Adventures in Autistic Parenthood

Thursday, July 31, 2014

Take Me Out to the Ballgame:

Instead of a picnic this year, my company gave us all tickets to a Pirate game. Dude was excited to go to the game. I have no idea why... once he saw that giant scoreboard he never actually watched the game.
    At the beginning of the Summer, one of the 4 or so things David was looking forward to was our annual trip to Kennywood. Of course one of those things was also our trip to Las Vegas, which somehow got delayed until next Summer. (It always gets switched to next summer...every year) Due to the switch in divisions in my company, (Manufacturing was phased out and I transferred to Dock and Transfer, although my duties remained essentially the same) I was uncertain there would even be a company picnic this year. It turns out that D&T does things a bit differently and they were offering tickets to a Pittsburgh Pirates game instead of our usual roller coaster tour. This could be a problem, I thought.
    You see, I don't care about baseball. I don't mean I hate it, that would mean I cared in a negative way. I could just give a damn whether or not it actually exists as a professional sport. I have been to literally hundreds of Pro games. When I was younger my father was the manager of a grocery store and he received complimentary suite tickets to games all the time. So I averaged about 5 or 6 games a summer. I loved watching the game. I would even bet (a whole dollar!) with my Aunt from Chicago which city would come out better at the end of the season. But the year the Kansas City Royals won the World Series in the Strike Year of 1985, that was the last professional baseball game I had seen in its entirety. It isn't important why. It just was. So Dude didn't exactly grow up in a baseball culture.

  So while I could imagine that he would like to watch a game at the stadium, I couldn't be absolutely sure that he would be willing to substitute watching a game he barely knew for The Land Where Dude is King and Rollercoaster Game Park. I was such a chicken about it, I actually waited for David to say, 'We have to get to the Kennywood in the Summer Vacation!' before I had the guts to tell him we weren't actually going this year. 'What!?' Uh oh. 'How about we go to a Pirate's game instead?' That actually sparked some interest. 'Pirates Game!?' He seemed to mull it over for a few seconds. 'Yeah! We can go to the Pirate's game at the stadium! In the Pittsburgh! And the tunnels!!' And then he went careening off through the house yelling about going to a Pirate's game while I stood there, stunned. I didn't even have time to tell him there were no tunnels between us and PNC Park. Then I thought about his reaction. Well, cool, I thought, wonder if that'll work for the Vegas thing too? No such luck, you foolish man. Vegas is not a sport... it's an elevator Mecca and he wants to worship there at least, (but not limited to), once before he dies.
     He didn't completely give up on Kennywood, but another reminder of the joys of baseball kept him pretty much in check. With Dave (given his immediate ancestry) it's not always certain whether his persistent insistence of things he's been denied is because of his autism, or his... genetic predilections, shall we say. Does he really not understand the cause/effect of 'you can't have this, but I'll give you that', or is he just trying to wear down the great, granite rock that is his father's stubbornness? I mean, does he just not understand that the Vegas trip he dreams of has very little possibility of actually happening? Or is he just trying to out-stubborn his old man into spending hundreds of his hard-earned dollars on what is basically a chance for him to ride new and strange elevators?
     Be that as it may, Dave was graciously indifferent to the fact that Alexis, Raine, and I were going to the game with him. And had no interest at all in who the Pirates were actually playing (Colorado Rockies), although I have to admit, I didn't much care about that second one either. But without the other team, there wouldn't be a game, and without me he wouldn't be getting in... 'cause I had the tickets. Mostly. Actually, in fine Dude-Dad tradition I left the 4 tickets and the oh so cool $25 vouchers on my desk when we first left the house. Luckily Raine is a veteran of such situations and asked the question before we left town. So after a quick circle back to the house we were on our way to the game! Dude, another wily vet of the antics of his old man, didn't even bat an eye during the unplanned (but predictable) return to the hacienda.
      I sometimes wonder if my family here knows how often I 'wing it' when it comes to things I've never
done before. Other than some quick internet research on a very uninformative information site I had absolutely no idea of the protocol of a Pittsburgh baseball game.  Firstly, I had only a vague notion about the parking thing. Don't get me wrong, I've been parking cars since I was 11 years old, but had no idea how close to the stadium I could park and not have to buy a whole set of tires when it came time to leave.  Other than the small dumpster full of cash I had to give the parking attendant, that part was pretty easy. We parked within about 2 blocks of the place and made our babbling (some more than others) way to the gates.
     Now I was all set to walk up to the gates like all the other baseball slobs and trudge my weary way to my seat. Two things got in the way of that. 1) We were going to a set of suites named after two of the years that the Pirates had won the World Series, so technically we didn't actually have 'seats' despite what it said on the tickets. 2) As a temporary member of the baseball watching elite we didn't need to mix with the 'rabble' in order to reach our designated viewing area. I can claim no credit for this insight. Raine was the one that found out (by cleverly asking one of the gate people) that we had passed the glass door that gave us direct access to our exclusive elevators that took us right up to our level, about 150 feet away from our suite. Of course I nearly had to tackle Dave to keep him from firstly, crashing his way right through the gates we weren't even going to use. And, secondly, to keep him from bowling several well-dressed patrons to the floor trying to get on our (his) exclusive elevators. Also there was nearly a wrestling match when the (very nice) lady tried to give him his complimentary poster. As primary servant to the King of Baseball, I intercepted the delivery and handed it to His Majesty.
   People just don't seem to understand that when Dave is in an elevator it is his elevator. He is the captain of that particular ship until it docks on the proper floor. Well, this time Captain Elevator had a pilot. That may have been only the second time his whole life that he had to deal with an operator. He adjusted quickly though, giving his orders to 'Take us to the floor with the Game!' So, in fact, David had no clue where we were going. The Captain also preferred a small crew, telling the 6 or 8 people behind us, 'This elevator is full! (there were only 4 people on it and even with me there we were well under the weight limit) 'You'll have to wait for the next car. This elevator is temporarily out of service.' The thing is, every time he does this he uses his 'Official Voice' and for just a second these people pause and look at me as if to ask if this young man might actually have the authority to deny them access. I, of course, am usually no help at all. And in that moment he turns to the attendant, 'We need to get to the top floor to watch the Games!' Understandably puzzled the operator turns her eyes to 'oh so helpful' me while the other patrons use this distraction to sneak onto Dave's elevator. Through minutes of intense Internet research (and the fact that I had the tickets) I was able to tell the nice woman that we were going to the club level. And she made it so.
 When we got there we walked straight through the suite and stopped on the top step of the seats. Dave looked awestruck as he looked out onto the field. I said, 'What do you think, Dude? Is this cool, or what?' 'Yeah! this is cool!' We were both so caught up in the whole thing that I'm pretty sure we got in the way of at least half a dozen, probably very nice people, trying to get through. After my stranger-apology time was all used up we easily found some seats and the 4 of us sat down.
     Now that doesn't sound epic enough. What really happened was that David fell in Love. Love with a capital 'L'. As soon as he turned to his left to walk to his seat he came face to face and at eye level with the entire glory that is the Jumbotron at PNC park. Once his eyes met this shining wonder of technology he was hooked and didn't look back. He also didn't look at the field for the rest of the game. For the next 3 hours or so he was communing with his god and the rest of us just didn't exist. His Chief Servant (me) was immediately dispatched to return with hot dogs, chips, and soda, or possibly (to Dude) they just appeared in front of him magically. Because hot dogs are just part of a ball game. Besides which, he had a Jumbotron to watch, I'm fine, leave me alone.
     I tried to interest him in the actual game, actually being played, right in front of him. But I'm guessing that didn't exist to him either. Because, other than the occasional, and unenthusiastic, 'Yeah.' he absolutely refused to turn his head the 45 degrees it would have taking for him to have actually seen it. Actually, I know
for a fact that he was absolutely mesmerized, because he wore his complimentary Pirates hat the entire game. Pretty much matching the total time he's voluntarily worn a hat his entire life.
     Each of the rest of us took off one at a time to do something to help the team pay for some of those players. I think between the three of us we funded the mascot for about...20 minutes or maybe even a whole half hour. I was kind of feeling guilty about leaving him out there in his complimentary Pirates hat, out in the sun. David never noticed I was gone until I put another hot dog and Sprite in front of him. 'Hot dog? That's the perfect food, Dad!' He grabbed the dog, shifted back in his seat and continued to watch the game... The Jumbotron Game. I'm just glad he didn't ask me for the remote.
    Well the game finally ended and we casually made our way back to the elevators. Dave, on the other hand was wired like a cheap time-bomb. He practically dragged me to the elevators and I almost had to corral him to save the unsuspecting elevator riding public while we were waiting and then riding the thing. Once we were out, he was still so excited that I risked our lives crossing the street to avoid the heavier crowd on the Park side. For some reason at that moment I was actually 'designated leader' (it's never happened before) and Raine and Alex followed us
through traffic across the street. And then complained to 'Our Glorious Leader about the dangers of Jaywalking. I don't remember an election, or anything. I didn't lead a revolution or participate in a coup I don't even remember ever wanting to be the leader. I think I must have gotten elected using Florida voting machines, or something.
  Although there was an aborted attempt at rushing the elevators of a parking garage we weren't even parked in, Dave finally calmed down about the time we got to the car. (I guess I was demoted from Glorious Leader to Nondescript Chauffeur)  He wouldn't take his hat off all the way home, or even once we'd gotten home. He took off his shoes, Raine's Pirates jersey and disappeared into his room babbling about how 'Next week we get the Baseball Game for the 360!' I'm pretty sure that his hat went the way of his Olympic medals once he'd gotten to his room, because I haven't seen it since.
   Although we enjoyed going to the park, Raine, Alexis and I have pretty much come to the conclusion that Baseball will never supplant Hockey as the dominant sport in the house. As a matter of fact, Alex has dubbed it 'The most mind-numbingly boring game in the Universe.' But we were all (sort of) ready to watch a game occasionally in deference to Dude's new found enthusiasm for the game. Turns out we didn't have a thing to worry about. Evidently 'Wide-Screen TV' is a euphemism once one has enrolled in the Church of Jumbotron. Dave had no interest at all in watching The Game on a mere 46 inches of diagonal plasma. Oh how can we keep them down on the farm after they've seen Paree?

Friday, July 25, 2014

Once Upon a Time:

..... And they lived happily ever after.
    When I was a kid that's what I always waited for in the stories. After the big climax. The whole point in the lives of these characters. The Pinnacle, the Acme, the Omega moment. They'd found the Reason for their existence. They had fulfilled their Destinies. From this moment on, everything in their lives would be a cruise. Someone comes up to them the next day and asks, 'What are you going to do today?' They'd look confused by the question for a moment, then shrug and say, 'I don't know... Go fishing I guess.'
   I guess I'd always imagined that the people in the stories had just gone through a concentrated version of what everyone else would consider a lifetime's worth of crap. Therefore, with their karmic crap-reservoir emptied they had nothing else that would mess with them for the rest of their lives. The only thing left to worry about is whether or not the fish are biting, or 'Do I get honey mustard, or ranch for my McNuggets?' (Dude would say, 'Ranch') Because that's the kind of balance I'm looking for in my life. You use up your crap reserves and then, like fossil fuels, once they're gone, it'll be like 400 million years before there'll be any more.
     At this point in my life, I'm pretty sure I was wrong. It may be cynical of me, but I'm considering the opinion that the people in those books didn't have 'easy' lives. It's just that the 'happily' in Happily Ever After, just means that happily we won't have to look in on the really boring, day to day grind parts of these people's lives. The hum-drum every day stuff that would make a reality TV producer jump off a bridge.
    I write a lot here about the highlights, the Sunday Funnies parts of our lives. Mostly because most of the other stuff that goes on with us is boring as hell. At least to us... it's normal... kind of. Dave really does spend about 70% of his life either playing his games, watching his videos (self recorded and others), going to school, and trying to find new ways to integrate cheese into his life. Of the 10% of his time that he actually interacts with outside people (the Straights) maybe 1% is out of our ordinary enough to get me to write about it. Don't get me wrong, it's always an adventure when we're out in public. Dude will randomly and repeatedly tell everyone, 'I'll see you in Vegas next year!' instead of goodbye. Then, 'It's okay... it's only the casinos! At the Vegas, 2015! See you there!' If they look confused about how they'll find him in Vegas, and when we're all supposed to hook-up there. 
My friend Susan and her photoshop again....
She doesn't need to give him any more ideas 
     Sometimes he's oh so very polite, 'How's it going, buddy?' or even 'How are you doing today, sir?' Mostly this happens the weekend after a 'Bad Notes' week. Other (most) times he could care less, quoting movies at rapid speed and increasing volume until even I have to say, 'Hey buddy, tone it down a bit, okay?' Or, when he gets a bit forgetful driving the shopping cart, 'Hey man, watch where you're going, okay?' (I say 'okay' quite a bit) To which he'll reply, 'Oh! Sorry! Sorry! My Bad!' Then he'll persist in his apology until the nervous woman acknowledges him somehow. This may be new and news to the people around us, but to us, it's just the day-to-day. I often wonder why the folks at Giant Eagle think it's so weird.
  One of the blogs I intermittently follow is called Fruity Pebbles for Dinner, it's written by a nice (as far as I know) woman named Leah with 2 children, one autistic, and one not. I'd like to say that I initially chose to read her blog because of the similarities of our experiences. At the time, I was also trying to raise 2 children with different needs, trying to find a balance between the needs of one and the other, and the special needs of my son had also earlier caused my spouse to run for the hills (Prairie, actually, she fled to Kansas). But that would sound to profound and thoughtful, and I don't want to lead you astray. At least not in that direction. Actually I'd seen the title of her blog in someone else's blogroll, thought it was cute, checked it out, liked her writing and immediately added her to my favorites. The other stuff I found out later.
  As I hadn't read her blog in some time, I scanned the less recent posts for anything I might have missed (namely anything in the previous 6 months) and I found one of her posts titled: autism robbed me of my son. It stemmed from another blog she'd read and mildly disagreed with, and at the end of it I found a comment by someone I'm fairly familiar with. Yes, the DudeDad
himself... or myself, rather.
I'ts nostalgia week in the BlogPics. 2008 SO
I agree with you. Autism never robbed ME of anything. Dude is, and always has been Dude and I've always accepted that. What it's robbed him of is a bit trickier of a question. There are certainly things that he could and would be doing without autism that are impossible with it. But for the most part he's a happy kid, and not counting the things Dad makes him do, or school (another Dad idea,he's sure) he's doing what he enjoys. Don't misunderstand me, it's a hard slog on a long road, but it is what it is. And if a 'cure' were suddenly found for autism, I'd actually have to think for a bit before I signed him up for it. I'd definitely sign him up, but I'd have to think about it first.
   As I re-read the comment I'd made in the heat of emotion years earlier I found tears welling up in my eyes again. Also I was nearly overwhelmed with the urge to go upstairs and do something rambunctious with my son, just to have something to do with all these conflicting sad/ warm and fuzzy feelings running through me. The last two lines weren't something I'd have normally said to anyone, not David, Raine, my family, or probably even myself. But somehow there it was for anyone to see. My actual, honest emotional opinion, left out on the interwaves, written for a stranger, someone I'd never met or talked to, or was ever likely to. She'd written some things that touched me and had once quoted me in one of her posts but that kind of flattery doesn't explain opening the doorway to things I'm not even supposed to admit I think about. (I recently looked at her blog again while re-writing this, and was sad to find that she hadn't written anything in over a year.)
   One thing that's stereotypically agreed to by 'helpers' (those who deal with special needs) and 'others' (those who do not) is that each special needs parent has an automatic and overwhelming blind need/desire/ambition to have their 'burden' relieved by having their child 'cured'. No thought required, no hesitation allowed, no exceptions considered. They put themselves into our perceived position and don't even imagine that we wouldn't automatically want a way out of a bad situation. A question springs to my mind: How much is all this for the child, and how much for the parent? I mean, he/she might thank you for it later. But, when I think about it, atypical children are some of the few consistently truly happy people on the planet. The parents are sometimes grumpy (myself included), but most of the kids are having a blast.
   I can hear the question, 'Why wouldn't you want your son to be 'cured'?' But how can you love someone so much for everything they are and not hesitate about the prospect of at least some of that going away? I realize that I'm taking a (supposedly) hypothetical question and treating it with more logic than it probably deserves, but still. Is it really that amazing that I like my barely communicative, stubborn, non-responsive, but incredibly loud son? Or that I love the things he is in spite of his 'condition'.
  Don't get me wrong, I'm not trying to speak for anyone but myself. I understand that there are plenty of people out there with a much, much tougher row to hoe than I have. But there are also some parents (and others) out there that can get so caught up and bitter about 'what could be' that they miss any chance of seeing the good parts of what is. There are some. Good parts, that is. Tough to find, as elusive as a muffled curse in a crowd. But, hey, if it were easy, anyone could do it.
   Like just about any parent, I look for things in my child that may have been passed down from me. Because Dude is who he is, means that I have to look harder, imagine harder, and possibly lie to myself a bit more than your average parent to find them. What it amazed me (and continues to) was that just like every 'typical' parent who ever parented, there are things that, evidently, only Other People can see. I mentioned something about my search for similarities between the Dudes when Raine interrupted, "Oh he is SOOO like you.' I stopped, startled, and when she didn't go on, I said (in my intelligent male manner), 'Huh?' She laughed, and reiterated, 'Even if I didn't know the two of you, I would still know that he's Your Boy.' She said it that way too, Your Boy. In capitals like it was a title or something, not the kind of prize they give away in Cracker Jacks.
From the Reed Family archives, a
looooooong time ago
    She started ticking off her points on her fingers. 'You both do the 'heavy drama' thing.(Drama? We know not whereof she speaks!) You both quote from the same movies, you're stubborn, hard-headed (I had always thought those were the same thing) (And I am not, neither stubborn!!) you can both be incredibly charming... when you need to be.' (She somehow managed to make that sound like it might not necessarily be a good thing.) 'and you both drive me crazy like no one else can.(Uhhhhh... okay, she's got us there) And you both think it's funny.' (That really didn't come out sounding like it was a good thing. Fun? yes. Good?.... not so much.) Even if I didn't know you, I would know that He was Your Son.' She had said it twice.... Like she really wanted me to know she meant it. I know she would never actually lie to me, but I'm sure she's exaggerating a bit here, just for effect. I'm pretty sure she is, anyway. At least some...
   So, no swords pulled out of stones, no dragons slayed, or maidens rescued. No 'Happily Ever After's' here in Dudeville. I'm pretty sure we wouldn't know what to do with them anyway. We'll just keep the story going for now...

Saturday, July 19, 2014

Uncomfortable Praise... uh... Pause:

   This is an addition to,  The Minister of Propaganda:
   With the faint sounds of hurricane sirens and bloodhounds baying, desperately trying to avoid the harsh glare of the spotlights, and weaving through the razor-wire, I stumbled urgently down the hall toward the distant hope of the front door and freedom. Okay, it wasn't quite that bad, but it sounds much cooler when I put it that way, instead of, 'In craven fear I slunk down the hallway, trying to flee Dave's school.' Just doesn't have the same ring to it. I was actually trying to get away from a veritable storm of questions about bogus trips to Vegas that left me with the vague feeling that I was somehow at fault.
   As I was making my surreptitious attempt at exiting the building, I was stopped by Ashley Jakubowski, former and current cohort of Jill Masura, of Talent Show fame. Ashley wanted to talk about Dude, and how wonderful his performance was, but mostly she seemed to want to talk about the Blog. And how wonderful the stories are, and then how wonderful I am, both because I'm writing it and just because...well, I was just born that wonderful, I guess. Now, I'll get all misty and talk about that Talent Show until people's ears fall off. But, for some reason I get uneasy when people gush about me. But Jill heard her talking (and let's face it, who didn't?) and walked across the hallway about the same time that Ashley said, 'We need to find some way of getting your stories published! And I'm not the only one who thinks so.' and when Jill said, with a smile, 'Yes!' Ashley topped her with, 'See?! I told you I wasn't the only one!', pointing her finger at me. I think if there hadn't been such a disparity in our sizes I would have been in danger of getting poked in the chest!.
    In my usual self-deprecating manner I tried to downplay my 'wonderfulness', but they were having none of it. 'Everybody here reads it!' Ashley stated sharply, 'We all read it, and we laugh, and we cry.' And Jill said, 'Yes, we all love it. I hope you don't mind that I share it with all my family.' I was pretty embarrassed by this time, but I said sincerely, 'No, I don't mind at all, if you think they'll enjoy it.'
    Now Ashley is very brash and up front and intense, and Jill is very quiet. I began to feel like I was in some sort of Special Needs, good cop-bad cop routine. 'All right. confess your wonderfulness, or we'll tell the kid that you're taking him to Vegas.' 'No! Not that! Anything but that!'
    Then Jill (the quiet one) leaned forward and said, 'No, I don't think you understand what your stories mean.' I thought I did. I mean, I'd written them. 'People see our kids and all they hear are the bad things. About is how hard everything is, and how tough it is to raise them. They ask me all the time, How can you stand to be around them?, Even my family doesn't understand. But you're not like that, you see the humor and the good things, and you put that in your stories.' She may have said some other stuff, but my blushing had pretty much stopped up my ears at this point. She was right about one thing, though. Evidently I didn't understand what my stories meant. At least not all of it.
     Now it says right here in the Manual of the Emotionally Repressed that; When faced by a concerted effort to expose gushy feelings or admittance of Wonderfulness it is required that the repressed individual immediately turn the conversational spotlight on someone else. By any means necessary.
     Luckily for me, I didn't have too far to go, since as far as I could see the person with the most Wonderfulness here was standing right in front of me. 'I am sooo glad you're teaching Dude again.' I said quickly, 'And I'm glad you're doing the music thing. I don't think anyone else could have gotten all that out of Dude.' She blushed a bit, and paused in saying 'wonderful' things about me. 'I think I've found my calling.' she said bashfully. Aha! Someone else in this conversation was uncomfortable with praise. 'When you wrote in the Blog that you hadn't sung with David for a while... We had that problem at first, but once he started, it was so wonderful!' Her face got mock-serious, 'I just had to figure out some way of getting him in to the show.' She grinned, 'He looked so good in that tux!'
     Realizing that the conversation may turn back to me at any moment, I turned to bring Ashley back into the conversation but Ashley is a small person with a lot of energy and also a lot of stuff to do, so she used the pause to vanish mysteriously, so I was on my own. But I had lost momentum and the ball, conversationally speaking, was back in Jill's court. I thought I was lucky when she merely asked, 'Is David going to prom this year?' 'Yes.' I said, somehow managing not to roll my eyes. 'Mrs. Yarosz heard that I'd allowed the Talent Show and hit me when I was weak and my Permission force fields were down.' She laughed a bit, then continued, 'My husband, Dan (Ashley IM-ed me his name when I screwed it up last time) would really like to meet you.' 'That would be cool.' I said, thinking... well, that it would be cool. She continued, a bit more earnestly, 'He saw you at the Special Olympics, after I pointed you out, but didn't want to bother you.' That confused me a bit. Bother me? How could meeting new people bother me? It must have shown on my face (after all it was right out front where everyone could see it) 'He reads the Blog too, I think he's a bit nervous about meeting you.' Okay... one of us has to do some reassessment of my Celebrity Status. And I'm pretty sure it's not me. 'Well, he wouldn't have 'bothered' me' I said, trying to stumble back away from me being the topic of praise or awe. 'I'm really looking forward to meeting him.' I finished lamely, but sincerely. I started hearing faint echoes of the sirens again and maybe even the bloodhounds baying in the distance, and was just about to give out with my favorite Never-Fail distraction, 'Look! There's an Elephant!' when Jill said something about having to get ready for her first class of the day, and that allowed me to run
like a little girl out of the building and back to the Land of Denial.

Monday, July 14, 2014

The Not So Sporting News:

 The day after Prom I let David see the letter from Beaver County Special Olympics inviting him to participate in the State Olympic Games in State College. We were kind of getting worried because it was getting pretty close and we hadn't heard anything. 'Yes!' He yelled, 'He goes to the State College and then he goes to Vegas on the Summer Vacation!' 'Well...' I said calmly, 'If you get the good notes you'll go to State College to the Special Olympics.' 'Yes!!' He practically shouted, 'If he gets the good notes he gets to take the System to the State College to record the elevators!' Uh... hang on. I didn't remember saying anything like that. I didn't even remember thinking anything like that, or even anything that might be mistaken for that by drunken, LSD overdosed hippies in a coma ward. I gave him one of my patented (r) non-committal looks and said nothing. I said it very well, and for more than a few moments. Just a German-standoff (we're not Mexican, after all)
    You see, it's my job to remember things. Which is a sad, sad statement on the position. But we've had some problems getting things back from State College. The first year, it was just a belt. No big deal, except that with Dave's proplastic thumb he can't manipulate a regular leather belt all that well, and decent elastic belts are getting pretty hard to find. Last year it was his entire laundry collection. Completely my fault, I didn't know that they had put everyone's laundry into a separate garbage bag and, when I found his suitcase, I just grabbed it, fought my way through the pack and headed for the hills. So sending him 150 miles away with a couple hundred dollars worth of game didn't appeal to me much.
    Dave has a look he gives me. He doesn't use it very often, but he knows when he's hit a wall that won't be moved (me) and even then he only uses it on special occasions. I call it his 'Cocker Spaniel' look. With this look, if a Broadway scout wanted to cast Oliver he'd give it to Dave on the spot. It's the most heartfelt, soulful begging ever carried out without a word being spoken. Strong men have broken under less pressure than this, but all Dude was getting out of me, was, 'We'll see.'
    Over the next two weeks I was repeatedly and randomly bombarded with demands, pleas, significant looks and a long and oft repeated list of my youngest offspring's worthiness as a cross-state elevator-video journalist. If only the proper equipment (3DS) was provided. 'He has to go to the State College and take the videos of the elevators!' And if I didn't pay attention occasionally, 'And then to the elevators at the Vegas!' Uh huh... riiiiiight. Nice try kid. But somehow or another the entire fortnight passed without a bad note from school or the bus ladies or even mostly from home. He had the suck-up thrusters working at Warp Factor 10, greeting Raine and I each evening with an almost formal, 'Hi there, Raine/Dad. How was work today?', holding the door and not even hitting us with it trying to close it. We were almost startled at our new Dude-butler 2.0, but we'd seen this kind of thing before. So other than a few amused glances and replies we let it go.
   Eventually, as it always seems to do, the two weeks passed and it was time for me to pack Dude's suitcase (which he had been calling for, for two days) and in that case (mysteriously) was Dave's 3DS. Okay, I'll admit it... no. Wait. No I won't. It would be silly of my to ruin what is left of my reputation to admit that sometimes I am a complete softie when it comes to David. So I won't do it. Needless to say somehow or another a certain Japanese video game product may have been secreted somewhere in his luggage by person, or persons unknown. I managed to get him to the School and the ungodly hour that they insisted they had to leave, and, once again, Dave majestically allowed all the other athletes to use his bus to get to State College. I, of course, was one of those not worthy to ride in the Royal Coach, and so had to make my own
way to the Olympics with the rest of the serfs.
    Of course most of the rest of the serfs don't ride their Virago... So I do have some perks. I showed up at State College and being an old hand (emphasis on old) I rode directly to the track just in time to hear, 'Last call for the men's 100 meter time trials' and I'm thinking, Hey, I'm getting this timing thing down really good! Oh foolish boy. I was actually standing around for about another hour and a half in black chaps and boots (much to the amusement of one of the female contestants, who kept asking me where my motorcycle was) waiting for David's heat. And when wearing black leather in the summer, 'heat' is the appropriate word. This set the tone for the weekend. Dude was normally one of the first guys in the tent for his event and one of the last 20 or so to compete.
But compete he did. It was finally time to line up for the heat and Dave walked out with the rest and lined up. I thought he looked pretty relaxed for having waited in a tent for over an hour. The boys were lined up and David had gone through 3 or 5 different starting poses by the time all the timers were ready to go, then the whistle was blown and they were off! Mostly. Dave started out dead last and got worse from there. I mean those guys were leaving him in the dust! I was about halfway down the run and about 40 feet off the track taking pictures with a puzzled expression on my face. When Dude was about halfway down the track he noticed me taking pictures and started smiling, waving and saying 'Hi Dad!' I was even more confused. This is the kid who always tries to cheat the start, or push his way to the front and here he is almost side-shuffling down the track waving at the crowd and seemingly having the time of his life. I was digging that he was enjoying himself, but was very confused as to his lack of effort. Everyone else crossed the line about 2 1/2 hours before David did. Well... not really but the 8th place kid finished at least 10 yards ahead of him in a 100 yard race. I now have some suspicions, but more on that later.
     You know, people talk all the time about how autistic kids are tied to their routines, but I'm not so sure it's just the kids. Three years I've been going to State Special Olympics and the first time was only time I had to wonder where the group was camped. They set up in exactly the same spot on the stands every year. The same two sisters were wrangling the kids (please don't ask me names... we know how I am with names) and I deposited Dave with the group and found out when his next event was and before I even asked the question, he was sitting down, ignoring me, with his 3DS already playing his game.
     Since his next event wasn't until late in the afternoon, I went to my (now) usual motel after having
breakfast at my (now) usual cafe. Then, for an hour or so, I went exploring the wonderful little town I stay in whenever I'm up there. It's a little Victorian town, but it's wonderful and I'm only there a few hours every year so I've always got new things to see.
    I made it back in plenty of time to watch Dude squirm around in the starting tent for the Running Long Jump. Actually he was being pretty good, but you could tell he was about over the whole 'waiting patiently' thing. Since he's in the 'Over 18' category he has to wait for all the high school aged kids to go first, and that is simply not in Dave's lexicon. But, eventually, the waiting was over (for now) and it was time to line up and head across the field to the jumping pit.
     Dave has had problems in the past in dealing with the fact that there is a Line that Shall Not Be Crossed. (a condition not unknown in my family) When he was doing the Standing LJ he would wiggle his toes across the line at the last moment before his jump and his effort would be disqualified. Last year only one of his jumps counted and the year before, none of them did. And this year he'd be running at that line full speed. I expected problems. They're much less lenient at the State level than they are at the County games. The have no sense of humor about mistakes. And personally... I blame the adults. Not necessarily the ones in charge of, or running the games, but I've got to tell you, 'Little League Moms' aren't all watching baseball games... and they're not all 'moms'. Just sayin.
    There is no segue back from that, so I'll just muster on: When Dude made it over to the pit, there was a ref/judge who was taking the time with each group to explain the rules and show them, with his own foot, what would be accepted as a real jump. He also, during the competition would make sure that each contestant knew if they'd mad a good jump, or what he'd done wrong, again showing them, not just telling them. I thought it was pretty cool... Dave was less impressed. He... sort-of listened to the guy, but kept walking away, trying to get to the starting position. It was like, 'Okay, okay.... run.... jump... land in
sand....not over line.. Got it! Let's go!!'  The guy would patiently wait for the volunteer to bring him back, and he made sure that David actually understood what he was saying. My mercenary ass was sitting behind the camera going, 'There's only two of them in this heat. If he gets one qualified jump he gets a medal!'  I realize at that moment, my son trains me just as much as I train him. After all, he's the one that wants the medals, not me. I never even see the things after he takes them up into his room.
     When it came time for the jumps Dude, in typical Dude fashion, went through a couple of different poses at the beginning of his run. There was this kind of Disco thing with his arm in the air that immediately dropped into fists out front and back that immediately got me thinking, 'He has been watching too much Olympic gymnastics...' because it looked exactly like the start of almost every Women's Vault that I've ever seen. Only sideways. And then I thought, 'Where the hell has he been watching Olympic Gymnastics?' But before that important question could be answered he was off.
     Now this is what I expected watching Dave. Face intent, running down the lane he hit the stripe with his foot and launched himself in the air.... about 3 feet. The grin on his
face after he'd made the landing told me that he knew he'd made a good jump. After the judge told him he had, he started back toward the Waiting for Awards tent and had to be stopped and brought back for his other two jumps. He was like: Why? We all know what's going to happen. I get a medal. So give me the medal and let's get this over with. No such luck. Unfortunately for the volunteer girls they later had to pass directly behind the award stands to get to that tent, once they were done jumping. Because Dave, thinking to save time and cut out the whole tent thing to get back to his Nintendo World headed straight for the podium instead of just passing it by. This completely disrupted a group of  Long Distance walkers trouping up to get their medals. He didn't seem to care about them, he wanted his medal. I'll admit, he was actually a bit less stubborn than usual about heading to the tent. Hardly any argument at all...really....
   I think David was more impressed by the Gunnery Sergeant they had giving out the awards last year. He was still respectful of the Lieutenant that handed out the medals with the 'Milk Maid Princess',(I'm not kidding, she had a sash and everything) but officers don't seem to rate as many 'sirs' as a non-com. But Gunny or Louie, the silver was around the neck (as it should be) and Dude was done for the day. We went back to the stands, and before I could even get there he had already snatched his game, plugged in the 'phones' and was lost in the World of Elevators Past. Not for long though. Just after I got up there he looked at me, 'Uh oh! The batteries are dead! He needs the charger for the game to watch the videos!' With a quick glance I noticed that everyone in the immediate area was looking at me. 'Uh....Okay.' I said hesitantly. I mean, obviously they all expected me to fix it. Dave was not only expecting it, he was nearly demanding it! 'I packed the charger in the suitcase.' I told him. Making sure it was loud enough for everyone to hear. Then I put my foot in it. (and we all know what 'it' is) 'You have to wait until you're back in your room to charge it up. You can't do anything here.' Dave immediately shot up from his seat. I realized my mistake at once. But, of course, too late. 'Yup! He has to get back to the room for the charger for the system!' He started to walk across the bleachers (and a couple of kids) I stopped him about the same time Marta (That's her name, really. I looked it up this time. You can trust it) and I said nearly the exact same thing. ' No! You have to wait for the other kids to be done first.' Just as enthusiastic as if we'd agreed, 'Yes! Then we can go to the rooms and ride the elevators and charge the System!' Marta and I both agreed quickly and David sat back down with his System in his lap, looking prepared to wait patiently and the matter seemed to be settled. But with Dudes you never know.
     Friday is the night of the Big Dance/Appreciation gathering in the evening after dinner. Dude loves to dance. Being way too German, I can't really tell if he's any good at it, but he loves doing it and that's enough. This year I had a big problem keeping track of David. He'd dance his way out of the crowd, stay by me for a little while, then he'd disappear again. I would circle the slowly growing main crowd, but never even catch a glimpse of him until he'd worked his way over to me again. Then he'd repeat the process, leaving me wondering just how the hell he was doing it.
    This year we were going to be joined by my niece Alexis, who moved to Pgh last summer to help with Dave and then decided not to leave. Poor girl. Leaving after work would put her in State College just after the dance started, so she would be able to join in the fun.... If two things hadn't happened. One: She didn't have the Military Grade GPS that is about all that can keep up with how screwed up Pittsburgh streets get. And B: If her scapegrace uncle had known she was going to be late he would have continued to look at his phone while waiting for her text much longer. That way she wouldn't have been circling the campus with absolutely no idea where to go. I admire her restraint. She hardly yelled at me at all.
    The next morning Alexis and I had just enough time to grab some drinks and zip over to the track for Dave's first event. Well, actually we had enough time to harvest our breakfast out of the fields, cook enough for a crew of field hands, take a nature hike, knit a couple of sweaters and then leisurely stroll to the track.... from Altoona. To paraphrase Thomas Paine, 'These are the times that try men's patience'. Man, we did a LOT of waiting that weekend.
    Alex and I, in our foolish quest to get a better view of the shot-put area, trudged around the fence to the other side of the track. Around the outside of the fence, I mean. The SO police were very fierce and frightening. I never did find out what happened to that one couple. But I'm sure it involved years of therapy to recover from the stern talking-to they got when they stepped into the Forbidden Area. Alexis and I were made of sneakier stuff. We skirted our way along the fence, until we came to a hole in the wire. Then we calmly walked through (expecting to hear the howls of the Guard Dogs, and the wail of the sirens.) (It was afternoon, so spotlights just would have been an affectation.) We actually stood there for about half an hour with everybody working on there 'pretending' skills. We pretended we belonged there, and the Olympic Wardens pretended we didn't exist because we didn't enter through one of their gates.
       We had a bit of a problem pretending one of the two coaches that snuck through the same hole, didn't exist. He was out there screaming at one of the kids in the 400 or so meter race. Calling out time differentials as if there was some sort of sponsorship on the line. He was about 50 yards away from us, but we could hear him clearly. I know there's a fine line between challenging the kids to do their best and pushing them for your own ends, but if the kid's crying, and the coach's blood pressure is rising you should recognize that the line has been more than crossed. A whole coaching staff in matching uniforms keeping ledgers of times and distances, crunching numbers and stats, screaming at the kids in a negative fashion probably means the line's been crossed, trampled and about to have the life-support unplugged. This is Special Olympics, folks. Not Beijing. For the kids.... remember? A complete opposite from the Uber Coach was a coach and his daughter that snuck through the fence after us. He looked as uncomfortable with SuperCoach as we did. He explained that he had been a runner, and his daughter loved to run. She ran all the time, and hated it when the weather prevented her daily run. He didn't seem to think that yelling at the kids actually helped anything. He sounded so... sane, that it was difficult to believe that he and Her ZuperCoach had the same job.
    After standing in the sun for more than half an hour I looked through my lens at the closer shot-put area and said, 'Hey, that shot looks pretty big.' I turned to my niece, 'Maybe we're in the wrong place?' For some reason I remembered there were two different sizes of shot, but only seeing one, couldn't tell which it was. Adding to our dilemma was the fact that they were shot-putting in two different 'pits' and you couldn't see them both from the same place. So, while we were stout enough to brave the track guards we chickened out about looking silly by being in the wrong place, and we bailed. Turns out, they don't use two different sizes of shot, and we were in the right place, but it's probably just as well that we caved. It was nearly another hour and a half before Dave competed. So, while we didn't get roasted out in the open field, we really didn't have a very good view of what was going on.
   While we were waiting for the competition we were found by Melissa Neidbala, the head of BC-SOPA (Beaver County Special Olympics, PA) and her heir-apparent... whose name escapes me at the moment... It could have been Carol, it really could have.... I don't think it was Cathy, I really don't. Anyway, they took advantage of  a gate-Nazi's inattention and were standing 10 feet inside the Line-of-Death! So... we joined them, and could actually see the competition area off in the distance. We were all chatting about the two of them photo-bombing Dave's sacred Elevator Videos. I was under the impression that they were incredibly silly about it, but as I'm not on the Privileged List of people allowed to watch the Holy Videos, I can't accurately gauge their silliness. But we had a great (if distant) view of the competition.  This lasted through Dave's first throw, and then Doom descended upon us in the form of a guy in khaki cargo shorts and a bush hat. I really wanted him to have an Australian accent and call us 'mate' when he kicked us out, but was disappointed. But he still kicked us out. Dave threw two more times but we couldn't see because of some silly-assed net that was supposed to protect us from crazed hammer-throwers. So we really didn't know what was going on until about 45 minutes later when Dude and the other kids strolled out to the podium. He won a Silver and
gave his version of the 'Dude-Power' salute while waiting for his medal.
   The day before, David had asked me repeatedly, 'Where's the Alex? Is she going to make it to the State College?' I had assured him over and over that; Yes, Alexis was coming, but had to work and wouldn't be here until the next day. Of course, now that his minion had arrived, and he could ignore her more effectively, that's exactly what he proceeded to do. But once he (was forced to) acknowledge her, he cried out, 'Alex! I was so worried about you! I didn't think you would make it!' Of course, he says some version of this very same thing about every night when she comes home from work. His nod to politeness complete he immediately dropped his head back into NintendoLand and proceeded to completely ignore the both of us. So we ignored him right back and went and had lunch.
   Alexis and I got back just in time... to wait another hour and a half for David to run his race. We strolled up just in time to see Marta walking back to the stands. She told us that she had just taken Dude to the tent for his next and final event; The 100 meter run. We stood at the construction fence that marked the boundary, mostly because Crocodile Dundee was still patrolling that gate, and several times I looked for David in the crowd of guys in the tent, but to no avail. It's pretty bad when you can't find your son because he's being good. I searched and searched for him through my telephoto lens, to no avail. I couldn't find him until there was almost no one left in the tent. Then they almost screwed the whole thing up. When there were only about 10 heats left they tried to organize them in their chairs by heat. The problem was, once they got him up and moved him into another chair... I'm just saying they should have left him there. They should have noted that he was in the wrong place, and just had him wait there for his turn. Instead, they moved him into 3 other chairs and then stood him up next to the List Lady while they got it straightened out. Dave was starting to get irritated and I was thiiiiiis close to walking over there and getting him calmed down, even if I had to walk over the top of Aussie-boy to do it. But luckily for everyone, David was finally put in the proper seat. Even if he did have to wait some more, at least he was doing it in the right place.

  When it came time for his heat, as they were lining up, one of the other runners noticed that Dave's shoe was untied. I watched the whole thing on telephoto, so I knew what was going on, but what it looked like to Alexis was something completely different. It looked as though David was suffering a Victorian fainting spell while being mugged by the Starter and a runner. Dude was hamming it up for all he was worth, one foot in the air, laid almost completely back waving his arms in the air while the Starter tied his shoe and the other kid held him up. That kid's probably sorry he helped with that because, after some pre-race posturing, as soon as the whistle went off, so did Dude. He flashed out to a very quick start, feet pounding the track, face intent, and glancing behind him to either side to check the competition. The Evil Grin started on his face when he was about 1/3 the way down
the track and was comfortably in the lead. My suspicions from the day before were starting to bear fruit. They got fruitier the further he got down the track and the grin got bigger. It was a complete reversal from the day before. He was running his skinny little but off and instead of being behind the field by 10 yards, he was ahead by that margin 3/4 of the way and it was growing as he got further. One kid looked to make a run at him about halfway and when Dude saw him, he just shifted gears and left him in the dust. When he crossed the line, well ahead of everyone, he bent over, clenched
his fists and shouted, 'YESS!!'. Then he did a little victory dance/jog and said, 'I AM THE WINNER!!' Luckily the volunteers got him under control and off toward the tent before a riot ensued. Yes, David can be a riot all by himself.
   After which another round of tent-sitting ensued. While that was going on, the 'adults' where musing over the race itself. We were all very pleased with the outcome of the race. We were also a bit uneasy about... other things. Things that we didn't want to talk about. I got complimented on my (?) decision to allow Dave his 3DS this year. The Coaches were certain it helped keep him calm, even when it wasn't working. I didn't disabuse them of their harmless little fantasy. Besides, it made me look like a 'cool dad'.
    Finally, one of the coaches worriedly asked whether or not Dude might be disqualified because he had too good a race. If his time was too much lower than his qualifying heat they might DQ him. Suspecting (I assumed) that someone coached him to 'duff' the first race. I'm sure they wouldn't believe our total lack of collusion in the Hundred Meter Cheating Scheme. After all, we were the adults, right? Most of the people in the immediate area seemed to be willing to give him the benefit of the doubt, citing how fast the heat was that he was in, and how much slower these kids were. I, on the other hand, kept my big fat mouth shut and my opinions firmly behind my teeth. I didn't know how well the judges would remember David. I mean they only see him once a year. I didn't take anything for granted until .
the Procession was finished and the Gold Medal was around his neck. It's only a rumor that I looked behind us twice as we headed back to the stands. I wasn't really all that worried that they'd run us down and take the medal back.... Really I wasn't. Well, the Gold now resides in the DudeRoom and I'd pity the Olympic Committee that tried to get it back now. I am kind of worried about myself a bit though... It's really starting to get entertaining to see how the little sneak is going to cheat his way to another medal each year....