There I was, a free range Aspergian in a room full of shrinks. I’d been hired to speak to the 116th annual gathering of the American Psychological Association. Imagine that. They not only invited me into their midst, they paid for me to come.But they still made sure I knew where I stood, beginning with the registration clerks. Luckily, I arrived early enough to sort it out. The first registrar I went to just stared. The second unit directed me to the third, which gave me a badge and pointed to the door. I walked inside, and looked around. I wondered if I’d see Larry David, or any of the crew from that other show, In Treatment. I passed book sellers, pill merchants, and recruiters from the US Bureau of Prisons.
Larry David was nowhere to be seen, but there were shrinks from all over the world. Or so it appeared. Each of the people walking around had a name tag. The tag showed their names, where they came from, and what they were.
Some tags said STUDENT. Most said MEMBER, which I took to be a code word for PSYCHOLOGIST. A few had honorifics, like FELLOW, LORD, or EXHIBITOR. You may wonder how they distinguished me. I’ll tell you. My tag said NON MEMBER. After a lifetime of exclusion, what do I get from the very crowd that purports to help people like me? Luckily, I am resilient. I flipped the badge over so the security guards wouldn’t read it and evict me. I looked for the Taser booth, knowing they often exhibit at trade shows, but I couldn't find it. Then it was time. 205 B That’s where I was supposed to go. I headed for the auditorium, which had filled with shrinks in a manner reminiscent of a high school at class change. Which was, in essence, what it was. They had all these programs going on, and they were handing out credit for them. There was a guy at the door to my room, scanning badges. I waited for him to get distracted and slipped inside. Most places I speak have one of two arrangements. Some have a wireless microphone that they clip onto you, and you are free to roam around. A few places stand you before a podium, with a fixed microphone. This place, though, was unique. Here, a stout black cable emerged from a ring in the floor, leading ten feet to a microphone that I was supposed to wear. They had me on a leash. Six feet forward and eight feet back. Close enough to see the audience, but too far for a quick grab. I began wondering about that so-called mike cable. Maybe it was meant for more than just sending a voice signal from me to them. Maybe they had a guy in back with one of those hand-crank field telephones, ready to fry me if I said a wrong word. That Zimbardo fellow – the rock star psychologist who wrote the Lucifer Effect about the Stanford Prison Experiments – was here. Forewarned, I tucked all the metal outside my clothing. And the soles of my shoes were rubber. The floor was dry. I was confident that I had Freedom of Speech, subject to the leash. With that preparation, my talk went well. The Random House Academic Marketing folks recorded it, and it will be online here as soon as they fix the link: http://rhacademic.wordpress.com/2008/08/15/john-elder-robisons-plenary-address-at-2008-apa/ There was no time for questions at the end, but I invited the crowd back to the Random House booth for one on one q&a. After doing that, I slipped my leash, and headed for the exhibition floor, where I spent the next few hours answering questions and signed books.
I’d invited Lindsay and Shirley from the TMS lab, and they accompanied me downstairs. The line of people with questions on TMS was long, with shrinks of all shapes, sizes, and demeanors. There was one redhead, and one freak with glossy black plastic clothing. One tall dark fellow approached the booth, and I read his tag. Lima, Peru, it said. Quick as a flash, I turned to Mike Gentile, the Official Random House representative, and said: Look! A Peruvian!
At first, he thought I might be insulting him, but he quickly realized that I was simply marveling that someone would travel all the way from Peru and we actually had a nice conversation. In English. I even signed a book for him to take home. For me, meeting a Peruvian there was a special experience, akin to finding an antique Alco locomotive idling in a modern day rail yard. And by the way – that actually happened to me, in Rutland Vermont. The Green Mountain Railroad still operates one. An Alco, that is. Not a Peruvian.
A few hours later, I was able to slip out the door on my own, without any of the guards catching that NON MEMBER badge. I returned to the scene of flooding from last week, and I photographed these rocks:
You can see the mottling dampness . . . the rocks are still drying out, having just emerged from flood in the past two days. That’s what made the whitewater I’d taken my boat over. Quite a ride, when they were covered in ten feet of water during last week’s flood. Woof.
Causes John Robison Supports
I support Asperger and autism advocacy groups. I also support the University of Massachusetts