I don’t mean to give the impression that I didn’t learn a damn thing during my five years as an adolescent inmate at the state-operated boarding school for cripples, aka the Sam Houston Institute of Technology (SHIT). Of course I learned life lessons there that I remember today. Here are two off the top of my head:
Life lesson 1: Not all penises are alike. The only penis I ever saw in person up until I was about age 13 was the one belonging to yours truly. But then this kid in a wheelchair lined up next to me by the urinals in the boys’ room and I couldn’t help but notice there was something terribly wrong with his. It was wrapped in a husk or something. It looked like it was wearing a flesh-colored scuba driver suit. I didn’t know that for a penis to look like mine required surgical intervention. I mean, my family wasn’t Jewish or anything so we didn’t make a big deal about it.
And so I wondered if this kid had been sent away to SHIT for a deeper, darker, unspoken reason. Was this the real freak feature for which he was being banished and the wheelchair was just secondary? It reminded me of how I felt about this kid who rode the special bus with me a few years earlier when I went to the public elementary school for cripples. His name was Fabio (Smart Ass Cripple Alias). He walked with a walker and he looked just like Babe Ruth. He had a turned up nose and pudgy cheeks like Babe Ruth. Whenever the special bus went to Fabio’s house his dad came out to meet him. And dad looked like Babe Ruth, too. And one day Fabio’s baby sister came out with dad and she looked like Babe Ruth, too. And one day Fabio’s mother came out with dad and baby sister and even she looked like Babe Ruth!
Seeing Fabio’s live, animated family portrait jarred me as a young boy because I wondered if this was a real live case of that hillbilly inbreeding stuff adults whispered about in the darkest tones. I always assumed Fabio was sent to the cripple school because he walked with a walker. But now I wondered if his “primary diagnosis” was that his whole family looked like Babe Ruth. But maybe it wasn’t necessarily what everybody automatically assumed. Maybe Fabio’s parents met at a support group for people who get dealt a lot of shit because they look like Babe Ruth and they fell in love and got married. Or something like that.
But anyway, because of the episode in the SHIT boys' room, I soon learned something new about penises and, most importantly, about myself.
Life lesson 2: Don’t pretend you know about something when you don’t, especially when it’s chitlins. One day Miss Etta, one of the houseparents, announced that on Saturday night, she would bring in a batch of chitlins and cook them up as a treat for any inmate who wanted some. She asked for a show of hands so she’d know how much chitlins to cook. All the cool kids waved their hands. So I waved my hand. I just looooooooooooooove them chitlins, I said. Everybody was surprised that a pimply white kid could be so worldly. But really I didn’t know a damn thing about chitlins. I just knew they were some exotic food that cool people ate.
On Saturday night there was a horrid smell coming from the kitchen. It smelled like someone boiling raw sewage. And there was Miss Etta standing over the stove and stirring a pot. She smiled and gave me a big thumbs up. I was seized with regret. What had I gotten myself into with my big show-off mouth?
Miss Etta served up the chitlins. The cool kids gathered around. There was no turning back now. I’d already proudly proclaimed myself a chitlins aficionado. I couldn’t bare the shame of exposing myself as a fraud. And there were no dogs around to slip my chitlins to on the sly. So I ate. I had no choice. And they tasted like they smelled. And I told Miss Etta they were the best I ever had.