Tuesday, February 24, 2009


(From page 240, QUADALAJARA - The Utopia That Once Was)

This was not the Guadalajara, Mexico (or Villa Dulce) as depicted in Oliver Stone's movie 'Born on the Fourth of July.' The only portrayal of Mexican women in Stone's movie was unfortunately that of whores and prostitutes. This is a demeaning misrepresentation of the señoras and señoritas of our neighbors to the south.

Ron Kovic's experiences during the short time he spent in Mexico, as detailed in his autobiography by the same title, differ greatly from that of most who visited or resided there. Although many of us who spent time in one of the "gimp camps" did explore the seedy side of this wondrous city, not everyone spent the majority of their time inebriated in cantinas or whorehouses. Most of us explored all aspects of the city, including its rich history, culture, and wonderful people.

I only regret that I, or someone knowledgeable of this unique time in history, had neither the voice nor the fortitude to set the record straight earlier.

(I stumbled on to the following last night while 'surfing the net')

Tom Cruise the ugly American in México?

By Carlos Quintanilla
UTwatch.org (May 1990)

"A number of critics bemoan the Motion Picture Academy's denial of recognition to Spike Lee's Do the Right Thing. What has not been criticized however, is the Academy's "Best Director" award to Oliver Stone, whose Born on the Fourth of July contains a sequence unparalleled in its racism.

Born on the Fourth of July a good, powerful film, contained some objectionable scenes. But the shit-filled bedpans, sucking chest wounds, compound fractures, and vomit didn't bother me nearly as much as the film's racist portrayal of Mexicans.

It may seem a little late to review a film out as long as this one, (I spent my Spring Break afternoons in Austin catching up on movie viewing) so I'll skip the conventional mention of fine acting, masterful editing and cinematography, and terrific musical score to focus on one segment of the film, in which Ron Kovic, the paraplegic Vietnam vet, played by Tom Cruise, goes to México.

Once again, the media in this country portrays Mexico and the people who live there as beneath contempt.

Kovic is understandably distraught by war injuries that confine him to a wheelchair. Mistreated by the "system," degraded in a filthy V.A. hospital by a callous staff, (most of whom are Black)

Kovic becomes increasingly disillusioned and angry. He begins drinking, explodes in anger at anyone who will listen. To get away (and stop driving his family and friends to distraction) he heads for Villa Dulce a Mexican beachside town. There, he and numerous other paraplegic Vietnam vets, unable to readjust to life in the United States, gamble. They consume copious amounts of Mezcal, worms and all. They frequently pay the plentiful whores who for sixty pesos will sexually oblige anyone, no matter what their physical condition. (I realize that "prostitute" is more palatable than "whore"; but only the latter word is used, even in the credits.)

In one particularly telling scene, Kovic and fellow disabled vet, Willem Dafoe take an ill-fated taxi ride, presumably in search of more carefree alcoholic consumption and high-risk sexual activity. After fighting with the taxi driver, whom they suspect of trying to do them wrong, the two vets are ejected from the cab in the middle of the desert. Slobbering drunk, Dafoe vents rage, at Kovic, whores, and Mexico. "Fuck México!" he bellows, a line that fairly well typifies the feel of the whole sequence.

Once again, up on the silver screen, millions see our country of origin merely as a place where a gringo can satisfy any depraved desire. The film depicts the women as money-hungry sluts with too much blue eye shadow and the men as leering bartenders or taxi drivers who will cut or rip off anyone at the drop of a sombrero. Of course there are places in México where this happens. But the film gives us not one positive image of México or its people. Not since Under the Volcano has such a preponderance of thieving pimps and vicious prostitutes flickered across the screen.

Ron Kovic shares screenplay credit with director Oliver Stone. This really surprised me. I expected more from him. I read Kovic's book years ago and was familiar with his work as a Vietnam veteran/activist. I'm less surprised by Stone. His film Salvador carried more than its share of stereotyped Latino images and played fast and loose with historical fact.

Stone and Kovic show the underside of the John Wayne mentality - young men physically and emotionally wrecked in the name of patriotism. The movie makers negated all their good intentions by showing Mexico as a nation of scumbags. They might as well have emptied the contents of those bedpans over the entire movie."

(Maybe this should be re-titled: Oliver Stone - The Ugly American In Hollywood?...JT)

Saturday, February 07, 2009


Arthur Heyer was injured in Guadalajara, Mexico at the ripe old age of seventeen!

I've never met Arthur Heyer. Keith Ziegler first mentioned Heyer's name to me when I was interviewing Keith for my book, 'QUADALAJARA - The Utopia That Once Was'.

I spoke with Arthur for the first time a few days ago. Unfortunately, Keith has passed on. (Related BLOG post, November 18, 2006)

It's strangely ironic that Arthur Heyer's second chance at life did NOT take place in Guadalajara, as OURS had --- it took place here in the United States.

I'll step aside and let each tell their unique stories:

Keith Ziegler was one of those few quadriplegics who went on to college after sustaining a spinal cord injury in 1960 at the age of twenty-one. Ziegler spent the next six months hospitalized in Denver before being transferred to the Long Beach VA.

With the help of his parents, Keith returned to his now-modified and wheelchair accessible home in Colorado, and to an uncertain future in higher education. After three years, it became apparent that Ziegler's pursuit of a college English degree was becoming increasingly more difficult. His parents could only do so much, and full-time attendant care for a quadriplegic student on his own was beyond his financial means.

In 1965, Ziegler read an ad in the Paraplegia News about this place in Mexico. A few months later, Keith and his parents were on their way to check out Bill Coe's. Asked what his first day was like in Quadalajara, Ziegler responded, “They were a bunch of drunks. The owner was drunk, his wife was drunk, and the room was all mildewed and wet. My parents didn't like it and went for a walk the next day and saw Kegan's Place and said, 'You're coming over here.'

I had a nice room by myself. It was dry and comfortable. I knew Tom Kirch from Long Beach. Dave McDonald and Joe Darichuk, I'd seen before.”

Unlike those quads staying at Kegan's who Keith already knew from Long Beach, the guys at Bill Coe's “were mostly paras with pressure sores who stayed in bed all day and shot their pistols at night. There was one guy named 'Cowboy' and another named Ben something-or-other. Bill Coe used to get drunk and curse at Kegan at night and fire his pistol.”

“At Kegan?” Ziegler was asked. “No, just in the air.” Might this be the “entertainment” mentioned in many “WHY MEXICO?” and “GO MEXICO” ads?

“The first time I went out was in Joe Darichuk's car,” Ziegler recounted. “I met Frank Stocker, Chuck Devejanik, and this other redheaded para named Bob Enge. Just about everyone I met who didn't stay in one of the gimp camps had their own automobile. Even some of the guys who stayed at Kegan's had their own cars. Besides Darichuk, Steve Wilson had his own. Eddie Lucier had his own.”

Asked about some of his more memorable experiences in Quadalajara in the mid-60s, Ziegler recalled the time, “I was with George Ray and he pulled out his pistol and BLAM, shot a sparrow through Joe Miller's window.” “Didn't some of the guys belong to a shooting club in Quadalajara?” Keith was asked. Ziegler wasn't aware of it, but added, “Some of the guys used to shoot doves on the Tequila Highway.”

On a more positive note, Ziegler was one of many wheelers invited to a graduation party at the Hospicio Cabañas orphanage. “It was soon after I got there,” he added. Mexico PVA's unofficial chaplain and friend, Reverend Paul Hunter, did the inviting. The honoree was a very bright, paralyzed teen who had just graduated from la preparatoria, Mexico's equivalent to high school.

Although the event wasn't Mexico PVA sponsored, a number of its members, including one of its newest, Keith Ziegler, attended and donated money toward the purchase of a wheelchair, bed, and help toward Arturo Heyer's college education.

The significance of Heyer's introduction to the Mexico PVA would have lasting implications. According to Ziegler, Heyer would go on to receive an engineering degree, a job in Santa Ana, California designing prosthetic equipment to better the lives of people with disabilities, and return home “to found a similar organization in Mexico.”

La Asociación de Lisiados de Jalisco, A.C. (ALJAC), “would be formed around '72 or '73,” according to Ziegler, with membership open to all of the state of Jalisco's disabled citizens.

* * * * *

I MADE IT!...But What About the Others?

"When I became independent at work I had a great deal of satisfaction, but my happiness was not complete until I started sharing the experience with others with similar needs."

In the orderly chaos of a cluttered business office, Arthur Heyer moves a switch with his chin and his wheelchair back reclines.

"I broke my neck when I was seventeen. I became paralyzed from my neck down. Had my life come to a stall?, I asked myself. Could I ever dream to do anything other than sitting in a wheelchair and watch others grow?

"Now I do all these things. And I feel good about myself," Arthur says.

"These things" are impressive. After his accident, Arthur went back to school, he tutored in English and Mathematics, he became a graduate mechanical engineer and then leader of an organization for the handicapped. Now he is the owner and operator of a company where devices to aid the handicapped are manufactured. He is fluent in both English and Spanish and reads some Russian.

"I saw the moonlight reflecting on the water and I dove in.

The weather was warm and I had been ill. I was still running a fever. I had once swum in this pool near my home. I saw the moon reflecting on the quiet surface and dove in.

"It was nine feet from the edge to the bottom of the pool, and on this night the moon reflected on just two inches of water. My third and fifth vertebrae shattered, my spinal cord was smashed, and I became a quad. This happened August 8 of 1963 in Guadalajara, Mexico.

"I spent one year in a Striker frame, a bed designed with two cots that "sandwiched" me keeping me immobile while I was turned face down or face up every two or three hours. Striker frames are narrow and have wheels, so I could be moved from room to room or out to the patio to get fresh air and lots of sun. Books that were placed on a transparent platform over my face when I was lying on my back, and on a different platform when I was facing down kept me busy most of the time.

"I did not go to a rehabilitation hospital, not until 9 years later. My family took care of me. I was the second of 9 brothers and sisters.

"After the first three months, I started moving my head. My father saw this and made me a device for writing with my head. He attached a ball pen on a pair of eyeglass frames he arranged with magnifying glasses. The magnifying glasses allowed me to write at a short distance for better control, without straining my eyes. I spent at least 2 hours writing and drawing every day.

"I made pen pals: one girl from Mexico City and one from Indonesia. I kept abreast with my Calculus and studied Russian, about 5 hours a day. I read Physics and I spent valuable time with visitors from the "Legion de Maria". It was a good year.

"At one time, the most important thing in my life was to be able to sit comfortably in a wheelchair. I was 6 feet and 6 inches tall and a calcified hip kept my left leg in the extended position. My father and a friend of ours developed a special wheelchair with a half-seat. The chair became my all day and every day companion for the nine years it lasted."

"When I had to go to the university, we did not have a vehicle where I could fit with my special wheelchair. My father and I did not want to wait until we saved or raised the money to buy a van. So he attached a "U" bracket at the rear of his bicycle and towed me the five miles to the University every day for two months until we bought a van."

Arthur did not go to a rehabilitation hospital. He received rehabilitation at home with the help of his parents, brothers, sisters, and friends the first year. Then he returned to school, reintegrating himself fully into a world of walking people, and involuntarily and unconsciously segregating himself from other handicapped people.

As a result, he developed an anti-handicapped feeling. "I did not want to be with other handicapped people. I would not even look at them. When I saw one on the street, I saw myself as a mirror reflection and I did not want to know that I looked like them."

The part of Heyer's mind that rejected even his own handicap may have been the part that drove him to study and strive. While society saw him as a handicapped individual, Arthur saw himself as a man, who was also a quadriplegic.

An operation for his calcified hip joint led him to Rancho Los Amigos Hospital in Downey, California. In the Rehabilitation Center he learned that those broken or twisted bodies he had avoided were also real people.

The "growth" that he was later to realize everyone wants began there. He became so involved that when he returned to his home town Guadalajara, Mexico, he helped to start ALJAC, an organization of handicapped individuals, and was its president until he married 3 years later.

He and his bride went back to California, where Arthur obtained employment as a rehabilitation engineer at Rancho Los Amigos Medical Center, where he had been a patient 3 years before. He worked there 3 years and then changed jobs to become the president of his own company, Extensions For Independence.

The design of mechanisms to solve his own and others' functional needs became Arthur's career. He has done it almost on a daily basis since he first sat in a wheelchair in October of 1964. Actually, he designed mechanisms since much before his accident. Arthur was a natural engineer.

Fortunately for him, his father first, and then other people too, were there to help him continue his natural career with practically no interruption. In the course of his life as a quadriplegic, Arthur has designed a number of mechanisms which have given him increased independence and comfort for life and work. Among other things, Arthur designed different types of mouthstick operated drafting machines, a motorized easel, telephone adapters, file trays that hold resource material open for easy reading, variable-height desks with large rotating tables for easy access, portable desks that attach to wheelchairs. But first and best is the development of the H-A Modular Mouthstick, the production version of the mouthstick his father first designed for him.

The "Y"-shaped mouthpiece feature, which is basic since the elder Heyer first designed it for his son, is for the user to be able to talk while holding it with a firm and comfortable grip in his mouth. Later, Arthur worked with Henry Abadie, a retired engineer from Long Beach, to create the Heyer-Abadie Modular Mouthstick. The new mouthstick was based on the same original design, but with added features. It had a mechanism for the user to interchange tips with different implements independently. It was designed telescoping, and best of all, it was designed so it could be produced with regular manufacturing methods, without requiring the craftsmanship needed by the original mouthstick design.

"This and other projects could have never materialized without the invaluable help of Henry, who spent thousands of hours at his home machine shop working on my designs.

"I first met Henry in my work at Rancho. He was looking for something meaningful to do for the handicapped that would keep him busy in his retirement. His skill and persisting devotion for implementing and completing without delay mechanical concepts is responsible for the realization of my most intricate mechanical dreams.

"Henry was amazing. I would tell him what was needed, describe how I thought it could be made, and he would return in a week or two with the item completed, or much advanced. (He passed away in 1993.)"

One of the specific designs that carry the Heyer-Abadie name is a motorized easel for the nationally known artist, Joni Eareckson. Joni's beautiful paintings are produced by holding paintbrushes in her mouth. Her limited body movements required that someone be available to reposition the canvas as needed. With the motorized easel she can move the canvas attached to a drawing board up, down or to the sides at the touch of a button.

Joni's motorized easel evolved from one of Arthur's "impossible" dreams Henry made a reality: a full-fledged drafting machine. This cross between an Etch-A-Sketch and a display board allowed Heyer to draw on-scale designs with his mouthstick.

"Arthur made it! He conquered his disability! He did not just sit in a wheelchair to see others grow. He grew up himself, together with the rest of the people. He obtained the equipment he needed and acquired the skills to become gainfully employed. But...what about the others? Not too many have the great opportunities he had. Not everybody has someone around to create mechanisms.

"I started Extensions for Independence for a reason: I wanted to make available to others the equipment which was being responsible for a great feeling of fulfillment in my life, and I did not trust that anybody else would care to do it.

"Twenty one years later, I see back and say that I wish I had done differently. Engaging in business with no previous experience or knowledge was like pedaling a Cadillac. I worked hard and accomplished little. A good half of all my years in business have gone doing clerical work. I learned independence for working in an office so well that I ended up wearing all the hats myself.
Originally written and published in 1983 by A.R. Rogers. Edited 15 years later by Arthur Heyer.

Note: This story has not ended. http://www.mouthstick.net/madeit/madeit.htm