Skylaire Svenglad of Glen Ridge, NJ remembers the influential television programs of her childhood:
There was a strange television program when I was little, called You Asked for It, which was a kind of “Ripley’s Believe It or Not” treatment of freaks and people with deformities. I think it ended before the whole Thalidomide thing began, but it definitely would have feasted upon those victims.
What we did see were a guy with no lower legs, but who played tennis successfully by bouncing around on springs attached to his stumps. And a guy who had no arms, but could shave himself every morning with a safety razor between his toes.
Watching this program brought me to a very embarrassing episode in my young life, because my little brother just assumed from this that crippled people and amputees loved to talk about their deficiencies and put on a show for you. Was my face red! But I’ll get to that in a moment.
I happened to remember that strange show recently because my husband and I happened upon a really gross cable series featuring Weird Body Modifications. One of the examples was a man whose dog was dying because of liver cancer (also the dog was old), and the man had the dog’s head and forelimbs sutured onto his own body. Like on his shoulder, you know. And this partial dog actually survived this way for a little while, so the man got to spend a few more days with his beloved pet. But the dog’s system and the man’s blood didn’t get along that well, and the dog paws quickly turned necrotic, and within a week or so the man woke up and found a dead dog-head on his shoulder. Then to make matters worse, the man came down with some serious blood disease that eventually killed him. He got buried with the (now detached) dog head.
Then there was a woman who wanted to be a Human Glove Puppet. She’d actually lost use of her legs, and bladder and bowel control through some progressive nerve damage, and the doctors wanted to remove the whole bottom half of her body. So she said, Why don’t you just hollow me out like a glove puppet, then I can be like Kukla and Ollie, and people can put their hands up me? This was not really medically feasible, since there were still vital organs in her thoracic cavity, but they did a little bit to make her happy. I think she died soon too.
I don’t understand people’s fascination with this stuff but obviously it’s been going on for many years. Getting back to You Asked for It, my brother Tim saw an episode with a quadriplegic artist. He could draw really well with a graphite stick or tortillon in his mouth. He did really good portraits.
So we are visiting some relatives in the city, and going up in the elevator, and this old woman in a wheelchair gets on. She’s got almost no hand control, because her fingers are all twisted from rheumatoid arthritis. She has to bang on a lever to make the wheelchair go and stop and turn. She’s getting on a lower floor, maybe fifth floor, and apparently going all the wall up to the penthouse, where our relatives are.
The elevator opens directly into my relatives’ hallway, because, as I say, it’s the penthouse, and they’re the only people on that floor. So we all get out and apparently this old woman in the wheelchair is this friend and neighbor they invited to dinner.
Throughout the evening, Little Tim keeps trying to get the old lady to stick a crayon or pencil in her mouth, and draw a picture of him. We’re all embarrassed, the old lady included, since she can’t draw. But Tim’s only five years old, so what can you do?
Maybe that’s not much of a story, but it was embarrassing at the time.