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Just Be Nice!

No, this is not about the bouncer’s advice to “just be nice”.

I used to be a bouncer. I used to be a fighter. I used to be a long-distance runner.

I used to play tennis and golf.

I used to be an alternative model.

I used to be, I used to be, I used to be.

None of that really matters anymore because I am no longer any of those things.

Everything that I used to be is now over and only resides in the memories of those days.

But it’s not so bad. Some days are more difficult than others, but overall, it’s not so bad.

Mainly that’s because I did everything I could to help Ol’ Father Time move me along.

It’s more the result of my own doing.

I may not look it, but I aged my body years ahead of its time. And I have to live with that.

Still, I wouldn’t trade a minute of any of it for anything. I loved it all. It’s not anyone else’s fault.

But this is not about that.

The world looks a lot different ‘behind the wheel’ of a cane. I have a few different canes, but every one of them is made for full-function use. And I use each and every one of them in full-function. Each is such a pretty, sculptured and bittersweet daily reminder of the pain I brought myself.

I have my blue-wave acrylic “derby” handle cane for every day-around the house use.

I have my hand-carved wooden dragon’s head cane from the Ukraine for dress events.

I have a wooden shepherd’s hook cane and an acrylic Devil’s head cane.

And of course, I still have and use my first cane – the chromed-steel skull knob top cane – a fully functional walking aid as well as a solid bludgeon, all rolled into one.

As pretty as they look, each one is capable of supporting up to 300lbs. I’m no where near 300lbs, but it’s good to know they can take more abuse than I can give them.

The ‘cane walk’ takes a little getting used to and a lot of practice before you can walk even somewhat steady. It’s not as easy as you would think. The worst part of using a cane is the risk of it transforming into a crutch. It’s like anything, if you rely too heavily on it, you have to have it to survive, whether you really need it or not. That’s my new world.

For the first time in my life, I’m actually concerned with parking spaces. I have always been a consummate “Wally World parker” and sometimes I still do it out of habit. But now the walk from truck to door feels like an agonizing eternity. As of this writing, I await my permanent handicapped parking placard from the state of Pennsylvania. I resisted the notion for as long as I could but now it’s become as much of a necessity as my canes.

It's par for this course.

And so is the concern for inclement weather and my ability to safely walk in snow and on the ice beneath it. I do have a couple replaceable tips made of hard rubber with an inlaid, thick steel washer on the inside and steel cone spikes on the bottom. They grip the hell out ice and snow, but they’ll just as effectively perforate the floorboards of my house if I forget to switch canes when I get home. At one time it was all such a hassle. Now it’s just another day in the life.

One of the hardest aspects of it all for me is how painfully slow my body moves now. Having been a runner, I can feel my body want to accelerate, but it cannot. Sometimes, I almost trip myself over trying to move too quickly when I know I shouldn’t. One more thing for me to assimilate into my life.

Let me stop for just a second to remind you that this is not a bitch-session and I am sincerely not whining about it. It was my own doing alongside of degenerative arthritis, of which I have zero control. I’m explaining all of this for a different reason. To hopefully project a simple lesson I learned from it all.

No matter who you are, no matter how old you are and no matter what may be wrong with you, just be nice to other folks.

Not a one of us is so spectacularly important that the folks around us – whether we know them or not – are any less important. Every one of us deserves a modicum of respect and courtesy.

I never in my life – not then and certainly not now – every once expected any kind of special or preferential treatment for any reason. I’ve always been a ‘do it myself or don’t do it’ kind of guy.

So…all of that being said, I say again, “Just Be Nice!”

It’s funny. I used to think a bar room after 1:00AM could be a dangerous place, but it pales in comparison to the inherent dangers I face in the produce section of the grocery store! I wish I was just saying this for comic effect, but it’s true. I’ll come back to that thought in just a minute…

I have been so consistently – and happily – surprised at the courtesy and consideration shown to me by folks I would call ‘kids’, and I don’t mean that as any form of a deference toward them. I mean that to me, a fifty-four-year-old man, people in their early twenties are essentially kids in my mind. It makes me sound older than I am, but it’s how I see it, just the same as I think of folks in their seventies and eighties as ‘old people’. The ‘kids’, however, are much different than I thought they’d be.

They’re quick to open a door for me and just as quick to ask if I might want help. They’re courteous and they’re watchful of me. I try not to see myself moving – even in a window reflection – because I know how bad I look. Apparently, they see it, too.

If I’m having a little trouble walking in a door, I’m met with, “Can I give you a hand, Sir?” Yes, I am now considered a ‘Sir’. Even a barmaid, working two jobs and running her ass off, will walk out the door behind me and wait just to make sure I get to my truck ok. It’s a good feeling.

Maybe I remind them of a relative. Maybe it’s because I still look relatively young. Maybe it’s as simple as they’re trying to be good people. Maybe it’s as simple as they’re just being nice. I’m hopeful for all fronts, but in the end, it doesn’t really matter. They’re nice and I feel good from it.

I can honestly say that I never expected to see this from younger folks.

And now, getting back to the produce section of the grocery store, I was shocked the first time an old lady railed me with her cart – almost knocking me over, my cane and stumble very clearly visible – because I didn’t move fast enough out of her way. Apparently, she had to get that one onion and get it right then and there! A young girl asked if I was ok and needed help. The old lady only scowled at me. She never said a word. She picked out her onion and went off in a huff as I stood there, leaning on my cane, deliberately watching her.

I was visibly, physically impaired.

Why couldn’t she just be nice?

What’s so difficult about saying, “Excuse me”?

What was the point of ramming me with her cart? Was she attempting to assert dominance in the produce aisle? It felt like I was in the middle of a documentary about the Serengeti!

I notice more and more older folks acting disgusted and annoyed and downright belligerent toward not just me but everyone around them. I guess I’m seeing it more clearly nowadays, but I still don’t see the point in it.

Just be nice.

I sincerely believe that if any person is able to survive in this world for seventy to eighty years and beyond, they’ve earned the right to live however they want and do whatever they want. I do not, however, believe that age guarantees an inherent right to be rude and obnoxious and just plain mean to other people.

Last week when I went to my Representative’s office to secure my parking placard, the place was pretty much empty. There were two old people at the counter arguing and complaining about something that had nothing to do with the Rep or his office. He stood there and took it because he had to take it and they knew it.

I went to the next counter window and began my business. After over thirty years in business, I am habitually courteous, in particular when I need help from someone. That kind of thinking must be non-existent in that office because as soon as I said, “Thank you, Sir, for all of your help. I greatly appreciate it.”, the clerk came out of his fog with a big smile and said, “No problem! I’ll give you a call as soon as your card comes in. Have a great day!”

I turned to leave, but when I turn on loose weather rugs, I do it carefully so I don’t trip and fall. This is way easy to see, especially with the cane in my hand. It was not, however, acceptable to the old lady sitting behind me scowling at the clerk. She jumped up and almost knocked me over, never looking back, never giving a damn about anyone else. As I walked out the door, I heard her start in on the clerk, and I looked over to see another old lady glaring at me as if to say, “What makes you so special?” So, I beat feet – as fast as I was able to beat feet, that is. And I left there in somewhat of a state of shock, and I wondered if they were all members of a gang that was about to follow me outside. Man, how times have changed!

Just Be Nice! I can see no reason for the contrary. You can’t blame life on those you meet and you are not owed anything for surviving your life.

If you’re ten years old, twenty years old, forty years old or eighty, it doesn’t make a bit of difference, Just Be Nice!

It’s not so hard.

Just Be Nice!


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