completely retarded

We step up to the blue deli counter where Seth greets us with a pencil and small order pad in hand. “I’ll have an Ethanwich for here,” says Michael, as he grabs a Diet Coke from inside the refrigerated case.

We sit at a table against the wall watching customers come and go while waiting for our order. A familiar man reels through the door, his oversized winter coat draped lopsided on slouching shoulders so that one cuff hangs over his knuckles. Waving from across the room I say, “There’s Lloyd.” He sees us and awkwardly makes his way over, shuffling and wobbling in that unmistakable cerebral palsy way. Lloyd stands at the end of our table with a bewildered expression on his face, his eyes set between a pair of wrinkled parentheses like some Peanuts character. I smile up and say, “Hi Lloyd.” He tilts his head and with an open mouth makes a kind of happy growl. I give him a thumbs-up. After a slight pause he does the same with a warped hand that somehow mirrors his contorted body. We do a knuckle bump and he smiles.

I point to Lloyd and spell out his name using sign language. He smiles again and says, “Arrrrgh,” at which I gesture to Michael and spell out his name, too, with fist and fingers, though momentarily forgetting the sign for the “h”.

“You know sign language? When did you learn that?” Michael asks.
“I learned it as a kid, you know, because my uncle is deaf and retarded ... but just the alphabet and a handful of signs,” I explain.

Then I remember how my friend Monica and I used to sign to each other in church just to make it through the long, boring-ass services without slipping into a coma, how sometimes we'd practically pee in our pants trying not to giggle.

Lloyd ogles us as if we’re aliens from outer space, though I know we are familiar to him, then saunters over to another couple seated near the windows. The man greets him warmly though the woman seems less sure. After several minutes of Lloyd’s unrelenting stares they kindly say, “We’re going to eating our lunch now,” hoping he’ll get the hint and shove off. But he remains, fixed. They repeat themselves, perhaps unaware that Lloyd sometimes uses hearing aids and, even so, it’s unclear if he understands what is said to him. After a long awkward moment Lloyd releases his captives and moves on.

Seeing Lloyd reminded me of a scene in the matinee Michael and I had watched the previous day called The Descendants, starring George Clooney.

In the scene Matt King, played by Clooney, is driving while his teenage daughter Alex and her friend Sid sit in the backseat. Sid says something quite perturbing to Matt, who slams on the brakes and leans back to address the couple:
MATT (to Alex)
Your friend is completely retarded. You know that, right?
Hey, my little brother’s retarded. Don’t use that word in a derogatory fashion.
Psych!  I don’t have a retarded brother!
You suck, Sid.
Speaking of retarded, I wish they would just hurry up. Sometimes I wait for them to cross the street, and I’m like, come on already! But then I feel bad.

I winced and laughed through the scene, found it amusing, pathetic and sad. I flinched at Clooney’s use of the word retarded. I chuckled when Sid lied about having a retarded brother. I winced again when Sid mentioned that he wished they’d hurry up, even though I understood his perspective, perhaps akin to those who watch and wait as Calvin and I slowly stumble hand-in-hand across streets and parking lots. And finally, I appreciated Sid’s regret at his own sorry feelings.

What a perfect scene, I thought, running the full gamut of emotions because of a single, seemingly innocuous word—retarded. Like Lloyd standing at the nice couple’s table as they first engaged and then waited—perhaps even miserably hoped—for him to hurry up, to disappear. I myself remember times in public, when struggling with my drugged-up manic, shrieking, drooling, hobbling Calvin, I wished that I could simply disappear, and then—like Sid—I feel deeply remorseful for having had those thoughts about my inexpressibly loving child.

I wonder if Ann Coulter ever self-reflects in such a way. I'm thinking maybe she's one of many out there with a true intellectual disability.

Version originally posted 03.05.12 

photo by Michael Kolster


  1. You know, that one scene, sort of almost ruined the movie for me, and that was mainly because of the laughs it got. I'm not sure many people reflected on it like you did, and I find it incredibly tiresome when artists use it. I'm slowly turning into a radical, I think.

  2. you are well on your way. watch out!

  3. That's a good one about Ann Coulter!