When I was in fourth grade, I was in an elite group of students. Louis Vela, Michael Tibitts (the Boy Scout), Egghead (sorry Egghead, I forgot your name), and myself. We were a special group of independent students blended into a class. We were always challenging each other competitively and we were tops in every subject, even in music. That’s probably why we also joined the choir.
To challenge myself at lunch, I joined kitchen duty in the cafeteria. I don’t recall why since I didn’t know anyone in the kitchen but when they asked, I volunteered. There were even moms who volunteered so to volunteer seemed like an interesting idea. I could leave class a few minutes early and work during lunch break. How much hopscotch, tetherball, and four-square can you have before just mingling around. Kitchen duty seemed fun and privileged.
Kitchen duty offered me all kinds of different learning opportunities. That’s how I first learned about Tom Jones’ effect on the ladies. I had never heard that type of conversation from my mom when talking about Tom Jones. I learned pretty cool efficiency tips when handling the operational side of the kitchen as well as health requirements for using hair nets and gloves.
There were other things that I learned through kitchen duty.
I became friends with Andrea. Andrea was a black girl with a fun sense of humor but her unique characteristic was that she was blind. Andrea was in another class so even though I had seen her at school, we never had the opportunity to get to know each other. She would come in for lunch and stay way after everyone ran off to the playground so we could talk while I was wiping down tables with the clean-up crew.
Around the time I got to know Andrea I was also a big fan of Helen Keller and Anne Sullivan. I liked their can-do attitude.
That’s how I came up with other ways to challenge myself. I learned to lip read and what I’ll call body-read. I was able to distinguish people from very far away, just by their body language. I used to impress my friends with that. Lip reading was fun too. I used to use it when driving in the car with my parents eaves-dropping on conversations in adjacent cars at traffic stops or anywhere I went. But the most daring challenge to me was to ask myself if I could walk to school with my eyes closed, just as if I were blind.
I planned my trip to where I only needed to cross one street to get to school. Once there I could open my eyes. I figured if Andrea could do it, so could I. Of course, I had no idea how Andrea got to school but I figured it was a challenge worth taking, and no, I did not tell my mother.
At the time I was also training myself to be as quiet as a Native American hunter walking in the woods and leaving no mark, making no sound. I was also training myself to dress in the dark, faster and faster every time, in case I were ever to become a fireman so learning to be blind was not off by much. I never had an incident and I did gain the development of a higher tuning of my senses and sensibilities. And it probably gave me a competitive edge against Louis, Michael, and Egghead.