Corrigan 1968 - 2005
Back in the early nineties, one of our editors here at the Goliard wasn't a
Goliard editor yet and instead was working
a desk job at the University of Arizona Campus Recreation Center where the promise of meeting active young ladies and picking up a
little extra beer money just barely offset the boredom of monitoring
what was basically a self running facility. The gig was painless,
for the most part, save at the beginning of each semester when
employees were asked to get up early on a Saturday morning and
attend an all day orientation meeting that was decreed mandatory
to anyone wanting to retain their jobs. Like most such obligatory
gatherings, the training day in question promised to be a monotonous,
bleary eyed affair in which supervisors tried to justify their
salaries by droning on about the importance of things like
punctuality and personal presentation while new employees pretended
to look interested and the old ones tried to stay awake. On this day
however, about half an hour into the introductory remarks and just as our
not yet editor
was about to nod off for real, a loud commotion was suddenly heard
as one of the side doors to the gym banged open and in rolled a
disheveled, untucked looking character in a battered wheelchair who was
quite clearly neither punctual nor well presented. He wore a
wrinkled Cubs hat that was haughtily tilted atop an unshaven mug
which seemed to feature an impervious grin that looked permanent. A tee shirt and pair of jean
shorts beneath completed the ensemble. The group snickered
collectively as the figure went gliding across the room, nearly running over
the toes of his new boss, before arriving at the far wall where he
commissioned a nifty spin move and propped his chair in wheely mode
next to the end of the bleacher right next to where our man had been just about to
catch a wink or two. As the editor discreetly sized up the new
arrival, he noticed that his hands were incredibly dirty and his
shoes were spotless and clean.
The assistant director running the meeting evidently decided that the interruption provided a good segue into the first
group exercise of the day and suggested at that point that everyone
and seek out somebody in the room with whom they were not already
The instructions were to introduce themselves and take five minutes to find out as much as
about this new someone and then report back to the group what had
been learned. The editor heeded the instructions and stood
sleepily to find
himself gazing down into the face of the tardy wheeler and a pair of brown eyes
which seemed to be brimming with mischief and mirth. The editor remembers thinking that
it was a little early in the morning for someone to be in such a
"Well, you heard the man,"
the editor began with mock, grumpy sincerity. "Stand up!" He then smiled and
offered his hand.
"Wouldn't you be surprised if I went and did
just that," grinned the guy
in the chair, taking the proffered paw with an impressive and well callused grasp
that yanked our staffer
balance. "Stood up and proceeded to knock your own ass back down to a
"Nice entrance by the way," the editor
said, once he had regained his balance. "The boss had just
finished saying how being on time was one of the
most important things about these much coveted campus jobs. He
almost had us convinced that we were all here this morning because we
were specially selected above the many other eager
applicants due to our maturity and commitment to promptness. Then, right on cue, you
come rolling in and prove him wrong."
"Aah so that's why everyone was laughing at
me." The wheeler looked around the room nodding as if with a new appreciation. "Well, it isn't the first time and won't be the last. Name's Corrigan by the
way. Brian Corrigan. And yeah, you know how it goes. I guess I couldn't find a damn parking
place or I would have been here on time."
"Parking place? You're a half hour late! And
besides, wait a minute. Don't you have one of those,
you know, stickers or things that hang from your rear view mirror
that allow you to park right by the front door?"
"Oh I have one. But I loaned it to my so
called friends for a concert a few nights ago and they haven't
it back yet."
"Sound like swell guys."
"Yeah, well, if I didn't have friends who
were swell I wouldn't have any I guess. What are you looking at? My
awesome calf muscles?" He reached down and poked a hand into
the meat of one of his atrophied calves making it bulge out
unnaturally to one side.
"Actually, I was admiring your kicks. Are those
"Kicks? I don't have any kicks left in me
unfortunately. Oh you mean shoes. What are you some
type of writer or something?"
"Writer?" said our future editor,
surprised at the question. "I'd like to be I guess but I'm
afraid I haven't really written
anything worth reading yet. Why did the word 'kicks'..."
"Oh it just sounded sort of fancy. Like writer
talk. Anyway, that's one thing you should know about us chair people. We
always have the sweet footwear. Never get too dirty and the soles never wear out. I think
these are Agassi's actually. Just got em. I've got a tennis
tournament coming up. And you know, gotta be stylin."
"Oh of course. You gotta be stylin. A tennis tournament
huh? I play a
little tennis myself actually. Hey maybe we could
work out a deal. I'm always wearing through the toes of my right court
shoe because I drag it when I serve. Gets tough affording new shoes
every few months working these minimum wage jobs."
This person called Corrigan appeared to
ponder this, rubbing his chin
for a second, and then leaned down and yanked up a limp leg
so it splayed across the other one where he could pull off one of his unlaced shoes
which he then tossed to the editor. "You should play in a chair like me.
That would take care of that toe wearing out thing," he said. "Plus you get to let the
ball bounce twice on your side. It's in the rule book. Go ahead, try it on. I got a bunch of older pairs
that are perfectly good. If it fits, maybe we could work a, you
know, an arrangement like you said. For example, you could write out all my homework
for me and stick in some fancy words and I'll keep you tricked out with some
nice looking shoes."
"Fits fine," the editor said, doing a
circle around the chair to test the traction before leaning down
to retrieve the old sandal that he had been wearing which he flipped into Corrigan's lap. "You got a deal. So, you're not taking this job for the
money I'm guessing."
"Come on. The money! Are you joking? It's the ladies
hot mommas! Have you seen
the women that come through the doors of this place? I figure if I'm
working at the front desk then they'll have to stop and talk to me right?
Actually I do need
the money though. I'm totally broke. And now my Jeep needs work. I
had to drive over here this morning using a golf club to press on
the brake pedal."
"Is that safe?"
"Probably not. I should get something done
about it but I got no time, man. Besides, already been in enough car
wrecks to last me awhile so I should be fine. One of them
is the reason I'm sitting here today. Just in case you wondered."
"So that's what happened."
"Yeah. Figured you weren't going to ask so
just tell you. It's what most people want to know when they meet you
but very few ever come out and just directly bring it up. Gets a little annoying after
awhile. You don't really seem like a person that would be shy about
that sort of thing though."
"I'm not shy about it. Just figured that it probably doesn't matter
so much now anyways. Ok, so let's hear it. What happened to you then? It's usually
diving into shallow water or some sort of car crash right?"
although you'd be surprised at some of the creative ways people are finding to
put themselves into chairs these days. In my case, some idiot was showing what a bad
ass driver he was. It was back in high school on a rainy night and we went way too fast around a
turn. I flew 150 feet through the air and hit a cactus or a tree or
something. Didn't even really know
the guy driving so it sort of sucked but, hey, what are you gonna do. By the
way, if you're going to wear that shoe than you might as well take the other
Just know that I've got a ten page paper coming up in
this class on who shot JFK and no way I'm writing any ten page paper
myself. So you'd better get out the ol' typewriter and start getting some stuff down.
You know, to square
"You got it," the editor said. "JFK
huh? I guess that could be sort of fun. As long as you don't care who we claim pulled the
"I don't care at all. Just let me know who it is before I turn
the damn thing in. You know, just in case they ask me about it or something."
The five minutes were up at that point and our
editor was able to report to the group that he had used the time to
meet this character Corrigan who had refused to stand up as instructed.
He explained that he had also learned from him that he was a tennis player, a concert-goer, a shoe
trader, a conspiracy theorist, a ladies man, drove a jeep, had a bunch of friends
lamer than he was and had been
in at least
one bad car accident that resulted in his sitting there today.
"Calling me Brian works just as well,"
announced Corrigan, as he smiled and waved through the introduction like a
politician acknowledging a landslide victory to an adoring room. The
rest of the staff took in the whole scene, smiling uneasily and not realizing how much each and every one of them
was likely to benefit from knowing the tardy guy in the wheelchair who had
just come banging through the side door of the gym and rolled into their lives.
The reason we bring this up now all these years later is that Brian was killed the other
night. His life ended at age 36 when, at just after 2:30 in the morning on the second of
February, 2005, a young man who was reportedly very drunk
but, for whatever reason, decided to go speeding through a red light
at the intersection of Swan and Pima. Brian, who was returning
home from his latest endeavor which was performing stand up comedy (sitcom)
local clubs, was coming the other way and was killed instantly when
the other driver's car hit his door going 70 miles per hour.
We're furious about this of
Furious at the guy, the laws, fate, the schools, the bars,
at Brian himself, and at anything and anyone else that could have maybe done something to prevent it
but didn't. We're furious, but Brian wouldn't have been. "Here we go
again," he probably chuckled to himself in the split second
before his life ended. "I just can't get a god damn break."
Brian, who had made something of a hobby out of crashing into things
surviving, would have been surprised as he realized he wasn't going
to make it through this last one. And he would have forgiven the guy who hit him even though most of
the rest of us won't. There was something in Brian that understood above all else that people make
bad decisions all the time. They behave in irresponsible ways and
endanger themselves and others. Always have, always will. The
entire time we knew him, we never heard him judge anyone based on their actions or
have a bad word to say
about someone no matter what idiotic things they might have done or what kind of
person they appeared to be on the outside. Had he survived that
final crash, Brian probably would have gone down to the jail to
visit the guy who hit him, tried to befriend him somehow, and done whatever
else he could to help the
poor stupid bastard feel
We always used to joke with Brian that he had nine lives and the fact that it
took another person's random act of negligence to snuff out the
light that was Brian and his positive, swashbuckling energy just
doesn't seem right somehow. The fact that he was ultimately
done in by the actions of someone other than himself, that he died
because of another's stupid miscalculations and not from some mishap
resulting from the fearless, often risky behavior, that pervaded his
daily adventures, just doesn't wash. Of all the accidents he narrowly
avoided, all the collisions he survived, all the careening down the
roadway of life that he did, this final crash, in which he was not at fault and
couldn't have seen coming, leaves a gaping karmic hole that makes his passing
even harder to take.
One can't ponder the life force that was
Brian however without smiling and any remembrance of him and his antics is bound to be as much about laughter as
it is about tears. Recalling the stories he used to tell about his
early days when he was first getting used to his chair and the humor he
always would bring to the hindsight has brought us many chuckles over the
years. We remember him explaining how, after the unseatbelted mishap that left him a paraplegic at 17,
he completely floundered around for awhile just as many of his friends with fewer excuses were
doing. He used to lament the fact that he used
most of the settlement money to buy drugs for everybody and sink into a party life
that he hoped would help him forget what had happened to him. He admitted with a laugh that he wasn't cut
out for the wheeling and dealing that such a life demands and with his luck being the way it was, it didn't take
long before he was going broke and headed to jail. When offered a
chance to try out the Amity drug treatment program in exchange for time
behind bars, he embraced the opportunity and by all accounts had
more of an effect on the program and the others in it than it did on
him. Once he came out the other side clean and enthusiastic, he wasn't preachy about
the changes he'd made and simply chose to attack life
head on to make up for all the time he'd wasted.
while Brian may have been angry deep down about being confined to a
wheelchair, he never dwelled on it while in our presence or
complained about it even once. In fact, we considered writing this
piece without even mentioning his
paralysis at all. We decided against it when we realized that we probably wouldn't
even have gotten to know Brian if he wasn't in a chair and such a
large part of his uniqueness was that few others, faced with
his situation, ever even attempt to do half the things that he did.
For that matter, many of us with no situation never get out and
sample life the way Brian used to. He went snow
and water skiing. He went bungee jumping, rock climbing and dirt biking. Jet skiing and
car racing. He played golf, tennis, basketball, softball, and
racquetball. He would jump his chair off of any cement height around
campus like some demented skateboarder, sometimes dropping to the
pavement below with a sickening crunch that would have spokes
twanging from his rims and send him spilling from his chair onto the ground. He
would bounce down flights of stairs, launch himself into the pool,
and screech down hills at breakneck speeds. The familiar sight of him rolling
up to the door of his jeep and swinging up into the driver's seat, while tossing
the chair over
his shoulder into the back all in one motion just before cranking up
the stereo and speeding off
somewhere, would make many around
campus stop and shake their heads. He snapped his
shin bone once dirt biking when his foot came untaped from the peg
and slipped off to thwack off a passing rock. Our mouths dropped
he flew out of his chair at our feet while playing one on one
basketball and cracked his femur in half so his leg swelled up as
big as the ball he'd been chasing. "I can't feel a thing, this is
pretty cool," he said as they raced him off to the emergency
room. When the rules wouldn't let him take the floor for our
intramural basketball team, he promptly nominated himself coach and
had game shirts printed up with "Corrigan Walks" written
on them. They featured pictures of an empty wheelchair on the front
and he wore one during games as he rolled up and down the sidelines shouting
"run you lame bastards, you're embarrassing me." The next
year he changed it to "Corrigan Flies" with the shirt
showing the same empty chair but with two feet flying out
of the top of the graphic. The
cars he drove were in constant disrepair with the mechanisms that
worked the pedals often malfunctioning and leaving him without
brakes and stranded somewhere or forced to wheel around Tucson in the
summer heat. Howling at the moon and smiling through it all, he had
an energy for the active life that would often humble the rest of us.
Brian made us realize through his actions rather than words that
there is no reason to not try new things and fear of failure at
whatever fresh endeavor or experience one might want to bite into is
no excuse for not jumping in with both feet. Even if those feet were
lifeless and had to be duct taped to the pedals or belted into stirrups
in order to participate.
What Brian did better than anything though was connect and relate to
people. It didn't matter to him one damn bit who someone was or what they looked like,
Brian would look them in the eye and engage them in conversation.
Deans, dopes, teachers, dancers, geeks and freaks, cops and robbers, they were all the
same to Brian. His manner was especially valuable to witness by those who previously had no experience with folks
in chairs but anyone could have learned something from watching the
way he dealt with people. Many of the others on staff at the Rec Center probably hadn't really thought about the
subject of spinal cord injuries too
much before he came rolling into their lives that day. The majority
of them, in fact and for whatever reason, were more uncomfortable than
have been around anyone slightly different than themselves.
Especially the privileged college students that tended to work at
Campus Rec, a good portion of whom hadn't had to worry about anything
more significant than what to wear to the prom or which sorority or
fraternity to pledge. For many of them, in their pre Corrigan lives, when somebody would roll up
to them in a chair, they would fidget and fussbudget around and
avoid meeting the person's eyes, not because they were uncaring, but simply
because they didn't have any experience with what to do or say to
somebody who wasn't in the same boat they were. For everyone
he came in contact with however, Brian permanently changed all that. He was so in your
face and loud and, well, just such a normal fun loving guy when it came to
dealing with strangers and co-workers alike, that he forced people to
acknowledge him and with that, the fact that he happened to be sitting not
The front desk at the Rec center became Brian's stage for awhile as
he worked the turnstiles back in the day. Professors would stop by to chat with him just as sure as
some bum he had loaned money to once would come in to say hey. When
he was out and about Brian was not
self conscious at all and would swing out of his chair onto
benches and bar stools and encourage people to cruise around in his
rig. When our editor tried it for the first time, he was somewhat stunned
at people's reactions when he noticed that many of them didn't seem
to want to look him in the eye. Even people with whom he had previously
been acquainted or had just talked to only days before would suddenly seem to have something
extremely important to attend to elsewhere and go hurrying by as if they hadn't
noticed him. It was a weird feeling to be sure and gave a good
insight into the kind of unseen and subtle things that face anyone
who is perceived as significantly different in some way from those
they have to interact with.
Brian was aware of all of this as well of course, but shrugged it off as
he did so many other things that people who aren't in chairs assume
should bother those that are. The longer we knew him the more we
realized that the fact that he was in a wheelchair usually wasn't as
much of an issue for him as it was for those who walked past him
every day, even though he was forced to live in a world designed for walkers by walkers. Knowing
Brian made us reconsider things almost daily that we had always
taken for granted and while, many of them were a pain in his
diminished backside to be sure, he never complained or asked for
special treatment. Things like dirty ground, slanted streets,
airplane ramps, narrow
hallways, fire escapes, cramped bathrooms and public transportation
(he was telling us the week before he died a story of how a public bus driver with a
broken handicap loader had offered to strap him to the bike rack on
the front of the bus like a hood ornament. We're pretty sure he was
just trying out material for his comedy act but who knows). One time
on a trip to the beaches of Mexico, one of his chair wheels went
flying off the trailer somehow during the drive down so, when we arrived
at the vacation spot, he found that he had no way to get anywhere.
Most people would have been upset about this but not Brian. "Just put me in the sand and throw Frisbees at me or something
goddammit. I'll catch em and whip em right back at your asses. I'll
be the center of the game and better than a trained seal." And
to prove it he spent
the weekend flapping his arms together and making barking noises
when the girls walked by. When we moved away for awhile to San Francisco and
then later Seattle, we used to ask Brian to come visit and
he would laugh and say, "I'd love to but them are just not good towns for chairs. Think about
it. Hilly and wet with lot's of gross crap on the ground. You guys can
just step over a stream of hobo's urine but I've got to roll right
through it and then where does it go? Right on my damn hands." He
came to visit anyway even though our third floor apartment didn't
have an elevator and he knew he faced a weekend of fireman's carries
up and down stairs just to be able to hang out with us. Looking at cities through his eyes made us
realize how much a dry and flat place like Tucson has to offer
someone for which a short steep incline can be a physical
impossibility and for whom things like slush and muck are much more
unpleasant than they are for those of us who can merely pull on a pair
Our editor hadn't seen all that much of Brian in
recent years as he was working out of town and Brian was focusing more on his comedy career but
he had just talked
to him a few days before he died, running into him in front of the same Rec Center
where he met him back in the early nineties. Brian was taking a break from
a basketball scrimmage and talking about his recent job as a
youth councilor and how it had ended because of funding cuts.
"It was pretty sweet while it lasted though,"
he explained proudly. "And all I had to do is roll in and try to convince these
kids that they could do anything they wanted to in life. We had some
money to distribute and I'd say, 'Hey look here you troubled youngsters. You have the opportunity to go to Pima, to U of A, in the
Army, in the Navy, ASU, the Peace Corps, whatever. Just pick wherever it is that you want to
go and maybe we can get the cash together to help you get there. You
just have to figure out what it is you want to do and go out and do it. Anything you want to do. Anything, that is, except sell weed. And if you do sell weed, for
God's sake don't get caught'."
"Now that's the kind of sound advice the kids need to
hear," the editor said. "So the money ran out on that job huh?
What are you up to now?"
"Oh working at Laffs Comedy Club in the office there
answering phones and trying to get this comedian thing going. You
should come down and check me out at open mic night. I really love it, man. I'm honing some good material
and in fact, a lot of it comes directly
from all the crap you heartless bastards used to give me back in the
days when we worked here
together. All that calling me the lamest guy you know and telling
me to stand up and be counted and asking just what it was that I stood
for. People eat that stuff up at the clubs. And I actually got paid for a gig for the first time the other
night. I want to get things up and running a little bit before some other wheeling
son of a bitch comes in and steals all my best jokes. I saw a guy in a chair on some
TV show the other night and he looked like he was thinking about
using some of the same lines. And
now that poor Chris Reeves has died I'm not sure I can do my Superman impersonation of him
anymore." He paused to size up a girl walking by and raised his
voice suddenly. "And of course, I have my personal ad in
The Tucson Weekly."
"Huh? A personal ad?" The editor said,
thinking he had missed something.
"No I don't really have one. Pay attention! Didn't you see
that fine girl who walked behind us just then. What's the matter
with you are
you getting old or something? I just said The Weekly thing for her benefit. If
she looked interested, I was going to have to race down to the paper and
take one out.
Something like 'I was just sittin around at the Rec Center the other day and you were
"Sounds like a foolproof plan."
"Nah, she didn't even look back at us. Oh well. You
gotta have lines in the water if you want to catch anything. So
anyway, I probably should get back inside seeing as how my b-ball game
has already started. Give
me a call man! We'll play some tennis or something. I'll bring a
spare chair for you and kick your ass at a real man's game."
And with that, Brian Corrigan, with the same impish grin, stuck out
the same hand with the same dirty calluses as he had almost fifteen
years ago to the day and again yanked our editor nearly off his
feet. Laughing out loud, he wheeled around to go crashing through the Rec
Center doors for what would end up being his final basketball
game. We're going to miss him of course. He was one of the best
people we've known and just picturing him out there, rolling around town
whooping it up somewhere used to make us smile. A hell of a guy who happened to be in a chair, a
fact which we are selfishly grateful for in an odd way because if he wasn't
sitting we probably never would have gotten the chance to know him
and, ironically, he may not have ended up being half the man that he was.
His chair was part of him but didn't define him, made him stand out
but didn't hold him back. He was a fun loving kid who grew into a
good man before our eyes but never lost his childlike enthusiasm or
his boyish charm.
Until someone got too drunk and ran a red light.
The world is worse off than it was before
the night of February 2nd. A world
where people go crashing their cars all the time.