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.

2 comments :

Alex Smith said...
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Steven Gehrke said...

Happy Birthday Carson! I wish you the best and hope you get a chance to head to the coast to do a bit of the crabbin'. Cheers!