I’ve been thinking and thinking and thinking about Melissa’s post “The Terrible Bargain We Have Regretfully Struck“, turning it over in my mind. The subsequent spinoff threads are mostly about relationships and fatness and such, so I’m going to place one of my responses to the post here instead.
The one line that has stuck with me is this:
Swallow shit, or ruin the entire afternoon?
I’ve seen others responding to this post with naive protests that no you don’t ever have to swallow shit, and how silly that idea is, and don’t you know that you can always speak up, and Not-My-Nigelling all over the place. Apparently some folks have never, ever had to make a choice between swallowing shit and ruining the whole afternoon. Bully for them, etc.
The event that has collided with this post and left it spinning in my mind was what should have been a simple, straightforward, cordial neighbourhood accommodation. A bloke in my street – not a resident – had been parking his work vehicle over the kerb cut and/or path regularly for weeks on end. There is no good way around this kerb cut; it occurs at the termination of a path, and the only continuation is on the other side of the road. The alternate routes, while technically navigable, involve quite large steps which cause me fairly full-on pain to bump over, and could damage my scooter. It is illegal to park over kerb cuts and paths. I had spoken with my neighbour, the home-owner, about the parking issue, and she, a rather lovely and friendly woman, had said that she would take it up with the relevant driver(s).
So I was walking home with the Lad, and the vehicle was yet again parked completely covering the kerb cut. This time, the bloke happened to be right there. I decided not to swallow shit. I put on my cheeriest, politest, neighbourliest tone and asked him if he could please move his vehicle off the kerb cut. (I may have said “please” twice). I put on the expected submissive social smile. There was plenty of room, and he had his keys on him.
This could have gone very simply. He could have said “No worries”, and shifted his vehicle off the kerb cut. This would have taken maybe sixty seconds.
Instead, he yelled. He swore at us. He submitted me to a tirade about fucking kerb cuts. He STOMPED around to the cab, and petulantly revved his engine hard and repeatedly to blow large gouts of diesel smoke our faces. For a brief moment, I wondered if he was going to slam it into reverse and attempt to run us down. I shooed my kid further up onto the verge and started looking for escape routes. I was looking around to see where the nearest witness was, and whether the man knew whether the witness was there. I was annoyed at myself for not noting down his number plate in the past, for expecting that the situation could be amicably and safely resolved.
He moved the truck. He stomped away, clearly still angry at me for existing. I cheerily chirped “Thankyou!” and we went on our way. My kid started coughing, and he told me his throat and lungs hurt, and he asked me questions about why that man had acted that way.
I had no good answer.
The next time it happened, I called the ranger. And I got to wondering whether the bloke had taken a mental note of where I live.
“Just complain,” people say. “Accessibility problems? Talk to people! They all mean well! All you have to do is ask!” Now, what happens is that every single time I want to ask for an accommodation, I get to make a risk assessment. I get to wonder, however momentarily, if this is the time that I’ll be attacked.
I fervently wished that I had just swallowed the shit. Because sometimes it’s not just about ruining the whole afternoon. Sometimes, just claiming the right to exist in the world means you get to suddenly, even if momentarily, fear for your family’s life. And I know that for a lot more people, that fear isn’t so momentary, and their fears play out.
We were lucky that all we were in for was a ruined afternoon.