I spent five years as an inmate at the state operated boarding school for cripples and none of the other inmates ever invited me to one of their top secret Robo sessions.
I guess I wasn’t cool enough. I was, however, cool enough to hang out in the canteen. That’s where the coolest inmates hung, in the alcove with the vending machines and the microwave. That’s where they smoked. I even achieved enough coolness status to be allowed to sit at a table in the canteen with one of the inmates who had “smoking privileges.” Those were the coolest inmates of all. They were over 18 and they had their parents' or guardian’s permission to smoke. (They all smoked Kools.) The rest of us, if we got caught smoking by the staff, we might get busted. When you got busted you were banished to your room for a stretch of days. No visitors except your roommate. No going to the canteen. So the rest of us, to sneak a smoke, we had to sit at a table with an inmate who had smoking privileges. Take a quick puff and set the cigarette back down fast in the ashtray in front of the inmate with the smoking privileges in case a staff person pops up. Then you’ve got cover. The privileged one pretends the cigarette is theirs. The privileged ones had to think you were cool enough for them to front for you like that. So they were the ultimate arbiters of who was cool. You could never be the coolest of the cool if you didn’t have your smoking privileges.
But I was never formally invited to drink Robo. Robo— slang for Robitussin. Harvey, the polio kid with the slight Kentucky drawl, was the one who talked about getting high on Robo. Harvey talked a lot about getting high. He told me one morning he got high the night before just by staring at his hairbrush. I tried it that night with my hairbrush. All I did was fall asleep.
Harvey was cool, but he would never advance beyond mid-level cool because his parents wouldn’t sign for him to have smoking privileges. So I think he compensated by designating himself the arbiter of an ever higher level of cool —Robo cool. Robo was the top shelf stuff, Harvey said. Fuck Nyquil, that nasty rotgut shit!
So every now and then Harvey leaned toward me and said, “I’m gonna score some Robo,” in the same hushed tone the spies used in those spy movies he watched. Then Harvey raised a hopeful eyebrow, as if telling me to stand by for details. The whole Robo thing was top secret, he said, so I expected he’d eventually let me in on the location of a top secret hidden map (maybe inside a toilet tank?) that would lead me to the underground Robo den. Just like in those spy movies!
But no! No such scavenger hunt leads ever materialized. And then one day there’d be Harvey bragging in hushed spy tones about how he and some other cool guys (who shall remain nameless) got ripped on Robo last night.
Dammit! I wanted to ask some of the other inmates that I suspected were cool enough to be invited for Robo for top secret tips on what cool things I could to do to elevate my status to Robo cool. But nobody besides Harvey ever peeped a word about doing Robo, probably because it was top secret. So I never said a word either. I didn’t want to blow whatever chance I had for upward mobility. So I just worked hard on becoming cooler, hoping to someday be deemed Robo cool.
But I was never cool enough