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This story has been percolating through the blogosphere today, so if you've already seen it I hope you'll bear with me. It speaks to me on a hugely personal level.

ST. PETERSBURG — About 11 p.m. Sept. 12, a car struck Neil Alan Smith and threw him off his bicycle on Fourth Street N. The car didn't stop.

Mr. Smith, who was pedaling home from his job as a dishwasher at the Crab Shack, struck his head on a light post.

He was taken to Bayfront Medical Center. He died there six days later. He was 48.

They still haven't caught the guy who killed Mr. Smith, but that's not why I'm so worked up.

It's THIS:

Shortly after the St. Petersburg Times announced Mr. Smith's death on its website, a reader posted a comment stating the following: A man who is working as a dishwasher at the Crab Shack at the age of 48 is surely better off dead.

So here's why I'm furious with this....

As some of you longtimers around here know, I have a developmentally disabled brother who is two years older than I am. I'll call him "Joe". Nearly ten years ago, Joe got tired of putting up with our delusional wingnut evangelical mother, who spent years telling Joe that, despite all evidence to the contrary, he had no disability because god had healed him. Joe still has trouble wit the notion that he's disabled, but he had the good sense to get out from under our mother just the same. Nevertheless, his isolation under our mother's thumb all those years left him bereft of friends and social contact.

Joe is almost 42 years old. After the hoops of SSI and Medicaid, Joe finally managed to land a job as a grocery clerk for a major supermarket chain. At first, he only worked 12-15 hours a week. But as time went on, his managers and supervisors came to see what a dedicated, hardworking guy he was. And he saw work as a social outlet....somewhere not only where he could be appreciated for his efforts, but for himself. Ultimately, he was working over 40 hours a week, six days a week, and as a union employee had full medical, dental and retirement benefits.

He had a small but loyal network of co-workers and friends who are planning soon to celebrate his life.

They all describe Mr. Smith as steady and dependable. He rode his bicycle nearly 4 miles each way from the Hollywood Trailer Park on Fourth Street N to the Crab Shack on Gandy Boulevard, where he had worked for the past 10 years. In a business known for turnover, that is considered a long time.

Joe used to ride his bike (and sometimes take the bus, too) over exactly the same distance. Up big hills, and down them, in the rain, wind, snow and heat. One time, he crashed going down a hill at night and in the rain, breaking his collarbone in two places. It was the only time he missed work.

He restocked the shelves with the pots, pans and dishes he had washed, hosed down the rubber mats and swept and mopped the floors. Mr. Smith earned $7.25 an hour, Florida's minimum wage.

Joe made minimum wage, too. He bagged groceries, brought in shopping carts, cleaned the store and did whatever else was asked of him. Joe is illiterate as a result of his disability and cannot perform basic computation, and so his only employment comes from jobs that pay little and require a lot of hard work. But he loved it, and his bosses knew they could count on him.

He rarely strayed from work or home. On days off he drank a few Budweisers and watched sports, especially his beloved Red Sox, Celtics and Patriots. Rogers wouldn't let him smoke inside, so he sat on the porch with a Marlboro and headphones listening to Aerosmith or Celine Dion.

Joe is pretty shy socially, so outside of work he didn't do a lot. Because I'm a devout Packers fan, Joe would occasionally go hang out to watch games at a nearby pub stocked with transplanted Cheeseheads on game day, but he never made friends. He just wanted to be part of the crowd.

Mr. Smith worked hard, and reliably, at a minimum wage job and lived the best life he could. So did my brother Joe. Neither is (or was) out to hurt anyone, but merely sought the pride of work and earning a living, to survive, and maybe have a beer now and then.

NOTE: Joe quit his job when my husband and I, on whom he depends for housing, had to move in search of work last year. Joe still hasn't found a job here in our new city, but we're working on it.

Shortly after the St. Petersburg Times announced Mr. Smith's death on its website, a reader posted a comment stating the following: A man who is working as a dishwasher at the Crab Shack at the age of 48 is surely better off dead.

THIS is the kind of shit that causes suicides, friends. Whether it's because you're gay, or disabled, or overweight, or of a particular race or religion, OR JUST BECAUSE YOU MAKE MINIMUM WAGE. This kind of bigotry, and that's EXACTLY what it is, is FUCKING BULLSHIT.

I won't be sharing this story with Joe because, as I alluded to earlier, he still has issues acknowledging his disability. But with an IQ of 57, he probably wouldn't see the correlation anyway. And that means I'd have to explain how it relates to him, and how there are awful, hateful bigots in this world who treat their fellow humans like shit.

And I can't do that to Joe.

Originally posted to Auntie Neo Kawn on Fri Oct 01, 2010 at 02:56 PM PDT.

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