GAINESVILLE, FLORIDA — Turned out I didn’t need to drive through Taco Charlie’s at all. Sooner or later, if I wait long enough, Taco Charlie always comes to me. When I say everywhere I look I see retarded people, not everyone believes that they’re always there dancing and prancing, moaning and groaning and jangling their chains. Or maybe quiet and pushing a grocery cart, minding their own business, just plotting that next sausage biscuit, omnipresent all the same.
So I was sitting on a stool minding my own business before Taco Charlie arrived. I was outside a pizza place, next to a bank of payphones at a huge orange and blue Go Gators! gas station and it was a warm Florida spring. I was between cranial-sacral appointments, thinking about turning ticcy and considering whether I am Jerri the Cerebral Palsy comic half the time or not. I kept seeing an instant replay of an oil painting of a UF football coach surveying his bloody gridiron. I was cradling my sore chin in my hand, dreaming of a day when America will have to look all its mean-mirrored sunglassed men dead in the face.
So I was probably staring off when the Community Outing train stopped four feet in front of me like a vision. Six retarded people were being marched single file, slouching in unison like a broken caterpillar into Mellow Mushroom. To be summarily issued their weekly pepperoni slice. No lie. It’s supposed to be the highlight of their week — pizza named after doobage smashed flat and greasing a paper plate. Community Integration in all its half-assed glory.
A tired goateed white guy and a bespectacled southern black lady were manning the troops, holding open Mellow Mushroom’s double doors, herding the obedients toward their compulsory treat. Community-outing them.
The two sweating coworkers reminded me of tired days I’d spent in California. When I was trying to Community Integrate this guy in Oakland once, he whizzed his grocery cart up and down the aisles, tossing Little Debbie’s in his cart, rapping “hereissomethingyoucantunnerstand — howIcouldjustkillaman.” He was a sweet nineteen-year-old with a short Afro he tried to tease big. He loved goldfish and kept a blow-up, seahorse-shaped beach raft in his supervised-living apartment. As we went by, people at the grocery cut a wide swath in the aisles and parking lot. No one wanted us integrating into their community.
The six pizza survivors were a sad-sack, collapsed lot that would break any still-beating heart. Every American should have the opportunity to see firsthand the muted effect that is the gift of being emotionally smashed at a young age. It should happen in junior high maybe — out of the blue between recess and state diagnostic testing.
Once you’ve seen that I-couldn’t-get-excited-if-you-stabbed-me stare, you’ll be able to recognize it a mile away. The blank, lost-time gaze of the recently deinstitutionalized. The downsized-mainstreamed. Displaced persons every one. I’d bet money that every last one of the Mellow Mushrooms that day was if not born, at least reared in captivity.
I smiled my hello. Greetings Taco Charlie. Everyone was looking nowhere and at their shoes. I’m weirdo crickneck with a laptop or no one. Good for them.
One aging Down’s Syndrome woman in the middle was attempting a jaunty black cape complete with Communist cap. Nice try somebody, but no way. It was over seventy degrees outside. The cape hung heavy, cocooning around her like someone else’s shroud.
How slow-mo the line moved in to cud-chew their treat. Pizza. Whee. Leaden chain-gang caterpillar, jammed into secondhand normal wear, their house arrest ankle monitors secretly sizzling under bulk-bought jeans.
Here I should admit that there’s nothing I hate more than having six strangers I care about accost me with the consequences of childhoods jampacked with behavior modifications. Being visited by the special chest pain of the complicit, the stabbing guilt of a job well done. If stripped down to walk orderly, eat specifically, and bow head appropriately, no one would want to hold hands with any of us.
Yet every time I see a group of brokeback retarded people like the Gainesville pizza goners, I get Catholic relapse and thank Mary for my mother and what she didn’t do for my sister. And in 1970 the doctor certainly told her to.
Doctors offered to ship new parents’ imperfect bundles for them free of charge. Whisked them away to the State School or the dumpster out back. Just like in the 1930s, when the imperfect thousands who were eugenic Germany and America’s new guests.
Today, they’d catch my sister in-vitro. Arrest her on the spot. She wouldn’t pass the amniocentesis. Uh-uh. Oh no, you don’t, the Taco Charlie shack guard with the clipboard might say.
If my sister were trying to birth herself today, boy, would she still be in for it. Mom might not even have the chance to prove anyone wrong. To grab her baby and run. Some ultrasounder would show mom my sister’s happy fetal outline and scribble “not viable” onto a chart. Mom might believe her.
But oh ho, fuck you. What’s this? In the face of a forced pizza moment, in Gainesville that day the Mellow Mushrooms had more than a secondhand communist cape up their sleeve. They were just playing dumb.
The oldest man in the slumping line had forced his last slice. That day he was packing. Slim as spaghetti with a shock of gray hair, a hidden spark still flared his good eye. He brought up the rear quietly, stoop-shouldered but both hands firmly gripping his own personal Igloo.
Once they were all herded and seated double-file in treat formation, I imagined he could hurl his weekly pepperoni scab into some manager’s face, then dump the contents of his Igloo out in front of the sneering, lip-pierced, electively-scarred cashiers. The old man might then let the foulest sardine sandwiches issue forth, one after another, thousands of them, spilling and swilling from his basket, slithering and sliding, sardining mayhem, withering the Mellow Mushroom with primordial sea stink, causing the bare midriffed masses to flee.
Why shouldn’t he open his Igloo and unleash hundreds of years of pure hate? You left us like lizards on a rock in the sun. You slaughtered the high Mongolian tribe. You directed Titticut Follies thirty years ago and today. You made me do the modified high jump in short shorts for your President’s sister’s lobotomy.
In the days after, bright, pink, bulk-bought hot dogs and compensatory pizza will vanish. The crooked will stand taller and crook brighter. There will be enough sardine sandwiches for all who wish to partake, and the old man will feed you, his retarded brethren. There will be enough sardine sandwiches for all who wish to partake and the old man will feed you his magic multiplying fish and loaves.