It’s that time again, Wheelchair Nation, to head off to your annual office or neighborhood holiday party and try to have fun, though you can’t stand eggnog and are bored by most of the people who’ll be there. Be that as it may, you will be going — it’s a sacred end-of-year obligation — so I thought I’d weigh in with a few tips about proper party etiquette to avoid potential embarrassment, humiliation, or outright banishment from all parties going forward.
What to Wear. You’re in a wheelchair. You can wear anything! Bathrobe, prison jump suit, Bermuda shorts, you name it. But in this setting you should try to dress for success — or at least safety. Many of us like to stand out with some oversized elf ears or a bow-tie that lights up every time we shake hands. That’s fun stuff, for sure, but on a more practical side, wear something that will help you maneuver through a dimly-lit party setting. A miner’s hat with a light is always a safe choice, and if you can afford it, get a backing-up alarm beeper like those little service trucks at Home Depot. See if you can find one that plays “Jingle Bells” or Adam Sandler’s “The Hanukkah Song.” Pretty soon you will be the campfire around which everyone gathers for a sing-a-long.
Mingling. Circulating at a holiday party in a chair is damn near impossible. Your host or hostess will feel much better if he or she can plant you in a corner and forget about you, knowing no one will trip over you or vice-versa. You need to prepare for this by surveying the room the moment you arrive and choosing your own spot. If you like to chat with total strangers, park next to the restroom. “Hey, how did it go in there?” is always a winning ice-breaker. If you just want to gorge on the roast beef and cream puffs and not make stupid chit-chat, park at the far end of the catering table, an arm’s length from seconds and thirds. The food servers are always happy to oblige, out of guilt or just to stick it to the boss man.
In either situation, unfortunately, you will probably be confronted by someone obsessed with chronic disease and death who blithely assumes you are an expert in both fields. Feign food poisoning and rush to the restroom, cupping your mouth. They rarely follow.
Inebriation. Of course the main reason, maybe the only reason, to go to these parties is the free drinks, but chair users should be careful. Again, your host will feel sorry for you and compensate by plying you with Two Buck Chuck. Resist the temptation of asking for your own bottle. Nothing can ruin a holiday affair faster than when the guy in the chair, slurring his words, falls over backwards into the onion dip or slides under the coffee table and can’t get out.
Watch Your Language. In the course of the evening, people will invariably call you handicapped, “confined” to your chair, their personal hero, even though you just met, and “you poor dear.” Resist the impulse to correct them with a lesson in proper dis lingo. They are at a party, for goodness sake, not an HR training seminar, and they don’t want to be called out by some surly crippled guy. Cool it, kemo-sabe, with the finger wagging.
Physical Contact. There’s always a lot of kissing and hugging at these parties. In your sit-down position, kind and often beautiful women will approach you to give you a hug for no apparent reason. They are forced to bend over, often adjoining their bosom to your face. Depending on your dating preferences, this can be an annoyance or a gift from God. If the latter, don’t follow them around for the rest of the evening.
Finally, as it gets late and people get desperate, a drunken attendee you’ve been eying all evening might drop into your lap and start nibbling your ear. How to respond? First, check their driver’s license for age of consent. Then have them sign a waiver that they landed in your arms of their own free will. If the light is green, begin softly singing “Strangers in the Night.”
See, this could turn out to be the best holiday party ever!