Recently, a customer dropped by for a pint during the afternoon. He is visually disabled and requires help up and down the stairs of our location. On this particular day when there was no one around, I heard a voice from the stairwell calling my name. I gladly went down to guide the man up when I peered over the railing and spotted him patiently waiting. He only needed to know the number of steps and he climbed quickly counting off the the stairs.
After stowing his walker and cane, he sat at the bar and ordered a pint. It was conversation he craved and so I delivered the usual liturgy of bartenders – the weather, sports, the precipitous economic climate and the general malaise of this generation. I queried him on the origin of macular degeneration and he let me know it was diabetes related and really only a problem for non visually impaired people who bump into him. He related to me how generally people will help when asked but rarely offer up help and he exampled the crosswalk without auditory signals when he is not to sure about the white man walking signal. He chuckled in telling how he can hear traffic better than he can see and how if he knows someone is nearby he asks if it is safe to walk while turning backwards to the curb. Someone always turns him in the right direction.
He spoke kindly of his landlord, from whom he rents a basement apartment. She cooks for him also and so that is one less stress on his life. He lamented the rudeness of some public transit workers who rush him on the bus when he does not have his CNIB bus pass readily available. Would it really hurt them to give him the benefit of the doubt- not too many fake blindness after all to get a free bus ride. I chuckled when he told of a taxi driver dropping him off one house over from his which was essentially identical and his realization he had walked in the wrong house. He asked me to use his pin and ATM to make a withdrawal so he could pay for his beer but I baulked at having anyone’s information. He had a ten dollar bill however which I assured him was more than enough for a pint.
He lives in the neighbourhood and knows most of the long time residents. He inquired if I had any odd jobs for him as he was trying to supplement his meager disability earnings. I do not, but I said I would ask around of the friends I had in the area. He said he felt a burden sometimes on society but life was as it was and he felt lucky. Tears welled up in his glossy eyes and he began to tell me of his son. Now in his thirties and institutionalized he has suffered from terrible Cerebral Palsy since his birth. The son cannot speak but the father understands what he is communicating through gestures and smiles. He feels blessed to have had this son all these years when doctors told him the child would be a vegetable all his life. He spoke of an abusive wife that forced him away from a marriage and how everyday he gives thanks for being alive. He asked about my family and I told him my wife works hard raising money for cancer research. Then he asked if they had a direct withdrawal program so that he could donate $10 per month. I said the thought was enough and for him to use the $10 monthly to help someone locally.
He spoke of his youth and traveling the length of Canada hauling trailers. He spoke of the beauty of the mountains in the west and the ruggedness of the coasts in the east. All this he said was ingrained and he just needed to close his eyes and see with his mind what he once ignored simply as scenery on the way to work. The pint was done and he had to go off to his doctor. I gave him the stair count again, took his walker downstairs for him and watched him walk to the intersection yelling back if he was facing the right way. I chuckled as I climbed the stairs back up the pool hall and realized how small most problems really are when we stop to appreciate what we have rather than have not.