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Roger N. Meyer "...of a different mind "
Puzzle Pieces Image

Early and High School Years

Bits of My Biography

or More than you Ever Wanted to Read During a Break-Time Snack

Started December 2003

Copyright © 2005 Roger N. Meyer®

 

 

     OK, OK.

 

     Dear Reader....

 

     You've caught me in a reflective mood.

 

     Early life and school up through high school.

 

     I have very spotty memories of school as a grade schooler.  Some of that may be related to the fact that I was moved between schools and classes a lot, and our family did a move to Sioux Falls from St. Paul when I was 3.5 and then a move back to St. Paul when I was ten.  The change didn't sit well in either move.

 

     I was not a reader.  My twin sister was.  I was the picky eater and the chatterbox.  Like Mikey in the breakfast cereal TV commercial of the 1970's, Noel ate everything, much to the chagrin of my mother, (who had the same problem all her life).

 

     My only memory of nursery school, at All Saints, a Catholic Church nursery school way down on Phillips Avenue on the way to both of my parents' work downtown in Sioux Falls, is of sitting on the steps of the building with the Southern sun in my face one afternoon.  I was the only one outside, so I must have done something that put me out of class.  I was clueless as to what it was.  I must have been "too demanding" once too often.

 

     I also was a handful at home, although I don't remember anything like disparate treatment.  Wrapped up in my world, I was unaware of the special energy I drained from both parents and a succession of live-in housekeepers.  That was a necessary arrangement as Mom was at the radio station or out speaking, hustling advertisers, lining up guests for upcoming radio shows, or managing business matters at the ABC affiliate downtown.  Dad was full time at work in a family auto parts business belonging to my grandfather and uncle--Mom's dad and brother, and for the seven years he was in that wretched business, he came home drained nightly.

 

     By the time I was ready for first grade, my parents recognized that my twin and I could not be in the same classroom, though we slept in the same room.  We constantly fought for their rare attention.  I, of course, didn't need to do anything "special" to warrant the attention I got.  She, on the other hand, had to tattle on me and always reference something I had done to get my parent's attention.  This was in Kindergarten.  My parents separated us in different classes as of the first grade. Of course, the easy part of it for my sister was her ready access to Dad.  Like many fathers with AS, mine was emotionally distant from a son he saw growing up with the same issues he experienced at the same age, and couldn't face me other than with a rigid demand system or a more than occasion bit of corporal instruction.  I learned to get out of his way at the first time of a volcanic explosion or the anger that burst from him frequently without any warning.

 

     So, although I have no memories of Kindergarten, I have one vivid first grade memory.  In the second week of September, my younger sister was born.  For years afterward, I always referred to her as "six years old" a nonsensical description when you think of it, but descriptive, in my own logic, of my age at the time of her arrival.  I was madly jealous of the attention she received as a newborn and could not understand what the fuss was about.

 

     My behavior in class must have gotten so bad that as of moments following her arrival on the scene, I became a hellion.  I cut class and walked home, arriving there an hour after school began, wanting to reassure myself that Mom was still there for me.  She had take off only two weeks of broadcasting from the kitchen in our home for a maternity break, and then went right back to her Bea Baxter show live at 10 in the morning, a routine she followed every day of our seven years in Sioux Falls.  When she vacationed with us, or traveled, she always had shows "in the bag" in transcription to cover the gaps.

 

     So, home I would trot, arriving almost clock like at the moments prior to the start of the broadcast, when I couldn't be ignored because she was there, with her guests (many of them regulars) promptly at 10 AM.

 

     This wasn't going to work, obviously, so after two weeks of playing hooky not only in the morning, but during lunch, the ultimatum was put in place:  I was either to straighten up and act like a kid with a baby sister, or be put back in Kindergarten.  Imagine the route I choose.  Behaviorally, I saw no connection between my truancy and infant acting-out in first grade, and the threat.  The next time I sidled out of the classroom at a subject transition and headed for the school exit, I was caught by a strong-armed teacher and carried, kicking and screaming, down the half flight of stairs to the Kindergarten.  I can't remember whether the flight ever "landed," but I do remember the experience in the hallway and going either up or down those soft brown linoleum covered cement steps leading to the Kindergarten entrance.  I remember the anger and the embarrassment and the injustice of the whole affair.

 

     My mother said that I accompanied the teacher with no resistance.  That isn't my memory.  What is mine is the pent up rage I obviously didn't display, the rage that is as fresh and "orange" to me to this day as it was 52 years ago.  Orange is my angry color.

 

     Hence began my saga in "real" grade school. I remember the lonely walks back and forth to school.  There were a few bullies I learned to avoid, but they somehow always found me.  Bullying wasn't quite as brutal as it is today, but it was enough to remember.  I remember my downcast eyes during most of the trip, hoping that I wouldn't cross eyes with anyone, friend or foe.  I remember the details of retaining walls, cracks in sidewalks,  and scurrying chipmunks, birds, and squirrels along the way.  My sister rarely left for school or home with me; she had formed her own circle of friends, and besides, we rarely saw one another since her class was way at the end of the same first floor hallway.

 

     School yard stuff was a disaster.  I was a physical klutz, so there was no choice in my choice of team recess events.  I preferred the solitary simplicity of the monkey bars, the slide, and the swings. And the sandbox.  I knew that I was too old for it, and I didn't pay much attention to the other kids in it.  All of them were younger, of course.  It seemed a safe place to be simply because it was at the opposite end of the recess yard where my classmates were, and the distance was so great and company so juvenile that the class bullies didn't consider it worth their bother to actually follow me over there.  They more than made up for those missed opportunities in the hallways and on entering and leaving the school.

 

     We were lucky, my sister and I.  Our grandparents lived just across the school yard at the South end, on a street paralleling the long side of the school.  So that was lunch for the first three years.  Grandma was always there and always waiting, and Grandpa, fully retired at age 45 from the business he built from scratch, would usually be home or nearby.  His only son, Dick, my uncle, joined him in the business when he was just out of a couple years of college, and Dick resented the fact that his father decided to leave the entire running of the store to him just at a time he was starting out in his life.  Dick is still living, and although he speaks with pride about a business he later developed far beyond the dreams of his father, there is a bronze-like quality in his remembrance of his father as a business "partner." 

 

     All during the war, the auto parts business became a scavenging and resale business because there were no new cars, and he and his father had opened up a second "business" across the street:  a junkyard that became the principal source of supplies for their enterprise.  By the end of the Second World War, Dick had gotten so tired of his father's indolence and non-concern during the winter months when he and Grandmother went to Florida, that he quit, all in the space of a week, and joined the Army as a Second Lieutenant in the German Occupation as an ordinance and then an adjutant general corps local military administrator (mayor) of a small, Bavarian town.  That was the reason for our family's hurried move to Sioux Falls:  my mother heeded the urgings of her father that her husband could run the business while her brother was away. 

 

     We'll get to my parent's odd marriage contract in a moment, but it's sufficient to say here that she wheedled and twisted and manipulated Dad into making the change.  That meant abandoning his career as a white shirt and business suit life insurance salesman for the life of a dirty metal-countered auto parts businessman.  He never forgave his wife for her devious manipulation, because once he saw that her father was perfectly capable yet disinterested in the business, he felt exploited and discounted.  Thus began his seven-year career of daily horrors as an auto parts businessman.

 

     I digress, obviously, but the background is important.  From my grandfather I learned nothing about the responsibilities of adulthood, certainly, other than a notion that having money and retiring early to enjoy it is more important than concern for the family welfare of one's adult children.  Both of them. Oh, and I did learn something else from Grandpa Light.  Like my father, this man had the temper of an easily enraged bull.  Indulged by his spouse with her lightening quick wit and tongue -- something my mother inherited from her mother --  Grandpa Light had a Georgian temper that at its worst would have put Stalin's equally Georgian temper to shame.  From both family male authority figures, I learned that temper is what there is to express dissatisfaction and the slightest frustration, and because of its unpredictability in both men, I learned early that men (and boys) are not to be trusted.

 

     The lunch at the grandparents certainly saved me many bully ambushes on a noontime walk home.  But there were those months in winter that the grandparents exchanged the South Dakota winter for a Miami apartment, joined there by their retired brothers and sisters (both had many siblings), and other snowbird friends.  For four horrible months, between mid-November and mid-March, my daily lunch march home exacted its toll.

 

     School:  Yes, what about school?

 

     I remember little of it, so it must have been either too traumatizing or unimportant.  I certainly developed no friendships, except the strange indulgence of a non-Jewish boy from directly across the street:  Dennis Eliason.  Jews were few and strange in Sioux Falls.  We had to be careful, so said my parents.  Dennis was a classmate, but he had his other friends.  He was into boy things like the cars constantly being rebuilt by his often-out-of-work father, or squirreling about the neighborhood generally up to the no good that young boys do when they roam the neighborhood in small packs.  I felt, always, that I was tolerated by Dennis.  I never understood what, exactly, he saw in me.  Certainly, we had few interests in common other than our occasional excursions behind tall lines of bushes for cigarettes stolen (always) from my parent's living room buffet, or the occasional crap of small kids just too much in a hurry to make it home to the bathroom.  But that, for the most part, was all there was to it with Dennis.  I seem to remember always being the seeker, always traipsing up their rickety wooden front steps or their unpainted side door screen or storm door.  We rarely hung out anywhere, and each minute with him and his anonymous friends seemed a minute stolen from his more important things to do.

 

     Mind you, this was my thinking.  I never developed the nerve to "ask" Dennis about the meaning or the character of our relationship.  I know the thought occurred to me constantly, yet I never had the vocabulary or the "proper" moment to plumb the depths of our relationship.  I realize now that boys of seven to ten aren't ready for this heady stuff, yet it swirled about me as a constant distracting thought.  I couldn't just let it be, because I didn't ever quite understand was "it" was.

 

     I still don't.

 

     I remember a "teaching event" in the third grade that haunts me still.  Mrs. Anderson.  a knuckle-rapping blunt-shoed unhappy woman several years short of retirement taught us our mathematics.  I didn't have any trouble with adding or subtracting, or even multiplying.  That was strictly rote learning.  I had that down pat.  Not neatly, but pat. 

 

     But division.  Ah, division.  I stopped all mathematical thinking, all computational competence at long division.  I remember the precise hour, the smell of the freshly pastewaxed floor, the roundness of my student desk seat, my sweating palms, my speechlessness.  Mrs. Anderson's face got redder and redder as she at first leaned over, and then pushed her boxy, slightly hirsute chin at me, and demanded that I perform.  I had reached a block perhaps two weeks back, and I had somehow muddled through to that point.  Maybe Noel, my twin, helped me.  Maybe Dad, of all people.  I don't remember.  But now I had no cover and no allies.  It was me and Mrs. Anderson, and at that moment, I shut down for good.  I can still hear my mind go "click."  Today, 52 years later, I know that was my Waterloo.  Somehow, I got through Mrs. Anderson's class.  We never came to peaceful terms.  She wasn't about to understand.  How could she?  I didn't. 

 

     The tricks the other students showed me, girls mainly:  I never understood that kind of short hand, because I didn't get the concept of carrying and borrowing, of constructing a conceptual fiction, invisible, in place, to complete the computation.  My long division problems were surrounded in a circle of penciled little single divisor trials.  I seemed to come up with acceptable answers, or answers "close enough" to warrant the slide into the next year.

 

     Really, I didn't understand.  I still don't.  And please don't try to teach me.

 

     You want "exact?"  Give me a calculator and I'll give you exact.

 

     In our fourth year, for some reason, my parents transferred both of us to a school much further away from home.  Maybe they hoped that four years was enough for any school to take the both of us.  We remained in separated classes, and that year is a blur.  I remember nothing other than the recess yard teasing.  No faces, just general impressions.  Whatever happened that year convinced my parents to move me but not my sister back to my old school, Mark Twain elementary.  It must have been a truly awful year. 

 

     Yet to hear both of us for those two years in radio station transcription recordings a year apart, sing "Over the River and Through the Woods" in two  Thanksgiving broadcasts for which the microphone cord from the kitchen was extended into our living room would leave the casual listener with no hint of the maelstrom.  Noel sang while and her friend Joanie tootled away on her clarinet, while I sang close harmonies of my own manufacture to a half dozen songs in which all present joined.  My younger sister was too young to make her presence known.  That Mom did in later transcriptions of her regular broadcasts.

 

(Our family was left a rich legacy of broadcast transcription discs and later reel-to-reel audio tapes that I made of family gatherings.  In later years I transferred it all to cassettes.  On none of them do you hear the voice of my father as a featured speaker.  Only on one tape of my grandparents' fiftieth anniversary is he heard in the background filling in historical facts with a distant relative.)

 

     During my fifth year in elementary school, my parents broke the word to us:  we were moving back to the Twin Cities.  There, Mom expected to resume her broadcast career with the NBC flagship station she had left seven years before, this time on both radio and television.  Dad was to return to the insurance business, but things didn't seem that settled for him.

 

     Twice in seven years he was to face abrupt change.  He, like me, did not take kindly to it.

 

     What had happened over the past two years suggested a need to return to the familiarity of the Twin Cities.  Dad had undergone several episodes of profound depression, something no doctor could shake him from, and mother's bipolar disorder, her bulemia, prescription drug and alcohol addiction had worsened as well.  Sioux Falls had not been kind to the marriage. 

 

     Noel was allowed to tell her friends that we were moving the moment she heard the news, and she heard it from Mom.  I was not.

 

     In a conversation I can remember with crystal clarity forty eight years later, my father told me of the move, but in the next breath told me not to tell my one "friend" Dennis.  To this day I can't figure this one out.  Did he know something I didn't know, or did he fear something that even he couldn't express?  I'll never know.  He's gone now.  With a secret that immense, imagine if you will, what I had to go through in defying his instructions and telling Dennis.   I didn't tell Dennis immediately.  I had to tell him in a way that my father would not find out, not that he was in a position to know anyway.  He never met the Eliasons in all of his seven years, though there were occasions while shoveling snow or ice skating in an excavation across the street and next to the Eliason household that he could have reached over from tying his skates and spoken to either Dennis or his older sister.  That never happened.  The Eliason parents were recluses.  Their house bustled with the clattering of children's feet on their uncarpeted stairs, floors, and rattly front porch steps.  To my recollection, neither hide nor hair of Mr. and Mrs. ever darkened my path, although I'm sure they were both home on my frequent sojourns to their rear door inquiring of Dennis and his younger brother's whereabouts.

 

     Our family arrived in the beginning of the summer of 1952 back in St. Paul.  We "overbought" our house in a very upscale neighborhood, although it was the plainest (and ugliest) house on the block.

 

     Financial extravagance was my mother's suit.  My father got the old cars, the suits only once every two years, the underwear we all delighted in tearing off of him when it was too full of holes to provide a modicum of fashion, even as underwear.  My mother's shape lent her to a tailor, always.  She had a life-long battle with weight and an enormous bosom that never found comfort in any confines until later on in life she had a mamoplasty to lessen her constant pain of haltering the unhalterable.

 

     From the beginning, Groveland Park Elementary School  proved a rough ride for me.  My sister and I attended the same neighborhood grade school, up the hill some seven blocks from our house.  A breathless walk to and leisurely walk home from.  (Thirty eight years later I visited the same streets of my childhood marveling at how flat was the gradual incline and fall from our street to school.  To me as a child, the elevations felt mountainous.  Weak legged, I could never master them going uphill on my bicycle.)

 

     My twin and I did the lunch circuit back and forth from school to home to school, interrupted by special times at my grandmother's apartment two blocks from school.  Nana, Dad's mother, was the mother to himself and to his aunt, her sister Daisy.  Daisy was what was then called "deaf and dumb."  Deaf maybe, but dumb, not in your life. 

 

     As a younger woman, Daisy proved three hands full, gallivanting with young men and her friends from the deaf society.  Nana and Dad were both fluent in the hand alphabet and an incomplete version of ASL.  I never could remember the alphabet.  Noel could, but she, like myself, found it uncomfortable to "talk" with Daisy.  As Daisy aged, rheumatoid arthritis set in so severely that Dad placed her in the Sholom Home, a nursing residence for Jewish patients.  He visited her three or four times a week, both in the old place and in the new facility, located somewhat closer to our house.  This he did until the day of her death.

 

     Nana was fragile and "cold."  Neither my twin nor my younger sister took to her, nor did I.  She had a hard life, our Nana,  raising her single child and her sister after the death of her husband.  She also had another deaf and dumb brother who died young, and then there was her own mother.  Four in the house.  Dad's father also was likely on the autistic spectrum (AS), but died of tertiary syphilis. 

 

     Nana had a bitter, blind streak about men, most likely as a result of having discovered she had married a man who deceived her about his past and his medical condition.  My father grew up for years being examined by family doctors who painfully squeezed his genitals (as was the medical practice of the day) to determine whether he had contracted it at birth.  He hadn't, but his memory of this medical ritual must have haunted him throughout his life.  This he told my sister; I knew our long-deceased grandfather had died when Dad was thirteen.  Only much later did I learn that he died of venereal disease in the State's Asylum for the Insane in St. Peter, Minnesota, a raving lunatic taken there by his wife during the last year of his life.

 

     On my father's side our family is distantly related to the Ochs family, the founders of the New York Times.  Dad was always proud of that fact, but only once did he make a point of reconnecting with Arthur Ochs Sulzberger when he went to New York for a national meeting held by his insurance company.  He never understood why he was rebuffed in his unscheduled appearance and attempt to reconnect to family at Skip Sulzberger's office.

 

     Back to school.  Once again at the same elementary school with me, Noel resumed her tattling and manipulations to regain my parents' attention, something that being in different schools had stopped when we were in Sioux Falls.  Noel's snipe and feignt tactics just about did me in.  I took the transition to St. Paul very badly, manifesting signs of depression and anxiety which mystified my parents, although Mom didn't seem as surprised by it as Dad.  As an undiagnosed bipolar person, she knew depression when she saw it.  Although she never saw a psychiatrist for any of her problems (which were many), she promptly delivered me to a child psychiatric clinic, and there I became an inconstant visitor over the next seven years.

 

     At Groveland Park Elementary I had taken to the stim of wetting my eyes with saliva, using my pinky fingers from both hands.  I was crying without tears, and on really bad days, I must have looked like a raccoon with  ringlets of dirt smudged around both eyes.

 

     I also started to make animal noises and other distracting sounds to gain attention.  This I did not only in class, but in the hallways and the stairways.  I loved the stairways because of their hard surfaces and the echo of three open flights.  I began to have terrible problems with math, my old nemesis.  Even though there was nothing more advanced than fractions, because I didn't understand division, I couldn't understand the process of dividing fractions.  Merely placing two fractions side by side set me off on a tantrum.  I simply could not understand the concept.  The same thing with dividing by decimals.  Again, the conceptual paradigm of division proved my undoing.  I developed a phobia of math, something I chuckle about today, but have no better way of working around.

 

     I somehow weathered the sixth grade.  By the seventh grade my parents were alarmed.  Not only was I having trouble at school,  but it was quite apparent that my social skills deficits had begun to get me into serious trouble.  At Groveland I made the acquaintance of a boy who became one of two grade school, high school, then college chums.  We happened to attend the same Sunday school where my father taught, and I began to visit Michael not only for himself--we had few interests in common--but because his mother and father somehow seemed to understand me.  Michael had a younger brother who was mentally retarded and now that I think back about Larry, most likely medium-functioning autistic.

 

     The patience of having raised this child and shuttling him back and forth between a state residential institution and their own care had taught the whole family about special people.  Throughout my residence in St. Paul, the Feffermans became my proxy parents.  Later, a boy I met at high school, was to become the same kind of a life-long acquaintance, and more a friend than Michael.  Mel Goldberg and I shared two common passions:  high fidelity electronics and interest in our school's closed-circuit television system.  During some of my most frightened, gulpy weeping periods as an adolescent, Mel's parents as well as Michael's became my adult guardian angels.

 

     By the seventh grade, I was visiting the child psychiatrist twice weekly, taking as much as three hours from a school day to leave, take the streetcar to my appointment, and then returning to school to catch the last hours of class.  Even though I offered little explanation, it was clear to my fellow students, and certainly to the teachers, that something was going on.

 

     Another alarming occurrence unhinged my parents.  The vacant lot next door saw a new house erected, and a new family with a spitting and hissing home-bound anti-Semitic mother move in as neighbors.  She and her husband had a single child, Danny, and although the father appeared to have no qualms about my befriending his son, the mere prospect of her son become friends with a Jewish boy drove the mother absolutely wild.

 

     I was "admitted" to their house just to see Danny's marvelous train setup downstairs, but I sensed his mother's palpable presence on the other side of the basement door.  She was vigilant and ready to pounce at the first suggestion of impropriety.  Not knowing how inflamed her imagination could be, I became as fearful of her as she was of me.  In playing with her son, I was playing with the mother, a person with loaded dice and "tilt" writ large all over her behavior.  For one of my "infractions" of a still unknown character, our properties became divided by a wooden spite fence, built virtually overnight and six feet tall.  Danny's father would occasionally look over the fence or catch my father's eye and wordlessly shrug his shoulders.  Both men shared the unspoken status of being spouses with intensely protective shrewlike wives.

 

     Topping the list of childhood inanities was my prepubescent interest in male sex organs.  I was convinced that I was blessed with a bean, while others sported hoses.  On one summer day, with Danny, younger by some four or five years, I felt compelled to "compare."  You know.  One of those childhood things.

 

     Well.

 

     Somehow the fear of Jew translated to the fear of God and Onan's curse.  In the eyes of Danny's mother, not only was I afflicted with the sin of being Jewish, but by all reports of her son, I was blazing homosexual pedophile.

 

     I was having enough trouble that summer, the summer between seventh and eighth grade.  My hormones were raging and my imagination was running rampant.  I wasn't a candidate for camp (another story altogether), and so I had little to do other than to ride my bike and play with myself.  My parents were besides themselves.  My grades, always inconsistent, had fallen measureably with each passing grading period.  They armed themselves with information about alternative schools for the fall, and seized upon the notion of placing me in a military academy.

 

     Imagine, an autistic kid in a boot camp school.  Of course, no one knew at the time what was going on with me, but the discipline and structured aspect of that school seemed quite the ticket.  There was only one problem.  In the visit to the director's office, accompanied by both parents, the director seemed as perturbed by me as my parents, and I didn't like him or the school.  I don't think he was quite prepared for a chronic runaway which I threatened to become with repeated clarity and elevated volume of voice.

 

     It seemed that wouldn't be a good match after all.

 

     There was one ace that fell from my father's sleeve.  Earlier in the spring they had applied at the University High School, which was a combined junior and senior high school maintained by the School of Education at the University of Minnesota.  I wasn't found eligible for immediate admission, it was too late in the application season, and things would have to wait.  I started school in the eighth grade at Groveland Park Elementary.  On the third day of school, the principal came into the classroom and told me I was wanted at home after lunch, and I would be excused for the afternoon.  I arrived home not knowing the reason for my afternoon off.   An opening had occurred at U-Hi, my eligibility had been reconsidered and mine was the next name up.  Mom and Dad were both home.  They had their doubts.  It would involve a school bus.  It would be a completely new school.  By this time, both of them knew that I had major trouble with transitions.

 

    How about it?

 

     How about it?  They needn't have asked.

 

     That afternoon I returned to Groveland Park Elementary School to say good bye.  I did it as much to stick it to my twin sister and the horrible science teacher I had inherited as for any other reason.  My friend Michael had a look of surprise on his face, but also a small grin.  We could continue to do things together.  After all, there was still Sunday school and that connection.

 

     For the next two days, my mother drove me to U-Hi.  It wasn't far out of the way for her, because KSTP, her station, was right on the way, down University Avenue.

 

     It was perfect.  Scary but perfect.  No one knew me.  No one.  I had a chance for a fresh start, a clean slate.  The classes were small.  Seventeen was the largest, and we had at least one and usually two student teachers in the class.  All of the teachers had master's degrees, and most of them were studying for their doctorates in Education.  They were master teachers.

 

     This was 1955.  There was no such thing as special education.  No one knew anything about autism.  It wouldn't matter.  U-Hi was small enough and full of educators developing promising practices.  Class sizes were small enough and sufficient individual attention was available to challenging students.  One third of the students were the children of university professors.  One third were drawn from an unincorporated township that had no school, hence University Elementary, Middle, and High School was the home school to the kids from St. Anthony Falls.  Theirs was a leavening influence.

 

     One third of the student body was drawn from the upper class of Minneapolis and St. Paul, an upper class interested in having its children involved in the best of public education without suffering the effects of exclusive private college preparatory schools.  These were families that placed a high value on civic virtue and public citizenship education.  Their children would be leaders.  It was best that their children come from the midst of an educational environment that was mirrored the society they would gain stewardship over.

 

     This was my perfect high school.

 

     Throughout my high school years I continued my episodic visits to the psychiatrist.  I haven't mentioned much about that to this point, and now's the time to do it.  The Wilder Child Guidance Clinic was set in a large three story mansion along a row of other similarly large structures, many converted to institutional and non-profit use.  The child psychiatrist I saw at the time had no understanding of autism.  It simply wasn't known about at the time, or if it was, it was totally associated with low functioning children, children who did not darken the doors of such a place.  After all, at the time it was thought that such children could not be "guided" but only controlled.  That was the business of residential care centers and restraints.  The orientation of the center was strictly psycho dynamic.

 

     We know by now that traditional talk therapy is of little or no effect for people with autism.  That's what I "got" for seven years.  I would come in, sit down in a chair close to the desk, or across from the psychiatrist, and remain mute or provide monosyllabic responses for the entire hour.  I did not trust the man.  He gave me no reason to trust him.  Everything I said in earlier visits somehow found its way to my mother.  Again, she is another story, but it's enough to say here that she had no boundaries.  Not then, and not at the end of her life, which she took with her own hands.

 

     So, degree of trust was not at issue.  There simply wasn't any.  From that seven year run, I added a good twenty on and off during my life prior to my diagnosis of Asperger Syndrome.  On each occasion, whether I saw a traditional Freudian, Rogerian, Gestalt, Jungian, Reality Therapy, Primal, Brief Intervention, or any other kind of mental health professional, the results were always the same.  From those seven years, I learned how to outfox and outmaneuver every person I saw, whether I paid for the therapy or my insurance did.  Therapy under my pre-diagnostic circumstances was a battle, and I was determined to prevail.

 

     No matter how depressed or anxious I was when I first saw a succession of mental health professionals throughout my life prior to my diagnosis as autistic, and no matter how revealing I was at the first moment of desperation, the relationship, if it was to continue beyond one visit, became a cat and mouse game.  I not only knew where the bait was, but I also knew of every mouse hole in the castle.

 

     So.  This was the background noise running in my head whenever I became involved with the compassionate and caring teachers at U-Hi.  They knew there was something profound going on, and they wanted in their heart of hearts to understand me.  I remember hours upon hours of conferences and after class meetings, each and every one of them I sought out and requested.  I was never chased by a teacher or a counselor.  Somehow, there was something special going on in the atmosphere of that school that accorded the utmost respect to every student by every educator.  I know how wearing I was to these teachers and student teachers and counselors.  Regardless of what didn't happen from the meetings, the one thing I was always left with was hope.

 

     Hope.

 

     Not something profound, but something I feel to my inner core to this day.

 

     It didn't matter whether at the end of any given hour or hours of talk that whatever the problem du jour was resolved.  It usually wasn't.  But there was no acrimony, and no sense of hopelessness.  Otherwise why would I have returned to these wonderful people time after time?

 

     So, I began my eighth year in school at U-Hi.

 

     The first class of the morning for us was language.  In the seventh and eighth grade, students were given the choice of learning one of four languages.  This was 1955.  The languages were Russian, French, Spanish and German.  Later, while I was a Sophomore, Chinese was added (Cantonese Third Village and Mandarin).  My first teacher was Arnold Mendel.  He taught Sunday school at Mt. Zion Temple.  I knew him.  We never let that secret be known, but naturally, I took German.  My Dad spoke it and my grandparents spoke Yiddish.  It was a slam-dunk.

 

     As I made my way through U-Hi, I encountered my math demon in algebra.  I don't know how I even passed first year algebra in the ninth grade.  I faked it a lot, and I know I was socially promoted.  What other explanation is there to offer for someone who never understood simple equations or their operations?  Plane geometry the next year was easier, although I drove Mr. Dirk Ten Brink nuts with my questions.  It was great because geometry is hands on.  I never understood the formulas.  But I understood compases and rulers and triangles and protracters.  I could make lines and curves and shapes with them.  And there were the three dimensional figures.  I didn't have the agility to fold and glue them, even if someone else drew the folding lines for me.  Never.  But somehow I made it through that class because what I saw and made was what I "got."

 

     I was totally stumped in second year algebra, so much that by the end of the fourth week, the teacher allowed me to go across the hall to the "math lab"--a conference room in the math department--and take "consumer math."  They left me entirely alone.  I was an embarrassment to my teachers, whose elevated algebra instructional techniques somehow didn't encompass business profit and loss percentages, balancing a checkbook or making change.  I never did any consumer math.  They didn't have course materials for it.  I never took any tests.  Periodically the bald-headed Ph.D. math department chairman would stick his head in the door, ask me how things were going.  I gave him a nondescript "hm hm" and he closed the door softly.  Satisfied.  I did master Chinese checkers and three dimensional checkers.  The hours were a total waste, but that was OK.  I felt badly about the fiction involved, but everyone probably felt the same way.  I was doing so well in other classes, it was a small school, and....

 

     Where did I grow?  I flew in German.  By the end of the tenth grade, I had mastered all of the advanced material scheduled for the twelfth.  In the eleventh and twelfth grades, the instructor let me and another student study by ourselves the first two quarters, and then I was allowed to take courses in the German department at the university.  It was only four minutes away.  By the time I finished high school, I had enough credits in advanced German courses at the University of Minnesota to have a full German minor at university level.

 

     I loved creative writing, although there wasn't as much time for that as I wished.  What there was time for was the classics.  In tenth grade we did Thucydides, Milton's Paradise Lost and Aeropagetica, a number of the Shakespeare tragedies and king plays. In the eleventh, I got the Greek, Roman, and French drama classics in Drama I, taught by a ditzy, dedicated Norwegian woman, Karin Osborne, who had just converted to Judaism. 

 

As one of the few Jewish students in the school, and the only one in her class, she took to me immediately.  She and my mother became fast friends, cooing, ooing and aahing over my literary precocity.  Our drama class put on some fluff plays for the whole school, but the real fun came in our own dramatic readings and presentations, plus four presentations I either student-directed or starred in.  Synge's Playboy of the Western World (lead),  Molnar's Liliom (student directed) Ionesco's Hippopotamus (directed), and a three night succession of three of Franz Kafka's and Lafcadio Hearn's short stories (as the reader).  Odd duck amidst a traditional teaching staff, Karin Osborne cut a tight figure with her pointy cornered horned rimmed glasses and her daring-do exposure of her students and the whole student body to the cutting edge bohemian and early hip generation literature of the day.

 

     Odd duck like me, no doubt.  I loved it.  And yes, we had Dylan Thomas, and Thomas Frost, and Ferlinghetti, all rolled together.  The other students read Robert Browning and Emily Dickinson and Robert Frost.  I read Ionesco and Carl Sandberg and the West Coast Beat Generation poets.  This was the time of the utterly captivating Richard Buckley (The Nazz!) and Ernie Kovaks and Steve Allen.

 

     I was probably the most "serious" of her students, but in the process, I learned social skills in working with other classmates that simply would have been impossible in another setting.  In fact, some of the same students who really accepted me there "had" to play the non-acceptance game when in the general class population, especially in social events.  But I knew, somehow, that many of them did understand me in a way specially possible in that class.  In order to work well, we all were little Stanislawski students, and Karin Osborne drove us to legitimacy in everything we did.

 

     In my senior year, we held an all-school mock election.  I was the Democratic Farmer Labor Party student party chairman, while my Republican opponent was a good acquaintance, a rotund quick-thinking Jewish kid from a fairly orthodox background in North Minneapolis.  I didn't understand how a Jew could be anything other than a Democrat.  I'm lucky that "our" party won, because I'd still be wondering about Maher Weinstein if we hadn't.  Later, despite my black and white thinking, I began to understand the Jacob Kravits and Arlen Specters of the world.

 

     So that was academics.

 

     Now comes the part with the bumps:  Social life.

 

     To put it plainly, it was the pits, all of the way through.  I had two venues in which to practice. Because I remained in religious high school beyond confirmation, I also had another arena to practice in:  Mt. Zion Temple.  In a way, Mt. Zion was worse, because these were students I had known since my return to St. Paul in the sixth grade.  So, I had a "rep."  Also, many of them were former Groveland Park Elementary schoolmates.  Another hurdle to overcome. And third:  my twin. 

 

     She was in those classes.  She had become active in a high school Reform Jewish social club movement statewide, and in her Senior year, was president of the state chapter.  She got to go to Winnipeg, Canada on a couple of occasions, because that chapter was joined to the one in Minnesota.  A year before, she was as active but not as prominent a leader.  At a Duluth convention, she met and sang with Bobby Zimmerman who had joined the B'nai B'rith boy's group, urged on by his parents in small town Hibbing, Minnesota, to meet other Jewish youth.  He was THE Bobby Zimmerman, later to become Bob Dylan.

 

     Small world.

 

     Of course, I have bragging rights too over someone a bit more obscure.  One of the odd-ball kids in a class one grade behind me was an emancipated minor at the age of 16:  Dave Ray.  I met Bobby Zimmerman at his pad, which was just five minutes from U-Hi in a residential Bohemian part of the city known as Dinky Town.  Yes, we partied a couple of times, but that was easy.  We were all kooks.  Of course, our definition of a party meant we read some strange poetry and in my senior year, we tried something strange called marijuana.  I couldn't do it.  Unlike Bill Clinton, I didn't inhale because I couldn't inhale.  Just couldn't, that's all.  So I faked inhaling.  I got a little high over the smoke fumes, though.

 

     Getting back to the ground level and social challenges. I kept stumbling all over myself with our religious school events.  There wasn't a single one of them I enjoyed, and I brought the obligatory equally unpopular and awkward girl--a classmate-- to a number of the dances.  It was an interesting way "out."  Neither of use cared about the social conventions though we desperately wanted to.  Even if I didn't have a date, I went, driven there by my parents.  This was to the many mixers that were held.  I also got out of some embarrassment by dating younger student at U-Hi, a sweet, shy, equally klutzy family friend, Melanie Hoffman, the daughter of a marvelous portrait photographer and her social worker husband.  Melanie was a Godsend.  She was so unassuming and didn't expect anything.  Of course, I wouldn't have known how to respond HAD she expected something, so it was an ideal match.

 

     Except we were both so unhappy.  I remember leaving the social hall on the second floor of our religious school and walking the darkened hallways of the first and second floor, in tears. I do remember asking myself, "Why me?  What's going on?"  By the time I made it back to the social hall, I had visited the boy's room and given myself a good cold soaking to my overheated, tear-stained face and patted myself dry.

 

     It still hurt.

 

     And U-Hi?  This was tough, but actually a little easier in a strange way.  I almost immediately became hooked up with an awkward gaggle of misfits.  Two were the twin sons of the Schmidt's Beer family in St. Paul, the third a wimpy creature with bad spotchy skin and a reputation as a dummy.  Dick Barton wasn't a dummy, but he didn't fit.  Then there was Barry Hansen.

 

     Barry Hansen is now known as Dr. Demento, and at that time, he was as obsessed with obscure recordings and what we now know as ethnomusicology as he is today.  Barry was and is brilliant, and he took the social role of disk jockey at all of our sock hops.  He was a terrific DJ, and now he has parlayed that into his life's work.

 

     I also believe Barry is somewhere on the spectrum.  But who cares?  Would that make any difference if he is or isn't AS?  I ask the same questions about fellow students Leon Lacabonne and Caroline Wilke, two brilliant students a grade ahead of us.  Leon was a sensationally brilliant electronic engineer, and single handedly with Caroline stripped down and rebuilt two entire television camera and control chains that we used in our closed-circuit television broadcasts to Eddy Hall, the School of Education.  I was a sound technician during my audio-visual hour as a junior and a senior.  A number of us, including Mel Goldberg, had high end tube electronic audio, then known as High Fidelity, as a singular passion.

 

     I did manage to conduct a strange "adult" world relationship during my last couple of years at high school.  It was a proxy relationship with broadcast professionals.  Mom had submitted an audition tape to NBC Monitor, a weekend radio show somewhat similar to All Things Considered Saturday Edition on NPR.  At the time, they were interested in taped "short features," three to four minutes, tops.

 

     Mom's days at KSTP were numbered and she knew it.  In the unflattering lens of the television camera, her short, well-tailored obesity did not fit anyone's popular expectations of a television show hostess.  Not compared with Betty Furness, a former Miss America, a national female TV talent icon.  It was all about ratings, of course.  Mom was unphotogenic, and lost her TV show.  She was bumped back to a morning radio show of one half hour, but with local programming rapidly disappearing, she knew it would only be a matter of time before she was out of the commercial radio business.

 

     Even while she was still in commercial radio, she hooked up with the powers that were to fuel KTCA, the Twin Cities' educational TV channel.  (She later did some regular broadcasting and I ended up pushing a camera around the floor of the early KTCA studios for a couple of years while I was at college.)  In the meantime, her first audition tape was accepted, and for the last two years of high school and my freshman year at the University of Minnesota, I played radio engineer to her talent. She submitted four or five tapes made at different "sound sites" and one or two of them would be aired monthly.  I got my cut as her engineer (five or ten dollars), and learned a lot about professional field recording in the early days of portable tape equipment.  This went on for a total of a dozen or so weekend spots.  That small bit of recording engineering did put me into the same field as other pro audio engineers of the time, something in which I still have an interest but no "ticket."

 

     Mom's occasional outings for on-location featured radio spots were one way I got to see a different side of the adult world.  Something no other person of my age had a chance to experience.

 

     But back on the farm, back in the real world of high school adolescence, for the social events at U-Hi, I was in a quandary.  I invited out the same girls to a number of the dances, "safe girls" from school who were at the edge of the cliques and wouldn't endanger my "rep" to much, because they weren't gossipers.

 

     And then there was Adele Garten.  I can't remember how we met, but her dad was a well known neurologist, and Adele didn't go to U-Hi, so there was no danger of "leak."  Adele was a total mystery to me.  Sometimes I could count on her coming, and other times, I couldn't.  I had absolutely no '"read" on her, and although I had a crush, I never knew how to translate a crush into anything more than clumsy hand-holding in the car.  But Adele was safe, so in that sense, she was a neutral ticket of respectability at some of our U-Hi dances.

 

     I took Melanie Hoffman, sweet, dear Melanie, "the shy one" to some of these events, and like all others, they were quiet triumphs of respectable "show" but incredibly painful.  I think she liked me.  I'm pretty sure she did.  But I didn't know how to ask, and our relationship always remained at an unrequited level, safely insulated by family friendship between her parents and mine.  Dad, Mom and only myself among the Meyer children were frequent dinner guests at the Hoffmans.  My twin never came along, and Debby was a half a generation behind us, at home being cared for by our housekeeper.  So somehow, my singular presence  seemed to put some kind of official dual-family imprimatur on the relationship.  I wish I would have been bolder or known what to do.  I keep thinking, even today, that had there been someone in my life in the "wife" category, it most likely would have been someone very much like Melanie.

 

     But I had decided early on never to marry, and certainly never take a chance on bringing a child into the world with the kinds of experiences likely to face him that faced me.  My father had seen it; chances are his had seen it before him.  I was not about to let the sins of the generations be further passed to the next.  It was a kind of prescience,  a very precocious decision for the time, and a very sad one as well.  Now I sincerely regret the decision, but by the time I was beyond the age for marriage to seem a possibility, the mantra of "No, Never!" I pounded into my sleepless head night after night for ten years between the ages of eight and eighteen had guaranteed a self-fulfilling prophecy.

 


 

     College and life beyond?  That's for another time, dear reader.  Suffice it to say that I finished high school somewhere in the upper third of the pack.  Unable to manage my time well or plan for the future, I hadn't thought anything of college as a future even, while all around me my classmates were making applications and getting admitted to Princeton, Reed, Yale, and Berkeley.  Many of them continued on, literally across the campus green at the edge of University Avenue to the University of Minnesota.  Just from sheer inertia and the modest prodding of my parents, that's where I was to pass four fifths of my time as an undergraduate college student.

 

     Despite the fact that Minnesota was and is an enormous school, I was able from the beginning to find a small batch of students to hang out with, but only with regard to single class issue-oriented discussions .  And no, not in my total of five years, except for students I had previously known from high school or Temple, did I have any friends while in college.  Many acquaintances, but no friends.

 

     Except for my one thrilling but disastrous transfer year to the University of Chicago between by Sophomore and Junior years at the University of Minnesota, I remained at home, attending classes and grinding away at my studies studying in the family basement recreation room, which I essentially commandeered for all of my undergraduate years, masturbating when bored, and sneaking in evening TV comedy shows on our antiquated black and white console now abandoned by the family for their television viewing elsewhere upstairs.  I would emerge from the room squinting in the harsh bottom of stairs overhead hall light at calls for dinner or reminders to go to bed by parents turning in the for night.

 

     Life in college wasn't a constant, uninterrupted set of steps on the treadmill, as I hope you'll learn in the next installment of this autobiography.

 

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