(also see “The Mighty Finger (The End)” in the pages section)
It was a textbook, just like mine, with two distinct differences. It was almost twice as thick and had huge print. I didn’t know about fonts and typefaces at the time, but now I would place it at about 20-point size in the Times family.
A fellow student with a visual impairment is no reason for a red flag, but I was in seventh grade and had grown up in a town of 5,000 — the largest in the county. I never had seen anything like that. I’ll just say it sharpened my acuity.
Using my panic-heightened senses, I paid close attention to the students around me for the remainder of that first week.
What I feared was true. I rushed home to our empty apartment after getting off the bus. I couldn’t wait to tell Mom. I’d always prided myself on my good grades. My move to this town might have been a big mistake. This had to be fixed.
I turned on the TV and sat down at the upright Kimball piano — one of the things Mom brought with her from the divorce. After thoroughly mangling the “Heart and Soul” melody line, and playing “Chopsticks” with only my index fingers, I tried to bang out “Safety Dance” keyboard parts. I was not trained and quickly got frustrated at anything that required more than one hand at a time (get your mind out of the gutter — I hadn’t even discovered that yet).
When Mom got home, I waited until she changed into her house slippers. I guess it had been a long day of playing straight man to Bippo the Hippo.
“Mom, I think think there’s something wrong with my classes,” I told her.
“What happened? Did you drop them?”
“No, mom, not my glasses. My classes.”
I gave her the entire story, including a run-down of the dolts and underachievers.
Apparently there had been some type of mix-up in transferring my school records. The kind where the records never get sent. As a result, the only thing the school had to go on was my score on that placement test. Evidently my wrong answers were of a great enough number that the school summarily deemed me below average and sent me to classes that matched.
Mom got on the horn to one of the schools and verbally kicked their asses in gear. My mother was very good at this kind of thing. In fact, in restaurants she used to embarrass my brother and me with her direct approach to demanding good customer service. My wife sometimes tells me I am rude at drive-thru windows. I guess I should just tell her it’s in tribute to my mother.
With properly singed buttocks, my old school sent my records. North Little Rock accepted their word that I was neither stupid, lazy, nor “differently-abled,” and I was placed in the hard classes. Maybe I should re-think this. No, it was for the best. Turns out the advanced math class met in an annex building resembling the temporary shelters construction foremen use. Unlike those respites from the heat, however, it was much cleaner than the rest of the school.
I finally had settled in after my first move, to a place I felt I belonged. I was so glad that I wanted to sit at the piano and play an overture. Instead, I settled for one-fingered “Heart and Soul.”
I wonder now whether the other students in those remedial classes belonged there any more than I did. Maybe they bombed the standardized test, too, but lacked the wherewithal to change it. Or, they really just had the mental capacity of a shoe horn.
(Incidentally, my parents got back together several years ago and recently remarried in a grand Old West event that few in attendance will forget. They are happily living in the same first house I remember. The piano is back where it belongs.)