Tuesday, November 15, 2016



I have graduated to the punch line of what's claimed to be one of the world's oldest riddles.
What walks on four legs in the morning, two at noon, and three in the evening?
Of course the answer is us - from crawling baby to adult to those stumping around on a cane because of age or problems with the undercarriage.
I came late to this world.
Faithful readers have no need to be reminded of my hospital hell of five years ago when I was incarcerated for three months in four hospitals and had to learn to stand again before my first steps from wheelchair to walker.
That's behind me now, along with the deep scars from bedsores compliments of the worst hospital around, St. Joseph's.
But I never have returned to the days when a stroll could go from Royal York and Bloor to High Park and then to the lake to return through the Humber Valley.
Long gone are those days when the first Miles for Millions walk came to Toronto and I finished the 32 plus miles with a flourish, carrying an elf named Danielle Crittenden on my shoulders long before she was a best-selling author.
Those were the days when a walk was enjoyed, not endured like a death march by Napoleon.
A few months ago, I reminded myself that I wasn't exactly a shrinking violent in my relations with the world, thanks to being 6" 2" and 260 and somewhat pugnacious in the face of rudeness.
So if I wanted to carry a cane and use it much of the time since even the sidewalks have holes like 105% of the roads, what was stopping me.
I still tire early but I find that with a no-nonsense cane, I can walk twice as fast consuming half the energy, and even the math-challenged know that is a worthwhile equation.
Besides, I don't fall over as much even in winter when the roads are lined with high curbs of ice and indifference.
All this has given me just a taste of what many have to endure all the time because their physical disability is 99% more serious and debilitating than my experience which has come at the end of a  healthy and physical existence.
I was reminded of this the other day when my son Brett and I attended the 23rd annual induction luncheon of the Canadian Disability Hall of Fame which is chaired by David Crombie who has set a national record for likability.
I have been a member of the selection committee from the start, representing the media, and also because of experience with such boards ranging from the Canadian Sports Hall of Fame to chairing an advisory committee to Toronto city council on civic honours. (Mel Lastman killed the idea.)
It has been a wonderful board with such members as Linc Alexander and Jack Donohue. And we picked some great recipients from Edwin Baker, Jeff Healey and David Onley to Whipper Billy Watso, Bob Rumble and Rick Hansen, and if I have to explain who they are, you just haven't been paying attention to Canada.
The luncheon was an opportunity to reflect on three decades of the great improvements in this city in becoming more accessible. It really has. I watched from the sidelines for much of the time before stairs and heavy doors and moms with massive stroller tanks became careless obstacles even for me in the face of a society that now knows better.
It is hard to remember but it wasn't that long ago when there wasn't special seating for pensioners and the disabled on the TTC. The idea actually grew out of a councillor going away for a convention, so there is some value to some freeloads.  Brian Harrison of Scarboro returned with an account of how an American city, I think it was Atlanta, actually had transit seats near the front reserved for the disabled. And the TTC copied and expanded.
I find that most days on the subway, 98 % of the passengers see my cane and accommodate. Quickest to do so are young ethnics. Slowest are women who haven't lost their baby fat or their attitude.
I find the cane useful on the street and in stores because most people defer to the cane to the extent that if I pause, I get offers of help. Show up at a government agency like Service Ontario and the cane shoves you to the head of the long queue.
Naturally there are exceptions, like a few big louts used to bullying through crowds who actually have pushed me out of their way. Like the guy stampeding up the stairs from the basement washroom at Roy Thomson Hall. He was deliberately going against the flow and then shoved hard into me. I pushed back. Hard! He swore. I called him an asshole, shocking the symphony crowd, and then brandished my cane.
A perplexing bad side to a city becoming more flexible and caring with the disabled is that this disdain for the elderly still percolates just under the surface for too many yahoos.
 It is so bad in all of North America that this attitude against the elderly has been called the last great prejudice in employment.
Perhaps what feeds this ageism is the fact there are so many of us now that science has kicked the hell out of the Biblical promise that we would live for three score years and ten.
It can flare in just one sentence into an argument.
I had to shove by a big guy sprawled in the centre doorway of a bus to get off and he muttered about pushy old farts. So I cursed him. Cottage fishermen wanting to spend the day anchored up against my point are quick to swear about age too when I confront them. I don't recall that from when I was younger.
Obviously what I need is a cane that is more a shillelagh with a great wooden knob of a knot on top. I would never use it, of course, but it would make the damnedest assault case if it was used to make a dent in an attitude.

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