A couple of times in my role as para-substitute I have been given the job of escorting one of the high school boys to the middle school to work in the library. His name is not Mike. The first time I did this I was so excited; firstly because a bus ride would devour at least ½ hour of the day that never seems to end in the institutional time vortex of school, and secondly I have a secret desire to be a librarian.
Mike is autistic and talks incessantly and repetitively. So much so that in many of the classes he attends there are laminated pieces of paper put in front of him that say something like: stop talking. His voice makes a swooping singsong arch as he announces ‘I LOVE Thomas the train!” over and over again. At the library we shelve books and check inventory. He is very good. I can appreciate his mania for order. I have to remind myself that it is his job and I am only there to make sure he doesn’t leave too often to wash his hands or spit in the sink. When we do the inventory he simply has to find each book on the printout, check it off if it is there, or circle it if it is not. He only misses the ones in which the bindings are obscured either from wear or they are bothersome to look at because of the sheen.
I am given a little stool on wheels. I am not interested in the top shelves, Mikey can handle those: that way I don’t have to get up, instead I can swivel and scoot around on the rolling stool moving nothing more than my calves and feet. It’s surprisingly fun. Mikey talks the entire time, I interject the occasional word or phrase to give the appearance of a conversation. He works a furious pace: my speed. I wish we could stay there all day.
“Rrrrobin Hooood” I announce, rolling my r’s and squeezing my o’s in an overblown British accent when I find a book he missed. He stops and looks at me, I can see a flicker of recognition in his eyes; clearly he has seen the classic Disney version of the book, but he only says, “That’s my job Ms. Accardi. I LOVE my job Ms. Accardi.” “That’s excellent Mike,” I generously hand over the book to be filed on the shelf. He looks at me expectantly and I hand him the paper to change the circle to a check. My hand is itching to do it: I take inordinate pleasure in crossing things out. But it’s his job. We roll down the aisle until the librarian comes, tersely reminding us that we have to catch the bus back to the high school.