Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Speaking to Students About Disabilities

I have to thank Kim for this opportunity. A few weeks ago she told me that her school, Cape Elizabeth Middle School, would be observing A Lot Alike week. They booked speakers, and they organized activities, all centered around the theme of inclusion. Kim asked if I would speak about disabilities. I reluctantly agreed to.

I assumed I would provide a public service, imparting knowledge to these young people. I would do them a favor and would receive nothing in return. As planned, I gave them an understanding of what it’s like to live with a disability. But to my surprise and delight, the energy, compassion, and earnestness I felt from the students lifted my spirits. I gave, and they gave back.

I wanted to start slowly, just one class of 25 or so eighth-graders, in case I bombed. My greatest fear was that I would bore them. The first session went well, so we set up three more sessions of 50 or so eighth-graders over the next week.

Using a PowerPoint presentation, I kicked things off with some pictures of Mrs. Sturgeon and me when we were the same age as these students. I deliberately made fun of our clothing and hair styles, and I quickly gained credibility.

Then, I told them about my diagnosis and explained the basic science of multiple sclerosis. I discussed the variety of symptoms that MS patients might encounter. I showed them pictures of me using a cane, forearm crutches, and a scooter. Next came the highlight of the show – an iBot demonstration. In each of the four sessions, when I elevated myself into balance mode, the students couldn’t believe their eyes.

I spoke about my mother – what a role model she was – and addressed some specific lessons I learned from her. I mentioned the eerie similarity between her injury and my disease.

Then I introduced my blog and talked about how it has benefited both me and those who read it. I shared with them some of my favorite posts.

I finished up with what I called My Keys to Resilience. Then came my favorite part of each presentation – audience questions.

Always, the questions started slowly, then once the ice was broken multiple hands flew up at one time. The students didn’t have much of a filter, and that was refreshing. Here are a few of the questions they asked:
Can you feel your legs? Yes
Does it hurt to lift your arms? Not really
Have you stabilized or are you still getting worse? Getting worse
What do you have for hobbies? I explained some of these
What kind of music do you listen to? Nothing made after 1982
How do you get into and out of bed? I explained this
How much did the iBot cost? $26,000
How did your mother break her neck? You’ll have to read my book
How do you travel? I explained some of this
What is the difference between MS and ALS? Mostly life expectancy and speed of deterioration
Are there any treatments? Many for relapsing, none so far for PPMS
Can you move your legs at all? A tiny, tiny bit. I demonstrated for them.
Do you have other wheelchairs? Three others
How does that wheelchair balance? Like a Segway
I had a huge advantage coming in. Mrs. Sturgeon is a beloved school counselor, and the students relished the opportunity to learn more about her life away from school, of which I am a pretty big part. I probably couldn’t have bombed if I had tried.

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

An Unusual Take on Life Insurance

Jeff (my insurance agent), please forgive me for what I write below.

If you have MS or any other nasty disease, I hope you bought life insurance before you were diagnosed. Oh, you can sometimes get it after diagnosis, but it’ll cost you an arm and a leg, even if that arm and leg don’t work anymore.

When Kim and I had young children, we bought a boatload of life insurance and planned to have it expire when our youngest finished college. Our major financial obligations for child rearing would be complete, and we would have a healthy retirement nest egg, sufficient for the surviving spouse in the event of an untimely death. The nest egg isn’t quite what we had hoped because of my early retirement, but it’s not insignificant either.

Well, Zach just graduated from college, and the life insurance, it’s expiring on schedule.

But we have one policy that is renewable for another 20 year level term, at the same benefit amount, with no medical questions asked. At our age, the monthly premium is a lot higher than it was for the past 20 years, as it should be. Here are the specifics:

Death benefit to me if Kim dies: $150,000
Death benefit to Kim if I die: $50,000
(this is how we set up the policy 20 years ago, and it can’t be altered now)

The monthly premium for a 20 year policy extension: $83 (we had been paying $29)

Warning, this post gets a little morbid from here on. If you want to make good financial decisions about life insurance, you can’t avoid frank discussions.

There are two ways to look at insurance needs, now that our children are grown. One way is – how much money would a surviving spouse need to get by? In our case we could use a bit more money because of the nest egg shortfall.

The other way to look at this financial decision is to treat it like we are placing a bet. Macabre? Absolutely. But such is the nature of buying life insurance later in life, for someone with a chronic illness. Are we willing to bet that one of us will die in the next 20 years, with the insurance company giving us favorable odds by ignoring my illness? Based on my poor health and complete lack of exercise, let's be honest – I'm probably not going to live to a ripe old age.

I have found a company willing to insure my life at the same rate they would insure anyone’s. I think I should do it. I think I will do it.

But I’ve never wanted to lose a bet more than I want to lose this one.

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Update on My Book

In February I announced that I’m writing a memoir. I spent most of 2014 pulling together the first draft. In January of this year I started the second draft and completed it this morning. The two processes couldn’t have been more different.

The first draft called for free writing – getting ideas out of my head and into documents, with little scrutiny. I let the creative juices flow. My first draft was unreadable, and that’s what I had expected it to be. Oh, it contained some nice passages here and there, but I wouldn’t show it to anybody.

In the second draft I concentrated on making the text more reader friendly. I minimized use of passive voice (replaced the glasses were filled with Mitchell filled the glasses). Because adverb-verb pairings bore the reader, I substituted more interesting verbs (replaced ran fast with dashed). Good writing avoids overused words, so I searched the document for a list including: very, that, just, almost, really, etc. Perhaps most importantly, I looked for opportunities to identify bland passages and bring them to life.

At the end of the second draft I find myself with 34 chapters, about 95,000 words. This will produce a book of about 350 pages. That feels right.

So, what’s next? Obviously, the third draft. I’ll continue to look for the same things I did in my second draft. In addition, I’ll contemplate big picture issues such as theme, pace, structure, and more.

I have a compelling story to share, and I show flashes of writing ability, but it will take a lot of work to make this publishing-ready. I don’t want anyone to read the book because they know me, and they feel obligated. Instead, I hope people will sample or purchase this book because it is well marketed and has positive reviews. Ideally, they will keep reading this book because they can’t put it down. When they finish they will wish it had been longer, not shorter. I look forward to comments like, “I enjoyed the book, and it made me think about things differently.” I'll continue improving the manuscript until I feel it meets these criteria. I'm in no hurry.

My friend and local author Joe Souza helped me improve the all important opening chapter. My friends at the Portland Writers Group are still giving me outstanding feedback, and I will involve other folks as the project moves along.

In my February announcement I asked readers to submit ideas for the title. The majority suggested the book title be the same as this blog. But I wanted a subtitle, and you gave me some great suggestions. Here are my top choices so far, but I’m not convinced the perfect title is in this list yet:

Enjoying the Ride: A Story of Mutual Suffering and Shared Resilience
Enjoying the Ride: A Mother and Son’s Mutual Suffering and Shared Resilience
Enjoying the Ride: A Family Adapted
Enjoying the Ride: A Mother and Son Adapted
Enjoying the Ride: The Story of a Second-Generation Quadriplegic
Enjoying the Ride: The Courageous Story of Mother and Son Quadriplegics
Enjoying the Ride: Holding It Together When Everything Is Falling Apart

For those of you who missed the first post, here is my synopsis of the book:
Paralysis can strike without warning – one moment you’re a dynamic and independent person and the next, a quadriplegic. That’s what happened to my late mother when she crushed her cervical spinal cord at the age of 35. But sometimes paralysis chips away at your movements, a tiny bit every day, until you become locked inside the useless shell of a body. That’s what has been happening to me since the age of 38 when an aggressive form of MS began to ravage my cervical spinal cord – at an eerily similar location to my mother’s injury. Although we followed different paths, we ended up at the same place.
In a straightforward, irreverent, and hopefully inspirational manner, I tell the story of a mother and son’s mutual suffering and shared resilience. I revisit a childhood growing up with my extraordinary mother then take the reader on a journey through more than a decade of my adult life spent battling primary progressive MS.

My mother prepared me for challenges we could never have imagined I would face. And through the writing process I grew closer to her by finding new meaning in the legacy she left behind.

I’ll keep you updated!

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

Wheelchair Users Need Physical Intimacy Too

This post isn’t about sex; that’s a separate topic that I could address here someday, but I probably won’t. Also, this isn’t about physical therapy, professional massage, or contact between a caregiver and a disabled person while showering, getting dressed, etc. It’s about loving, tender, nonsexual intimacy.

For most of my life, I’ve not been an affectionate person. Kim, however, has a normal, healthy desire for human touch. Back in my pre-MS days, when Kim became affectionate, I didn’t hate it, but I wasn’t sad when it was over, and I rarely initiated. I would have been content with no physical intimacy at all outside of the bedroom.

Maybe I became this way because the warm, loving hugs I used to receive from my mother ended abruptly when I was five years old. After her accident, she stayed in various hospitals for almost a year, and then she used a wheelchair for the rest of her life. That chair came between us.

Or maybe I would have been like that anyway, because I’m, well, a man.

It’s difficult to achieve a quality embrace when you’re sitting in a wheelchair. Shoulders touch, but that’s about it. Because the standing person has to lean over so far, the hug rarely lasts long. Plus, there’s this, which I wrote in a previous blog post:
If you do come in for the hug, please approach from my left side. If you approach from the right side you may hit my joystick and send me flying. Yes, that has happened.
Now that physical intimacy has become more difficult for me to achieve, I’ve decided it’s something I want. Isn’t that always the way? What I used to consider almost an invasion of my personal space, now makes me feel all warm and fuzzy inside, like a real boy.

One opportunity for me to experience nonsexual physical intimacy is while lying in bed, liberated from my wheeled contraption. Our bed looks like a king-sized mattress, but it’s actually two twin mattresses butted up against one another. We are always experimenting with hand railing systems on either side of my twin mattress to help me adjust my position a little bit in the middle of the night. Having a railing on the outside of my mattress doesn’t interfere with intimacy. However, the railing between our two mattresses might as well be a brick wall. A few days ago we removed that railing, and Kim slid over and cuddled with me for a long while, and it was nice.

I need to eliminate barriers like this, because Kim’s touch heals my damaged body and nourishes my aching soul.

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Update on My New Treatment – Biotin

I don’t need to be made whole. I can live a happy life the way I am. I must slow down or stop the progression of this disease, however, before I become miserable. I don’t know how far away Misery is, but I know he's getting closer every day.

I wouldn’t say I’m hopeful. I would say I’m desperate.

Okay, I am a tiny bit hopeful.

Things are moving quickly on the biotin front. Here are some bullet points about what has happened since I posted last Monday.
  • MedDay, the French pharmaceutical company who ran the pilot study that was so promising, reported results from a phase III trial on Friday at the American Academy of Neurology annual meeting. These results are not nearly as encouraging as the pilot study, yet did satisfy one of their desired endpoints – reducing the progression of disability in the treatment group versus the placebo group. Also, 12.6% of treated patients showed an improvement in EDSS, a common measurement of MS disability. It is difficult to assess disease progression in a nine or twelve month period, which is what they tried to do. Long-term results may be worse, or they may be better. Click here for a report.
  • Today, MedDay hosted a webinar (click here to view webinar) where they went into more detail about the results of their phase III trial. Nothing earth shattering. There was a question-and-answer period at the end, and I asked what advice they would give people who are sourcing their own biotin because they can’t wait another year or two for FDA approvals. The presenter admitted that he didn't know what he would do if he were in our shoes – which I thought was a nice touch. But of course, his official position was that we should wait for their product to come to the market. I read between the lines, however. Based on his comments, I’m now more confident that compounding pharmacy grade capsules will be very close to the product used in this trial.
  • A new Facebook group formed – Biotin for Progressive MS. For the past week progressive MS patients, myself included, have been talking about all issues related to biotin and MS. Click here for the Facebook group.
  • As I wrote in my previous blog post, I purchased a month’s worth of over-the-counter, 10 mg biotin capsules. I began taking 30 pills per day on Thursday. I stopped on Monday for two reasons. First, it gave me the runs, and diarrhea is not fun for someone in a wheelchair. Second, I became convinced that this was the wrong approach. Over-the-counter supplements in the United States are not regulated, so consumers don’t know the exact concentration of biotin or what other ingredients are used for fillers. I decided that if I was going to do this, I would do it the right way. I want to thank a few people for straightening me out: those who commented on my blog post last week, the folks on the biotin for MS Facebook page, and other people like Marc Stecker at Wheelchair Kamikaze. Click here for his post on biotin and stem cells.
  • I visited a local compounding pharmacy today, the same one that gave me a price of $440 per month last week. They worked with me and we were able to get the cost down to $275 per month. That’s still an outrageous amount of money, but it’s about 40% less outrageous than it used to be. They can cut the price even more if I place bigger orders. I will play that by ear. I placed my first order for a month’s worth of 100 mg tablets, three per day, and it should be ready in a few days.
Last week's post on biotin has been pretty much rendered obsolete. I will not be surprised if this post meets that same fate in the near future. This situation is fluid.

Monday, April 20, 2015

I’m Starting a New Treatment – Biotin

For the last year I’ve not even attempted to treat my primary progressive multiple sclerosis (PPMS). I had no ideas. I have one now.

A couple of months ago, I learned of a pilot study with high doses of a drug called Biotin, also known as vitamin H. Twenty-three secondary progressive and primary progressive MS patients were given up to 600 mg per day of Biotin. 92% of them showed clinical improvement.

I shared the article with my neurologist. I told him I wanted to try this drug immediately, rather than wait for all the trials to be completed and permits to be granted. I don't have that luxury. He agreed to help me. Biotin is available as an over-the-counter supplement sold in tablet sizes up to 10 mg. But I wanted to take three, 100 mg doses per day. My neurologist located a compounding pharmacy that could custom manufacture the 100 mg tablets for me. I was most pleased.

Then I received a call from the pharmacy, and they told me that my cost would be $440 per month, and there would be no insurance coverage, because this is technically an over-the-counter drug. I was most displeased.

I went to the internet and found that I could get a 120 count bottle of 10 mg tablets for $8.83 per bottle at I would have to take ten pills, three times per day, which is an inconvenience. However, my monthly cost would be about $90, instead of $440 – well worth the trouble. I checked back with my neurologist, and he didn’t see any problem. So, today I placed an order to Walmart for ten bottles of biotin, a one month’s supply, and I can’t wait to start. The shipment is due Wednesday.

If this drug eventually gets FDA approval for PPMS, and becomes available as a prescription, and I find that it works for me, I would get that product through my insurance and only have to take three pills a day instead of thirty.

With slow, progressive diseases like mine, it can take up to a year to determine if a new treatment helps or not, so I will need to be patient.

Later today, after I ordered the pills, I learned that a placebo controlled, phase III trial of the same drug, this time employing 154 progressive MS patients, also met with success. The details will be presented next week at the American Academy of Neurology’s annual meeting. Articles can be found here and here.

I have to be realistic. No drug has ever worked for PPMS. This one probably won’t either. But there is a chance, and acting on that possibility feels good. Wish me luck.

How ironic would it be if an over-the-counter drug I obtain from Walmart works for primary progressive multiple sclerosis, not some $6000 per month designer drug with horrible side effects and the occasional fatality? update: the over-the-counter version, at 30 pills per day, caused gastrointestinal problems after only a few days. I'm now using the compounding pharmacy version. See my updated blog post

Note: Thanks to Alex at the Facebook page Primary Progressive Multiple Sclerosis – PPMS and Stu at MS Views and News for links to the Biotin articles. Thanks also to my friend Al who found me a full copy of the pilot trial report.

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

I Found an Old Email

Thank you in advance for indulging me on this off-topic post. I thought some you might enjoy it.

In the summer of 2000, Kim and I decided to quit our jobs in northern Maine and move to the more populous southern Maine coast. Kim started her new job at Cape Elizabeth Middle School in late August, but I still hadn’t found suitable employment, so I continued on as a contractor at my former employer. I worked mostly from my house, where Amy, Zach, and I still lived. Kim drove home every weekend. In mid-October I could stand it no more, and everyone agreed that the kids would move to southern Maine with Kim, and start school in Cape Elizabeth. I would commute down there on weekends.

I had been told I had possible multiple sclerosis by a physician’s assistant, but a neurologist overruled him, although he couldn't offer an alternative diagnosis. So I knew MS was in the realm of possibilities, but I doubted that I actually had it.

I often sent Kim email updates during the week, and I decided to have a little fun with this one. The note is from Friday, October 20, the kids' last day of school in Lincoln. We would move them to southern Maine on Saturday. Here it is, poor punctuation and grammar on full display.

Friday, October 20, 2000 8:15:10 AM


Here are the morning news updates:

Zach Sturgeon to Spend His Last Night at Friend’s House

In an unexpected move, the mother of one of Zach’s best friends, Lisa French, contacted Zach’s Dad about Zach going to Bangor tonight and spending the night at John French’s house. In an interview Zach’s dad said, “What the hell, it’s his last night. We can probably pack better with him gone anyway.” Statements issued from the Sturgeon house indicate that the French’s will pick up Zach at around 5:00 PM, and drop him off at about 10:00 AM. When asked about the impending move, Zach repeated an oft used phrase during this campaign, “I just can’t wait to meet all those new friends.”

In related news…

Amy Sturgeon to Have Some Girl Named Melissa Spend the Night Tonight

As a counter move to the above story, young Amy Sturgeon coerced her helpless dad into letting her have a friend over tonight. After all, it was only “fair”, she said. When asked how he expected his wife to respond Mr. Sturgeon replied, “Given Amy’s track record of making huge messes when she has friends over, on the surface this may appear to be a poor decision. However given the overwhelming emotion of a last day at school, I think this was the best thing for everyone involved, and I’m sure my lovely wife will support me on this one.”

And then this one…

Pixie to Go South – Children Rejoice

Sources close to the Sturgeon’s indicate that Mr. Sturgeon told his children this morning that the much loved family feline “Pixie” will indeed be making the trip south this weekend. The news was greeted by the children with much hub bub. When asked about the timing of the news, Mr. Sturgeon explained, “the ride to school this morning was a little emotional for everyone. Not on the surface mind you, but you could sense its presence. So, as I dropped Amy off for her last day I decided to give her a little boost to start what is bound to be a very difficult day for her.”

Sturgeon Having Difficulty Getting His Work Done

Is the world renowned former Assistant Superintendent finally washed up? Some people think so. “You can’t even get 40 hours per week in!”, said some guy that looks in the Sturgeon’s windows all day and writes down everything he does. “If he tries to charge the company for 40 hours I’ll tell them the truth, and Sturgeon will finally suffer the public humiliation that he deserves.” When interviewed, Sturgeon replied, “I’ve often sensed this person peering in my windows. I’ll turn suddenly around and only catch his shadow – but I know he’s there. I’ve been so busy with this move and everything, that I’m having a little trouble getting my work done. But if that guy continues to watch me next week he’ll see a whole different person. Hell, I may work 41 hours next week!”

Love ya,


Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Persistence and Creativity

As I’ve become more disabled, we’ve had to invent new ways to accomplish even the simplest tasks. Kim and I have developed processes for me to brush my teeth, shave, and eat various foods. We’ve also figured out ways for her to help me shower, get dressed, and get into and out of bed. The list goes on. Because my condition is not stable, we often have to tweak our processes, or throw them out completely in favor of new ones. Our secret to success? We practice persistence and cultivate creativity, and we often apply alliteration (obviously optional).

Sometimes we simply can’t come up with a good solution, and that’s when we call in the expert – my occupational therapist, Maren. Once in a while she has the magic answer, such as, “Oh, they make a gizmo for that. Let’s google it.” But more often than not we just start brainstorming, and she’s really good at that. She has a collection of materials in her car, duct tape included, which we have used to build prototype assistive devices many times. We are persistent, because most ideas are bad ones, and it sometimes takes many tries to find a good one. We are creative, because some of the best ideas sound crazy at first, but make perfect sense in the end.

Lately, due to spasticity, my feet have been falling off my foot pedals a lot, and I’ve had trouble getting them back on. Earlier today I had an idea. If I could raise my wheelchair up high enough, I could put my feet down on my bed, and then tug on my pant legs to get my feet onto the wheelchair’s foot pedals. I tried it, but it didn’t work. The bed was too high, and the blankets held too tightly to the soles of my shoes. I was disappointed, but only for a moment.

I noticed a footstool at the end of the bed. It’s there so our dog Phoebe can jump up onto the mattress. After getting the okay from Phoebe, I tried the same process with her footstool as I had with our bed. It worked! I was quite pleased with myself.

Persistence and creativity, essential tools for everyone, but especially the disabled.

Tuesday, March 31, 2015

The Hardest Thing about Having MS

I was interviewed earlier today by a health marketing company. Don’t look for a magazine article about me, though. These folks are conducting research on primary progressive multiple sclerosis (PPMS) by speaking with patients. The marketing company paid me for my time with a $75 gift certificate from I must remember to buy something fun with that money, not just put it in the pot and have it pay for my next order of printer ink.

The interviewer asked lots of questions, but the only one that stumped me was, “What would you say has been the hardest thing about having MS?” So many good choices – which one to pick? I fumbled and stumbled and didn’t give a very good answer. But after thinking about it for a while, I know what I should have said.

For me, the hardest thing about having MS is that my future has been stolen. I received my diagnosis four days after my thirty-eighth birthday. My life was pretty sweet at the time. I had an amazing wife, two beautiful children, a career on the upswing, all the man-toys I wanted, and so much more. Even with that success, I felt that my best days were still ahead of me. I no longer feel that way.

Quick disclaimer – I know this isn’t terminal cancer, ALS, or Alzheimer’s. Those diseases don’t only steal your future, they stomp all over it. But PPMS is no lightweight.

I always had big plans of where I wanted to be in five, ten, or twenty years. I wasn’t na├»ve. I understood that these plans would probably never play out exactly the way I imagined them, but my vision for the future was optimistic, and rightfully so. Chasing these dreams was a big part of what motivated me to get out of bed each day.

I still plan for the future, but only in terms of months, because I can’t imagine what life will be like years from now. How much longer will I function like I currently do? Will I always be able to live at home? Will I remain a contented person forever?  I can’t know. I mostly try not to think about it.

Being the glass-half-full kind of guy that I am, the fact that MS has stolen my future does have one benefit. I now live more in the present than I used to, one day at a time and all that jazz. This is a good thing.

Today is full of challenges, but I’m meeting them. It’s tomorrow that scares me.

What’s the hardest thing you’ve had to deal with because of MS (or some other challenge)? Do you feel MS (or anything else) has stolen your future?

Note: If you have PPMS and you would like to take part in this research, let me know.

Monday, March 23, 2015

My MS Radar and Other Intuitive Devices

Kim and I attended a wedding in Massachusetts last summer. Throughout the ceremony and at the reception, I noticed a lady in her thirties using forearm crutches. My MS radar came on, and I grew confident.

I encountered her when we were both leaving, and I asked, “MS?”


Score! We enjoyed a long conversation where we compared notes about how we’ve dealt with the disease. I gave her an iBot demonstration and told her about my blog. Good stuff.

Fast-forward to this past Friday night. Kim and I participated in happy hour at the Snow Squall, as we often do. I saw a lady work her way through the crowd using forearm crutches. As Kim and I ate our meal, I stole glances at her to try to figure out if she had MS. I couldn’t decide. There was something about her that made me think she might not, but then again…

As we prepared to leave, I took a chance. “Excuse me for interrupting, but I was admiring your forearm crutches. I have a pair just like those. I’m curious if you have the same condition that I have.”

“Oh, you’re not interrupting. What condition do you have?”

“Multiple sclerosis. And you?”

“I have nerve damage from radiation treatment that I received forty years ago.”

I wasn’t embarrassed. She was a sweet lady, and Kim and I spoke with her for ten minutes before we left. Because I’m so obviously disabled, I get a pass on what would normally have been a social faux pas.

The next day, I said to Kim, “There was something about that lady at the Snow Squall last night that made me unsure if she had MS, even before we spoke to her, but I can’t put my finger on it.”

“I know what you mean. I think she looked too…healthy.”

“That’s it!”

Progressive MS kicks your ass in a variety of ways. By the time you have visible walking problems, you’re no longer as perky, energetic, or healthy looking as this woman was.

One setback won’t discourage me from approaching people in the future who I think may have MS. There’s such a huge upside if I’m right. Meeting new MS friends is always rewarding.

Not only am I proficient at guessing if someone has MS. I also have strong gaydar. I can tell if a person is straight or gay almost immediately. I know, it shouldn't matter, and it doesn't. It's just the way my brain works. Incidentally, I'm a big supporter of gay rights, and I have lots of gay friends and readers.

We used to own a Ford Explorer. The mileage got high, and the maintenance bills piled up, so we decided to sell it. I advertised on Craigslist and divulged the known problems.

I received an email from Jessie, and she wanted to come look at the vehicle the next day.

There was a light, steady rain falling when Jessie knocked on the door. I invited her in. She was medium height, stocky build, short haircut. She asked me detailed questions about the vehicle. This woman knew way more about cars than I did. My gaydar started twitching, but I was far from certain.

Jessie seemed trustworthy, so I handed the keys to her so she could take the Explorer for a drive. Being in a wheelchair, I couldn’t exactly accompany her. She drove around for about ten minutes, returned, and crawled underneath the vehicle for quite some time. She didn't mind the rain. The brake fluid was low, so she went to the local NAPA Auto Parts store, bought some fluid, topped off the reservoir, and crawled back under to see if there were any leaks in the brake lines.

Satisfied, she came in the house to start the negotiations. We went back and forth a little bit and agreed on a price. The vehicle was registered in both my name and Kim’s, so we needed Kim’s signature, but she was at work.

Jessie said, “Well, my partner will be picking me up in a few minutes. I can take the paperwork to Kim at her school so she can sign it.”

Ding, ding, ding. The word “partner” was all my gaydar needed to hear. I am so good, I thought to myself. I just see things other people don’t.

It so happened that there was a gay-rights referendum on the ballot that year in Maine, and the election was only a few weeks off. I thought this would be an excellent opportunity to get a perspective on the issue from a member of the LGBT community.

“I’m curious to know, how excited are you about the gay-rights referendum? If it passes, will it make a big difference in your life?”

“I don’t know what you’re implying, but for your information I’ve been married to my husband for twelve years and we have two children.”

“But, but,” I stammered. “You said partner…”

“My BUSINESS partner. My business partner is coming to pick me up in ten minutes.”

It served me right for stereotyping. I backtracked and apologized and tried to extract my foot from my mouth. Jessie let me off the hook and we continued with the transaction. I called Kim to explain that the buyer would be arriving shortly with paperwork to sign.

I added, “Don’t ask her if she’s a lesbian. I already did, and she’s not.”

“You didn’t.”

“Oh yeah I did.”

You know what else I bet I'm good at? Guessing if women are pregnant. I'm going to try that next.