I have zero privacy but try to keep it secret. One midsummer weekend I go with Dad and Barbara to the Jersey Shore, where I eat nothing but fried fillet of sole—sole because I believe it fits kashruth and fried because that's the only way I can stand it.
While pushing my manual wheelchair on a quiet path, having left Barbara behind at the motel pool, Dad says, "Tell me, Ben, are you able to ... reach yourself?"
It takes a moment to understand. I resist the giggles. Really, I'm delighted. So nobody's caught on?
Here's how I've been hoping to keep my nightly ejaculations private and undetected: First, I ask to sleep on my back, though I can't actually sleep that way. I ask to have my hands laid flat on either thigh. I say it's more comfortable that way. Then I say goodnight and the light's turned out, the door partially closed. I have just enough hand strength to do what I need ... After, I wait for the spew to dry before calling out to roll over.
"Yes. No problem there," I'm saying as Dad rounds a turn. The Jersey Shore is a sexy place. Lots of skin, and a certain casual attitude. My imagination gets a little carried away. "Now, Dad," I say, "can I ask you something?"
"What would you do if I said no, I can't?"
Of course, I'm hoping he was going to offer a prostitute to break me in. A warm breeze blows and seagulls caw. Dad laughs. "It's a good question!"
***On the long car ride home, Dad asks me trivia questions to pass the time. Literature. World capitals. History. Simple math. I'm a disaster! No, Spain is not the capital of Italy! Boy do I get shit for that blunder. I haven't read the books Alec has, haven't studied the subjects. Blame my weird school. Or maybe I am just dumber. So soon as I'm home I tell Mom I want to transfer for high school. She consults by phone with Dad a few days later, and in the end they don't argue with me. They've seen the problems at Walden.
When it comes to equal access, we learn, schools haven't changed much. It's 1976, and the Education for All Handicapped Children Act has been on the books only a few months. The new law harks back to a 1972 court decision in Mills vs. Board of Education. Not as famous as Brown, but similarly significant for the disabled. Basically, the court ruled that the District of Columbia could not exclude children with disabilities from the public schools.
Nevertheless, here in Manhattan, the old barriers and prejudices remain. Plus, for me, there's the problem of having no letter grades from Walden to bolster my credentials. Walden report cards are just a bunch of comments, nothing quantifiable. As we tour the noisy halls of Dalton School on the Upper East Side, for instance, and I watch the preppy kids carry around heavy books with great energy, and meet administrators who look like stereotypical librarians in their cardigans and loafers (the teachers are a bit scruffier) and talk about requirements and prerequisites, I frankly begin to fear I'm too far behind to function at a better school anyway.
Mom sends me to an education guidance counselor, who evaluates my IQ and recommends a small school on the Upper East Side called Rudolf Steiner. Time passes, but ultimately I'm accepted sight unseen.
Just when I think it's all set, nature throws us what's now called a game-changer.