The man in the mechanical wheelchair

I clock out of work at 10:55 p.m. because it's the earliest I can. I don't feel bad about doing so because I got to work early. I feel a little bad about doing so because I took a longer-than-normal dinner break to watch the Red Sox win the World Series. But still, I'm out of work on Sunday night and walking to the bus stop. It doesn't make a difference when I leave my workplace on 10th and Burnside so long as I'm at the bus stop at Couch and 4th by :21 after the hour, so leaving work at five til is slightly nonsensical but I don't want to be there any more and don't have to so I leave.

To kill 26 minutes I make a phone call. I don't have much to say except to say that I left work and that I'm walking to the bus stop, which you know but the person on the other end of the line didn't but figured out because I was calling and then said so. The call took up maybe four minutes but could have taken six or seven and by then I've walked the six blocks (city blocks are super-short in Portland) and it's just after 11 p.m.

I'm not listening to my headphones this night, which I usually do but am not because my ipod wasn't charged when I left for work, and anyhow I brought a book and don't really need both but often have. This night, however, I don't have the buds in my ears and am exposed to the sounds of Chinatown, a colorful and vibrant part of Portland. It's here you can watch prostitution transactions but more likely drugs deals especially between the blocks of Park and 4th, which is where I'm walking through, all set to wait the 20-some minutes for the bus.

A man in a mechanical wheelchair calls my attention. He wants to know if I have a cigarette and I tell him I don't smoke. He mumbles about how proud he is of me. This is something he's said before. He's mumbling a script of lines he knows and no longer puts much feeling into, I can tell. He's just trying to get to the next part of his monologue which is that he wants money from me. I don't normally give change out because I'm not a rich man and it's hard choose these days who deserves it more than others so I just don't -- most days I don't even carry change around. Tonight, I know I have two quarters in my pocket because I didn't have enough to get a snack out of the vending machine at work, and so I offer the man in the mechanical wheelchair the fifty cents, telling him that's what I have. I put the two coins in his black, rough paw and before I pull my hand back he asks me for a dollar fifty. I told him that was all I had and turn my back to wait for the bus a half block away and thinking this is why I don't give out change.

I'm reading my trade paperback at the bus stop and every paragraph or so I look up to see the man in the mechanical wheelchair saying something to passerbyers who don't pay him much attention. I don't even get done with two pages before he cranes his next around and calls out to me, "Hey man." I look up but don't take an immediate advance until he calls one or two more times and holds up that black paw and physically signals that he needs something.

When I approach carefully he doesn't say anything I can understand. He's mumbling and I turn my head so my hear is at least facing him and push my neck forward. My body is still a few feet back but my attention is closer. I still can't understand him. He stops mumbling and makes this sound with his mechanical wheelchair:

Click, click. Click, click.

Without explaining it to me it is apparent that he's got no more juice for his electronic-powered wheelchair. He mumbles something I do understand about a cord in the back of his chai, in a pouch, which I locate and pull out and to show him that I understand. What I don't immediately understand is where exactly he wants me to plug in this three-pronged cord. And he doesn't either. But mumbles how I should wheel him to a bar that's on this block, just on the other side of my bus stop.

The bar is Pala and on Friday nights when I'm waiting for the bus after work I notice well dressed people coming and going from it, waiting to stand in this establishment for a ten-dollar cocktail. I've never been in but the man in the mechanical wheelchair says he's charged there before, that if I wheel him over there he'll be able to do it. He motions to the back wheels and it's clear I have to pull a lever on one side and then the other to put the chair from its electronic operation into the free-wheeling motion. It's easy to do so and in no time, I have the mechanical chair's headrest in my hands and have control of the chair and of this man's movement.

It's Sunday, however, and Pala isn't open. There's a gate that's closed in front the two of us. The man in the mechanical chair and I stare at the situation for some time. I notice hanging behind the locked gate is a power strip. The strip hangs up the wall some 9 feel and plugged into it are two strands of Christmas lights. I wonder briefly if I can reach it, if the Christmas lights would come unplugged, if the power strip would be low enough for the wheelchair's plug to reach, if there is even power flowing into the power strip (The Christmas lights are not on). I pull on the gate. It's locked for sure but there's a bit of a gap. I suppose I could wedge myself between the wall and the gate. I could reach for this power strip. This could be possible. I'm looking for a security camera. I see a sign about illegal parking. I wonder what time it is and if my bus will get here soon. I look and it's only 12 after. I have eight or nine minutes.

"I don't think I'm going to be able to get the strip," I tell the man in the mechanical wheelchair. He mumbles something I make out to be: Don't leave me here, man.

So I survey the intersection we've come from. There's a construction site across the street and a bar that's open named Dixie opposite us, which I've never been in but have heard they have a mechanical bull like the one in Urban Cowboy, which I don't find ironic until now, having written the phrase "man it a mechanical wheelchair" now a half dozen or more times.

I push the man in the mechanical wheelchair diagonally across the street but in doing so his paralyzed leg, extended, gets caught up in our descent of the curb's ramp and his left shoe comes off. I'm going to have to stop and pick up the man's shoe and I have to put it one his foot because he sure as hell can't do it. I put the tied shoe over his toes and jack the heel of the shoe up and onto his feelingless foot. I wedge it on and the man wants me to lift his leg so it's perched onto the chair's footrest. His leg is stiff and I try bending the the knee. Push as hard as you can, the man says, I can't feel shit. So I do and he adjusts himself and I'm looking at him, really noticing his state: This man's wearing blue sweatpants and they are damp. I have no doubt that he's pissed himself, he reeks of it.

We passed Dixie to another bar that I have been in exactly once called the Tube. What you should know about the Tube is that it doesn't get more hipster than the Tube and that there is some sort of musical performance this night and a guy standing outside who is too hip for his own good. Still, I push the man in the mechanical chair up to the Tube and before I say anything to the guy at the door he's shaking his head "no." He's got one of those sideways smirks I hate -- he's smirking at me and the sucker I've become, pushing around this man in the mechanical wheelchair. I tell him the story: All this guy needs is an outlet so he can plug his chair's cord into for a little while. "I don't know," the guy says. "You don't know anything?" I respond because I'm eager at this point to leave this man in the mechanical chair plugged in somewhere so he can zip around where ever his black paw directs. "Yeah, I don't know anything," the fucking hipster with the smirk says a little too sarcastically.

The man in the mechanical wheelchair asks him if he at leasts has a cigarette he could buy off him. He gets one and the next guy that walks out of the Tube lights it for him. I don't know what to do at this point because the man in the mechanical wheelchair has what he originally wanted from me, a smoke. I ask him what else I could possibly do for him and he mumbles something I understand to be that he needs to get in there. There's no way they are going to let this guy in the bar and I tell him that. He says I should just give him thirteen dollars. What?

Click, click. Click, click.

And he says nothing else. I need to catch my bus, so I walk back to the intersection and to the construction site. There's an extension cord behind a temporary fence, which has on it a reward sign claiming money for turning in wokers who don't wear hardhats. I'm still looking for ways to help this man, the man in the mechanical wheelchair. I've left him in front of the Tube, he's somebody else's problem. I didn't really help but with my two quarters he's bought a cigarette and maybe another. He'll be temporary subdued down here in Chinatown but with no juice for his wheelchair. I wonder what he did to deserve this.

I get on the bus and the bus passes the scene. Someone has wheeled him against the wall. He's out of the way, smoking his cigarette down to the filter and wondering who will help him get to an outlet, who won't abandon him like I did.

Dear reader,

Somehow you've found me and that's great. I mean it. Just not with exclamation points, or marks if you prefer. You are reading this because you've come here before and for some reason decided to check back in again. Maybe you've RSS-fed this site, which I've heard about but no little about.

I think you should know that I've lost contact with many people of my past and that this site is how they might find out about my doings. Maybe that's you. I think in some way's we've all gone through some turbulent times as of late. And by as of late I mean right now, a culmination of the time so far.

At points we might have lost purpose. We might not have been sure what the purpose was. Maybe we've given up in some ways. Settled with who we are, who we listen, talk to. We've grown comfortable with the lives we have. They are, after all, ours.

Some of us have shut others out from our immediate circle. We don't call or send care packages nearly enough. It didn't occur all at once, or maybe it did -- some of us don't forget, some would rather forget things. But what's lost in not communicating is everything we once had and the chance for anything we might have again.

There are reasons for how it got this way: it's easier to not talk and at the the same time hard to get back to get back in touch. We lose numbers or haven't dialed them in too long a time, so it's hard to do so. And, we don't have time, none of us. We make excuses. We factor in time zones, work hours, and the significant others of others.


Next month I will have been in Portland for three years. I'll also turn 28-years old. Or 28-years-young if you want to put it in that middle-aged-woman (truth too trite to say) way. Moving here I left behind a previous life to reinvent myself in this new environment. In many ways I've done that, but I have left behind who I once was. Part of that has been meeting new people. Allowing them into my life. In doing so I've lost contact with the old people, not seeing or visiting with friends and family I've had. Fortunately, they haven't died (yet), they're just (as I quote from the Sapranos, even though I never watched) "dead to me." But not really. Just a phone call away. Or email. Or, let me look for my address book, letter.

As I get ready to turn another year older I can't help to think about who I was. That person "I", the "me" back then. Who was that character who called himself "Kit" then "Carson"? Who was he who left his hometown? Who stopped calling people?

But I know better now than ever who I am.

So, If you are looking for something to get me for my birthday you can get a hold of me. Talk to me. Email me or write me a letter. Tell me who you are, and let us catch up. We'll remind each other of who we once were.

I'm selfish, of course, I'm asking this of you. But you know what? If this is enough, reading what I've written on this blog since I've moved to Portland and you'd rather not contact me, you don't have to -- I won't know and you'll rest in my memory folder labeled "then" -- but maybe this will inspire you to contact someone else: a former girlfriend or boyfriend, a father, a mom, a brother or sister, a grandmother, a grandfather (RIP), a cousin, an uncle, a friend, a closer being who you've been thinking of calling but have not in a long time. When you were someone else.

First-person eye

I was at Reynolds Optical replacing my eyeglasses, when I started thinking about why I need glasses in the first place. Some time ago someone struck me with a stick, and now I’m thinking about what happened then, who this guy is now, and if he remembers what he did to me.

I didn't know his name until I ask my mother to riffle through files—mental and medical—and to search for the name of the kid responsible for my partial blindness. Surprisingly, she came up with a name indicated by our insurance company as the party responsible.
“But the claim is not against him,” Mom says. It was an accident.
I write down the name anyway, and take it to my computer. I go to Google and type in the last name in the query box, then the first name. I use quotations marks so the names come back together. I’m not having much luck. The search hits, and, even though the name is unique, there are others just like it. I go to My initial search is free and comes back with the name I’m looking for. For a fee the phone number and address(es) are offered. The reason I know this name is right is that the city is in the region I know he’s from. Relatives are listed as well as their ages. A name is linked to the name I have that’s close to mine in age and I figure that’s who I’m looking for. I had the name of the father; my insurance acknowledged the boy's guardian as being the party relieved of responsibility. I begin a new Peoplesearch for the guardian's son name that's close to mind in age and find more. I can’t afford to pay for specifics but with this name I’m directed to an alma mater, a filed patent registration, and a Toyota truck club blog posting. The blog posting is consistent with the location of the alma mater in the region I know he’s from, but it hasn’t been updated in years. But the person I’m looking for has an email address in his profile, which I pan over with my cursor and copy. I open my email account and compose a new message. I paste the email address in the “to” field.

In the summer of 1989, at Camp Chimney Spring on the first full day of camp I hiked into the woods with a group of boys I befriended at breakfast. We wandered along a road, and off the road we explored down into a ravine. One of us started throwing pine cones. The next thing: sides were picked and pine cones and sticks and dirt clods were being used as weapons. We were fighting. It wasn’t a serious fight. I think we were just trying to peg each other. No one hated. This was church camp.
Truce was called. I remember retreating. Walking up an embankment and heading back to the lodge, someone called something that made me turn around. I looked down at who was remaining when something hit me right in the face. Whatever hit me knocked me down. I remember being on the ground. I tried to open my eyes, but only my right eye let light in. I thought I couldn’t open my left eye, but I did. And I cried. I didn’t cry because of the pain--I was in shock--but from what one of the boys said aloud: Dude, your eyeball is bleeding. Tears mixed with blood. The boys were above me looking down in a scene I see in retrospect. I told them to get my mom. I was at camp; the boys didn’t know for sure how that was possible. But my mom came because she was the camp’s director.
The nearest town was an hour away. My mom drove me to the hospital there and I stayed the night. They next day, after CAT scans and dilation, the doctor told me my retina tore, that now I had a cataract, that there was permanent damage, and that I probably wouldn’t be able to see out of my left eye again. We went back to camp. Fellow campers were hiking and playing volleyball, while I remained alone in the infirmary wondering what a dark world it could be. Eventually, my grandparents picked me up and took me home.

I begin typing: “In 1989, at Camp Chimney Spring, I left camp because I was blinded. I was taken to the hospital, and then taken home by my grandma. You did this to me. ”
Sitting and staring at my screen, I highlight and cut. I’m looking at the blank body of the message yet-to-be-sent. The truth is I know little of this person other than his engineering skills and his 4x4 hobby. And though I haven’t spoken the individual since the morning of the accident now 18 years later (I'm not even certain we spoke then), I’m certain I have the right guy, and his email address in front of me. From this distance when I close my right eye and look at the computer screen, a dark spot covers a third of the screen. The periphery is grayish. I remove my finger from my right eyelid and let light back and begin typing.
“If this is the Justin M. that attended Camp Chimney Spring in the summer of 1989 keep reading,” I begin. “You are the 10-year-old who threw a stick that hit me in the eye; you are the reason I’m now buying eyeglasses. My name is Carson Smith, and you probably don’t remember me. I went by Kit back then. I’ve been mad at you for so long. Early in the camp week a group of us went into a ravine and started throwing sticks and pine cones and dirt clods at each other. We were messing around, really. “You were still at war after we called truce, though; you pegged me and knocked me down. You took away my perfect vision. You threw a stick or something that hit me in the face. It struck me in the eye. You blinded me but should know that I did get some of my vision back. I wear glasses now and it helps, but it’s not perfect. I’ll never forget you because being impaired made me depressed and vengeful. I was angry for a long time at you and at the situation. But I’m writing you this email because I know you didn’t mean it. It was an accident and not your fault. If you remember any of this or care you can write me back but don't have to. I understand. Okay Bye, Carson.”

I’ve had nine email addresses in my life. I currently check two: my school address and my yahoo account. One account from my undergrad college is forwarded to my yahoo. That leaves six addresses that I’ve given out that I do not check and which may no longer exist.
In my email message to Justin M. for fun I BCC my six former accounts. Four come back with mailer-daemon messages. The other two must have gone off into oblivion. I did not get a mailer-daemon message from Justin M.'s address. I’m not expecting him to pay for the glasses I’m buying, but I thought I should let him know I thought about him and what happened.
Far too often I think of someone from my past and do nothing about it. There, the memory rests. It doesn’t go anywhere and nothing happens. To expunge this from my mind I did an investigation and sent an email. One gets a satisfying feeling sending on an email that might just might wind up in a cyber black hole.

Press Release

For Immediate Release

October 4, 2007

PORTLAND, Ore. -- Powell's Books announced today that Carson Smith will begin his permanent schedule starting on Monday October 8.

Last month Smith was named a Generalist for the largest independent new and used bookstore in the world. The contract agreement for the promotion weren't immediately released but were some have said that Smith's income would double, while others have suggested that the prestige alone is worth the new Generalist's weight, which has been reported to be upwards of 150 pounds.

"I've asked management to drop this ist and just call me General," Smith deadpans.

A General(ist) for those unaware has been called a "jack of all trades" by some that have coveted the position. Basically Smith will be responsible for all that goes on in the city-block bookstore. And while Smith refuses the attention that comes with the promotion, he's humbled by his new title and credits many in his recent and seemingly sudden escalation in the bookstore business.

"I certainly couldn't have done this without the support of my family," Smith said. "And by family I mean..."

The fact that Smith worked in the book industry for last three years, getting this promotion doesn't surprise many. Having heaved books for a corporate sinking ship that doesn't deserve blog type, Smith learned the book business by shelving, sorting, and most importantly reading.

His recent involvement in a small press, and that press' recent release of a book Smith worked on, along with his pursuit in a master's degree in publishing could all be credited for his well-padded resume and could have added to the talking points of what must have been a good job interview.

"Well, there was that," the modest Smith said.

Working full-time, while finishing his graduate work, Smith fits in a small writing session for this page. "Well, I've been doing this a while and people still seem to be interested for what ever reason. I'll try to do better. Now that I have a permanent schedule I'll be able to organize my time better.

Smith begins his permanent schedule Monday working 3-11 p.m. And can be reached through this blog on his off hours.