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Alex the Boy from the publisher
Wednesday, 22 February 2012
Down Mexico Way


Jill’s gone to Mexico for a week. To me falls the ringing of the alarm, the shooting up in the middle of the night to make sure Alex doesn’t wrench open the front door and bolt to someone else’s apartment. That’s what I was afraid of most this week: the middle of the night.


I’m used to getting them off to school, because I just like the dawn hours. The alarm, groaning myself upright, rousing Alex first because he leaves half an hour before Ned. Dissolving Alex’s vitamins in water in the little metal cups, inching him from the bed to the couch to the dishwasher, which he empties.


True, it does leave my days to me with no cleaning up in the apartment until about two days before her return looms. The boys miss mom, though. “Ned, do you miss mom?” I ask. “YES!” comes the reply.


Jill took Ned’s Netbook to Mexico but forgot the power cord. “My Netbook’s dead, she reports via email on the first night. Other e-mails follow. “I’m pissing away precious Mexico time sitting in a motherfuckin-” (you kiss my children with that mouth?) “-mall in Cancun …”


“But it’s a mall in Mexico!!!!” I write back.


Her: “I hope you are having a good time while I'm away. I think hot dogs for dinner was mentioned? And The Great Waldo Pepper?”


Me: “I watched The Great Waldo Pepper. I’ve given up trying for movies for Ned until he’s about 17, when he won’t be speaking to me anyway.”


Mexico doesn’t do it for me. I’d prefer London, assuming I’m ever in a position to mention with any dignity to my wife and children that I want spend the money to head to England for a week. Jill loves and deserves Mexico. She loves speaking Spanish, knits in the sand, and has rowed the oar of salary for months for this family.


She e-mails pics. “Bully sleeps in.” “Bully on the plane.” “I'm going to send a pic of Bully passed out! Not pretty! Don't show Ned!” Bully is a little stuffed red bull.


“Bully is having a good time! He says he will drink less today! I’m wearing my swimsuit and drinking beer.”


I’m tired after getting up at six, but I fire back, “I’m wearing your bathing suit and about a drink a beer.”


Someone she’s with e-mails a pic of her knitting on the beach. The sand looks like powder. Her sun visor sits low over her eyes. She wears a big smile. It’s a week of realizing what life would be without Jill, of realizing that I still remember when she didn’t know my name.


Me: “That was a pretty picture of you on the beach.”


Her: “Best thing about leaving here: Seeing you. Miss you a lot.”


Posted by Jeff Stimpson at 5:08 PM EST
Updated: Wednesday, 22 February 2012 5:10 PM EST
Monday, 13 February 2012
About Five Minutes



The worst one was the bus driver who came an hour late and wore a Freddie Kruger hat. The dispatcher of the bus company didn’t like him, either. “Oh not him!” the dispatcher would say. “This guy!”


Jill’s leaving for a week in Mexico tomorrow morning. While she’s gone, it’d be nice if Alex’s bus from afterschool pulled up at 5 every night. I should say that sometimes this bus comes early and the security guard rings to say, “Your son Ned is in the lobby.” It isn’t Ned of course.


Think of the hours I’ve spent waiting for school buses for my kids, peering through the windows of the lobby of our apartment building. Peering into the darkness and the twinkling lights of winter, the orange-yellow warm slant of the late-spring sun still hours before it sets, the brilliant hot-light of a mid-New York summer. Alex’s buses for school or programs. Buses for sibshops for Ned. Ten minutes here, fifteen there. Each bus has a driver and an assistant to help the kids off the bus. These folks generally do their jobs well. Still, if I had that time back I’d live to be 110.


The yellow buses take one of two routes: they round the corner of Fifth Avenue and East 109 – I see their headlights wink and the yellow glow of the bus in the reflection off the parked cars – or they tool right down 110 and I can see them while sitting on the hard iron lawn furniture in our lobby. Sometimes – often – I phone the bus company when the minutes tick past on the iron furniture and there’s still no cheese bus.


“Bus company,” they all say, as if I deal with just one. I announce whose father I am and that I’m expecting a bus to pull up in front of my building soon with its red lights flashing. There’s a moment of Hold, then a voice returns. “He’ll be there in about five minutes,” they say. They usually pull over on the east side of Fifth and they’ve learned to wait until the avenue clears before sliding open their door while I slide around the hood.


If I don’t wait, I’ll hear the horns and see the headlights and grills swerving around the bus. Once another school bus itself almost ran Alex down. I remember the bus driver who would pull diagonally across Fifth and the matron who stepped from the cheese and jacked her hand toward the sky with the palm out. Cars did stop. I just picked up an autistic child from a schoolbus stopped in Manhattan and boy is my middle finger tired!


That’s not all that’s tired.


Posted by Jeff Stimpson at 4:20 PM EST
Updated: Monday, 13 February 2012 4:26 PM EST
Monday, 6 February 2012
The Wrong Bus


The phone rings at 10 to 4 on Friday. Ned answers it. “It’s Alex’s bus!” Ned says. “It’s downstairs!”


Shouldn’t be. Alex catches a different bus from his school and that takes him to an afterschool program about 10 blocks away. Some 13-year-olds could just walk those 10 blocks, but Alex can’t. From the program, another bus picks him up and brings him home at about 5 o’clock.


“Tell them I’ll be right there!” I say. “They’re not supposed to be here!”


When I get downstairs there the yellow bus sits, cars zipping down Fifth Avenue and ignoring her blinking red flashers. “I dunno,” the bus driver says. “They just brought all four kids out to us together…”


I call the unit teacher, who’s there almost two hours after school has ended. “Thank goodness you were home,” she says. “On behalf of the entire school staff, I want to apologize.” I call the afterschool program to see if they were open and I didn’t miss some important flyer. The lady at the afterschool program utters the words that many who work with the autistic say when they hear “wrong bus”:


“Oh my god!”


Alex’s school has been getting this busing arrangement right for weeks. What happened? I don’t even think of asking Alex as he turns on his iPad, claps on his headphones and begins to watch Elmo. “What happened?” I ask the unit teacher a few days later, in the e-mail she requested. “Thanks for your understanding in the matter and I assure you that this will not happen again,” she writes back. Later, a teacher from Alex’s school calls; she was in charge of busing on Friday. She apologizes over and over.


I trust them – trust them more, I often think, than I’ll trust other people who will care for Alex in one way or another before I die. Slip-ups do happen. It was only an hour and technically it wasn’t even the “wrong” bus, but it does open a dark door.


“Ned,” I ask, “what would you have done if I hadn’t been home?”


“I would have gone downstairs and brought him up,” he says. Luxury, I admit, to have a back-up like that.


The dark door opens on stories of kids like Alex left on a bus long after hours, stories of kids who pinball down sidewalks while state police radio each other and strangers look on wondering why in hell someone doesn’t corral these people. Once Jill was on the subway with Alex when he sprinted to another seat at the other end of the car. Imagine if he hadn’t bolted toward a seat but through a closing door of the subway car? Imagine the glimpse of his back down the platform while the subway door slid shut in Jill’s face, trapping her in front of the window as Alex vanished up the stairs and into the endless streets.


I have no idea if my 13-year-old boy could get off the school bus by himself, walk through an apartment building lobby, press an elevator button, and come home. I like to think he could, but I don’t have that luxury.


Still with the frigging white? E-mail comments to 

Posted by Jeff Stimpson at 8:31 PM EST
Updated: Monday, 6 February 2012 8:33 PM EST
Sunday, 29 January 2012
Chow Down


“Alex, dinner!” might sound like an echo across normal backyards the land over, except in our house it’s followed, every evening, by “Here are your hot dogs, Alex.” Hot dogs sliced by the width, about a half-inch a slice, and they have to be Hebrew Nationals because if you use any other brand you’re not fooling anybody.


Compared with the rest of his development, Alex’s diet is arrested (I’d say “retarded” but don’t for reasons that are also starting to feel scary), and it’s progressed little in several months. Vitamins and stuff like Benefibre help, but regarding food we’re still parked at La Crème pink yogurt (“pink” is not an official flavor; raspberry or strawberry, doesn’t seem to matter which, but try the pale vanilla or the orange-y peach and you’re not fooling anybody). Utz Dark Special pretzels, plain cracker flavor Goldfish. Chocolate chip cookies, with Chips Ahoy a favorite, though homemade from the mix will do. Just make them crunchy with no soft-and-chewy crap.


“Alex, try these kale chips!”


Kale has a rep worse than that of hot dogs that aren’t Hebrew Nationals, but recently Jill found this recipe where you chop kale, spread it on a cookie sheet with olive oil, salt it like mad and broil it for 20 minutes. You wouldn’t believe how much the result tastes like junk food. “Alex, here-” I try our time-honored method of touching the tip of his finger to the stuff we want him to eat and then touching the fingertip to his lips and tongue. The salt! The oil! Who could resist? Alex twists his lips into a sad rectangle, downturned at the corners, and makes a sound like Snoopy when he’s unhappy. Blaaaah!


Alex used to eat the cheese off a slice of pizza, that sausage-substance patty from inside the McDonald’s breakfast biscuit, maybe a few berries mashed in his teeth and smeared across his lips. “Jill,” I ask, “what can you tell me about Alex and eating these days?”


“I dunno,” she says. “It’s just so difficult. I did get him to drink chicken broth the other night, but I didn’t strain it enough and he kind of gagged on a bit of vegetable...”


It isn’t a matter of what but also how: We want Alex at the dinner table. Ned sets placemats for him, but Alex just snatches his bowl of Hebrew Nationals and heads back to the couch to eat them over his iPad. I know we should drag him back, take away the food, starve him until he eats food in the place where we, his family members with the supposedly whole brains, know it needs to be eaten. People have given us this advice, I notice that the people who give such advice often don’t have autistic children themselves. We let him eat his hot dogs at the couch over the iPad for yet another night, but I know we’re just fooling ourselves.



Send comments in an inexplicable white background to . 


Posted by Jeff Stimpson at 9:25 PM EST
Updated: Sunday, 29 January 2012 9:28 PM EST
Monday, 23 January 2012
The Flood of Water

I’m sitting there doing something when I being to feel I’ve heard the toilet flush about five times in a row. Then I hear Ned call, “Alex has flooded the toilet!”


I round the corner off our living room and there’s half an inch shining across the black and white tiles of the bathroom floor. My temper takes a predictable turn when I see the water. I step right into the water with my sneakers. Screw it. Except, to paraphrase Fargo, “He don’t say ‘screw’, if you get what I’m sayin’.”






“Ned, I need your help!”


How come I can’t call on Alex? How come all I can do is yell at him to get the hell out of the bathroom?


“Jeff, I’m coming!” says Jill.


“I’m not talking to you! Ned, bring me the dustpans!”


The only bathroom trouble Alex has ever had – aside from aim, which as a guy I can tell you is over-rated – is a glass-eyed fascination with running water. He runs the faucet long enough when brushing his teeth to draw an environmental rebuke from Ned. His companion Daniel says he loves looking over the side at the Staten Island Ferry as the waves wash by; maybe it’s the whitecaps rising and fading, or the rushy sound.


I’m talking to no one as I use the dustpan (“Thank you, Ned! Good man.”) to scoop and dump splash after sort-of brown splash into the tub. The dustpan is flat and the floor is flat; doesn’t that make sense? Besides, months ago Alex ripped the crap out of the car-washing sponge we bought for these floods. This is the sense of autism.


The flood has something to do with the toilet paper being near the end of its roll. Reports Jill, “I heard Ned telling Alex, ‘Stop using so much toilet paper!’” Sounds about right for my life.


“Ned, bring the Swiffer!”


Ned does help. He lugs the sopping beach towels – it’s deep winter so who cares if we use them, and we use them to make the bathroom floor stop shining – in a bag to the basement laundry room. We went him back in half an hour to put them in the dryer. He gets a laundry lesson.


We have to look at the plusses. Alex has learned a lesson about flushing five times in a row – maybe. Ned has learned a household chore. We get the clean bathroom floor until Alex goes in there again, this time for legit business. Aim remains over-rated. 

Posted by Jeff Stimpson at 9:06 PM EST
Updated: Monday, 23 January 2012 9:08 PM EST

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