A clown in a wheelchair passes by

al-martinez-photo.jpgThey came down Santa Monica's Third Street Promenade like disorganized marchers in a circus parade, clad in shorts, micro-minis, gowns, jeans and Hawaiian shirts worn like the costumes of summer on a warm Friday evening.

There were jugglers, dancers, singers, guitarists and a kid banging away on a set of drums, a collage of humanity and music that flowed and pounded into every restaurant and shop within range, and maybe even down to the ocean, where the surf whispered back.

It may not have been an actual parade, but it sure felt like one.

Cinelli and I were seated at a sidewalk table in a small French bistro called the Café Crepe where Third Street ended at Broadway. We were watching the people and the people were watching back in a connection of curiosity that summons parades to the Promenade in the first place. Then suddenly, abruptly I saw myself.

I was one of the clowns.

The person who caught my attention was my age and being pushed in a wheel chair by a woman who was probably his wife. She seemed cheerful enough, but the man was staring straight ahead, his expression fixed in a scowl, a rigid caricature of himself, hating the wheel chair and uncomfortable with the life that flowed about him on two-feet, stepping out and feeling good.

I could relate to him.

I'm in a wheel chair some of the time too when the effects of COPD lessen my air supply and prevent me from walking any distance. It's a progressive disease, a combination of bronchitis and emphysema, sucking the wind from me with the same intensity that I once smoked cigarettes.

I can see life from both sides now, from a perspective of infirmity when I'm in a wheel chair and from the distance of health when I am not. I was the man in better days annoyed at having to wait for a handicapped guy to cross the street before I could drive through, cursing if I missed a green light. Now I'm the handicapped guy, a slow dancer in a rock and roll world.

It is an odd feeling surrendering to both images at the same time, wondering why I was so annoyed, realizing the infliction of self-punishment involved in the displeasure of my plight. Like the angry clown passing before me, I was at war with my own feelings of helplessness and a ragimg desire to stand, pound my chest and roar.

Robert Burns wrote, "Oh the gift the giftie gie us to see ourselves as others see us."

I saw myself last Friday, an angry clown drowning in self-pity, and I didn't like it at all.

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