"Now, I do not recommend going out, finding a physically challenged person and saying, 'Hey, Crip,' " Claire Theriot Mestepey writes, of the nickname lovingly given to her by her eclectic group of friends known as the Crip Club. "This is not a good thing. In fact, I'd label it bad." How do you know you've entered the inner circle of "politically incorrect perverts" she allows to use that particular term of endearment? "If I eat soup in front of you: CRIPVILLE."
Mestepey, who was born with cerebral palsy, began writing humorous accounts of her life in a biweekly online column that is now e-mailed to 90 subscribers, and has another regular column in The Houston Gazette (www.houstongazette.com). The small interest in those publications encouraged her to self-publish the book My Walker and Other Glamorous Accessories, which sold 75 copies in two weeks. Not bad for a desktop operation.
"I didn't want to hide in my room, so I thought if I became a writer, I could have a 'normal' career," she says. Her style is hardly PC. In her vignette "All Crips Look Alike," she describes the time a man approached her in a bar. "He sorta walks like me, but now that I think about it, he was probably drunk," she writes.
"Hey, you're the kid," the man began shouting. "You're Jerry's kid. I watch you every year Did you get the money I sent you?"
These accounts of embarrassing moments are so unflinching that you want to either buckle over laughing or punch someone. "If I got upset about everything that happened, I'd be mad all the time," Mestepey explains. Besides, she'd rather have you laughing with her than worrying about how to act when she's around. "I think people are so worried about being PC that they don't even want to try anymore because they don't want to offend."
These awkward episodes tend to bother her husband, Bobby, more than Mestepey herself. The one thing that does irritate her, she admits, is when people assume she's retarded.
Other subjects she tackles in My Walker include first kisses and her tendency to wear out her right shoe long before the left one. In "Just Push the Red Button," she recounts a time when she was working as a producer for a campus television station and insisted she be the one to push a red button in the control room. Her only duty was to press it when a counter reached 20, but the operation turned out to be far more difficult than she thought. She'd press it at 17 seconds, then 35... "I never said, 'Damn!' so many times in an hour," she recalls in the book. "It soon became a game, a betting game. What will Claire's finger do this time? Under or over? Place your bets now!"
As her press release puts it, "If you're looking for an inspirational tale of how disability triumphs evil, I'll be happy to recommend a few other books." Instead, Mestepey wants to show that she's just as neurotic as everyone else. "I have a lot of problems, and none of them have to do with my handicap," she says.
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