Michael Bailiff
Michael Bailiff

A Fundamental Lesson

by Michael Baillif

From the Editor: Michael Baillif was a 1984 NFB scholarship winner. He had just graduated from high school. Even then it was clear that with the help of the NFB he was going places. Michael graduated from Claremont McKenna College, used a Watson Fellowship to travel around Europe, received his J.D. from Yale Law School, and earned an LLM at Georgetown. Today he is back in Washington, D.C., having been hired away from the New York law firm mentioned below. Michael and Lynn Mattioli, a 1987 NFB scholarship winner, were married on June 3 this year. The following story appeared in Reflecting the Flame, the seventeenth in the NFB's Kernel Book series of paperbacks. It begins with President Maurer's introduction. Here it is:

Michael Baillif is a past President of the Student Division of the National Federation of the Blind. He is an up and coming New York lawyer and a Yankees fan, and he doesn't let blindness get in his way--not, at least, when he can help it. But sometimes it doesn't work out that way. In "A Fundamental Lesson" Michael shares with us an incident that started out wrong and ended up right. Here is what he has to say:

I first arrived at my new apartment in New York City one evening last summer around midnight. The doorman, a hard-boiled seventy-year-old New Yorker named Leno, was somewhat taken aback to see, emerging from a taxicab at that late hour, a blind man laboring under the weight of several suitcases. That night, and for several days thereafter, Leno was constantly over-helpful, being quite concerned with the numerous disasters that could conceivably have befallen me in the lobby of the apartment building.

After awhile, however, when I didn't tumble down the stairs or set off any fire alarms, the novelty of my blindness wore off. Before long we were talking of the weather, the Yankees, and Leno's children in Florida as I traversed the lobby of the apartment building on my way to and from work or recreation.

Blindness soon ceased to be an issue in Leno's mind, so we never discussed it. We were both more interested in whether or not the Yankees, who were playing great fundamental baseball and getting all the little things right, would set the record for winning the most ball games in a single season. Although I would have been happy enough to engage in a conversation regarding blindness, the topic just didn't come up.

One evening, after I had been living in the apartment building for a few weeks, I was returning from the theater in the company of a young lady I particularly wanted to impress. You can imagine my chagrin, therefore, when, upon pulling up in front of the apartment building, our taxi driver refused to accept any money for the cab ride.

Now, if I had been short on funds, I might have been thankful for the gesture. Or, if the cabbie had offered money to be put toward the programs of the National Federation of the Blind to help all blind people, I would have been deeply appreciative. But in this case I had received a service for which I wanted to pay the going rate. Being fortunate enough to have a good job, I wanted to pay my fair share; that's what equality is all about. Besides, all philosophy aside, there was still the matter of this date on whom I wanted to make a good impression.

Regardless of my protestations, however, the cab driver remained unwilling to take my money. There we were, standing out in front of the apartment building--he saying, "No money. No money," and me responding, "No, really. I want to pay."

At this point Leno emerged from the apartment building and approached us saying, "Hey, what's going on out here? What's this about?"

My first reaction was, "Oh, no. Now Leno's going to get involved. There'll be an even bigger scene, and I'm going to have to deal with him as well. He's going to want me just to let the cabbie drive off without payment."

But, much to my surprise and delight, Leno accosted the cabbie and said, "Hey, that's not the way we do things around here." Pointing to me, he said, "He likes to pay and be treated just like anyone else. So you let him pay. He's the boss." The cab driver wilted under Leno's onslaught and relented, finally accepting my cab fare.

As we walked into the apartment building, I thanked Leno profusely for coming to my aid and marveled to myself at the understanding of blindness he had acquired from somewhere in only a few weeks. This thought sparked in me a minor revelation.

Using me as his vehicle for observation, Leno had quickly learned a great deal about blindness without my ever having had the intention, or even awareness, of teaching any lessons. Luckily, however, Leno, like the Yankees, had mastered the fundamentals and proved to be a champion.