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Saturday, March 3, 2012

All that I can't leave behind: The misadventures of a blind-deaf man who just wants to discard his Braille magazines

Hey, folks!

I had a little adventure, though not an entirely unexpected one, upon my
return from visiting UVa. After I told Chris Krentz about it, he said I
should write it up. Well, here it is, in today's Star Tribune!

Link and text below. Enjoy!

All that I can't leave behind
By John Lee Clark

You notice a young man sitting on a park bench with a large book on his lap.

Instead of looking at it, his fingers are flying over its pages. The white
cane leaning against the bench confirms your idea that he is blind. You turn
to the hot dog stand and order a chili dog. Turning back to look at the
bench, you see that the blind man is gone. Lying on the bench is the large
book, a couple of its pages fluttering in the breeze. Scanning around, you
catch him walking briskly a block away. If history is any indication, you will
your chili dog, grab the book and run after him.

How I wish I could get rid of magazines -- for it was a Braille magazine,
not a book, that I left on the bench -- as easily as the sighted do. They
can cast aside an issue anywhere and go on with their lives. Not so with me.

I receive half a dozen magazines every month from the National Library
Services for the Blind and Physically Handicapped. A Braille reader can
"subscribe" to any number of magazines from their list for free. If one borrows books
from the library, they have to be returned, just like print library books.
But the magazines are different. They are not to be returned.

They are yours to keep or throw away.

At home, I always place them in the recycling bin after reading them. But
when I'm traveling, I don't want to lug those bulky editions around with me
after I'm done reading them. So I shed them as I go along, or I attempt to.

At a restaurant, I might finish an issue and leave it behind after paying
the bill and before walking out. More often than not, however, a waiter will
overtake me, panting, and press the Braille magazine into my hands. I am then
forced to smile in gratitude. After walking a safe distance, I will begin looking
for a garbage can.

But even that doesn't always work. I have thrust magazines deep in trash
cans only to have them, dripping with garbage goo, presented to me a few
minutes later. On account of magazines I've discarded, people have run, jumped into
cars, tripped over themselves, called, mailed, asked a mutual acquaintance
to please pass them on to me, or saved them for weeks until, finally seeing
me again, rushing up to me. "There you are! You forgot this last time you
were here." How could I tell them the truth?

Recently, I flew out East to give a lecture on deaf-blind history at the
University of Virginia. In addition to my backpack, I carried a bag with
eight magazine volumes. I succeeded in hiding one of them, after finishing it, in
the seat pocket in front of me before I disembarked in Philadelphia, where
my connecting flight was. I hid another one in the same way on the plane
that landed in Charlottesville. So far, so good.

I didn't have much time to read during the excitement of my stay in town,
but I did finish two more volumes by the time Prof. Christopher Krentz
picked me up from the hotel to take me to the airport. Before checking out, I
decided to just leave those two volumes in my room, rather than look for a
garbage can in the hotel big enough to bury them in. But to be safe, I tore them up.
That would make it clear that they were to be thrown away.

By the time I landed back at the Minneapolis-St. Paul airport, I had read
through the last four magazine volumes. I hid one of them on the plane, but
felt it too risky to hide the other three in three more seat pockets. On my way
to the where the taxis were, I stepped into a restroom, used it, and right
before exiting, I abandoned the last three issues. Fearing that they might come
back to haunt me, I walked at a smart, almost dangerous clip, my cane
zipping back and forth in front of me. No one caught up with me. I got into a taxi,
and I was home safe!

Or so I thought. Waiting in my inbox at home was an e-mail message from the
hotel manager saying he had my "books." Would I please give him my address
so he could mail them to me?


John Lee Clark, a deaf-blind writer, edited the anthology Deaf American
Poetry (Gallaudet University Press, 2009). His website is at

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