Sunday, August 14, 2011

Thanksgiving in New Orleans

Po Boy Views
Phil LaMancusa
A Thanksgiving Carol
Pecuniary Comforts

Robert Duprey didn’t pay his rent that month; instead he separated himself from his family in Tacoma, Washington in July of 1995 and took a Greyhound Bus to Livingston, Montana. He spent his forty second birthday there and left in the beginning of September, taking another Greyhound to Baton Rouge and then another to New Orleans relying on the kindness of strangers along the way. Bob is a brave man; you see, he’s all alone in the world in his motorized wheelchair living with Cerebral Palsy; stubbornly independent. He’s more of and a better man than I am.
Sixteen years later Bob has a neatly kept efficiency apartment, a part time helper that aids him in going to the toilet in the morning, a stipend from Social Security and his motorized wheelchair. In the mornings Bob makes his way to the French Quarter sometimes stopping off for an inexpensive breakfast at a convenience store along his route. He ‘drives’ the mile up Saint Charles Avenue against all odds and traffic and makes his rounds visiting folks that he knows and that care about him; an ice tea at Café Maspero; a visit to the Louisiana Music Factory (Bob LOVES music!); Beckam’s Bookstore and also to our shop. Those are only the places that I know about; there’s probably more. I know that he goes to Rouse’s for the daily lunch specials, I know that he goes to Walgreens and he’s not averse to going anywhere else that his chair can get in and out of easily.
A lot of times people look the other way when they see Bob; there are things that are basic to you and I that are beyond Bob’s ability and capabilities, one of them is grooming. Someone has to wash Bob, and it isn’t done often; someone has to lift him onto the toilet and that only happens five times a week; someone gives Bob his infrequent shaves and haircuts; someone else has to make phone calls for him, trim his nails, make appointments, get him a cushion, a blanket, listen to him when he speaks about his needs and wants.
A lot of young adults make fun of Robert Duprey; they call him “Push Me Bob” a name left over from the time that he had a chair with a faulty battery and once again had him relying on the kindness of strangers to get him back home. They seem to enjoy mocking the way he speaks and doesn’t have the same motor skills that we take for granted. Some of them are disgusted by Bob’s appearance and everything he stands for.
Sometimes the tap dancing kids on Decatur Street will snatch the cap from his head and tease him like an animal, tossing it to eachother in a mean game for their amusement before throwing it to the ground and scampering out of reach; getting their jollies from taunting someone who cannot stand up for himself… the fact is, Bob cannot stand up at all. I’ve seen them bring him almost to tears before an adult steps in and stops the humiliation.
Bob doesn’t want pity; in his words “sometimes you just need a little help from somebody”. He never asks for money; he takes care of himself, as well as he can. He could use a lot of help but rarely asks for it, usually only in an emergency, and, in case you’re wondering, he doesn’t want to be in a care facility, he enjoys his freedom, such as it is. He’d like to get the PBS station on his TV though.
Bob reads the daily newspaper through that little window in the vending machine, he’d like to have a computer so he could keep up to date on things, maybe record some of his adventurers, follow what’s going on in the world and someday be able to vote; imagine that, in a city where less than half of eligible voters turned out for the last presidential election …..
When Bob was young, his father moved the family 3,000 miles for a better school for him; imagine that, in a city where teachers cannot get a conference with a parent about their failing child short of a court order…..
His helper is trying to get him a recliner to alleviate the swelling in Bob’s legs, maybe stretch him out, because he lives in his chair, he eats in his chair, he sleeps in his chair and, I’m sure, Bob dreams in his chair.
Pause for a moment and ask yourself what Bob’s dreams are made of.
For that matter, what are any of our dreams made of and why should Bob’s be different? Why should any of the dreams of the flotsam and jetsam of the human condition be any different from anyone else’s? Around us we see collateral damage caused by the vagaries of fortune; damaged minds in otherwise good bodies and conversely, able minds trapped in faulty bodies possibly dreaming of dancing, flying or making love.
There are little things that we may take for granted that are not granted to those flawed by misfortune: and I’m not talking about the Bush tax cuts here. I submit to you items that I enjoy and do not take enough time to be thankful for: close family and friends; gainful employment; the ability to have and care for pets; physical and mental aptitude for performing specific tasks and the capability of being responsible enough to take charge in the case of an emergency. I also have the freedom to explore new worlds: I can submit the written word to you; I can decide that it’s time for me to take up artful projects like painting or playing a musical instrument; I can decide what, where and when I want to eat. Sure, you say, I can do that too.
Bob can’t. Bob doesn’t go to movies; Bob has never been to Jazz Fest; He doesn’t have a kitty, a car or a girlfriend; He hasn’t and never will play sports, cook his own food, tie his own shoes, pop a pimple or whistle. Bob has a motorized wheelchair and he’s thankful for that.
One thing that you can be pretty well sure of as you sit around your dinner table this Thanksgiving, tucking in to the turkey and stuffing, gravy and mashed potatoes, candied yams and pecan pie: the closest that Bob will come to that might be a turkey wrap from the store. What does it take for someone to quit bitching and be thankful for what they have? Bob says: “if I can do it, then they can do it”. Happy Thanksgiving.


Sandie said...

Phil - what a great column. You bring to life Bob's desire for independence while having to be completely dependent. I have so much to say on this, but it all sounds so maudlin in comparison to the reality of Bob's existence.

Sugar Belle said...

Hi , Thank You for this article, on my brother, Bob. my name is Linda Duprey. We had been looking for Bob , almost 5 years . I had called every major,City , in the USA . Got a call from the Fire Department, in the French Quarter . I went to see him and Yes, everything you said is correct. A few things to add, Our Dad, raised Bob and me , by himself. We moved from Maine to Washington State , so Bob could get around better. He graduated from High School, and has a Liberal Arts Degree. Did I mention his IQ is 157 .Our, Dad took Bob , Fishing, Baseball games at Fenway, Wrestling Matches at Boston Garden , He did EVERYTHING, we did. He only was in a wheel chair, late 80's. I agree , when you say , people look at him different. I saw it many times, I would look back at them , and wonder WHY ? Dad had bought us the Complete , World Book Encyclopedia, from a door to door salesman, in the 60's . I told Bob , I found our Mother, in 1994 and he sent her Chocolates and a card . He had the ability to forgive her. I met those " kids " they danced on Decatur street, for pocket change, from passersby's , And I had a little talk with them . I believe their attitude, changed, toward Bob , when they saw me. I am going down to see him , in October . and personal thank " Bebe " for keeping in touch with me . I have his address. although I may have to have a little talk with the lady who answers the phone at his residence ... my phone is 210-268-2324 ... Linda Duprey . Bob is a lot of things , but he is not poor , he is rich and understands life to it's fullest !

Sugar Belle said...

Phil , write a book on Bob's life and have Brad Pitt , since he's familiar with the French Quarter, play him... although in Bob's younger pictures , he looks alot like Topher Grace , from the 70's show. I have lots of stories and pictures . Many Thanks for talking with my brother.

Mike Duprey said...

Phil, thank you for the article. I have been looking for my cousin Bob and his sister Linda for a while. I only hope that the phone number that my cousin Linda left in her comments is still good. You can't know what this means to me.
Mike Duprey

Sugar Belle said...

It is ReaLLy A Small World after all ! Linda Duprey