After mistaking a UPS truck for my bus last night and a rather hilarious moment where I wondered why the driver wouldn’t take my dollar to get on our way towards home, it struck me, that this was NOT the most hysterical thing I’ve done as a blind person. Walking into objects, talking to people that aren’t there, and having strange bodily functions come out of your guide dog all add up to one big silly adventure. I’ll explain…
Moments like when you bonk your head on the wall of the pool at the YMCA because you can’t remember if you’re on stroke number 17 or lap number 17 when counting the distance to the wall. Or going to shake someone’s hand, and realizing that you accidentally grabbed their purse instead (though it could be a great strategy for a pick-pocketer I suppose). The awkward moment when you think you’re alone in your office and let out a healthy belch after drinking something carbonated, only to discover that your boss was more feet in front of you. Yup, it happens!
My Guiding Eyes Labrador Elvis is usually the cause of much of the hilarity each day. His goofy demeanor and always happy jolly attitude makes for some interesting episodes. Like when I first got Elvis more than 4 years ago and we were shopping for dog food at a local pet store with my volunteer driver, I paid for the bag of food, and began to follow the clerk out the front to the parking lot to put it in her car. Suddenly, as we approached the door, I was halted by Elvis and his harness rather abruptly. I gave him the command, “Elvis, forward”, and there was another abrupt clunk and a halt. I looked down to see Elvis quietly and sheepishly holding a 3 foot-wide rawhide bone in his mouth that he had stolen while up at the checkout counter without my knowledge. He ALMOST got away with it! Pesky door was too darn narrow, and he was totally busted!
During the first two weeks I had my wonderful companion, he was quite distracted by children and other dogs. We attended my niece’s first Communion at her church and were slowly filing back out of the church at the end of the service. Elvis was carefully navigating the crowd and suddenly I felt him pull hard to the right, then immediately return to his position. I looked down, and realized that a VERY newborn baby was on the floor in a carseat, and Elvis had taken the opportunity to give the child a much-needed Labrador lick. I don’t know who was more horrified- me or the parents of this tiny baby. Elvis happily wagged with pride at his accomplishment and went right back to work. Silly pup!
One of my favorite Elvis stories was at Starbucks, again in the early stages of our partnership. I was standing on line at a busy Starbucks during the holidays admiring the overflowing basket of toys they had gathered for “Toys for Tots”, a local charity that they were taking donations for. I ordered my coffee, and waited at the bar for my drink. As I gathered my purse and beverage to head for the door with Elvis, a little girl shouted at her mother, “Mommy, mommy! Look at the Labrador with the monkey in his mouth!” Yup, my dog’s thievery knows no bounds. He steals stuffed monkeys from needy children! LOL!
I find myself apologizing to inanimate objects more frequently than I’d like to admit. Occasionally I’ll hear something making noise while I’m at a crosswalk and say hello. A good portion of the time, it happens to be a telephone pole with a flapping piece of paper dangling from its surface. I always try to recover my dignity by pretending to speak into my blue tooth headset for my phone as if I was talking to a person on the other line. Eek!
One thing that happens a lot to blind folks is that we don’t notice stains or spills on our clothing. For me this is usually wine or ketchup, as I have an affinity for attracting both. Even Elvis gets in on the staining fun when I accidentally spill red wine on him at a charity event. With hundreds of people milling around, and me being a sommelier, I suppose statistically, it’s bound to happen sooner or later.
Makeup is one area that seems to baffle a lot of sighted folks about blind people. I cannot tell you how many times each week a woman stops me and tells me how great my makeup looks even though I obviously can’t see it to apply it. I always get asked if I go somewhere each day to get it done. I find it flattering on two fronts- one that I look OK when I leave the house, and Two, that they think I can afford my own daily makeup artist! After several surgeries, I got tired of the giant, swollen eyelid that stared back at me in the mirror each day, and went to see the woman at the nearby Saks Fifth Avenue makeup counter to help me learn how to camouflage this grotesque new feature of my progressing eye disease. She spent nearly two hours teaching me the art of blending, having me practice over and over again by feel rather than looking, so that I could completely hide the swelling and draw attention to other parts of my face instead. I was SO incredibly grateful, and now look a little less like Frankenstein when I leave the house!
Almost 2 to 3 times a day people think that I’m ‘training’ my guide dog Elvis, because I don’t “Look” like a blind person. I’m not really sure what that’s supposed to mean, except for the fact that it must baffle folks when they see me reading on my Kindle on the train, or making eye contact with you. Not all blind people have NO sight whatsoever. Often they’ll lack peripheral vision, or can see shapes or make out some things in good lighting like myself and many of my friends. After many nosy people inquire about Elvis’ training, I usually try to get more creative with my responses. Like, “Yes, I am training him, but it’s for Governor Patterson, and it’s sort of on the down-low’ so please don’t mention it!” People get pretty excited for that one. In a moment I’m not very proud of, someone asked me what he was being trained for. I impatiently replied, “An idiot detection dog, and he REALLY thinks you’re fascinating!” yup – not my finest moment.
Finally, you get the people who stare at you as you’re walking down the street. While I realize that Elvis and I are sort of a rare sighting, causing a traffic accident seems a little excessive. I mean, I’m attractive and all, but come on people! Rear-ending a car at an intersection because you were too busy staring at the blind girl and her dog crossing the street is pretty pathetic. Or you can be the idiot who walked into an opening door a few weeks ago who was busy staring as Elvis and I passed by. I mean GOSH! I thought I was supposed to be the one walking into stuff!
Everyone needs a guide dog to help them find their keys, phone and wallet each day! Having Elvis complete these tasks is not only time saving for me as a visually impaired person, but MAN I could have used him back in the days when I was driving and late for work trying to get my stuff together each day! What a godsend!
Elvis takes great pride in scaring the living shit out of me on a daily basis. Although we’ve been together for nearly 5 years, it never ceases to amaze me that he simply never tires of catching me off guard. Each day I go to the local YMCA, and run on the treadmill, bike on a spin bike, or swim in the pool. He loves to take the opportunity while I’m stretching at the end of a tough session, to quietly crawl next to me on the yoga mat, where I have my headphones blasting hip-hop music. Usually while I’m getting ready to do crunches, he’ll take his giant Labrador head or paws, or BOTH and put them down on top of my chest. If I try to protest, I get a big wet dog tongue RIGHT in my mouth! YUCK! He proudly sneaks up on my totally blind right hand side to get a well-timed lick in- almost ALWAYS while I’m singing at the top of my lungs with mouth wide open. It’s a good thing he’s mine.
Finally, dating has proved a great challenge and is cause for some funny and awkward conversations. I mean, especially with the prevalence of internet dating, I always struggle with the ‘elephant in the room’. At what point do I tell this potential suitor that I’m the blonde chick waiting in the corner at Starbucks with the 80lb Yellow Labrador by my side? It puts a whole new meaning to the term ‘blind dating’! Does this mean it’s ‘double blind’?? Hmmm. Stay tuned!
My last silly story is for your education. I constantly run into this problem at airports and train stations on a near daily basis. When I stop and ask the folks at the check in counter for my airline which way it is to my gate, there is a long uncomfortable silence. Why silence, you ask? Guess what? They are POINTING……After this long awkward pause, I ask them politely again, “Which way?” To which I get the following response, “Over there.” Ok. Lesson for all my wonderful sighted friends out there. POINTING and saying vague directions to a blind person such as ‘here’, there’, etc are not helpful, but really rather hysterical. So next time you see me, I’ll be down 20 feet on your left or at your 7:00. That is all. Cheers!