The golden rays of the afternoon sun fell lightly on this flag posted on a rustic fence on Veterans Day 2011.
Today I overslept because I kicked my clock radio off the table and it no longer works. I tried using my cell phone alarm instead, but had it charging and didn’t hear it. Blasted off in the spaceship with no coffee or food. Just scarfed down a tube of potato chips and am following up with chocolate fudge poptarts. This is what you buy when you are really hungry.
Benny and Lincoln decided today would be the day they mocked Melvin, who is severely disabled and does not speak, except for some vocalizing. Benny and Lincoln giggled and repeated his utterances in a tone that was disrespectful. Melvin, who is big and strong and roughly as big as two of Lincoln and three of Benny, shifted about in his chair as though he understand he was being picked on. But he withstood the insult gracefully and did not lash out.
I wish Benny and Lincoln could take a brotherly interest in shielding Melvin from the cruelty of the world. Perhaps they feel Melvin’s very presence stigmatizes them. Yet, he could use a friend and they could be friend and thereby weave their own sorry behinds into the social fabric in a more meaningful way. Perhaps that is a lot to expect from teenagers.
As pilot of the inter-planetary academy shuttle, I sometimes have my passenger list updated, meaning I need to find the safest and most efficient way to reach a different pod at the appointed hour. I was apprehensive about picking up Gigi because I feared she would be another complicated adolescent on a crowded one-way space duct. Those complicated kids know they can’t refuse academy attendance but they can dawdle until the shuttle leaves without them and then attempt to shift the blame for poor attendance on me.
I felt pangs of guilt when I saw Gigi’s mom guiding her out to the shuttle. They walked together like one creature with four legs, the mom using each of her legs to guide the disabled and stiffened legs of her child. Step, by step by step they crossed in front of the shuttle to the entrance in what appeared to be a slow and painful dance. When I opened the portal for Gigi to enter, I was awestruck by the serenity of her smile. If it had taken me that long and that much effort to travel such a brief distance I would have been scowling, not beaming.
Her mom chatted with me and Lieutenant Velma as Gigi made her way ever so slowly up the steps of the shuttle. Her muscles were so uncooperative that her speech was hard to understand, yet she chatted with me the whole way to the academy. I should probably tell you I am wary of my own tendency to daydream and what a threat that is to my continued employment so I talk my way through the run in the hope that doing so will keep me grounded, so to speak.
Benny hopped off the spaceship one stop after he got on, making useless all my effort to manuever the ship around the planets keeping him out of the paths of intersteller traffic. The signs of trouble surfaced at the boy’s pod, when his mom came out and asked the ship to wait — holding up her index finger in the universal sign for “wait one minute.”
She went back inside to holler at Benny to hurry. She returned the garbage-strewn curb of her pod to speak with me. She said Benny is seriously troubled and she apologized for his behavior. I told her I appreciated that. She told me he was looking around for a math book he needed at the academy.
Pale, skinny Benny boarded the ship, his protective suit falling down either in youthful rebellion or lack of body mass. He was especially restless and did not fasten traveling gear. At the next stop when Other Boy got on, Benny scrambled up to the air lock and hopped out. I was glad, because I didn’t like all of his crazy energy on my ship while I’m trying to navigate the universe.
Velma, my lieutenant, said Benny was not running around at the back of his pod looking for equipment to bring to the academy. He was unlocking the alternative exit so he could get re-enter after exiting my ship, she theorized. He needed to board my ship so his mother would think he was attending the academy.
“Velma,” I said, “You know how they think.”
“I certainly do,” she said.
I couldn’t stop thinking about Benny. He left his papers on the ship one day and I saw he was studying algebra: multiplying polynomials. Somebody thinks Benny is smart enough to solve these puzzles. Yet, a smart boy like that hates his place in the academy.
Another thing about Benny stuck in my mind. He often got himself in trouble playing court jester to a bigger boy, like maybe he wanted protection from a bully.
Craig is the cool one. He is the puppet master behind the other student’s upsets. He quietly goads them without raising his voice beyond boyish excitement. He will do well in the Interplanetary War Academy.
I don’t know how the girl with the single-tooth grin got the name Parcheesi but that was indeed the name on my list. “Parcheesi,” I thought, would probably be joining us along with Monopoly and perhaps Chess-ter. Ha, ha.
Parcheesi had a sense of self. She walked slowly toward the kindergarten as if she need not hurry; she expected everyone to wait. I narrowed my eyes in an attempt to get her to step lively, but she continued to dawdle, fussing with the strap of her pocketbook. She looked lazily toward the other children heading toward other rooms and said her good-byes. Parcheesi was like a little politician who wanted to spread a little love to everyone so as to be remembered at election time.
I knew the confrontation was coming. Parcheesi rankled the nerves of my assistant, Velma Dean, a hard-working woman from the midwest who could not abide naughty children. She was well aware that the kids were the kings and people like us, the staff could easily lose our jobs by disciplining our charges in an unwise manner.
Velma had little education in accredited schools or universities, but a lot of learning at the school of hard knocks.
Yet, Parcheesi liked to stir things up, particularly with Craig, a manipulator and sociopath for sure, and Eldon, a sweet, sincere unguarded soul who often left the kindergarten in tears.
When my sister Lucy and I were little, around 6 and 3 or thereabouts, we used to moon people. I have no idea where the inspiration for this came from, but we got it from somewhere (this was, after all, the late 1960s), and we exercised this vaguely inspired right to moon on our front lawn in New Preston, Conn., for all the world to see. Or maybe not all the world; maybe just passing cars.
At the time I never wondered what the drivers and passengers of these vehicles might have thought, tooling around Lake Waramaug on their leisurely summer drives, approaching this fairly standard-looking white colonial with its fairly standard-looking lawn. Or it might have been standard-looking, had my parents mowed the bottom half of it — they kept the grass high to prevent their darling children from rolling their tricycles into the road, so it looked perpetually…
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