Look Inside

Cam Tait leaned into me after I introduced myself.

"So...do...yoooouu...know...Gorrrrd?"

Each word was a small battle up to the air from the back of his throat. Cam, then a sports reporter at The Edmonton Journal, was in a wheelchair. He was born with cerebral palsy and at birth couldn't sit up or speak. His limbs didn't work. His parents and family friends did. They employed a new kind of physiotherapy around the clock, and young Cam slowly learned to move a wheelchair and he learned to talk.

And now here we were together upstairs at The Journal building downtown and Cam wanted to know if I knew his friend Gord Steinke, the main anchor at ITV, where I worked as assignment editor.

"Yes, I know Gord, Mr. Tait. Yes, I work with him at ITV. Is there something you want me to tell him? A message you want me to give him?"

I leaned a bit closer to make sure I didn't misunderstand a word of what he was about to say. I wanted to get it right for Cam and Gord. To Cam, I must have looked like what I was: a young man eager not to give offence, over eager, in fact, a young man raised to treat equally those with disabilities, a young man not sure how that precept actually worked in real life.

What Cam said next I will never forget.

"You...tell...Gord...to...fuuuuuuck...off!" He slowly started laughing. And when that subsided, this: "He...owes..me...twwwwwwenty...bucks!" And now he was convulsed in laughter. His arms moved like branches in a joy storm.

I felt my temperature spike in my armpits. And I laughed along awkwardly.

Cam's book

To Cam, my laughter must have sounded like what it pretty much was: confused. How, I might have said to deliver into words that confusion, had I words enough to do the job, how was it that this twisted person, this handicapped person wanted his twenty back and used a vulgarity to underline it?

As if, somehow, being in a wheelchair crippled a person's sense of comedic timing, or that person's desire to shock those around him with a bad word and a good laugh, or his memory of a missing double sawbuck.

I was young. I didn't see much of Cam when I first saw Cam. I saw the disability and was over solicitous in my attempt to make myself look like I didn't. I saw who I wanted to be.

But Cam made me see him like he saw him. That's a better view.

Cam has just written a new book. It's called Disabled? Hell No! I'm a Sit-Down Comic! and it looks back at the struggles and the adventures and the accomplishments of his life. Long before Amazon invited me to, Cam, with humour, taught me to look inside.

I don't even think Steinke owed him $20.






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