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Only One Blind Person at a Time and No More

The story is told that, one day at the Burning Tree Golf Course, Sen. J. William Fulbright of Arkansas was getting more and more exasperated by his poor play. When the ball disappeared into the rough one more time, he turned to his caddy and said, “You must be the worst caddy in the world.”

Without missing a beat, the caddy was said to reply, “Oh, no. That would be too much of a coincidence.”

I was reminded of this story when recently dealing with my state’s Dept. of Revenue and realizing that there are times people struggle to assimilate the unexpected. Published tax regulations in our state say that a blind taxpayer filing singly may claim a deduction. If that same blind taxpayer is married to someone sighted and filing jointly, he or she may still claim the same deduction.

However, both my wife and I are blind. I could find nothing in the printed regulations covering this contingency. Are both of us entitled to claim a deduction or only one of us?

I thought this not an unreasonable question and so contacted the State Dept. of Revenue. After an exchange of a couple of emails and a phone call, I learned that this was a situation no one in the office had ever considered.

I know this is low hanging fruit, but you would think that they’d had the experience of one single taxpayer marrying another single taxpayer in the past and, before you know it, you’ve got a married taxpayer filing jointly and figuring that maybe blind taxpayers just might do the same thing.

This was not the first time I had encountered this odd quirk of human nature. Every once and a while, and you can never anticipate when this will pop up, there will be some person who has no trouble dealing with a single blind person but goes into a mental meltdown as soon as a second one is added to the equation.

Both my wife and I in our professional lives flew at least as frequently, and probably more, than the average American. We each noticed that, when flying alone, being a blind traveler presented relatively few problems, but, put us together as a couple, and the difficulties increased geometrically. As much as we enjoy one another’s company, we both agree that being a package deal makes travel needlessly more complicated.

The first time I confronted this type of thinking was changing planes in Atlanta many years ago. As it happened, there was another blind passenger on the same flight, and the gentleman the airport sent to assist us (and I use that term very loosely) was more than a little overwhelmed.

He whipped out his radio and announced to some anonymous authority, “I have two blinds.” (That’s not a typo.) I felt like we were a package from Levolor.

Because I had only a few minutes to make my connection, the disembodied voice on the radio had thoughtfully sent a car to whisk me to my gate. I had put my dog into the vehicle ahead of me, and she was lying on the floor behind the driver. I was just starting to raise my hand to locate the top of the car before entering myself, when my new friend placed his hand on my back and shoved me forcefully into the van.

This was not a gentle push. My head slammed into the roof of the car, and blood was streaming down my face. The average arrestee is placed into a police car with more delicacy. And, no, the official showed no awareness of what he had done.

Ignoring for the moment that this was a guy who was a walking advertisement for forced sterilization, I suspect that what might have been an uncomfortable interaction for him had there just been one of us became far more problematic with two. His personal anxiety-meter probably spiked when he spied the first of us getting off the plane; he wouldn’t feel very comfortable but he could deal with that.

However, if my speculation is correct, when the second blind person came down the jetway, his anxiety jumped to a level that it interfered with what passed for his normal brain functioning.

While I remember thinking at the time that I’d be willing to forego all other recreation to attend this guy’s funeral, looking back, I don’t think that’s the real lesson. After all, we all have situations, topics, or people that trigger our personal anxiety-meters. For me, the moral, whether it be the State Dept. of Revenue or the Atlanta Airport official, is the importance of fighting the natural tendency toward a kind of inner obtuseness, an unwillingness to consider and deal with the possibility of the unexpected and unfamiliar.

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