I Can't Go For That (No Can Do)
There were a handful of teachers from my grade school days that managed to imprint themselves on the soft clay of my prepubescent cerebrum. Miss Bergman, my kindergarten teacher, was one. She had a knack for slipping character-building chores into our day so they almost went unnoticed. We painlessly swallowed cleaning the blackboard, organizing our cubbies and arranging chairs for story time. Every kid went about these tasks with Snow White-and-the-Seven-Dwarfs merriment. Every kid that is except Maureen Moriarty.
Maureen was a 5-year-old-princess with a type A personality who could play sick at the drop of a hat. Like a sorceress she would conjure up full-blown ailments ranging from nosebleeds to sinus infections in a moment’s notice.
For us it was: "Children! Story time." and we’d dutifully grab our chairs placing them in semi-circle formation.
For Maureen it was: "Mucus exploding out of your nostrils again sweetheart? Don’t worry. Stand here by me while Johnny gets your seat."
Forty-three years later I was in the ICU dealing with an explosion situation of my own. A dissected carotid artery had turned my 47-year-old brain into helpless baby mush. Maureen’s get-out-of-jail-free sympathy that I used to envy was now mine in spades. "Poor thing" and "what a trooper" were being whispered behind my back.
Let’s be honest, a stroke can make you look and feel pathetic. One’s sense of swagger and machismo tends to evaporate when you’re an adult man and you can’t be trusted holding a glass of water without the aide of a nurse.
"John, let me help you with that."
"You’ll help me sip my Wa-Wa?"
"Of course honey."
"Will you tuck me in too?"
"With my favorite blankey?"
"If it makes you happy."
Two and a half months later I was plucked from the nurturing bosom of hospital care and released into the bloodstream of humanity where I would be accountable for my behavior and expected to overcome basic obstacles like everyone else. Starting at home.
Aha! But now I had something in my back pocket that even Maureen didn’t have…the stroke card! And much to my wife Marilyn’s dismay I pulled it out every chance I got.
"Wanna do the laundry together?"
"Love to, but I had a stroke."
"How about making the bed?"
"Hel-looo, arm doesn’t work."
"What about a little dusting?"
"Sorry, no can do."
Soon the stroke card became addictive. I found myself pulling it out all the time. An aura of atrophy hovered over me like a storm cloud. People kowtowed to me like I was Henry VIII — cutting my food, carrying my packages, or reading me the paper. Even other disabled humans got into the act to the point where a random stranger in a motorized scooter insisted on driving me across the street.
There comes a time in life when you should reassess your situation, and being transported across 5th Avenue on the boney lap of a guy in a Hoveround seemed like the right time. Suddenly I had a cinematic view of my body draped over Scooter-Dude and it wasn’t a pretty picture. That’s when it hit me — I had become Maureen Moriarty.
So I went home, grabbed a bottle of Tide and headed down to the laundry room.
See a clip from John’s one-man show, Brain Freeze.
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