My homeroom teacher—young, blondish, in a blousey gold-color dress shirt, conservative polkadot tie, and comfortable shoes—interrupts his presentation to the class when I'm at last wheeled in. "Yes? Hi! Mattlin? Are you in the right class? Ninth grade? It's just that we weren't expecting you ..."
No shit? I smile and remain silent. The other kids—roughly fifteen in all, I estimate—are staring at me from behind identical front-facing desks. (I'm relieved to notice no ties or blazers, like Walden, not like Alec's school.) Most are girls. Much whispering ensues between the teacher and the swarm of 1950s administrators and others who have gathered. The source of the confusion is apparent, to me at least. I am the cause of the commotion. I'm supposed to be in Stamford.
Yesterday, I awoke to the darkness of 5:30 AM in Dad and pregnant Barbara's West End Avenue apartment (they moved from Brooklyn several years before, when the strain of walking up two flights became too much), got in Dad's minibus-sized red Checker sedan—which had room for my motorized wheelchair, if I ducked my head—and did the long reverse-commute to Connecticut. The house they're having built in Stamford isn't finished yet, and I don't want to miss the first day at Rippowam High School.
Rippowam turns out to be a sprawling suburban campus of about a thousand students, quadruple the population of Walden's high school and about fourteen times Steiner's, spread out on a single floor. It's a public school, but it's supposed to be a good one. It's also pretty accessible. I roam from class to class in my motorized wheelchair, something I've never done before. But I get lost and my chair is slow, so I struggle to keep up. Many of the other kids already know one another ... and look different from kids I've known. Athletic? Outdoorsy? Suburban? Gentile? Something!
What's more, out the windows are trees and grass. You can hear birds, not car horns and sirens. Charlton Heston's monotone resonates in my head: "I am a stranger in a strange land."
When my latest attendant, Kenny, brings me home to Manhattan's Upper West Side that afternoon, I'm depressed with severe misgivings. "How many trees can you stand?" I shriek.
The realization: I am a city boy.