (wheeled) who had the right-of-way be mowed down in the cross-walk just that way several months ago.
The lunch crowd at Starbucks saw it happen across the street but in this state he'll probably plead SYG and get off.
All the best and my prayers too for grace and strength to face the future, whatever it holds for you, and ultimately even all of us as well.
I know the whole cane thing. When you need it you have to have it. So glad this was on the cover today and I saw it. Your writing touches the heart, as I have seen, this piece is no different. Your voice, your voice is wonderful and we will continue to hear it.
My back's gone out before. And yes, the cane helps with the visuals, even though I feel guilty for the few minutes when I don't hurt.

I used to look funny at people who came out of cars with handicapped stickers because I used those spaces - not for myself, but for my son because he was in a wheelchair. Particularly in lousy weather, having a shorter walk sure helped.

You think a cane gets you funny looks. I once had my back go out, really badly, while staying with my wife's cousin in Philadelphia on business. They didn't have a cane, so I borrowed the next best thing: their kid's pogo stick. Black stick, one handle bright green, the other hot pink, the pedals the same colors in reverse. There I was, calling on customers in a business suit leaning on a pogo stick. The next day, I tried to fly with it. Any idea how airport security reacts to a pogo stick? "I'm using it as a cane, my back's out." "But it's a pogo stick. Check it."

I had to, but my back wasn't awful when I deplaned. Luckily.
The line up of OS people is just stellar on this post, and how supportive folks were. I must have rated and ran as I tried to rate again and it took away so, just pushed it in the feed anyway.
Thanks for this OS, and for you Sirenita you shine through your writing.
"The Stare"...formidable.
No idea how I missed this first time around.
One time my sister yelled at a guy in a handicapped parking spot. (She didn't see the placard), then when he got out, he was clearly handicapped. He actually thanked her for looking out for him. Most people don't care, she obviously does. Love the post! Congrats on the EP. R
One time my sister yelled at a guy in a handicapped parking spot. (She didn't see the placard), then when he got out, he was clearly handicapped. He actually thanked her for looking out for him. Most people don't care, she obviously does. Love the post! Congrats on the EP. R
One time my sister yelled at a guy in a handicapped parking spot. (She didn't see the placard), then when he got out, he was clearly handicapped. He actually thanked her for looking out for him. Most people don't care, she obviously does. Love the post! Congrats on the EP. R
Got "bounced" by a car in Trinidad PoS other day... limping my way back to Venezuela. Relating to this. Thank you.
was married to a guy with several disabilities--greatest human being I ever loved
Why, why, why have I deprived myself of your writing all this time? You are wonderful at telling a difficult story. I have MS, so it is entirely possible that I will have to pick up a cane. During one episode of extreme leg weakness and some pain, I should have taken the one my neighbor offered, but I was just too proud. That won't happen next time.

After a couple of major hip surgeries I still can't stand. I can walk better than stand. The problem is when I walk I tend to drift, as in drift into things. Since I rarely wear anything other than shorts, when people say something to me, I just show them what 6 feet of surgical scar looks like.
I completely understand. I am legally blind, but get around so well that many people who have known me for some time are shocked to find out that I'm using my own internal mental maps when I get around.
I have a handicapped car tag (no placard to hang in a different car in Georgia) and have had the stares (glares) thrown my way. I use a white cane most of the time now. It lets people know that I have a problem (i have two problems in a store; running into people coming out of a crossing aisle, and those damn "cuidado piso mojado" (caution wet floor) signs that only come to about knee level and are outside the field of the little bit of vision I have left. Even a white cane doesn't completely solve either of those problems.
The worst thing is that I feel guilty about using the handicapped spot much of the time. If my wife can park close we don't take it; someone in a wheelchair of persistent pain, like you, may need it worse. But, there are times when we do use it. There aren't many perks for being blind.
The problem for you and me is that we don't have a visible deformity, so without the cane we are suspect as fakes.
I have only several times felt that I needed a cane, and each time, like magic, my back pains quickly disappeared. It would be nice if canes really were magic, and made the whole problem go away. Thanks for your commentary. It's all beautiful, if only because it's true.