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Brian 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 stand up and seek out somebody in the room with whom they were not already acquainted. The instructions were to introduce themselves and take five minutes to find out as much as they could 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 good mood.

    "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 off balance. "Stood up and proceeded to knock your own ass back down to a sitting position."
    "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 actually brought 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 Agassi's?"
    "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 brother! The 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 I'd 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?"
    "Usually, 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 one. 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 the deal."
    "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 trigger."
    "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) at 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 course. 

     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 and 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 better.

     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. 

And 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 open another time as 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 they should 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 standing. 

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 of galoshes.

     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 beautiful'."
    "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.

Copyright 2005. All Rights Reserved.