Amy F. Quincy Author/Freelance Writer


September 2011

For Need of a Dog

"My pain in the butt:" Photo by Bruce Macfarlane

Every disabled person should own a dog. I can hear friends laughing now because, in the past, I’ve been such a die hard cat person. Frankie has changed all that.

Don’t get me wrong. I still think dogs are a pain in the butt. They need to be entertained more than cats. They need to be exercised. Let out. They’re more destructive. More vacuum-like when it comes to food. They’re louder. Messier. More demanding. You can’t take a three-day weekend with ease. The list goes on and on.

In other words, having Frankie isn’t something I would’ve ever signed up for. Sometimes, the universe doesn’t give you what you want, it gives you what you need.

I’ve realized how caring for Frankie has expanded my world. I know a lot more people. Particularly in my neighborhood. It makes life more enjoyable. Imagine being out and about and everyone waves or nods. Even if I’m not actually with Frankie. Just yesterday, I was at the grocery store when a man said, “It just seems wrong, seeing you without your little dog.” It’s like the Cheers song, (yes, I know I’m dating myself,) but you do want to be where everybody knows your name. Okay, so most of these neighbors don’t actually know my name. The other day walking him, a man hollered out his window, “Hey, Frankie!” to which I waved and yelled, “Hi!”

"Not Holing up:" Michele walks me and Frankie

I’m outside a lot more. I don’t “isolate” myself (as my mother would say.) Without twice daily dog walks, I might be holed up for days on end with my computer and my cat. Instead, the tires on my power chair are actually bald. I need new tires. I hope I don’t have to brake suddenly.

Frankie also bridges the gap between the disabled and the able-bodied. I’m probably a lot more approachable in my wheelchair with him by my side. I’m just guessing here, but it’s reasonable to assume that I’m the only disabled person many of my neighbors have ever talked to. It’s good for everyone. Able-bodied folks can gain awareness and I gain a little self-esteem. For those five minutes discussing the weather or comparing flea medication, I’m not so different.

And service dogs? The benefits seem endless. In fact, I feel guilty just writing it so shhh, but when Frankie … umm… you know… gets to eat people food and run around leash free, I want to get a service dog. Of course, there’s nothing funny about a perfectly behaved dog is there? Maybe I’ll stick to inspirational and endearing misbehavers.

No Parking

I should have known what was coming when my mom passed the space very slowly, as she always does, checking for a permit. (Apparently, someone made her the permit police.) There wasn’t one. Not hanging off the rear view mirror, not on the license plate. She learned to check the plate after barking at some woman who barked right back, “Check the license tag before you go getting all high and mighty with me!”

So, this SUV without a permit is parked in the handicapped spot at our hair salon. Mom leaves me on the sidewalk and walks right in the realty office in front.

Oh Lord. Here we go. Inside, I see her pointing to me. She’s having words with some guy at a desk. Oh brother. They’re coming outside, his keys in hand.

“There was nobody here,” he says, like that makes a difference.

“We’re here now,” Mom says.

“Sorry,” the man huffs. He isn’t. He can’t believe this woman marched right in to his office to make him move. The guy’s a jerk. I’m embarrassed, but a little proud too.

I’m reminded of the Seinfeld episode where an angry mob destroys Mr. Costanza’s car cause George and the gang park in a handicapped spot.

But these aren’t the offenders I’m worried about — the people without permits. Society backs me up on that one. It’s generally frowned upon and most people I know would never take a handicapped spot without permission. What I’m concerned about is the number of people with permits that park there and don’t need them.

We all know that doctors give these things out like prescription drugs. Anyone who ever twisted an ankle and got two years worth of front row parking can attest to that.

Last week, I was out walking Frankie by the handicapped access to the beach. A guy was parked in the handicapped spot waxing his surfboard that was hanging out of his truck. He cheerfully said good morning to me as I passed by in my wheelchair. He didn’t even look guilty. Now, unless he’s some kind of “Soul Surfer,” (and he didn’t appear to be, he had all his limbs) then I object.

The problem is that some people don’t see the problem. It’s not enough in my book to have the permit. You should need it too. Doing errands for the disabled person? Great! Is he or she going in? If not, leave the space for someone who needs it.

Some folks think they’re safe from a ticket if they have the permit. Wrong. According to the Florida Department of Motor Vehicles, anyone who uses a permit that does not belong to them can receive a $1,000 fine or up to six months in jail.

In Seinfeld, Kramer talks George into taking the space. “Oh, come on. Handicapped people don’t drive! Have you ever seen a handicapped person pull into a space and park? Those spaces are always empty!”

Those spaces are usually empty. But we’re out there. Some of us drive and some don’t. But we all ride. And occasionally, may even want to go in.

We Remember

It seems disrespectful to write about anything else today. We’ll all go about our business, but it will be there. The knowledge. The memory. The grief that marks any big anniversary of loss. And this is a big one. So, no funny dog story today. Today, I remember …

Exactly ten years ago, I was at a yoga teacher training. We were stretching into a pose, or breathing, or meditating. I don’t recall. What I do remember is some girl with a cell phone screaming about something her husband had just seen on the news. The students, myself included, were annoyed with her for letting her phone ring and interrupting our peace with some current event from the outside world. I didn’t pay attention to her hysterics. We broke for lunch. By the time we returned, we understood. Things would never be the same.

Blooming in 2009
Replanted in 2001

Of all of the stories told to mark the occasion in the recent weeks, I think I’ve been most touched by the “Survivor Tree.” A lone callery pear was the only tree to survive the attack. It was removed to a Bronx nursery where it was nursed back to health and returned to the World Trade Center Memorial Plaza last December. True to my optimistic nature, I embrace this story of strength, hope and renewal.

In the words of fellow yogi, Deepak Chopra, “For me and my family personally, September 11 was a reminder that life is fleeting, impermanent and uncertain. Therefore we must make use of every moment and nurture it with affection, tenderness, beauty, creativity and laughter.”

At the Movies

I love going to the movies. My “woulda-coulda-shoulda” career choice is that of film critic. I think everyone’s allowed at least one woulda-coulda-shoulda when it comes to making a living and mine is movie reviewer.

It’s perfect when you think about it. It combines my love of movies with my passion for writing, not to mention my fondness for giving others my opinion. And I could work despite my disabilities. From home. Like Roger Ebert, who still gives his thumbs up or down after a cancer battle took away his ability to speak, eat or drink. Besides, have you read some of the reviews out there?

The only problem (and it’s a big one) is I know nothing about film. Not the history of it. Not the making of it. Just the little I recall from a film appreciation class I took in college. But I do appreciate it. Every aspect of it. From the red carpet and who’s who celebrity madness to the technique and art of telling a good story on film. Which is why I like to hit the box office around once a week, depending on what’s playing.

Becoming a disabled movie-goer has its pros and cons. First on the pro side is, of course, the parking. You would think obtaining rock star status would have calmed me some, but no. I’m even worse about getting there early. My mother and I often sit in bright, empty theaters while the ushers sweep popcorn off the floor from earlier showings.  Our own personal “First Look.”

Something my mother calls a pro that I list as a con, is the discount. It’s a little known fact that a handicapped person plus one can get in for the price of one. The “assistant” gets in free. I guess the idea is that the disabled person might have wanted to go by themselves and shouldn’t have to pay double just because they visit the restroom and need help. (Me, I avoid all liquid consumption, especially the super-sized $10 sodas.)

Unfortunately, this discount is also a little known fact to virtually every theater employee with the exception of management. I can usually be found cringing as some ticket-seller requests a manager over the sound system, much to the dismay of the people in line behind us. He or she then loudly asks if “the handicapped,” i.e. me, get a discount. It’s like being at the drugstore when some loudmouthed cashier asks for a price check on your foot fungal cream.

It’s a definite con when the handicapped seats are in the very front row. No sane person wants to watch a movie like they’re watching a game of tennis just to follow an on-screen conversation. Imagine the crick in your neck!  I won’t do it.  If I’m with two people, I’ll climb the stairs, one arm wrapped around each person’s shoulders. If there’s only two of us, I’ll “butt up” (I hope that’s self-explanatory.) Another reason to get there early and avoid subjecting fellow patrons to that.

One time I climbed, with the help of my mother and a friend. My mother brought up the wheelchair, since it fit down the aisle and we could get to “prime viewing location” (the exact middle.) In an otherwise empty theater, would you believe a couple carrying snacks galore came and sat in the row directly behind us? My mother actually turned around and said. “I’m sorry, but what exactly is the thought process here?” No response. They sat there while we moved, carrying out the whole production of me transferring back into the wheelchair. I told my mom they were probably scared to move because they thought she was a serial killer.

If all else fails and I’m stuck in the first row, I’ll ask for my money back. Price check on a handicapped refund.

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