On being ... repurposed

By Ingrid Sapona

One of the nice things about living alone is you don’t have to explain your everyday behaviour or decisions to anyone. That said, I often catch myself coming up with rationalizations for my actions, as if I had to justify them to someone. Wait, that sounds a bit odd. Let me put a more normal-sounding spin on it: before I decide whether to do something, I mentally go through as many arguments -- pro and con -- as I can. Maybe it’ll make more sense if I give you an example of something I found myself debating about last week.

I’m taking a phys ed course one night a week at a local high school. It’s a “boot camp”, which amounts to a bunch of middle-age folks doing laps, squats, lunges, sit-ups, and pushups in a gymnasium. (I know, it sounds like we’re trying to re-connect with our youth. Well, I for one was never that into gym in my youth. Believe me, the only thing I’m “re-connecting with” are muscles I never knew I had.)

Anyway, some of the stuff we do requires lying on our stomachs or backs on the floor. I’m long past worrying about cooties, but I have to admit, the gym floor is pretty disgusting. After the first class most of the women brought yoga mats. I don’t have one and I figured a towel would be fine since I just go home, shower, and throw my clothes in the laundry. But, during last week’s class I realized another problem is that the floor (a basketball court) is quite slippery, making floor work both gross and hazardous.

By the time I got in the car after the class that night, my inner debate team was raring to go on the issue of whether I should buy a yoga mat. First up was the “buy it” side: “Just bite the bullet and buy a yoga mat – it doesn’t have to be anything fancy or expensive. So what if it disintegrates after four months? It only has to last for six more sessions.”

Then the contra viewpoint chimed in: “Come on -- you’re not one of those yoga mat-totting baby boomers. Please…”

Then the rebuttal: “But think of your knees – that floor is so hard on them – aren’t they worth protecting? Go on, get one…”

Followed by the surrebutter (I’m a lawyer – look it up if you don’t believe me!): “So just double the damned towel when you’re doing something on your knees, no big deal. Besides, where would you store a yoga mat? You have no room for more stuff!” Finally, as I hit the shower, the moderator chimed in: “No need to decide tonight…”.

Though I thought I had put it out of my head, the next afternoon it was clear that I hadn’t. I was obsessed with trying to think of something I could use besides a towel or yoga mat. Before I knew it I was digging through the bottom of a closet to see whether I still had a long, narrow carpet I was no longer using. (If you must know, I was no longer using it because I ruined it last year by putting in the washer. As you can see from the photo I took at the time, somehow the washer took a fairly large, fray-free bite out of the carpet.) I was pretty sure I had gotten rid of it because storage space is precious and it certainly wasn’t suitable for my front hall any more.

I couldn’t believe it when I found the carpet neatly rolled up in the corner of the closet. Why had I kept it? And how long had I had it? I checked the date on the photo – it was from May 2009 -- eight months! Just then a voice inside my head chided me with, “Yeah, space is at a premium … so premium you’re keeping holey carpets!”

Unrolling it ignited a whole new discussion in my head: Would it be too embarrassing to use in the gym class? That debate went something like this: “Embarrassing? How about pathetic? Who brings a floor runner to a gym class -- even an un-torn one?”

“But the runner is exactly the size of a yoga mat. And, it’s certainly clean (after all, it’s not been used since the washing that caused the mysterious hole) so it would be a hell of a lot nicer than that icky gym floor. And it has a rubber backing, so no more sliding around. So what if it has a hole? Besides, who’ll notice it?”

“True, no one will notice the hole -- they’ll be too busy snickering at the loser who brought a carpet to boot camp!”

“This isn’t high school (well, it is, but I’m beyond high school, if you know what I mean). What do I care what people think? Besides, I’m there for a workout -- not to impress anyone.”

This point/counter-point went on for quite some time until I came up with the winning argument -- one in favour of taking the carpet to the class. It’s very clever, if I must say so myself – it provides an excuse, er, rationale, for why I didn’t throw the carpet out last May and it is oh so 21st century: I’m repurposing the runner.

What’s that? You’ve never heard of repurposing? Well, think of it as the 4th R – reduce, reuse, and recycle are all so yesterday…

You know, I’ll bet repurposing catches on. If not, maybe my holey runner will start a trend in workout gear. Stranger things have caught on…

© 2010 Ingrid Sapona


On being ... seen differently

By Ingrid Sapona

I realized recently that I’m a bit of a butter snob. Well, judgmental about it at restaurants is more accurate. I’ll get back to that in a minute….

A couple weeks ago I went with two friends (Trish and Stu -- not their real names) and my sister to O.Noir Toronto – a restaurant where you eat in complete darkness. (For those whose French is rusty, noir means black in French. Clever, non?)

Yes, O.Noir is a concept restaurant, but it’s not a gimmick. The concept came from Zurich’s Blind Cow Restaurant, which was started by a blind minister in 1999. The idea is to give people a sense of what it’s like for a blind person to eat a meal out.

Other friends had eaten there so I knew a bit about what to expect. For example, I knew that, to ensure total darkness in the dining room, you’re asked to take off watches and devices that might emit light. I also knew you order before entering the dining room and that you could order items from the menu or a surprise multi-course meal. (To ensure a trip to the Emergency Room isn’t part of the surprise, you’re asked if you have food allergies.)

Though I knew these details, the implications of them didn’t register with me until I was there. For example, though I planned on ordering the surprise (my friends who’d dined there dared me to), when I saw steak on the menu it dawned on me that I’d have a hell of a time cutting a steak in the dark and so ordering shrimp suddenly seemed like a good idea. Remembering the dare, however, I went stuck with the surprise.

When Trish decided to order off the menu, Stu, in his usual enthusiastic manner, said, “Great -- I’ll get the surprise and we can share!” As soon as Stu said this, all of us had the same thought: how do you share when you can’t see? It never occurred to me that if I were visually impaired I’d have a hard time sharing appetizers and desserts, which is one of my biggest pleasures when eating out.

After we placed our order we were introduced to our server -- Jenny -- who, like all the servers there, was visually impaired. Jenny asked us to form a line, with each of us holding the shoulder of the person in front of us; she then guided us to our table. Thankfully the walk wasn’t too far.

Once we were seated, Jenny explained the orientation of our place settings and encouraged us to feel for our plate, cutlery, water glass, etc. Then she offered us rolls and told us we’d find our bread plate and butter if we reach out far in front of us.

Ah yes, the butter. In reaching for it I noticed it was one of those single-serve, plastic packets you peel the foil off to unwrap. When I felt it I thought, “hmmm … rather cafeteria-like.” But when I was ready to start buttering my bread, I was damned thankful I could feel the little container -- thanks to it, I had at least a chance of getting butter on the knife and then on the bread.

Before leaving to get our drinks, Jenny asked our names. This seemed really odd to me. But, when she started serving the appetizers I realized that by learning our names she was able to ensure she gave each of us what we’d ordered. And, I must say, I’ve never appreciated knowing the server’s name as much as I did that night. More than once I could hear someone nearby but I had no idea who it is -- it was nice to be able to discretely ask: “Jenny?”

When the entrees arrived, though Stu and I quickly agreed that our main course was chicken (thankfully de-boned), figuring out what accompanied it was trickier. There were a few vegetables I never did conclusively identify. Mind you, because I was intent on figuring out what I was eating, I seemed to notice the taste of the food more than usual.

I was unprepared for how challenging it was to find the food on the plate. The best I could do was kind of stab with my fork and hope I got something. And, though finding your mouth seems straightforward, there’s room for surprise there too. One time, as I brought the fork to my mouth, I felt something gently slap my cheek. I quickly realized it was an asparagus spear jutting off the fork. Though I laughed about it, I did think how embarrassed I’d have been if others had seen me do that, which certainly could be the case when a blind person eats with others who are sighted.

The evening featured revelations for each of us. My sister, for example, became aware of a habit she never realized she had: she likes to eat in a particular order -- a bite of meat, then some potato, then some vegetable. Not an easy habit to indulge when you can’t see your food. And at one point Stu asked: “Do you guys find yourself nodding when someone says something? I just realized how much I do that! I guess if I want you to know I’m agreeing with something, I’ve actually got to say it. It’s so funny…”

With no pun intended, I must say the experience made me see many things differently. I gained a tremendous respect for how hard it must be to make your way through a world you can’t see. Simple tasks like salting your food become challenging, and you must be very trusting of others for things that sighted people take for granted, like the ease of walking to and from the table and passing things to others. I also learned some embarrassing things about myself, like my making butter-based assessments of restaurants. Shame on me… From now on, whenever there are plastic packets of butter, cream, or whatever, instead of passing judgment, I’ll think: “How considerate of the visually impaired”.

© 2010 Ingrid Sapona