Charlie may never have been a fan of Thomas the Tank Train (as I noted a few days ago in quoting Charlotte Moore’s George and Sam, p. 177: “an admiration for the works of the Reverend W. Awdry is almost a diagnostic requirement of autism”), but he sure loves a train ride, whether on NJ Transit, or on the PATH train (we catch it in Newark, and get a fine view of the Port of Newark and of the Pulaski Skyway).
We got into New York City just as the sun was setting—-it had been a full day with an ABA session at 10am and a long bike ride on one oddly hot winter day. Jim wanted to do some research for a summer school course he is to teach and we went past what was once the House of Hospitality of the Catholic Worker at 135 Mott Street (it is now an Asian day spa) and what was once the St. Francis Xavier Labor School on west 16th Street (it is now Xavier High School).
As soon as Charlie got off the PATH train at the WTC site, he said “sushi.” “Walk, then sushi,” Jim and I alternated saying, and Charlie set his face into serious lines, put his head down a bit, and held Jim’s hand as we walked past a storefront Buddhist temple; a glitzy Chinese restaurant, its table set for what I suspect was a wedding banquet; stores of minimal real estate displaying Chinese New Year banners (it will be the Year of the Pig and piles of fresh fish on the street). A mother walked past holding a pink plastic bag in one hand, a little girl with a Pixie cut (like the one my sister and I used to sport) and red coat worn as a dress over tights. I heard another mother, two children in tow, say “Let’s go” in Mandarin (chiuh-chiuh ba!). We all heard a driver honking his horn right in Charlie’s face as a taxi behind it barely put on his brakes.
Charlie cried out and held onto both of our hands as we proceeded down Mott Street to Mulberry and through Soho. “Sushi,” said Charlie as we made our way past numerous fashionistas with large handbags and pointy toed boots, and a few dogs of many sizes. “There’s a little more to New York then that,” Jim laughed. “Sushi,” said Charlie. We crossed Houston and went through Greenwich Village. When we made a right onto Lafayette, Jim said, “Ten more blocks, Cholly.” That brought us to Union Square where one of Charlie’s favorite stores had opened.
“You look right, I’ll look left,” said Jim. I looked right and down. I saw……….brown shopping bags with a familiar green and red logo: “It’s right! People are coming from that direction with Trader Joe’s bags!”
You’d have thought I would have found the path to some hidden treasure…..Charlie’s eyes were huge and the features of his face pulled tight, signalling his disorientation on a new walk to new places to a new store.
The store was small, with shoppers and carts packed elbow to elbow, and a goateed young man holding onto a sign reading “Line Ends Here” sign at the very back. Charlie started to move to the left to the back, where the sushi is in our usual store and looked very puzzled when I directed him to the right. “Watermelon,” he said, and looked down; I pointed up, to packs of pink slices on the third row. (Jim had gotten in line, under the sign.) “Oranges!” Charlie, who had none of the smiles he wears when we are in our usual Trader Joe’s—-walked over to crates of clementines: Not the best thing to carry around when you’re on foot in Manhattan.
Of course, I put one into the shopping basket.
We picnicked on a bench in Union Square and hurried off to catch the PATH train—and just missed it. Charlie sat and peeled two oranges, and boarded the train when it came with one spartially peeled in his hand, and would not let go of it to hold onto the pole. He jumped up and down and warbled and continued to do so for the rest of the ride (the clanking of the equipment almost obscured his hums), with the result that the passenger in the seat in front of us on NJ Transit said “Can you get that kid to be quiet?”
Jim said, “He’s autistic, he’s disabled, he—–let’s move.”
We rode the rest of the way home standing in the vestibule by the doors, while Charlie ran his hand over the boxes and knobs on the wall; we could feel the metal floor shifting and hear all kinds of clanks, and the air was cooler: You can feel the train moving better at the ends of the train cars.
And when Charlie is in motion, walking or riding, or swimming it does seem a little easier for him to be.