There’s No Cure for Gretchen Lowe: Whoever Wrote the Regs Was a Frigging Genius

When the new Beetles came out, Gretchen had kicked around the idea of ditching all of the cab business and getting a car. Since cars came with lots of options but none that made the car driveable by her, she and the Recluse realized the car would have to be modified. Gretchen heard that lots of disabled people got financial help for such things through Voc-Rehab.

Look. You work. You’re not really eligible to be disabled. Air-quotes.

One sleepy post-lunch hour in her clinic office, she gave in to an impulse and looked up the number. When no one picked up at the main number, she worked her way through the extensions until a deep, annoyed voice said hello. That one call into the San Francisco office of Voc-Rehab pretty much cured any hope she had of even minimal financial assistance. The call also showed how employment was a universal solvent on the human stain of disability, at least where government agencies were concerned.

The counselor had more to say, nasally, on the overall lack of money available and went on to say that he himself was legally blind and had been waiting five years for a computer he could use. To do his job. Voc-rehabbing people who were legally blind, for example. So complaining to him was not really something he would be real open to hearing. If she didn’t mind.

It took Gretchen a minute to absorb the sheer amount of resentment this government employee was taking time out of his unaccommodated workday to dump on her simply because she wanted to know if she really would be stuck with the entire, retail bill for getting a car into usable condition for someone with her steadily degenerating neuromuscular condition. Because preliminary inquiries were looking like it might all equal or exceed the cost of the car.

The thing was. She could feel him trying to overcome his massively unaccommodated disability to consider her, okay, possibly ridiculous question.

She interrupted: What did she know. Others, seemingly not much worse off than her — though the calculus of can’t-do was like Lotto with negative numbers — seemed to get this subsidized and that covered.

Gretchen was a rookie, she was making that absolutely crystal clear. She had no case manager or benefits history. She had always been disabled but was much more so now. This was going to continue so she was preparing with that future in mind.

The thing was. Was she working, he asked.

She said she was indeed. Gretchen switched the handset to her other ear. The sound of someone’s voice did paint a picture of what the speaker looked like. Years of sufficient vision seemed to result in a catalog of stock images. This someone’s voice indicated a prominent Adam’s apple and considerable height.

Was she in danger of losing her job because she didn’t have a vehicle she could drive?

She said no, and was in fact calling well before any such contingency might transpire, given how long it would take to get through the whole shebang.

Well, then. She had a job, she wasn’t losing it — this was what he’d tell someone — they had formulas for figuring out a person’s situation, a one-through-ten ranking.

Look, he coughed, she wasn’t really up there, in disability eligibility. Don’t get her hopes up. Because, look, she wasn’t really eligible, in the disability area. He couldn’t even get them to get him software, for chrissake. Look.

His voice was ramping up. She imagined him gunning the Adam’s apple, making it vibrate wildly before settling into a steady pulse.

Look. You work. You’re not really eligible to be disabled. Air-quotes.

She asked if he had considered quitting his job in order to get the software he needed to do his job.

He said he had. But his partner needed the health benefits. And the department had responded to his requests for accommodation by transferring him to the complaints line. Which ordinarily he stuck to but he’d been over visiting his old cubicle and made the mistake of picking up Gretchen’s call. Look. No offense.

None taken. So did he, like her, find anything…funny about being put on what’s-your-beef duty when he had such a massive bone of his own to pick?

Huh. Put it that way. Heh. Actually. He lowered his voice and Gretchen could tell he was also lowering his head, possibly cupping the phone’s receiver with a red-knuckled hand that trembled slightly with repressed unaccommodated civil servant rage.

Actually, he said, working the complaint line’s pretty sweet because I don’t get any calls.

Oh, no one feels like it’s worth the effort?

Uhn-uh. See, they’re required by regs to have a complaint line, but there’s nothing saying they have to publish the number. Whoever wrote the regs was a frigging genius.

Gretchen was intrigued. What about e-mail, she asked without thinking.

The shriek at the other end made her almost drop the phone. She hastily apologized for forgetting about his computer situation.

[To Be Continued]

There’s No Cure for Gretchen Lowe is an unpublished coming-of-middle-age crip lit novel. Within the broader realm of literature featuring characters with disabilities — #DisLit and memoir — #CripLit presents an understanding of disability using the lens of the social model. It eschews disability as a narrative device and shortcut for conveying sentimentality, heroism, and disaster to readers.

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