Monday, March 1, 2010

Danny and the Pretty Ponies

Danny lives in the house behind ours. He's tall and spindly with big teeth and the kind of bowl haircut that's the sole domain of those who are either too frantic or too humble to indulge in vanity.
2 summers ago Danny, Thomas and Ethan were inseparable. Our boys woke on weekends asking if they could quick get dressed and go see if Danny wanted to come out and play. Often, when we picked them up from school at the end of a weekday, the first thing out of their mouths was, "Can we play with Danny when we get home?" Yeah, nice to see you, too. Ungrateful little shits.
When the cosmos aligned and declared it playtime, we knew it would be hours before we'd see our sons again. And when eventually they did resurface, they'd be sweaty and panting, having ridden that mofo into the ground the way only little boys can. Truth, we were happy our kids had found somebody they liked well enough to spend that kind of time with. And I confess, seeing them reduce the boundaries of our adjoining backyards to peculiarities reminded me how lucky I was to have the childhood I had. We had owned our neighborhood. No, we owned the world. We wandered freely through the yards, climbing every fence, exploring every tree, making every pebble in every parking lot a bit player in whatever adventure we'd settled on that day. We were bound only by our physical limitations, thought nothing of walking or riding our bikes to neighboring towns -- or even states -- save for would we have the energy to make it back in time for dinner. It felt healthy to see our sons revel in that same kind of freedom, even if it was a drastically scaled down version of it because we're insanely fearful of abductions and pedophiles and all things Dateline NBC.
Yep, two summers ago life was wonderful. Then school came and, soon after, the cold weather. Indoors, homework, TV. Not much Danny gave way to no Danny.
When Spring finally came, the kids, who had been crashing at the gates like a doped thoroughbred, screamed through the yard to Danny's door only to return a few minutes later dejected and teary eyed. His mom said Danny couldn't come out. In fact, Danny wouldn't be allowed out for the rest of the summer. The whole thing smelled like a snub. Puzzled, we asked the boys if something had happened that might have made Danny's parents angry, but they couldn't think of anything. That was pretty much the last time any of us spoke.
We never knew why they chose to pull the plug on what we thought was a great relationship. Still don't. We have our suspicions, though: Danny is autistic and 5 years Thomas' senior. His mother had told us that Danny is classified as "highly functioning" and had responded very well to "mainstreaming." His teachers were making real progress with him and we all celebrated that summer when he took home 2 medals at the Special Olympics. He is a very special kid and we, all of us -- his family and ours -- seemed to have allowed ourselves to become friends without regard to Danny's autism. Still, we think the reason we no longer acknowledge each other is his autism and, if so, it's by their design -- not ours. When we looked at the three of them playing together, we saw kids having fun. When they looked, we now imagine they saw their son's progress possibly being thwarted by exposure to juvenile attitudes. Which is fine, if that's the way you feel. But I gotta tell you, just cutting the cord like that without the courtesy of a warning or an explanation really pisses me off. Give me something to tell my kids. You've been around them, you know they have the capacity to understand. Just tell me so I can tell them.
Nothing. I've seen Danny's father outside mowing his lawn. Not even a wave. Fine. Go fuck yourself. You're lucky I don't send you a bill for all the fucking shrimp your kid ate 2 summers ago.

And so it's been. Until Saturday. The boys and I were out running errands when Sandi called to say her class was about to be let out and maybe we should meet somewhere for dinner. We agreed on Applebees. (We have a soft spot for Applebees. The Riblets have twice sent Sandi into labor. Plus the kids call it Scrimplebees, which is just adorable as balls. Agree or I'll cut you.) So long story short, guess who we're seated next to. Right. Danny's family. I haven't seen him up close in 2 years, and while he has gotten a little bit bigger, the size gap has definitely closed. They smile vacantly, but soon I am amazed at just how much isolation a waist-high median can afford. I can feel your breath on my hand, yet your utter disregard for our presence makes me feel like I'm dining in The Hall of Presidents or some other animatronic attraction. So lifelike, yet devoid of feeling. Just like Ronald Reagan.

On the ride home I remember a moment from that summer: The kids loved SpongeBob. They played it all the time, taking turns being the different characters. That summer, Pest of the West came out and the kids watched it together a billion times. If you've never seen it, SpongBob traces his roots back to the old West where his grandfather, SpongeBuck, meets Pecos Patrick, the village idiot and grandfather of Patrick Star. Throughout the old west scenes SpongeBuck regularly refers to Pecos Patrick as his idiot friend.
Yeah, so anyway Sandi and I are hanging out in the backyard talking with Danny's mom as the kids are buzzing around.
Thomas and Danny run up to us.
We stop our conversation and turn our attention to them. Yeah?
Thomas looks Danny's mom square in the eye, points at Danny and yells, "He's an idiot!"
Danny waves, shyly.
The two run away.
I think I just shit my pants. What did he say?
As the blood begins to leave my ears and return to its rightful place in the rest of my body, I can make out the song they're singing, "Idiot Friends."
Oh, they're playing SpongeBob!
I hear myself saying too loudly, too rushedly, "THEY'RE PLAYING SPONGEBOB! THEY'RE PLAYING SPONGEBOB!"
Danny's mom's face loosens. I don't think she's seen Pest of the West, but I think she's starting to understand.
Sandi's face is still, to this day, locked in a look of disbelief.

And I have lost the ability to forgive people their peculiarities.


Hey, Do This For Me and I'll Buy You a Pony
OK, remember how Ethan only has one ear? OK, now remember how we'll need to spend, like, 3 weeks in California during his Medpor surgery this summer? OK, now you know how we have to pay for accommodations out of pocket and stuff? Well, that's where you come in.
Nope, don't want money. Don't need donations. Don't want a ride. Just want you to click on this link and vote for my story between March 2 and March 9. The winner gets to select their vacation, and the one I selected will solve our accommodations needs while we're in California.
Frankly, I think I kept it pretty reasonable. I mean, it's only Hermosa Beach and there's no hot tub or anything. But just think how happy little Ethan will be when he looks out the back door and sees his daddy CRUSHING in beach volleyball all day! Karch who? No, really. Who?

"And if you gaze for long into an abyss, the abyss gazes also into you." -- Friedrich Nietasche


  1. I LOVE this post. It's a great one. I hope Danny gets to come out and run that mofo in the ground again soon :o( poor little shrimp-eating urchin.
    I'll vote tomorrow....

  2. CT scan was last Friday. Had to drive through a snowstorm to get there, got all the way home (something like 4 hours round trip) and got a call from the Radiologist saying they think they did the wrong test and could we pop by for a redo. How about no, ya crazy incompetent bastard. So we sent what we got along to Dr. Kesser who should have received it today. No word yet, but we're set to leave Wednesday morning, so if there's a problem I hope somebody tells us before then.
    Oh, and THANK YOU ... for both thinking to ask and the amazingly nice words.

  3. the best part of the Awkward "We Used To Be Friends But Now We Don't Talk" Accidental Dinner Date is that the kids don't get it yet. they're all like, "HEY! that's DANNY! and danny's MOM and DAD! hi danny! HI DANNY!! HI MR. AND MRS. DANNY'S PARENTS!! DAD! do you SEE who's sitting next to us, dad? it's DANNY. RIGHT. THERE."

    fun times.

  4. ...cute as balls...
    my new 3 favorite words.
    tried to vote - super confused. try again tomorrow, may just be too late, and the meds are kicking in. or not.
    and you'll have to teach your kids, what i have taught mine - some people just suck.

  5. I don't understand.... I'd be pissed too! My son is high functioning Autistic. He has Asperger's Syndrom and none of the kids want to play with him. He too is drawn to kids a couple years younger than him. They understand him better. I would love it if there were children that were banging down our door to play with my son. By Danny's parents treating him differently they are going to make life a lot harder for him. Autistic children normally prefer to be alone so for them to socialize is HUGE for their development. So sad. I want to punch Danny's parents in the face. Douche bags!


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