Mike ErvinIf you’re trying to bring together a large group of cripples, like to organize a protest or something, you can attract a good number of them the same way you attract alley cats. You put out free food. And just like alley cats, they’ll keep coming back.

I know a whole lot of cripples that will be there right on time, every time there’s free food to be had. Exhibit A is a married couple whose names I will change so that I can deny it’s them if they ever read this and have a problem with it. I’ll call them Lucy and Ricky. Whenever there’s an event with free food, you can count on them to show up. They pile their plates high and often bring along a cloth shopping bag that they stuff full of leftovers until somebody tells them to stop. And I bet if somebody frisked Lucy and Ricky on their way out the door, they’d find they have more food stashed away in other creative places. Lucy and Ricky would make excellent smugglers.

I notice that people who live in nursing homes also tend to come running when the free dinner bell rings. I used to think that some cripple elder ought to take these people aside and talk to them about politeness and decorum. Teach them some manners. Impress upon them the importance of not developing a reputation as a freeloader.

But now the way I look at it is sometimes a cripple’s gotta do what a cripple’s gotta do, especially when those cripples are broke ass. For instance, the Technical Assistance Collaborative and the Consortium for Citizens with Disabilities Housing Task Force periodically puts out a hair-raising report titled “Priced Out: The Housing Crisis for People with Disabilities.” Last year’s version found that the 2016 average monthly Social Security payment for the nearly 4.8 million adult cripples receiving Supplemental Security Income was $763. But the report also says the average rent for a “modest one-bedroom rental unit” was $861.

I believe Lucy and Ricky both receive SSI, which means their maximum monthly payment is $1,125. If they were friends not living together, their SSI maximum would be $750 each. But when two cripples on SSI get married, Social Security punishes them by reducing their income.  So I imagine when balancing their monthly budget, Lucy and Ricky factor in a lot of free lunches.

Because rents are so high and SSI checks are so low, “Priced Out” says that, in 2016, about 87,000 cripples were homeless, and between 200,000 to 300,000 more lived in institutions, nursing facilities and other segregated environments. And the cripples residing in nursing homes are the most broke ass cripples of all. Every month the nursing homes confiscate their Social Security checks and give them back an insulting allowance of $30 for the month. And nursing home food tastes like lukewarm sludge. So hell yeah, free food is alluring, especially when it’s not powdered eggs and Kool-Aid. If I lived in a nursing home, I’d probably go to a hanging provided they served free popcorn.

Broke ass cripples have to hustle hard. I knew a cripple whose freezer was packed with plastic storage bags full of helpings of her leftover Meals on Wheels. And that was the barter currency she attempted to use to get people to do stuff for her. Like for instance, in exchange for doing her laundry or taking out her trash or whatever, she’d offer a friend or neighbor a bag of frozen chicken à la king. I suppose that’s a crime, like maybe Meals on Wheels fraud. But at least she wasn’t selling drugs or her body or Amway products.

Even if Lucy and Ricky weren’t broke ass, I think they would still take home a lot of leftovers from cripple gatherings, just like I always do. They seem to enjoy the thrill of the hunt, so they would probably still engage in this type of urban foraging as a hobby. But I believe it was Jesus who said, “There will always be broke ass cripples among ye.” How true. And if we, their brethren, don’t supply them with the essential doggie bags that get them through the month, then who will?