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Exalting the Weird


Anna knows that she has Asperger's. I let it slip while were sitting in the bleachers at the local gymnastics center, waiting for her little sister to finish her lesson. Anna was telling me about the Kids on the Block puppet players, a touring company that had performed at her school that day. Kids on the Block is an international program designed to teach children about disabilities. Anna told me about puppets in wheelchairs, puppets with learning disabilities. There was a deaf puppet and one with Down syndrome. She had enjoyed the show; the puppets' banter was smart and funny and informative. It had given her a lot to think about.

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									essay / memoir

Exalting the Weird
joan marcus

               e were in the back seat of our ’73 Subaru, on our way to
               the community gardens with a trunk load of cow manure,
               when my little brother asked me to sock him in the arm. “Not
               hard,” he insisted. “Like this. Three times on this side. One-
two-three. And four times over here.” He took my wrist, made a fist of my left
hand. “Come on—do it.”
    I don’t think my parents were listening. I don’t think they knew that
their eight-year-old had committed himself to living his life symmetrically,
doing everything from chewing his food to caring for his hermit crab in
two even sets, using each side of his body exactly four times. I’d just sucker-
punched him in the upper arm. Now, despite the obvious risks, he wanted
me to finish the job. I probably didn’t hit him very hard. I remember think-
ing that I was showing remarkable restraint under the circumstances, that
somebody ought to be praising me for my maturity.
    Mom was behind the wheel; Dad was trying to stretch out his lame leg
on the cramped passenger side. The seats of the little stick shift were dingy,
bone-colored vinyl. The trunk was loaded down with sacks of dried manure,
rusty trowels, canvases on stretcher sticks, tubes of toxic oil paint in metal
tackle boxes, and a big tin of turpentine, whose sharp, pitchy odor either
neutralized the smell of cow manure or made it worse, I could never decide
which. We were on our way to fertilize our garden plot, after which the four
of us would sit down on foldout benches in the adjoining park and paint
pond water and flowering trees. Then we’d go eat at a family restaurant in
the affluent suburb where we rented our apartment cheaply for the sake of

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44   3   fourth genre

the good schools. We’d walk in there with mud on our knees and under our
nails, paint smears on the backs of our hands. I’d look around at the upscale
families in their neat Sunday attire and feel a queer mix of embarrassment
and defensive pride. It’s the way I felt about my family most of the time.
    “Stop right there,” my brother said as I finished pounding his left side.
“Now get away 
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