Book Excerpt: Mein Führer, I Can Walk!


Borg Like Me will include more personal pieces than I’ve ever published before. Most people know me as a writer on DIY media and technology, but over the 30+ years of my career, I’ve covered art, spirituality, philosophy, pop culture, sex, drugs, and rock n’ roll. I’m looking at this book as an opportunity to unflinchingly share more of these facets more, and to speak more personally.

When my wife and I got married, a friend asked “Is this going to be one of those painfully personal weddings?” The question was so delightfully absurd to us. We knew what she meant (an uncommon degree of emotional “sharing,” rampant romanticism, open displays of affection, etc.) And, oh dear, yes, there was plenty of all that. Painfully personal. And while I don’t plan on removing all of the governors on my big blobby heart in this book, I’m definitely reaching for a level of openness and honesty I’ve never committed to print. But I’ll try and keep painful levels of overshare to a minimum (of course, all of that is relative to your pain tolerance).

This is a snippet from what I worked on today. It’s an excerpt from a piece I originally did a few years back for Paul Overton’s DudeCraft. Paul was looking for childhood reminiscences of Halloween. As I explain in the full piece, I really don’t have many memories of childhood Halloween, but I’ve tried to make up for it by going all out as an adult. In the piece (which I’ve expanded for the book), I recount stories behind some of my more memorable costumes. This excerpt is from a Halloween a few years before my hip replacement, when I had to use a wheelchair whenever I went out. For those years, I had to think of costumes that could incorporate the chair. This particular year, I was late in coming up with any ideas and it was Halloween day before I thought of going as Dr. Strangelove. My wife and I raced to the store to see if we could possibly pull it off. I needed a very wavy blonde wig.

The costume shop looked like it’d been hit by a rocket-propelled grenade. There was next-to-nothing left on the racks or shelves. No blonde wigs. We finally dislodged a sad blonde beard tangled around plastic swords and demon horns in a giant bargain bin. It’d have to do. We brought it home and she piled and pinned and trimmed, and I’ll be damned if it didn’t end up looking respectably like Peter Sellers’ dramatic quaff from the film. With the slim-cut suit and skinny tie, the glasses, a black leather glove on the dead hand, and the cigarette, I looked convincingly like Dr. Strangelove. I also shaved my beard for the occasion, for the first time in decades (the previous time had also been for a costume). I had found a few video clips from the film and even a sound file of Sellers delivering some of his classic lines (no small feat on a rather media-poor 1997 Internet).

At the party, a big DC artists’ free-for-all in a downtown warehouse, I parked my chair at the edge of the dance floor. When a song came on that I really wanted to dance to, I’d start to shimmy and shake in my chair, like a crippled ex-Nazi being uncontrollably reanimating by shock waves of rock n’ roll. I would then feebly spazz myself upright and cry out, in a croaking German accent, “Mein Führer, I can walk!” Then I’d start dancing in front of my chair like my life depended on it. People laughed and seemed to get a kick out of it. I put this routine on rinse and repeat a few more times over the course of the evening (legitimately needing to rest and recharge after every few songs). It was, of course, a goofy act, a way of incorporating a wheelchair into a costume, but there was a deeper personal drama being played out. In my late teens, as my arthritis worsened and took up full-time residence in my hips and spine, I’d headed down a very dark path emotionally, and had even seriously considered suicide. One of the things that had yanked me back from that brink was discovering my passion for dancing. I love to dance more than just about anything else and am actually pretty good at it, especially for someone without a spine (and if the 80s post-punk band Shriekback taught us anything, it’s that the “spine is the bassline”). I discovered in dancing that the transcendent joy of it, that feeling of riding along and physically interpreting the soundwaves of the music, is actually greater than any pain or limitation I experience while doing it. I can be in a lot of physical pain, and if an irresistibly danceable song comes on, it can feel as though I’ve miraculously been healed. I can instantly lose myself in the sensual, sonic gumbo of the music. For a few brief moments, I become a physically different person. I feel beautiful and free. Mein Führer, I can walk!

Published by Gareth Branwyn

Gareth Branwyn is a freelance writer and the former Editorial Director of Maker Media. He is the author or editor of over a dozen books on technology, DIY, and geek culture. He is currently a contributor to Boing Boing, Wink Books, and Wink Fun. And he has a new best-of writing collection and "lazy person's memoir," called Borg Like Me.

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