Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Song for a Crappy Tuesday

What you don't know about Asperger's is a lot. Just the staticky fragments from a Dateline two nights ago, filtered through the parents' caustic whispers. Both caught your vague interest - the whisper-fit and the Dateline - but neither could be heard in full. Instead they blent into audio wallpaper, heard at crunching intervals as you finished your Cap'n Crunch for dinner.

Gary is a boy like any other in this-
"-this is the third parking tick-"
Difficulty reading social cues-
"...instead of letting me find out three-"
...lack of eye contact-
"...three times! And always when I'm stress-"
'There are three Walgreens within three blocks of my Mom's office.'

Election Tuesday, in your third grade class, was diagnosed with Asperger's. There was no big fuss made about it on the part of the teacher (a grey, indifferent woman, unable mask her perturbation at any unexpected change in plan), but Election Tuesday had no reserve in announcing it to all eighteen kids in line at the Bathroom Break.

Election Tuesday is unsettling to talk to - with the constant chatter of encyclopedic facts and his queer gaze at your left temple- so you avoid him whenever possible. (This is made difficult, however, by the alphabetic placement of your last names. Except when some kid is sick, you are the Craft Partner, The Buddy.)

He is also one of those kids. The kind with a laundry list of queezeries that upset and annoy: He ate three of Jodi's glue sticks within the first six days of school, one of his armpits sweats excessively, he has consistent booger hang, he bites his nails and leaves them on the left corner of your desk, he has no compunction pointing out unfavorable cross gender traits in the three more preyed upon kids, he slapped Georgie and took his applesauce.

Once he made his condition known to you, though, much was forgiven. There was a reason - he should be pitied, not reviled. And even if he still sits too close or licks your pencil eraser, it's not like it's on purpose.

You keep telling yourself this as the two of you sit outside the principal's office. A Rube Goldberg machine of events has put you there. Jodi still has her vision, despite her squealing, and, at any rate, this was not your doing. You just happened to be his Craft Partner today (Yesterday Daniel Buckman had the flu and you were placed with another kid. No such luck today. Daniel Buckman is such a faker anyway.) and Election Tuesday made a real mess of your decoupage.

But he couldn't hel-

"-help it." He finishes your thought out loud.

You look up at him. Election Tuesday's reddish gold hair has one or two clots of glue still in it. He stares down at his loose shoelaces.

"I wasn't trying to hurt anybody."

"Right, right, right." You say.

His teeth are tugging at the nail of his left index finger. You know where that's going to wind up.

"I guess I just can't control myself sometimes."

You scratch at your left cheek and a crust of red tissue paper and glue rolls off into your hand.

"Lucky people know I have asp-erger."

You stare at him. He is swaying and bopping from side to side, as if to unheard music. The mutterings of parents in the office behind is getting louder. The door opens and Election Tuesday's parents emerge. They rush to him, kissing and hugging his ruddy face.

"Get in here, now!" barks the lone voice of your father, still inside.

Election Tuesday is lead away by his father's hand. He turns back, looks you dead in the eye and grins. "See you at Snack."

He yanks what's left of the hangnail from his finger and stuffs it in his pocket for later.

"Right, right, right," you mutter and turn into the principle's office - ready to be disbelieved.

The accordion has long been labeled as a specialty instrument for Polka Bands and Nerd Rockers. And to be fair, for while it seemed as though those were the only people in pop culture who dabbled around with the accordion.

Want to show a fairly benign but alien culture? Give us a Swedish Polka Band.

Want to show how geeky a kid is? Give him accordion lessons.

My first associations with the accordion fell along these lines until I was introduced to the band They Might Be Giants my freshman year in high school. Even then it was a while before I realized the instrument was, in fact, the accordion. It was "That Famous Polka" really opened my eyes.

Since then I have come to hear just how versatile and evocative the accordion is. Accordions figure into Tango orchestrations from all over, giving sense of urgency with individual notes and longing as the chords are drawn out - Tension and release.

One os my favorite songs recently is by the indie rock band The Bowerbirds. "Beneath Your Tree" uses the accordion in a messy but tireless way - sounding something like a homemade gypsy caravan or funeral procession. Put together with the banging drums, and longing lyrics and the whole song plays out with weary but fierce resolve.

Like it wishes it could stop, but cannot.

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