Wednesday, November 28, 2012

The breaking of the fellowship

It's true.

Lulu, my longtime companion, the purple-wearing, morbidly obese African American light in my occupational darkness, has cast me out.

I am not sure why.

When we returned from summer break, I noticed a gradual coarsening in her responses to me.

I felt shut off from her; no longer privy to her thoughts, her endless, giddy recitation of the film "Matilda".

In vain, I sought to rekindle our friendship by engaging her in the 
old games, the coded language of our once shared, secret world.

All I know about Dylan is that many, many years ago, Lulu passed him in the halls of her school and he said, "Look, Lulu, I have a yo-yo."

She has never forgotten him.

The details of the encounter I kind of have to free-form; pantomiming yo-yo tricks and using the voice of a young man just beginning to crest the first big wave of puberty: high, almost squeaky, but flecked with cracks here and there to suggest the smoldering teenager aching to be born.

I don't really know any yo-yo tricks, so I keep it simple.

I don't wanna talk about it.

That is all Lulu will ever say to me now.

She used to clap with such genuine joy when Dylan came around.

We used to laugh together at his antics.

I don't wanna talk about it, she says.

Have you ever heard "Lady Marmalade"?

Lulu has distilled the chorus down to a rough sound-alike, and excised the remaining fat of the song.

The catchy French lines have become, "Hoolay Hoolay Hoolay Hoo-ha, Hoo-Ha!" The double Hoo-ha is slightly shouted, and as she shouts it, she gives her upper torso a bit of a shake. 

It used to be that no matter how terrible the circumstance, how disruptive the behavior, you could always jolt Lulu out of it just by starting the Hoolay.

But that time has passed.

  Lulu and I have arrived at a moment in our history that is without precedent. 

Lady Marmalade can't even budge her from sullen, willful isolation.

When she acknowledges me, if she acknowledges me at all, her eyes radiate hatred before she slowly turns her head away in disgust. 

It is at once puzzling and demoralizing. 

Overall, I have managed to avoid making a true enemy among the cognitively impaired. 

In general, I am beloved.

Is it my good looks?

My short, inoffensive stature?

Or perhaps it is because I only set limits when a differentiation must be made between "my things" and, "where poop goes."

Not that I am overly permissive, but let us just say that the students know whom to ask when they want to waste time on Facebook or eat a potato chip they found on the floor. 

In fact, until this recent broofasa with Lulu, I can recall only one other client who actively disliked me.  

His name was Paul (no, it wasn't), and he was a resident at the facility for disabled men and boys where my journey into the world of special needs began. 

Ah, Paul.

Your sweaty flat top, your smattering of moustache, the crazy defiance you exhibited when I interrupted your attempt at sexual congress with the drain at the base of your bathroom sink.

 Paul had the resistant body language of a person too used to pulling away from offered help.

You would try to be nice and he would throw an elbow in your face.

Sometimes, when you announced things like "Hey let's get ice cream", he would get so excited that he would start biting the other boys around him, usually targeting the softy, chewy parts, like ears and noses.

He constantly asked me for batteries, and when I did not have any, he would tear at his clothes and yell about how he was Jesus.

All of those boys wanted batteries, all the time.

The well-meaning people of the community kept giving them unsustainable gifts: walkie-talkies, handheld games, radio-controlled cars.

What about solar-powered calculators? Those are sometimes kind of fun. Mostly when you write numbers that turn into cool stuff like "boobs" and "hell" when you turn them upside down.

But no, everything they got was always battery powered.

And when the last of the fuel was spent, their flashlights dimmed or cars slowed to a crawl, that was when the wolves came out.

Somedays all I did was hand out batteries and ask who farted.

I couldn't think of a hand gesture that would go with the question, "Hey, who farted?"

  The question 'Who farted?' is so pointless.

The answer is not going to make you happy, or smarter.

It bothers me that I keep drawing pictures of literally the sentences I just wrote. It's like double-dipping the idea.

And so I ate a chip.

Idiot! The pictures are supposed to enhance, or further, the narrative, not rob the reader of the chance to apply their imaginations to it.

Like this:

What a great story.

So Paul hated me.

The only men that had ever been in his life had abused him horribly, so it was no wonder that he wanted nothing to do with me.

Because I am a man.


This is what happens when you take too long to finish a post; you lose the thread of your narrative and get distracted by really dumb things.

Like I was watching my five-month old baby Oliver and it struck me how ridiculous of a person he is.

He just stares at my wife all day.

Really stares though, the stare of a person with absolutely no self-confidence, a person who lives solely for the attention of others.

He watches her, his mouth downturned and slightly open, and if she even begins to look remotely in his direction, an ecstatic, gummy smile splits his face and he begins to vigorously chew his hand like Lenny and Squiggy do when a foxy dame walks past.

It's really quite pathetic.

I wonder, though.

Is this fanatical dedication to my wife's every step, her slightest gesture, his complete and unquestioning adoration of her, is this the type of devotion she secretly longs for me, her husband, to display?

Is this why marriage books authored by celebrity therapists line our bathroom shelves?

Is the son taking the father to school over how to treat a lady?

A good hypothesis must be rigorously tested by experimentation.

And how far should I take it?

Well, I forgot what this post was about.

In unrelated news, Marianne, over at We Band of Mothers has written a book.

If you go 'like' the!/epicmombook for her book, you can win a free copy or a million sea shells or something.

Though she is a bit more extroverted then I would like, Marianne is an extremely nice person and has always supported the rudderless stupidity that is Gweenbrick, so for that I am proud to endorse her book which I have not read, nor do I have even the faintest idea of the flavor of its contents.

Oh, and Paul and I never did work out.

He got the boot for starting too many fires.

I suppose I was a cog in the system that failed him.

I didn't mean to be.

Monday, November 12, 2012

View from here

The study room on the third floor of the public library is crowded and hot; the air stinks, a strange, medical smell that is at once antiseptic and BM-y.

Twenty-some students press and prod their assistive communication devices, while staff members stand behind them, facilitating all that interaction.

This is Conversation Club, a special time of the week devoted to the kids who lack speech as it is traditionally defined. That part in italics is my way of nodding to neurodiversity.

Much of the talking is done in robotic monotone, think low budget Stephen Hawking, but the surreal exception is my own voice.

For awhile, there was a shortage of males in the staff pool, so I was usually tapped to do the recordings for all the talk boxes.

I could walk by a classroom and here myself say, "I like ice cream", in response to someone else making my voice say, "It is rainy".

Eventually,  they had a black man come in and record voices for all the black kids, so they sounded less white and whiny (my voice does not hold up well to recording).

But vestiges of me remain.

An occasional button press springs me to life: "I would like french fries, please." "I need to take a break."

It sounds like HAL and I are having a conversation consisting entirely of mundane non sequiturs.

A large Samoan-looking girl begins to weep loudly. She rolls her body forward and shoves a hand firmly down the front of her pants. Three staff converge on her, frantically asking questions in order to get to the bottom of her problem.

She repeatedly stabs at her Ipad with a brown finger as big around as my wrist.

With each touch, a sexy, vaguely English sounding woman's voice purrs, "I am fine. I need a break. I-I-I had pizza for lunch. I had hamburger for lunch." The girl begins to shriek.

"I bet she's hungry," someone comments.

I think about how good I have it, calm little Martin in front of me.

The worst thing I have to deal with when it comes to him is keeping him awake.

"Push the button, man." He uses a knuckle like a pointy finger, presses down hard on a little picture of a stick figure shooting a basket, and I hear my voice chirp, "I like to play basketball."

It is so overly enunciated and happy; it sounds nothing like me.

The student he is supposed to be having a conversation with starts to drift off, but I give her a nudge.

"Hey, your turn."

She withdraws a spindly white finger from her mouth, a string of drool linking her lips to her hand, and on down to her Talk Box; she touches a picture.

"Today is Friday."

It isn't.

My therapist stops me there.

" sounds don't really enjoy your job." At that moment, I finally solve the puzzle of who he sounds similar to. It's Kermit. Kermit the frog.

I do one of those moves that people do when they hide the fact that they are laughing to themselves; you know the one, where you clamp your hand over your mouth and snort into your palm.

Kermit would make an excellent therapist; his eyes are so genuine, his default expression is one of quiet listening.

And the way he nods and goes, "Mm-hm"; well, that's all we want, isn't it?

That unique affirmation that only a Muppet can provide.

I realize the doctor is waiting for me to speak.

"For the most part, yeah that's true. But I wonder, if I got a job anywhere else, would I be just as unhappy? Is it the circumstance or something I carry with me?" I talk like that to him because I am trying to convey my elevated level of self-awareness.

I like my doctors to recognize me as their intellectual equal; you know, level the playing field, so we can all just talk plainly, no patronizing or anything. It's why when I am sick, I print out a list of all the possible things I might have, culled from extensive research on Yahoo Answers, and present it to the doctor directly.

"Look, flu-like symptoms, dry mouth, shaky hands, I know it's coprophilia."

"Errr...not sure that's right," says the doctor. They call my mom and tell her to take away my computer privileges for a week.

"We're concerned he is getting into some morally dubious areas of the World Wide Web."

"But he's a grown man," my mother argues.

The doctor covers the phone with one hand, slowly looks me up and down, and apologises for wasting her time.

"Why do you believe that to be true?" I forgot I was supposed to be listening to the real doctor in front of me, not the pretend one in my mind who just called my mother.

"I dunno," I say, conceding the entirety of the playing field to the doctor's superior intellect.
"Maybe ahs jus an idgit."

Imagine Kermit leaning towards you, one green hand flapping your knee in comfort.
"Now I don't think that's the case, do you?" he asks.

I shrug my shoulders.

"Let's do some word associations."

"Okay," I answer, while wiping my runny nose on my sleeve.

"Just close your eyes and say the first thing that comes into your mind when I say the trigger word."

I lean my head back into the strange, body-swallowing embrace of the doctor's couch.

"Phone call," says Kermit, in a flat, nuetral voice.

"Death," I respond, operating on pure, verbal instinct.