I wanted to grow up to be B.J. and the Bear

“I don’t feel tardy.” Ever notice that line in “Hot for Teacher” by Van Halen? When I was a kid I didn’t know it meant “late,” so when a teacher said I was “tardy” I thought she was saying I was retarded. Nowadays I say mentally disabled, but in the ’70s the R-word was still in wide use. I was always the kid with my head in the clouds- my sister still makes fun of how I’d walk home from school, daydreaming, making kapow! and kaboom noises as I defended the neighborhood from aliens in my laser tank- so I was teased, bullied and tortured for more years than the prisoners in Gitmo. I had some friends, but mostly I was sort of the class clown, because I’d pop out of a bored daydream and say such a non sequitur that they thought I was from another planet. So I made friends with anyone I could, and one of them was a boy named Mindy.

Or maybe it was Mandy. Either way, he had a girl’s name and was mentally disabled, and was old enough to have a wispy mustache in grade school. He wasn’t as disabled as Robbie, the ursine, lumbering behemoth with a real mustache who’d run up to you, make a gun with his thumb and forefinger, and spray you with saliva as he gave you the Bronx cheer. But he wasn’t as developed as the Rooster- the gangly, hyper kid who was in our regular classes until one day he was disappeared. Was never sure where he went, but Facebook tells me he graduated from NJIT in ’88, so it looks like he jumped a few grades after he stopped running in circles on the playground and yelping like a turkey. I probably forced friendship on Mindy because I was a huge fan of the TV show “Mork & Mindy.” For the same reason in 2nd grade I suddenly began signing my school papers as “B.J.,” because I liked the TV show “B.J. and the Bear,” about a trucker with a pet chimpanzee, pursued by the nefarious Sheriff Lobo. This was later immortalized in the web comic Pathetic Geek Stories:

My young life immortalized in “Pathetic Geek Stories

But back to Mindy. We’d hang around during recess, and one day a teacher came up and told me to “play with the other children.” I’m guessing they were afraid I’d catch the “special ed” from him or something. It was briefly traumatizing for a little nerdo like myself, who had trouble making friends, and I always wondered what happened to him. I never knew his last name, and I never saw him around town after that. Part of me dramatizes this, as if he was dragged away by the Special Ed Gestapo and I clawed Washington School’s chain link fence and howled in the face of fascist bureaucracy, but in reality he probably just moved. Later, in high school, I joined the Human Relations Club, because the cute hippie and nerd girls were in it, and my Coin Collector’s Club was dissolved after middle school. I wish we’d made badges for that club so I could pin it to my lapel for special occasions, but no such luck. The Human Relations Club- which is a pretty insipid name, really- had awkward high school kids visit the elderly at the assisted living home next to our school, and the Special Young Adults school across from the Burger King. Kids used to joke that we needed a “Tard Crossing” sign there, and I’ll admit it, I laughed at that cruel joke.

I had a great time visiting the Special Young Adults. As we all know, they generally tend toward cheeriness, when most people we meet look like they’d kill us with a plastic fork if it would shave five minutes off their morning commute. I had a great time telling silly stories, playing games, and reliving my playground days. And I still get random hugs from special kids at malls- most recently at a food court- probably because I look like a giant hairy muppet. The kid’s father was apologetic, but I took it stride, smiled and told him not to worry about it. Me and special kids go way back, bro.

© 2010 Tommy Salami