Callahan Online

John Callahan's life is the kind that makes people hard-bitten. His mother abandoned him. He was adopted by an Oregonian couple who thought they were infertile, but subsequently had several children of their own. Callahan felt like an outsider in his own family, so he developed a wicked sense of humor as his defense.

Another defense he developed was wiping out his bitter feelings with alcohol. One night (July 22, 1972) shortly after his twenty-first birthday, after drinking an inordinate amount of beer, he handed the keys to his Volkswagen Bug to a drinking buddy. They went speeding out onto a freeway south of L.A.

The next thing Callahan knew, his VW was wrapped around a billboard, collapsed by a ninety-mile- an-hour impact. The crash severed his spine. He could scarcely use his hands. The drinking buddy got out okay an was never heard from again.

Months and years of alcoholism and self-pity went by. One night he spent a solid hour trying to open a bottle with his teeth. It slipped out of his grip, then rolled across the floor, out of reach. He stared at it awhile. Then he started yelling at it. Then he stared cursing God for the crippled state of his body. He yelled until he was exhausted, then he burst into tears and cried for an hour.

Finally, an eerie but comforting sensation came over him, as if a hand were soothing him. When his attendant got back, Callahan said, "Hey, Alex, something really profound happened to me here, I don't think I'm gonna drink anymore."

Callahan's humor has a savage quality. It offend some people, but lots of others -- especially among the 43 million Americans who are classified as handicapped -- find that something liberating happens when you laugh about your adversities. One of his extended pieces is even called The Lighter Side of Being Paralyzed for Life. He'd rather turn painful situations into jokes than be indulged by a pitying, patronizing attitude.

Pat Riley, NBA Coach
from his book The Winner Within pages 266-268




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