Tuesday, November 12, 2013

The "Money Talks" Project

My most embarrassing moment occurred as I walked across the stage during my high school graduation. A bit of back story is needed for those who did not get to meet the stunning vision of teenage glamour I was during high-school. To keep it brief: I started high school in a bright-blue half body cast and ended it in a dragon-theme prom dress. Key themes of my high-school experience included: novelty tee-shirts ("I keep hitting the escape key but I'm still here!"), elastic-waisted jeans, text-based role-playing games and an endless rotation of crutches/canes/wheelchairs/medical devices. Oh, and I'm 6 foot 2.
You know what looks great with half body casts? Pigtails.
Top of the dragon dress. There may or may not have been chopsticks in my hair.
That's a long way of saying that I wasn't winning any popularity contests at New Westminster Secondary School. As I walked across the stage to get my diploma, I was mostly concentrating on:
  1. Not tripping;
  2. Figuring out how to not drop my cane as I reached to get the diploma;
  3. Summoning enough hip flexion to bend sufficiently for the high school guidance counselor (who was shorter than me by several inches) to turn the tassel on my mortar board from one side my head to the other;
  4. Making it across the stage without fainting from the pressure of the aforementioned three items. 
I sat nervously among my classmates on the stage. My name was called. My big moment had arrived. Shaking, I stood up and began my walk across the stage.

And that's when it happened. The silence that followed the announcer saying my name was broken by someone yelling, "Hey Arley, lay off the steroids!!" My classmates laughed. Everyone turned to look at me. The guy who made the comment started murmuring to his buddies, praising himself for his wit. High-fives may or may not have been involved. I stared straight ahead, blushing furiously, trying not to break concentration or burst into tears. I don't remember what happened next -- other than forgetting to hug the guidance counselor in my haste to get off the stage -- but the incident remains one of the most embarrassing one of my life, despite how relatively minor it is compared to the endless Chaplin-esque highlight reel of my life.

For ages, that phrase -- Hey Arley, lay off the steroids -- would pop into my head whenever I was feeling particularly self-conscious.  On dates. While bathing suit shopping. While trying to converse with a group of short people at a loud bar. Hey Arley. Lay off the steroids.

I've been thinking about that incident a lot lately. For one, I recently picked up my old Complete Works of Oscar Wilde book and my high-school corsage fell out, sending me on a trip down memory lane. More importantly, however, I've seen an uptick in the level of stupid comments about my body from random strangers because I fractured my foot and, until recently, was stuck in an air cast. (How did I do this, you ask?  By dropping a wood-block cutting board on my foot as I was cleaning up after book club. As I said: Chaplin-esque).

Even though I don't use my cane as much as I should, and the homeless gentlemen who used to shout "Physiotherapy! Physiotherapy! Rehabilitation! Rehabilitation!" as I walked by has moved from his post by my house, I still get my fair share of bizarre comments from strangers on perhaps a weekly basis. You're tall! Your parents must have made you drink a lot of milk! (Yes, I am. Yes, they did). You're limping, did you sprain your ankle? (No, I did not). You're so large! Do you have a black boyfriend? (No I do not, random elderly Asian ladies, but thank you for asking).

Fracturing my foot, however, meant running the gauntlet of unwanted comments every day. A dude in the grocery store noted he'd "seen a lot of broken women lately" and speculated that if I'd dropped a knife on my foot, it probably would have healed more quickly. A man in the elevator inquired as to whether I'd had pins put in and informed me that, if I had, I'd be groped at the airport by the TSA agents and I might as well get used to it.

Showing off the air cast in a wedding photobooth.

One day I remarked to my boyfriend that if I had a dollar for every time someone said "OMG what happened to you?" I'd be rich. And then it hit me. I should donate a dollar to charity every time someone makes an unwanted comment about my body, therefore turning the incident from "awkward, embarrassing thing that made me momentarily annoyed" to "awkward, embarrassing thing that allows me to give back to charities that have impacted my life positively." My crankiness will be someone else's gain.

The two charities I've decided to give to are the BC Wheelchair Sports Association (who introduced me to wheelchair sports, which turned my 6 foot 2, limpy body into an asset on the wheelchair basketball court) and the Arthritis Society of BC (since the only avascular necrosis charities are UK-based and arthritis remains my biggest challenge post hip-replacement). I've decided to call it the "Money Talks" Project, because that sounds fancier than "when people say crappy things about me I will cheer myself up by trying to get some good karma with charity donations."

Here are the rules:
  1. For every unwanted comment I get about my body by a stranger, I will donate $2 ($1 to each charity) to a maximum of $100. Please note that this comment must be by a stranger who is unaware of this game, so don't get any ideas in your head about standing outside of my apartment urging me to lay off the steroids. (I mean, you can do that for fun, but it won't result in any money given to the charity. And I might cry).
  2. The comment must be given completely out of context. "Wow, you're huge! Do you have trouble getting a date?" while I'm minding my own business on the bus counts. Being asked how tall I am by a salesperson in a jeans shop while I'm bemoaning how hard it is to buy jeans does not count.
  3. Once I hit $100, I'll donate the money and start again.
If you get unwarranted comments on the street because of your height/weight/disability/race/Siamese twin attached to your neck, you should join me. Pick a charity or two to donate to and soon you'll be smiling to yourself every time someone asks you how the weather is up there, or to slow down hot wheels because you might get a speeding ticket, or that their friend had success losing 50 pounds on the paleo diet.

And if you want to hear what comments generate my donations, I'll tweet them on Twitter at @arley_mcneney .