It's my disability, I reason, so I can make light of it. Nobody else can, however, not without the express written consent of the National Football League. See?
The first thing I think that identifies me as disabled is Sophie, my service dog. In fact, people notice her. That's right, Her.
The fact that she's a service dog usually comes second and, if I'm noticed at all, it's often as a distant third. Even then, it's only to ask “Can I pet your service dog?”
I've been known to tell such people “Oh, ha ha ha, she's not my service dog, I'm just watching her for a friend who's visiting Oklahoma for the next six months.”
Playing second fiddle to my dog is something I've grown used to and quite proud of, too, even though I make sport of pretending otherwise.
And Sophie's a smart one to be sure. Her toys are marked “genius level” right on the package, for crying out loud. I almost feel like a half-wit standing in line, waiting to buy one, mostly because I know she's smarter than I.
She must be. Even with my fingers and my power tools I don't think I could ever remove the treats I put in there. Sometimes, in a fit of frustration at being unable to thwart her genius-ness I really cram things in there. She just seems to relish her abilities even more.
My only fallback is to remind myself that I still have the upper hand in making her complicit with some of my hare-brained schemes. It’s a bit like the movie Rain Man. Guess which part I play.
My constant trying to outsmart a dog kinda makes it sound like life's just one, big Looney Toons cartoon, right? Well, if I'm lucky, it will be. And lately, I've been pretty lucky, and I have the new season to thank for it.
It's June here in Colorado and Sophie and I live in an especially Colorado-y place. We're in the foothills with a campground and reservoir right across the street. No kidding, it's a wet dog's dream!
Sophie believes that the campers, many of them with dogs, are there for her own, personal amusement. There's also a revolving door of ducks and geese, most of which are leading parades of recently hatched mini-me’s, struggling to keep up, through the water.
These little ones grow up fast to bathtub-toy size and beyond. If they didn't, locals tell me, there are plenty of fish that'd love to eat ‘em.
Other little ones have appeared, too. Bunnies, deer, mice, feral cats and even some humans have little ones running around, the latter easy to identify with one finger buried deeply up its nose.
Interesting, isn't it, how nature programs offspring to learn everything they need to know about life from their parents? Indeed, it is.
So, with all the activity around here, there's no shortage of places to go and people to meet, especially when I walk Sophie down to the reservoir for her morning dip.
It's the time when campers, usually stiff from tossing and turning all night because, well, they slept in a camper, come stumbling outside to find something to do. That's when the fun really starts.
For those who are able to look beyond Sophie and notice me, you'll see I'm an amputee, and I'm usually in pain, too. That's because I sleep every night in a camper. I'm just kidding, of course, I don't feel the pain as much anymore.
At the lake, my shorthand for “The Reservoir,” Sophie struts along beside me in her red Medical Alert Service Dog vest. Seeing this, people somehow assume her job is to compensate for my missing arm.
But her real job is to alert me to any seizures I might have. But, like the backup to Green Bay Packers QB Brett Favre, who almost never missed a down-ever, Sophie's got an easy gig.
For starters, I only have seizures when I sleep. But since that could change anytime, I'd want her to know what to do. So we practice, and practice some more.
Our practice routine is legendary. So she has the dream job; of always being there, just in case. And if she's bored, that's fine by me, because it means I'm A-OK.
But what about her helping me as an amputee? If you think about it, and most people don't, in what possible way could a dog help a grown man who happens to be missing an arm?
Make me breakfast, maybe? Well, if I'd be willing to eat some slobbery hunk of duck jerky from a genius toy then I'd be set. But waiting for lunch is by far the best option.
With the possible exception of scaring off would-be muggers, something Sophie's done her share of, especially in Mexico, I can't think of one thing.
How, on one hand she scares off bad hombres yet, on the other hand (or the same hand twice, like me) she attracts kids and sweet old ladies I'll never know.
Those very kids and sweet old ladies, however, I never tease when it comes to Sophie. She wouldn't hurt anyone in a million years unless they were out to hurt us first, something she sniffs out immediately.
Anyway, as an amputee, I find kids just stare at me, often speechless and with a bewildered expression. Their eyes say it all: Just what the hell could've happened to that guy's arm?
For once, I get the attention instead of Sophie, so I let ‘em off easy.
Sometimes kids do ask me about it and, that's okay, of course. I admit, though, if they seem snotty I'll drop my rule and say the first, usually idiotic thing that comes to mind:
“Where's my arm? I thought you had it,” or “it fell off and sank when I was out in a boat and I think a fish ate it,” that sort of thing.
Kids’ll buy pretty much anything you tell them, I've learned, so long as you can keep a straight face. I've also learned to laugh or smile at them before leaving so they don't wake up in the midst of a screaming nightmare.
“Mommy (or Daddy)! There was this giant fish and it had that man's arm sticking out of its mouth…” I hope that never happens, even to the snotty ones.
In general, kids don't ask what happened to my arm. Most often, it's drunk or just uncouth adults. So, I tell them “the dog bit it off and ate it after I accidentally stepped on her tail, then was rude about it.”
Sometimes I throw in “...and she loves the taste of human flesh that's been marinated in bourbon for x-amount of years,” and I guess their age.
Since I've never encountered any children who are both drunk and uncouth, I've never had to consider what I'd do then. It'd probably be the same thing, since kids shouldn't be boozing anyway. Scare ‘em straight, before it's too late, I say.
There's a particularly annoying version of that same question, always from weirdly stoic men, never women:
“Where did you serve?”
It makes it seem like, except in combat, I couldn't possibly have lost my arm any other way.
That question, and the stupid way it was usually asked sticks in my head all the way home from wherever it took place.
As if replaying it aloud and with a dipshitty tone, I say to no one in particular something like:
“How’ja looz y’arm, huh?”
“Yup, musta bin a gernade, yuk yuk yuk.” Or “coulda bin smallarms far, yuk yuk yuk.”
When it comes down to it, I do a pretty convincing dipshit imitation. Must be all that exposure and lotsa practice, yuk yuk yuk.
Somehow it wouldn't surprise me to learn that Sophie has thought about biting off my arm. It's to her credit she hasn't (yet).
All kidding aside, there's much more to look forward to in the coming months. So don't forget to wear sunscreen and, as always, to come back and find out what's been happening while you were away!