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Slackjaw by Jim Knipfel

When Did I Stop Wanting to be President?

Given that I wrote for a New York newspaper and was blind on top of it, it came as no real surprise that I received a lot of emailed press releases regarding recent legal victories in the ongoing battle for disabled rights. Lord knows I didn't go looking for these things, but somehow they always seemed to find their way to me. Somewhere along the line my name must have been punched into someone's "differently crippled" database.

Most of them I ignored, as most seemed to involve wheelchair ramps being installed at this or that restaurant chain, or hearing-impaired grade school students getting some high-tech doo-dad or another. I was never much into the whole Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA)  business, and I've had nothing but trouble with the assorted blind bureaucracies who've contacted me in the past.

Then one day I got another one of these emails and, for some reason, took a quick glance at the note attached to the press release. Then I read it more carefully a second time, then a third. Here's what it said:

TO: Jim Knipfel
President, American Council of the Blind

FR: Sven Ludkvist, Esq. (Not his real name, by the way)
Special Assistant to the Attorney General
Civil Rights Division
US Department of Justice

Hi again, Jim.  I am pleased to report another positive development on the disability rights enforcement front.  Late last week, on behalf of the People of the United States, the Justice Department secured a victory for racers and spectators with disabilities who sought access in accordance with federal law.

One by one, barriers to full participation continue to be torn down.  As our momentum grows in strength, so does our ability to enhance our effectiveness in making a difference in the lives of members of the disability community.  Best of all, there are even more announcements on the way.

My warmest wishes to you, Jim.   Do remember to stay in touch, and keep me posted on how you are doing.  In the meantime, you take good care.


Below the note was a press release announcing that wheelchair ramps were being installed at a raceway in Alabama.

I initially assumed it was just another spam, but some quick research revealed that no, it wasn't. It was completely legit. I was getting mail from some bigwig the Department of Justice. More than that, he was a bigwig who was being awfully chummy. Imagine that.

Now, given that it was legitimate, that this guy was real, many things about this letter confused me. Not only had I never heard of Sven—I had no recollection of being on such friendly personal terms with anyone at DOJ, though I was admittedly relieved, in these paranoid days, that some official over there apparently thought differently. Lord knows I'd given them plenty of reasons to feel otherwise.

But that was the least of my confoundments.

I thought about it for a moment and then composed a letter back to Mr. Ludkvist. Here's what that one said:

Dear Mr. Ludkvist,

First of all, let me congratulate you on your continued and valiant efforts to make life a little easier for people across the country who, like me, have disabilities. By all accounts, you are doing one heck of a job. So huzzah to you, I say!

But I'm afraid there has been some minor confusion somewhere along the line. Your recent notes refer to me as the "President of the American Council of the Blind."

While I am in fact blind, I'm afraid I've never heard of the American Council of the Blind. I mean, I may have at one time or another, but there are so many darn  soundalike blind organizations out there nowadays, I tend to lose track of them. And I can't recall there ever being any reason why I would claim to be president of such a thing either.

No, I'm afraid I just write stories for a little weekly newspaper here in Manhattan. I don't think anyone has ever mistaken me for the president of anything. In fact, I'm really kind of hoping I'm NOT the president of the ACB—can you imagine how much paperwork I'd have to catch up on at this point? A lot!

I do enjoy hearing of your successes, though. I just don't want to give anyone the wrong impression.

Thanks. Hope all's well by you, and keep up the swell work!

Jim Knipfel
Not the President
American Council of the Blind

I sent the letter off to the Justice Department and immediately began kicking myself. First of all, the DOJ has not exactly been known in recent years for their sense of humor. Sense of the absurd, maybe, but I don't think anyone there has ever been referred to as, say, "jolly."  I began to worry that something in the letter might be interpreted the wrong way. What if my lighthearted banter was taken as some kind of terrorist threat? Last thing I needed right about now was a vacation in Gitmo for a couple comedy jokes.

While that fear passed pretty quickly, I still kept kicking myself. I mean, in someone's eyes somewhere, I was the fucking President of a High Powered and Well-Respected Civil Rights Organization! I mean, there's got to be a ton of money in something like that, right? Yet I'd never received a single paycheck! Not penny one! And even if it's just one of those figurehead positions without any pay, still—there have got to be government grants and the like available to someone running such a thing, wouldn't you think? Big ones!

I'd blown another golden opportunity, like that time I turned down an offer to do voiceovers for adult diaper commercials. If I had put my mind to it for at least a couple more minutes before sending off that note, I could've come up with something, some way to reap the benefits of a good ol' fashioned, true blue American government scam. But no, I took the idiot route.

Perhaps not surprisingly, I haven't heard back from Mr. Ludkvist yet—though I did hear he has since taken a position in the White House. Maybe that's good news. He seemed like a very nice fellow.

In the meantime, I keep listening to the news. And every time I hear about the security and accuracy of the government's databases and "No Fly" lists, every time it's implied that the folks at the Justice Department are really in the know, I have to smile a little bit, remembering my brief tenure as President.