On swallowing shit

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.

Categories: Miscellaneous


25 replies

  1. What a fucking arsehole.
    I think this is one of the issues that many people, including my own partner, just DID NOT GET with respect to Melissa’s post. Having once been subject to such an outrageous tirade in response to a perfectly reasonable and nice request to please, just kindly, I mean would you because it would help me, and really, I’m doing my best to make this non-critical of you, please, could you comply with the law, you will next time around, and the time after, and the time after that, think very carefully about whether to make yourself and your lad vulnerable again. The point is not that all women are vulnerable to all men, nor that all men are inherently untrustworthy. The point is that we have been subject to abuse on so many occasions, from so many men, that until we can be sure, we regard each man we meet with a measure of distrust, until we’ve got a sense about whether or ot tey can be trusted. That particular logic applies to women (obviously – this is where Melissa’s post is focused), but also to PWD, to indigenous peoples in Australia and to Maori in NZ, to immigrants, to LGBTI people, to “other”.
    What pisses me off about your particular experience, Lauredhel, is the threat of physical violence, and doing it in front of your lad and including him in the threat, and ffs, you were only asking him to obey the law, and ffs ffs you made the effort to ask him yourself instead of calling parking enforcement, and…
    There’s someone who parks on the verge around the corner from us, making the already narrow footpath non-navigable for PWD who use mobility devices (wheelchairs, scooters), and also for parents with children in strollers. I will try to talk to hir if I see hir.

  2. Just something to add, here. “I fervently wished that I had just swallowed the shit.” And the thing is, I _did_ swallow the shit. I smiled, I was polite, I cheerily said ‘thankyou’ after being yelled at and sworn at. I just didn’t swallow _enough_ shit. Because it’s never enough.
    Also, everything karenhealey said here: “Snakes In The Grass”

  3. “think very carefully about whether to make yourself and your lad vulnerable again.”
    There is no way to do that, which is the exact problem.
    Deborah, your points about trust are spot-on. TABs and men whining to PWD and women about how we should start from a position of trust are completely, completely missing the point. Our mistrust was well and truly earned; so must our trust be.

  4. Apparently some folks have never, ever had to make a choice between swallowing shit and ruining the whole afternoon. Bully for them, etc.
    Yeah, those people have obviously never sat through a family event on my husband’s side when my Mother-in-law’s boyfriend or boyfriend’s family start on their latest *insert negative -ist here* rant.
    Or if I had a buck for every time at school I get a facefull of ‘Mizz you’re mean’ because I’ve asked a student to Do The Right Thing class-wise and/or Be A Decent Person because I won’t swallow their shit, I could pay off my mortgage tommorrow.

  5. Agghh…. re-reading that, I proably didn’t signal my intent clearly enough. I wasn’t trying to say that you ought not to do that, because, as you say, that’s impossible. I was trying to point out that now, no matter what, no matter how hyper-polite and careful you are, you will always have a background worry about your safety and your boy’s safety. It’s supposed to be a description of what will be the case, not a description of what ought to be the case.
    Sorry about the writing fail. I think I’ll go to bed now. [/slinks off]

  6. I didn’t respond clearly enough either, Deborah – I thought that was your intention, in context (paraphrasing the arguments of others), but I pulled it out to have a particular point at this argument and how absurd it is.

  7. I hope he chokes on his own asswater.

  8. YES.
    “Just speak up.” “Just ask!”
    What this does is shift the responsibility of ensuring access from the person who is blocking it to the person who is needing it.
    People say this because it’s easier for them to say “Ask me!” than to just do it the right way from the start. That would require continual thought, reflection, readjustment, and a total rearrangement of their priorities.
    So we’re supposed to “just ask” and because they think they’d be perfectly nice, everyone would be.
    They don’t understand that even if it’s only one out of fifty times that we get abuse, a small proportion for sure, they are ensuring we have to “just ask” far more frequently and thus expose ourselves to far more abuse in the long run.
    Not to mention it’s bullshit we have to “just ask” even when someone is nice about it. It’s not fair that we always have to fight through an overgrown path and they just get to saunter along freely. It’s exhausting.

  9. Awful, awful, awful. I’m so glad the bloke is not a resident – I mean, in the sense that then it would be even worse.

  10. I admire your courage. Is the neighbour willing to witness that he often parks there and causes a dangerous situation? I can readily see though that you might not want to get into this, just in case he is a violent arsehole.

  11. I’m sorry that this happened, and as a TAB I will try harder to make sure that people with disabilities don’t end up in a situation where they have to swallow shit.

  12. Ugh. Sorry you and your son had to deal with that: all when you were simply asking for something that really should already have happened.

  13. That is a horrible situation to have to be in. What a jerk!!
    I know I am definitely guilty of not-my-nigelling, but I definitely understand times when you have to swallow shit. For example, my boss can be quite sexist, but the power imbalance is such that if I don’t swallow shit I could be out of a job.
    Of course, that doesn’t compare to having your safety and your lad’s safety threatened. I hope you can get a witness to speak up with you, if it comes to that.
    So we’re supposed to “just ask” and because they think they’d be perfectly nice, everyone would be.
    yes! So many times yes! Personally, unless I have a good relationship with someone, and they have proved they will listen to me in the past, I don’t feel comfortable “just askng”.

  14. Oh hon, that’s terrible. Hugs for you and the little one. My Mum used to get cat-called when she was walking, heavily pregnant, with her babies. She got mad and complained, and managed to get them to stop. But it ruined her nice walks to her mother’s house. This sort of shit has been happening for years. I guess we just have to keep on fighting. It doesn’t take away the choking feeling of injustice, though.

  15. I’ve just been dealing with a SSORTEA incident that has upset me. It’s utterly trivial compared with what you’ve experienced, Lauredhel, but it shows how wide the net falls, particularly in regard to the different kinds of trust we have to call upon in our daily interactions.
    I belong to a listserve group (Yes! They still exist!) where people who are mostly teachers or academics discuss Shakespeare. A number of the field’s top scholars involve themselves, and the standard of debate is generally quite high, so I feel that things that are said here have an impact. There is a commenter who routinely posts sexist opinions, and last week I pulled him up for dismissing a female character as a bitch, pointing out that he has done so before, and that he might be better arming himself with a wider vocabulary.
    Everyone’s email addresses are shared, on this list, and I got a private email (not on the thread) from another list member who asked a couple of questions about the way I phrased my response, and what the particulars of my objections were. We played anti-feminist (or possibly pseudo-ally) bingo for a couple of exchanges, during which I wound up making a strong, though completely professionally worded, criticism of his position on language use. He took offence, and his response concluded with (wait for it ladies, you’re going to love this): “How about you get off your high horse, princess?” This reminds me why I don’t blog, because I know any woman who does has to deal with this sort of thing as a matter of routine, but I found it made me incredibly angry that a man should pretend to be engaging with me at a professional level, when he actually only wanted to put me in my place. Also that a man who is losing an argument about where the problem with sexism resides (ah! the layers of irony) will fall back on dismissing me in a way he never would with a male colleague.
    I see this as related to the topic because in our working lives we have no choice but to take on trust that people will engage professionally with our ideas, but we have no recourse if they decide at any point to stop doing so.
    As a postscript, the original gentleman replied to me on list saying that he would reconsider his use of the word “bitch” if I reconsider why I’m “so sensitive to it”. How stupid can a person pretend to be?

  16. orlando, all I can say is oh.my.god.
    “I have a problem with gendered insults”
    “That’s because you’re overly sensitive, because you’re a lady”.

  17. I just hope he was implying that I’m a bitch. Since bitch to him clearly means “woman who doesn’t know her place” (it’s the only thing the various women he has referred to that way have in common), it would be shameful to me to be thought anything else.

    • I’m presuming he’s an academic – how appalling that he has anything at all to do with shaping the intellectual enquiry of others.
      Is it too much to hope that he’s an obvious dinosaur, albeit not yet one that is ready to bite the dust?

  18. One of the things I’m terribly bad at is swallowing shit and smiling through it.
    Although overall our trip to Montreal was fabulous, we had the shittiest experience with an airline that is in the process of negotiating paying for the damage they did to Don’s wheelchair, as well as offering us “travel credits”, so I won’t name them here. Unless things go bad.
    Anyway, we’re sitting on the wee plane waiting for them to come get Don off the flight. The head of baggage comes up to where we’re waiting and starts asking me questions about how to repair the wheelchair, since they took it apart to put it on the plane. When I point out that I don’t have the knowledge or tools to put together a wheelchair, the fun starts.
    I come off the plane and look at the wheelchair. It’s… in pieces, but doesn’t seem completely a lost cause. But one will need tools to fix it, and apparently no one has tools to fix it.
    So, I get these eye-rolling responses from the guy in charge of the baggage people while he complains to other people around me that no one can be loaded onto the plane for it’s connection until they get Don off the plane. Then they keep asking me if he can walk to the terminal (no, he needs a wheelchair, that’s why it’s there), so finally someone gets the bright idea of fetching a manual chair.
    The guy jerks Don around on the chair (because Don’s apparently a sack of potatoes) and (after pushing him to where the luggage claim is) tells us that everyone else is stuck waiting because there are only so many people handling baggage and the baggage handlers are “dealing” with our wheelchair.
    Because, you know, these things are all our fault, not the fault of our nameless airline, being that we were assured this wouldn’t happen a second time, since most of this also occurred on our way to Montreal.
    And I threw a bloody fit. Because not only is the above not on, the latter part is untrue. Everyone else on the plane was already gone, and they unloaded Don and dealt with his wheelchair after everyone else.
    The thing is, I had a lot of rage, knew I was in the right, and had a lot of energy to deal with the situation, even at 11:30 at night. Don by himself would have been screwed, since their response to the broken wheelchair (until I had security called on me, who actually got tools) was to tell Don to go home with one of their manual wheelchair s and they’d “see what they could do” about putting together his big electric one.
    Cuz, hey, I’m happy to stand in the middle of a crowded (even at 11:30 p.m.) airport and loudly insist that a broken wheelchair is not acceptable while Don, obviously exhausted and in pain, looks on.
    Ultimately the chair was put back together by someone who just happened to be in the airport and works for a company that repairs wheelchairs.
    But in so many situations, that’s just not something we’re able to do. Because the people who treat us like shit? Are medical professionals.

    • Anna, how bloody awful. Why would they even take it apart in the first place? This is a crucial piece of assistance equipment that they know very little about. Who the hell in that airline thinks that it’s OK to not just allow space for it when your booking was taken? Would they take apart some musician’s double bass just to fit it into the luggage compartment better? You bet they wouldn’t.
      And am I reading this right? They called security on you as well?

  19. When I started throwing a fit because no one would get a bloody ratchet, yes, security was called.

    Security, upon hearing I needed a bloody ratchet to put the chair together, called some actual mechanics with tool boxes.

  20. Well YAY for security. and BOO to everyone else.
    This story really stuck with me – a man who uses a wheelchair had airport staff try to remove the luggage from right next to him in an airport, because it was “unattended”. And they ARGUED with him about it, repeatedly saying “You don’t understand, SOME BODY needs to be in possession of the luggage!”

  21. I’m too ill to travel now, but I don’t think I’d dare fly again, I’ve just had too many problems. The mild one was having my hand luggage dumped on my lap in an Israeli airport, and when I asked for it to be carried because this was causing me pain, I was told, “But then it’s not hand luggage, it’s only hand luggage if you can carry it yourself.” Routine is being dumped for long periods of time in an area where I can’t get to a toilet and no one can get me, and being told that there is no way I can use the airport shops while they’re pushing my wheelchair.
    The serious incident was at Edinburgh airport. I had a fall just before I left home, I tripped while carrying my lunch to the table, so I was shocked, in pain, scalded, and unfed. When I got to the airport, I insisted on being taken to one of the airport restaurant so that I could get some food before I collapsed, and also be able to take painkillers (which I have to take with food). They grouchily complied, and left me in a restaurant, promising to pick me up from there in time to take me through security for the flight. After a while I start to hear my name being called over the loudspeaker, asking me to go to the departure lounge. I can’t push my own wheelchair, and the restaurant staff weren’t allowed to take me, so I was stuck. After about half an hour of telephoning Easyjet, and asking the restaurant staff to try to find someone appropriate, a man turns up to wheel me to departures. He wheeled me far too fast and kept on talking to me in an abusive fashion, blaming me for the whole situation, to the point where he was shouting at me, pushing the wheelchair in a frightening manner, and I had to call out for help. He gave the wheelchair a shove and walked off muttering. It was completely humiliating, passers-by were staring at me as if I were mad. A couple of minutes later two men from security arrived, and by which point I was worried that they’d blame me too. They didn’t, they took me to the departure lounge, where an Easyjet steward greeted me with, “Where have you been? You’ve held everyone up.”
    I should have kicked up a huge fuss, but I was frightened and exhausted and it took days for me to recover. I made a complaint by telephone the next day, but I doubt it ever got anywhere. I should have taken them to court. In fact, if I’d taken appropriate legal action every time I’ve had that sort of thing, and there have been many situations (including hospital collapses that were completely neglected), I’d be a rich woman today.
    The thing that really gets me is that by having a visible sign of disability, people instantly know that you are vulnerable and that they can probably get away with treating you abusively. Such visible signs also seem to place you in a separate sphere outside normal human behaviour, rights and dignity, where people can treat you as if you are outside the usual rules for human beings, and unfortunately it’s completely socially acceptable to hate people with disabilities in this culture.

    • Wow, elettaria. You know, a few years ago I would have found your experience difficult to credit. I’ve read too much about similar experiences since, I now know that this shit happens far too often. What is wrong with these people?

  22. I apologise if this blog has been spruiked here before, but I recently stumbled across it – the woman who does the blog films a lot of her interactions with others and it makes for some interesting and confronting viewing. She does a lot of swallowing.

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