Saturday, December 18, 2010

Exorcising Old Demons from my Middle School

As of right now, my new YouTube video is now making its way across the nation via passionate people posting it on their Facebook pages and e-mailing it like wildfire.  To those people, I offer my lifelong and most sincere appreciation.  If this video goes viral then it will be because of YOU and not just my public oration skills.  I am also blessed to have the ability to work with a loyal publicist named, Victor Gulotta.  Mr. Gulotta is generously donating his services to my campaign long after his contractual obligations have expired.  He is just one of many neurotypical (non-autistic) individuals who have made a profound difference in my life by believing in my efforts.  The link of my YouTube video is or you may just type in Jesse Saperstein on the YouTube search engine.  A photo of me wearing a court jester hat will immediately show up!

“We need to dwell on the horror of the past only to ensure the present will be a gift.”  On a less poetic note, I have never believed in letting anything go.  I believe in going back whether it is a day or fourteen years later to fix something that is probably still broken.  The date of Tuesday, November 23rd, 2010 lingers in my mind as a day of catharsis.  I chose to return to my old middle school where I attended from 1994 to 1996.  It is the same edifice that housed demons from the past, but it would not be fair to displace those demons upon these new, innocent students.  They had nothing to do with that ancient torment in my life, but I must assume the bullying from the distant past still lingers within these new human shells.  The mission of my speech is to eradicate it like a forest ranger stamping out a dying campfire.

It definitely helped that I am friends with the new Arlington Middle school principal who has always believed in my endeavors.  Rich Carroll who is as committed toward fighting bullying as any administrator I have ever met before in my life.  He understood the video had to be filmed in a timely fashion and worked diligently with me to make the arrangements.  If Mr. Carroll has been my principal in those difficult days of yore then perhaps my time at Arlington Middle School would have been different.  Or maybe not.  Back then, I do not believe administrators knew the true deadliness of bullying especially since the nightmare of cyber bullying barely even existed.  Bullying was still seen as a right of passage.  I look back on those days and sometimes wonder whether my torment would have been dramatically alleviated if I had punched one of my classmates in the nose as hard as possible.  A weight would have been lifted as I watched blood spew from that orifice and braced for a much worse beating.  But the bruises would have healed with minimal emotional scars.  I could have won or lost, but it could have ended because most bullies are cowards.  They will not usually target someone if they know that individual will strike back with brute force.  I believe in diplomacy, but it often failed miserably in those days.  This is the beauty of this day and age.  We take torment seriously and it is not necessary for violence to beget violence.

Mr. Carroll and I had faith in the students of Arlington Middle School from the very beginning and exercised only a modicum of caution.  For example, Mr. Carroll suggested I not tell the students my speech would be on YouTube for fear that one of the students would seize the moment to get his fifteen minutes of fame.  For some reason, the Internet provokes people to act as a “Snookie-like clown.”  I probably misspelled her name, but who cares.

My expectations were high for middle school students at eight o’clock in the morning the last day before Thanksgiving.  But the students certainly rose to the occasion and I am proud of them!  They ended my presentation with a climactic standing ovation and were not the same faces that would have been staring back at me fourteen years ago.  Their enthusiasm will now be broadcast around the nation and will set an example.  I am confident the admiration they extended toward me will be delegated toward the Jesse Andrew Saperstein’s of present times…

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Jesse’s Ten-Year High School Reunion

Perhaps I have watched too many TV shows and movies about the much-anticipated high school reunion.  They usually come in increments of ten years and essentially function as a way of absolving any regrets or residual anger.  Most of us say we have no interest in attending, but we all know that is a lie.  We claim we have let go, but the poison is in the wound as the protagonist from “Lolita” once stated in that literary masterpiece.  We want and deserve a second chance for redemption.  A second high school prom, if you will.  I move forward into the holiday chaos and look back on that date just one day after Thanksgiving on Friday, November 26th, 2010.

I asked a high school acquaintance whether she was planning on attending and she responded without missing a beat, “What for?  To show everyone what I have not accomplished over the ten years.”  I looked into her eyes and saw the beaten down gaze of someone who had been tossed around by the post-high school Gods.  Like a single soul relentlessly thrashed about by waves commandeered by a vengeful Poseidon.  I spent most of my post-high school years taking a perpetual holiday in Loserville, but things eventually fell into place in time for my return to the metaphorical halls of Arlington High School.  There is solace in knowing that some of my 600-plus classmates who sometimes referred to me as a loser lack a published book to brag about.  High school reunions are about vindication and closure.

I just mentioned that high school reunions function as a second prom resurrected like a phoenix sprung from its ten-year dormancy.  But…reality has a different agenda and I’ve been watching too many TV and movies about the glamorous reunions when those bitter pieces fall back into place.  And even by reality’s standards, my reunion was totally lame.

The invitation informed me the event started at 8:00 p.m. and being a typical individual on the autism spectrum, I showed up a few minutes before eight without any concept of being fashionably late.  The room at the Poughkeepsie Grand Hotel was too small and I was the first one to show up.  Slowly people began to trickle in and compliment the balloons and stars smothered with pounds of glitter.  One by one.  And then the traffic stopped.  Barely thirty people chose to attend my high school reunion and not all of these guests were even from my high school.  My foreign date was Shannon Lashlee who became my devoted friend after she hired me to work at her funeral home while conducting the interview and preparing one of the “clients” at the same time.

I told people that I could have just saved about $140.00 by skipping the whole affair and just made an appearance at one of the local bars where there were more high school acquaintances than at the actual reunion a few blocks away.  But that is not the point.  I enjoyed the people I was with and it could have gone the other extreme.  We regret the things we do not do and are haunted ten times more.  Even in these desperate economic times, money is still a replenishable entity as opposed to skipping.

I could have been practical and assumed the reunion would be lame like the 550 classmates who wisely chose to skip the expensive night.  Then…I would grovel for what I wanted to hear and be told how magical the night turned out by a well-meaning classmate.  “You should have attended, Jesse!  At least eighty percent of our class showed up and some people asked about you.  They heard about your book and are very proud of your accomplishments.  I am so glad I chose to go myself because the bitterness I had nursed for ten years melted away.  Don’t worry, though.  There will be another reunion in about ten years and you will have another chance…”  The few people who did show up had fiercely augmented the magic of that night and this was enough.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Late-Night Tasks and LISTIES

I still live at home so it is a natural given that I have inherited all the chores nobody else in the family wants to do.  Nighttime is the absolute best time to conquer such misery in the crisp night.  I walked outside in my pajamas with a coat over my t-shirt and acknowledged the official start of winter.  I am fairly sure we have seen the absolute last of unseasonably warm winter days that emit haunting reminders of global warming.  Monday is garbage day, but this painful chore is now completed on Saturday night.  I learned my lesson a few weeks ago when I had to run out in my boxer shorts at five or six a.m. to just barely meet the garbage men who pretended it was normal to see deranged, obsessed men so early in the morning.  I hope nothing was exposed, but try not to think about it…

LISTS!!  Life and daily chores now exist in the form of countless lists.  Old lists and new lists.  Three tasks have already been crossed off the list created a couple of hours ago because the busy work always gets crossed off first.  Those tasks that take half a day to vanquish or require tons of mental energy always seem to linger.  There are always those tasks that never get crossed off because they are a long-term project or I had attempted to take on too much in such a short time.

Life as a professional writer has become overwhelming and there is never enough time to get everything done.  Just not enough hours of the day and I wonder how it was once possible to waste so much time watching re-runs of Full House without multi-tasking with something constructive.  Were there actually those childhood days of yore in which I played the Bart Simpson game with that crude, primitive Super Nintendo animation?  For hours and hours?

Success definitely has a price and I will be up all night answering e-mails after a huge fight with my family.  They let me know that my web site has been destroyed by negligence and I realize how much effort it will take to build it back up.  But this is what it will take to accommodate everyone and everything.  I think it was Thomas Edison who did not believe in sleep because he believed it was a waste of time.

There will hopefully be much more of an incentive to stay awake within the near future.  In just a couple of days my YouTube video will be sent to every media outlet in the country in hopes of putting an end to this constant nonsense that ruins lives.  The bullying where kids see no hope in sight and believe taking their own lives is the only escape.  Speaking of bullying, it is at night when those demons usually come to surface and the perfect weapon is to keep busy.  I do not deserve to be so haunted forever and my mission is to prevent others from the same fate.  There was too much pain for such a long time and it took writing a book for so much of it to end.  And why should someone have to possess a disability in order to be treated with mercy?  What is wrong with just being a little weird without a disability to justify tolerance?

Monday, November 22, 2010

The Night Before…

I am up until midnight pacing nonstop. It is not just because of nervousness. I had the “brilliant idea” to sleep for about six hours in the evening hoping this would force me awake around one a.m. to prepare for my speech the rest of the night. As I lay wide-awake I realize how disastrous the plan actually was. For one thing, I only slept for three hours and then could not fall back to sleep. But tomorrow will be different and there just does not seem to be enough time to prepare.

At this point in my career I am essentially on “public oration autopilot.” I tell exactly the same jokes and anecdotes because ninety-nine percent of the audience is brand new. The material is always fresh and when it ain’t broke…you do not fix it. Tomorrow morning I will be talking about a subject that has continuously devastated my life, but am at a loss for the most eloquent words to convey the message to a middle school audience.

Tomorrow morning at eight a.m. I shall be giving an anti-bullying presentation to my old middle school packed with ghosts from the past. I’ll see different faces, but some of the same malicious souls inhabiting these shells. For someone on the autism spectrum, middle school is a veritable House of Horrors. They try to survive with a disability so mild it just makes them seem like a “Super Geek” who is pleading for torment. Perhaps there were times when I used inappropriate behavior to exacerbate the bullying just because the other alternative was to be completely ignored. There is “no form of communication that cries out with more agony than silence.”
I continue to type while watching YouTube at the same time. YouTube and DVDs helped me write my book, but slows the creative muses….I mean, juices, down. It just makes it possible to get started when you don’t want to work if you associate the strife with authentic entertainment. (Right now, as I compose this blog entry I am watching Eric Cartman perform his German dance in the old South Park Movie Trailer).

I have always been a huge fan of nostalgia, which is probably why YouTube appeals to me. Most obscure emblems from my childhood can be accessed at a moment’s notice. I’m also a huge fan of nostalgia, which is not traditionally nostalgia. It is also important to occasionally resurrect pain especially if there is a chance to stop it for others.

Tomorrow I will tell the young audience about what bullying has done to my life. I will let them know there is a huge difference between teasing and downright bullying. There was not much happiness at Arlington Middle School and I hope they will leave with more pleasant memories. I’ll let them know that bullying did not get much better as an adult and just took a different form. Oppression does not necessarily have to entail someone beating the living #$*@! out of a victim just because they are vulnerable and/or different.

I am expecting a lot (maybe too much) from hundreds of middle schoolers at eight o’clock in the morning the last day before Thanksgiving vacation. But I have faith these faces will be different and they will know better this time…. I also do not believe in letting anything go and this is yet another opportunity to justify my beliefs.

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Resurrecting Dead Nostalgia

To My Devoted Readers,

This Halloween was just like the others…but slightly different. It is the first Halloween celebrated with an acclaimed, published book under my belt. Therefore, I grew worried that professional commitments and/or priorities would steal time that has annually been delegated to this one holiday. Perhaps Halloween has always appealed to my tastes because for one day I do not look like the “Weirdest Person on Earth.” (I chose to walk around town in my pajamas and dirty t-shirt for this year’s Halloween costume, by the way!!)

I decided to volunteer for a Haunted House created by a neighboring town to raise funding for their town programs. My father has always warned me to be cautious about making too many commitments that are not “priorities.” It is my tendency to make promises that become burdens when the time comes to complete them. Fortunately, I had the wisdom to only volunteer for the haunted house one night as opposed to two consecutive nights.

Four hours in one night was more than enough especially because I ended up crouching in a tiny nook as the Haunted House’s librarian. (Not the most appropriate position for someone of my girth and height). My job was simple. I had to slam a dusty, dilapidated book closed and cry, “No Talking in the Library!!” A haunted house bereft of pyrotechnics and other special effects often relies on the human element to inspire fear. The players who jump out from behind the shadows to jar one’s senses and so forth. Emotions run rampant that are foreign to those of childhood years. Reality seeps into the fantastical like toxic ooze. I am a twenty-eight year old man not associated with the town who is involved in an endeavor mostly populated with children. Perhaps these are the kinds of actions that my father calls, “Asking for trouble.” Unnecessary actions shrouded in good intentions that make oneself more vulnerable toward unfair scrutiny…dirty looks…ridiculous skossup. I mean, gossip. (When I come across a word that does not please me I sometimes misspell it on purpose or transform it into gibberish.) But I WAS invited and those individuals who would harshly judge me are the minority. And chances are very strong they would judge me about something else just as ridiculous.

I had fun and my spine promptly realigned itself after my duties concluded. I worried about uttering an obscenity in the process of being isolated in that corner, but just ended up talking to myself. The cherubic, little girl kept warning me when someone was coming and the adults welcomed me into their fantastical creation. Obviously, I would probably not keep in touch with everybody and they probably have enough friends in their lives. But for those four hours our hearts beat as ONE!

The Haunted House actually took place two days before Halloween. The actual day itself conveniently fell on a Sunday, but was marred by my family’s decision to have their one brunch a year. They showed mercy by allowing me to carve my Jack O’Lanterns in the kitchen as they entertained in the dining room. Whether or not we have Asperger’s, it is not fair to be expected to let everything go. The one thing they put their foot down about is Trick or Treating. (They only let me visit one home of an elderly lady who could use some company). Once again, I let my Jack O’Lantern creations rot ever so slightly after October 31st had lapsed, but acknowledged the passing of the ritual and its completion! I had held on and made it work in a world that has often encouraged “letting go” of the unnecessary and age-inappropriate.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Looking in the Mirror Sometimes ….

A child lacks the ability to create a sense of self.  Who they are is literally the product of what their parents, teachers, and peers say they are.  As a result, there are plenty of young people and even adults walking around soulless – without a semblance of self-esteem.  I try to give presentations to groups of young people with AS and give them the knowledge that was often denied to me as a child.  No matter who you are or what you accomplish, there will always be individuals that want nothing to do with you.  It still happens to me once in a while even as a local celebrity with a plethora of personal and professional accomplishments.

Sometimes the rejections will be a consequence of the inappropriate behavior associated with AS.  Other times it will be because the other guy is a complete moron incapable of appreciating such uniqueness.  My father has this expression, “You can never reason or win an argument with someone who is a moron.”  As you get older, it will hopefully be easier to understand the difference.  In order to assuage some of my own bitterness, I remind myself that my much younger peers have more of a fighting chance.  They are not marinating in the lies that robbed me of confidence.  “What are you doing to bring this on yourself?”  “Maybe if you stopped acting so weird people would actually like you.”  “It is your own fault you do not have many friends.”  I’m now getting used to traveling to New York City and seeing total strangers holding out their books for me to autograph.  I am the extremely rare individual with high-functioning autism who has had the experience of being judged a celebrity as opposed to the usual sociopath.  But hopefully the young people I mentor will not have to write a book in order to gain a fraction of the respect that my life has been blessed with these days.  And it is not just individuals with autism who battle such strife.

I recently had the privilege of giving a presentation at a local middle school for students and faculty.  One of the female teachers was a strikingly beautiful thirty or forty-something year old woman.  (I would later remark that it was the most awkward presentation of my career so far.  It was imperative to deliver the presentation while pretending a beautiful woman was not sitting a few feet away.  A few years ago I probably would have said something obnoxious or stared.)

Fortunately, she paid for my book with a check that contained her home address.  I sent her a letter knowing there would be a slight chance she would find the gesture intensely creepy as others have in the past.  It took nearly thirty years before I realized that many of the people who would come to that conclusion would also find something else wrong.  Then I would try to placate them by struggling to get to point D.  Then they would be unhappy that I was not at point G.  And so forth.  Ultimately, I would drive myself crazy and please absolutely nobody in the process.  “Back off until you have backed off the face of the earth.  And let go of everything that makes you incredible until there is nothing left to hold onto.”

I recently had the privilege of having lunch with this particular woman and she even opened up about her personal life.  Like individuals with AS…her self-esteem had also been marred by romantic rejection and frustration.  I’m still wondering how the long-lost older sister of Jennifer Love Hewitt does not understand just how incredible she truly is.  It just seemed like many of my genuine compliments replenished a void that should not have existed in the first place.  I think one of the reasons my book has struck such a chord with the mainstream population is because regular individuals can relate to its themes.  There are so many beautiful and talented people walking around who are quasi-blind to how incredible they are as well as what they have contributed to others.  It does not matter if it is a real-life doppelganger from Desperate Housewives or a middle school child with Asperger’s syndrome.  Our failures and rejections will turn into psychological machetes amputating the reality that we have something to offer.  We start to become dead inside unless we seek out those elusive people who can see our beauty.  Regardless of whether I see this incredible woman again…I hope I reminded her how beautiful she truly is and succeeded in repaying the favor.  But during those droughts of time when such feedback is obsolete, it is more critical to look into the mirror and give to ourselves what is not going to always come from someone else.  With or without a social disability…

Monday, July 26, 2010

It takes a Daily Planet…

My family and I were having breakfast at the haven that has been part of my life for the past four years.  The Daily Planet. – a popular landmark and high school hangout in Lagrangeville, NY. I’ve also talked extensively about the Daily Planet’s magic in an essay called, “Fractured Fairy Tales.”  Some people turn to church, synagogue, acupuncture, AA meetings, or expensive psychotherapists to regain their bearings and find their higher power.  But I prefer one particular restaurant.    I glance across the street at my old high school, which harbors a vacillating mixture of fantastical experiences and demons.  But mostly the latter, which briefly invaded the Daily Planet a decade earlier as I look behind me at the section where I once met a young lady off the Internet.  The Daily Planet inadvertently became a host for what would immediately turn into a six-month case of Cyber Bullying.  The horror of that half-year is not nearly enough to fully contaminate the Petri Dish of Fantasy.  The walls are so infested with nostalgia that you can visit one hundred times and always discover something new.

“The Daily Planet quickly became a sanctuary where I could depend on the quirky ambience and its perpetually cheerful staff.  The walls were festooned with antique radios, 1950s movie posters, and New York Times articles chronicling major events of the last century, such as the moon landing and Nixon’s resignation.  Television sets, suspended from the ceiling, played grainy commercials from an era when owning a TV was a luxury enjoyed by affluent Americans.  And if you spent enough time at the Daily Planet, you would probably catch Ronald Reagan hawking dishwashing detergent or a leathery cowboy advertising cigarettes.”

I accidentally catch myself looking at a young, attractive waitress and our eyes meet.  I sharply jerk my head in the other direction like a Pavlovian, conditioned reflex.  Women have been unforgiving when I accidentally stare at them and in some extreme cases, three seconds of staring have resulted in many months of dirty looks or irrational fear.  Someone once asked me in a condescending tone, “Is staring part of your autism, too?”  I should have answered, “Non-autistic people stare, too.  It’s just that individuals with Asperger’s syndrome have more trouble not making it so obvious!”  Like the fart simultaneously muffled with a precisely-time fart, staring at beautiful women is an artform of not getting caught.  By now, I should trust the Daily Planet not to permanently condemn me for such a benign, social error.

My stare-ree immediately walks over to my family, “I am sorry to disturb you.  But are you Jesse Saperstein?  I am reading your book!”  If I had consumed my morning caffeination I could have remembered her exact words, but they were complimentary.  For sure, they lifted me to the stars as the Daily Planet has done for years.  A Composite Beacon of Self-Nourishment.

I wonder how many first-time authors have thanked a diner in their Acknowledgements Section But I have.  Check the last page of my book if you do not believe me.  I’ve also talked extensively about the Daily Planet’s magic in an essay called, “Fractured Fairy Tales.”  Some people turn to church, synagogue, acupuncture, AA meetings, or expensive psychotherapists to regain their bearings and find their higher power.  But I prefer one particular restaurant.

 The old adage, “It takes a village to raise a child,” never ends for someone with a social disability like autism.  My life has dramatically changed over the past few months.  Instead of calling me a stalker…individuals are calling me up to do radio interviews and lecture at their institutions.  After the book was published on April 6th, I had my first online date where the woman was still interested in going out with me after the second date.  Life is now an alien reality compared to most of my peers who are inundated with the constant social and professional failures synonymous with Asperger’s syndrome.  What people sometimes forget is that I am almost the same person I was in college when the student body sometimes treated me like a social pariah and peppered me with monikers such as “Sketchy Jesse, Scary Jesse, Running Jesse, etc.  There is obviously more self-confidence lately, but I have not changed that much since those days when I was calling up a construction company in desperation…hoping they would pay me to sweep up wood chips and other miscellaneous debris.  My success is what sometimes happens when there are enough Daily Planets in the community.  People and places with the capacity to gaze beyond the superficial film of weirdness.  Where the realities of living with Asperger’s syndrome have a divine obligation to just “back off” and human kindness is never atypical.