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Alex the Boy from the publisher
Sunday, 18 March 2012
Open Wide



The Cartoon Network blares over the chair from a TV to distract kids. This practice understands kid patients, I’ve learned over three or so appointments. They especially understand kid patients with special needs.


“Daddy’s right here with you,” the dentist says to Alex, who hates the Cartoon Network. I consider asking if they can put on Elmo.



“Open wider, Alex.” I forget how we found this dentist, but on our first appointment he told us how he’d had a condition when he was younger and it gave him insight into kids like Alex.



This time, Alex won’t sit down, but jumps up to pick a penny toy from a nearby basket. “Go to the bathroom!” says the Big Staller.



“Hurry up, Alex,” I tell him in the bathroom. “The doctor is in a hurry…”



Back to the chair. “He’s crowded,” the dentist says of Alex’s jaw, “and his wisdom teeth will be coming in between ages 17 and 25.” Rapture. 

The dentist braces Alex’s head with his forearm; Alex’s mouth is a tight oval, though I keep saying “Open wide like this, Alex!” and stretching my mouth into an elaborately  huge maw. Alex lifts his shoulders off the dentist’s chair. “Kiss the straw,” the dentist tells Alex. The straw is the suction. We all know the whine of the suction, and Alex’s head pops far off the pillow and his legs pivot off the chair.



“He’s a lot stronger,” the dentist notes. The dentist sees no spots; spots are decay. Bad teeth, so far, is one mess Alex has dodged.



We used to take him to an agency’s dental clinic; the service was free and the doctors were great, but they changed every appointment. We figured Alex would be calmer if he saw the same face looming over the pick every six months. As his legs pivot farther off the chair, I wonder if the same face makes much difference.



The dentist touches the pick to Alex’s fingernail; Alex seems to accept the sensation. “It’s just going to be a little scraping. Just a little scraping. Open wide so I can see…” The dentist locks Alex’s head in his crooked arm and touches pick to teeth and gums while Alex keeps saying Nooooo!” I hold Alex’s wrists until the hands turn pink. After a few minutes I have to hold his hands tightly, then in a few more minutes I just have to hold his hands like I do when he’s going to sleep. Blood runs in red fangs between Alex’s teeth; I see yellow patches that not long ago must have been Utz Dark Special pretzels. “See that?” says the dentist, holding up the pick to let me see the red dot on the end. Gross. “That’s build-up. But overall he’s doing very well brushing.” I tell the doctor we’re also into flossing a little bit and use a fluoride rinse.



“Alex, you’ve gone through so much worse than this,” I say. As usual at the dentist’s, the guy sitting in the chair under the Cartoon Network doesn’t care.


Posted by Jeff Stimpson at 6:02 PM EDT
Updated: Sunday, 18 March 2012 6:04 PM EDT
Monday, 5 March 2012
Jobs to Do, Part 2

Alex’s service coordinator dropped by his school the other day. “Alex seems to be doing well there,” she e-mailed. “He was sweeping the floor when I arrived.”


Really? I thought, looking at the crumbs on our living room floor. Knew I had kids for some reason! 


We’ve covered jobs Alex does now: setting the table so the handles of the coffee cups face the same way; emptying the dishwasher every morning. I get the feeling he has the skills. “Alex,” I ask as he tucks in the sheets at the foot of his bed, “would you like a job?”


I expect him to parrot back something like, “Like a job?”


“A job to do,” he says, tucking.


We all have a job to do, but sometimes the job doesn’t find us. Writers know about this; I hope Alex doesn’t have to know about it, too. He could probably scrape by the next six or so decades on what amounts to the pure compassion, maybe the pity, of society. I’d prefer, however, that he learn about that spring in the step after a day of good work you enjoy. He has the skills, I think.


Some people also have the attitude, like when a teacher from his school went into a local thrift shop to ask about employment for her students. “We don’t hire the handicapped,” she was told.


“We don’t actually use that term anymore,” the teacher said.


“Well whatever you call them, we don’t hire them!”


(Not to blame anyone, but the initials of the name of the thrift shop are H and W and it’s on East 23rd Street in New York.)


LinkedIn connection Jennifer tells me her son started as a cart attendant at a local Target; after three years they added “sales floor” to his cart duties. “He also straightens the store, stocking and fronting items,” she adds. Jennifer advises parents in my position to connect with local stores, making introductions early with businesses that would accept a person with a disability – “really ‘accept,’ not just legally.” Around a student’s junior year, work with a vocational rehab department to secure a job coach and internships.


Jennifer’s son had some “less-than-perfect” jobs before Target, she stresses, “so stay positive and keep pushing.”


I wish I pushed Alex more. The dishwasher is a dawn routine now, true, yet often simple sweeping of the crumbs slips my mind. Instead, I think how he’s on his iPad watching too much “Sesame Street,” and I let him alone. I’m not together enough to be Alex’s dad. I’m not smart enough for this job.


(PS: I went to the following site to pluck quotes and such, but it seems too good to offer except in its entirety: . Comments are also welcome at ).

Posted by Jeff Stimpson at 2:30 PM EST
Updated: Tuesday, 6 March 2012 7:20 PM EST
Monday, 27 February 2012
Two of a Kind


To Alex I give the command typically heard on a school morning: “Put on pants, socks and shoes.”


There’s this thing about the socks. Most people wear a pair that resemble each other. Alex doesn’t.


I take inventory of his sock drawer. Balled up:  the green and dark-blue “Sunday 7” socks Jill bought at H&M. Separate: A pale green and a pale blue, each with white stripes. The black and orange I would wear if they were big enough. The “Monday 7.”  The blue and black “Wednesday” (how come no number?). The “Tuesday 2,” the brown one with the white stripes. Here’s this weird multi-colored one that looks like a German fighter at the tall-end of World War I.


Why is there always this yellow and black “Saturday” without a partner? I collect a pile on my knee of those 10 socks whose partners have been plucked, alone and ragged out, by an autistic young man.


Jesus, the other blue and black “Wednesday” in the bottom of the drawer. I ball them up. I find the dark blue ones with the light-blue stripes in the dark confusion of the opposite ends of the drawer, Lovers lost in a way to shatter a heart. I ball them up feeling a little like God. And there’s the light blue one with white stripes! I ball it up with its partner – not that Alex will keep it that way on the school morning of school mornings.


I’ve given up trying to match them when doing laundry. I drape the socks over the bars of the laundry cart one by one, each seeming to hope for their old partner or, as we all do in our hearts, hoping for a partner new and thrilling. Why is two of a kind beyond Alex?


He’s had clothing obsessions. Once upon a time it was black T shirts. His current one is khaki pants. Next? Some of the garments bear the fading STIMPSON of summer camps over the past few years.


How does Alex look to the world in mismatched socks and the old, short Kmart khakis, the only ones he’ll wear until they rag out? Does the world understand that? Does the world understand how he looks, and what do they think of me as I begin to rag out myself?

Posted by Jeff Stimpson at 8:30 PM EST
Updated: Monday, 27 February 2012 8:31 PM EST
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

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