Have to be careful not to look like some weirdo laughing to myself here. I do feel a bit nervous walking in that door labeled principal kroener. Even at the deaf school, we heard about Kroener. He supposedly threw a kid through a window for chewing gum. I was hoping I could get all the way to graduation without ever having to meet him. I've forgotten to put my hearing aids back on, but he doesn't notice. I can hear a little with them, but I hate them. I know I still don't hear what everyone else does, they give me intense headaches, and I hate being stared at like I have six heads. When I put them on, all eyes go straight to my ears. No one notices my dashing movie star looks or body builder's physique. Understandably.
Kroener is on a phone call and distractedly welcomes me into his office. He gestures for me to take a seat and scatters some papers as he does. I spy with my little eye a particular sheet of paper labeled "Will Halpin Individual Education Program." The fact that I require an IEP reminds me that I'm still on the banks of the mainstream. And though the sheet is upside-down from where I sit, I can make out the basics. Apparently, I'm "profoundly deaf yet intellectually capable." This yet pisses me off! It's the kind of thing some of my old classmates would have formed a protest committee over. I'm usually the type to let things slide, which maybe was why I was somewhat of an outsider even among my own peeps.
I see too that I have high marks for my ability to lip-read, and it's also noted that I'm excellent at sign language. A kiss of the hand to you. My ability to speak is listed as "adequate," which makes me smile inside, since I barely said a word to Nurse Weaver. I hardly speak at all, and I really don't like talking to people I don't know well. People have laughed at the way I talk, and I don't altogether know what the hell I'm saying. I've had a million arguments about how I should probably just get over this and be proud of my deafness, but I remain unconvinced. That kind of thinking is part of the reason I left my old school.
Kroener slams down the phone and gives me my schedule. He seems like he is actually trying to be nice. He has learned a few signs and stumbles through "Welcome to our school." He hands me a letter that basically says the same thing and a map, which I hope I will be able to figure out. "Consider me welcomed," I sign, throwing Kroener a big, only partly insincere, grin. Tall and wide, with a head shaped like a bullet, Principal Kroener tries to smile back, but it looks like it doesn't fit his face. I wave awkwardly and skedaddle.
First up, first class. I'm good with maps, probably from constantly playing video games (take that, video game critics!), so I easily find the room for American history. I'm stepping in, feeling like an astronaut on alien soil as my foot lands on the other side of the threshold. There is no time to contemplate this giant leap for Halpin-kind, however, because I am immediately overwhelmed. And it seems I'm not the only one.
The teacher, a pear-shaped, balding man whose ID badge identifies him as Mr. Arterberry, appears to be even more unsure of what to do with me. Nurse Weaver assured me that she had filled the teachers in, so they know all about my "primary mode of understanding" being lipreading and that I am "strong textually," which I assume means that I read and write well. She's right--I enjoy words. They are like music to my ears.
Mr. A. has a seat for me off in a corner of the room. This will allow me to read lips of teacher as well as students and thus benefit from the fantastic scholarly wisdom offered by both lecture and class discussion. But it also makes me feel shoved aside, sort of like a houseplant. Will someone at least remember to prune and water me?
The first thing I notice is this: public school girls are freaking hot. Nice. I try to focus on that and not on the sinking feeling that it might be way harder not to fail here than I thought. It's only been a few seconds since class started, and Arterberry apparently has already forgotten Nurse Weaver's instructions. Even though I have always been exceptionally good at lipreading (blue ribbon at Camp Arrowhead!), I need to actually see the lips. Even in the best situations, I'm likely to miss a few words in the middle of a sentence. Arterberry keeps turning around or covering his mouth with his flabby arm while writing on the board. Plus, although I realize that the Americans with Disabilities Act can't force him to get rid of his bushy lip beast, a basic sense of fashion and/or hygiene should compel him to at least trim his 'stache.
Excerpted from The Dark Days of Hamburger Halpin by Josh Berk Copyright © 2010 by Josh Berk. Excerpted by permission of Knopf Books for Young Readers, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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No Man's Land
by Simon Tolkien
Inspired by the experiences of his grandfather, J. R. R. Tolkien, during World War I.
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