Monday, August 5, 2019
In 10th grade, I had a homeroom teacher named Mr. Camhi. He was the 12th grade English teacher. How he drew that assignment was beyond me. He was exceptional at homeroom. In 9th grade, I had come up with a scheme to skip school that wasn’t merely good, it was unstoppable. I would come into Mr. Camhi’s class, turn in my note for the prior day’s absence and then turn in my book report for the week and write it on the chart in the corner. Each report was an extra ten points in my final grade, and there was no limit to the number of reports I could turn in.
It didn’t take Mr. Camhi long to figure out that I skipped school as much as I read books. Back in 1987, it was not common for children to type homework, let alone use a computer. But, I did. Not only did he notice that, he also noticed that I skipped a lot of school. He did not notice that I made $10 a book report from classmates. He was merely a high school teacher, but I was a student of high schooling. I had everything figured out. Or so I thought.
One day he commented that every book I read was science fiction and I should try something else. I couldn’t say that I was reading other things because someone would have picked up the fact that I was selling papers to fund my extracurricular activities. The funny thing was, I wasn’t really reading anything other than science fiction until Mr. Camhi called me out. Sure, I was writing book reports on the Great Gatsby, The Milagro Beanfield War, and the classic, Killing Mister Griffin for other students for weeks before Mr. Camhi caught up with me. I wish I could say I stopped, but the money was too good.
But he did affect a change in my behavior. He gave me a book called The New Centurions. It blew me away. It is the story of a rookie cop and his African-American girlfriend, in LA during the 1960s. It could not be further from what I had been exposed to previously. I wanted to know more about this sort of American life, one so distant from me, that I had to put off my shenanigans to use the library at school.
I lived in that room for months. I noticed every time I was in the library, Mr. Camhi was in the library, too. There was a noticeable lack of 12th grade students with him. He also carried around a bowl of salad. Usually, his appearance was preceded by a disappearance of the librarian. This man was skipping his lunch to keep tabs on a student that had stopped skipping school, but was skipping classes to read everything about racial issues from the 1960s, in the library. I didn’t mind if he didn’t. He was a very welcome person to direct my searches in the card catalog.
As the 1960s came to an end, so did 10th grade. And with the coming of the new school year, I escaped Mr. Camhi’s watch. However, a second teacher became my keeper.
Mrs. Cross, my Spanish teacher took on Mr. Camhi’s role. She would have me transcribe her notes and worksheets into Braille. I would spend a few minutes each day with Perkins the Brailler, before ditching out to Perkins the Restaurant. I hung out there so much that they offered me a job as dishwasher. The downside of this was, I couldn’t go there to skip school. They said as much, which was emphasized by the Amherst Police, who drove me back to school.
I was rather diligent as her assistant. I made sure that she had not only her notes transcribed, but also had a steady stream of trustworthy students to escort her to and from classes, since I was occupied elsewhere.
One day, she cornered me in her office. She complimented me on my transcription skills. I never made a mistake, in English or Spanish when Brailling. She thought that was unusual since I couldn’t read phonetically. She was fascinated by how I was able to “read” items she asked me to transcribe for her class, while also struggling with simple handouts she had not let me read and memorize ahead of time. She commanded me to come to her office and transcribe those handouts. Another several months of truancy was wasted. Eventually, I wised up and transcribed the whole workbook so I could visit my new favorite daytime haunt, “Your Host”, on Main Street.
Mrs. Cross whupped that out of me in rather short order. Since I had an unstoppable method of skipping school, I was rather frank with her as to where I spent my time. She asked me to steal her a menu, as she went there often herself. When I brazenly delivered it to her, as requested, she clucked her tongue. She asked, “Where is this from?”
“Your Host,” I said.
“You’re smart, but not that smart.” She held up the menu. “It hasn’t been ‘Your Host’* for quite some time. Can you tell me what is really called?”
I was silent because I really couldn’t ¡SEE! where it what it said.
“You have dyslexia and you don’t even know what you can’t see. Funny that you see for me and I have to see for you.”
I wish I could say that I stopped skipping school, but I continued to be blind for a very long time.
However, even blind, I knew that I had very special people looking out for me, seemingly, for no good reason that I could discern.
In 2010, I returned to school and the blindness lifted. Thirty years after graduation, but not too late.
* Many of the local “Your Host” restaurants had opted to stay in business under the name “our Host”.