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Imagine yourself in a multiplex movie theater. Curiously, no walls separate the half-dozen theaters that form the multiplex. Miraculously, you are watching six different screens all at once, thoroughly understanding and enjoying every scene, word, character.

Welcome to ADHD. 

[You in the Real World, be sure to click on the red underlined hyperlinks!]

Inspector Clousseau     Inspector Clousseau and I share an equally terrible French accent

My beautiful brown-eyed bride will confirm unpredictability is a permanent co-resident of Attention Deficit (with Hyperactivity) Disorder. (Excuse her manic laughter, please.)

Even I, ADHD possessor, am unsure how certain situations will end. Only my six screens seem to know, and they never share their view of my future.

Well, says Six confidently, we know you don’t die. That’s been covered plenty in this column.

But our many talents? explains Four. Those stay under wraps until just the right moment.

That conversation is forgotten until days later, when I rearrange the display table’s baked goods yet again as a van pulls up. It’s creepily dark in color, less from paint hue and more from –

Filth, shivers Screen Two. Got a spooky feeling about this. Three agrees.

“Relax, guys. We’re at our youth group’s highway rest stop fundraiser. In broad daylight. Two miles from home.” I laugh in amazement at their rare display of fear. “What could possibly go wrong?

You get upset when we say that, complains Four.

“Because you sound like my next-youngest brother, Thor, just moments before he does something that could end life as I know it.”

Argue later, interrupts Six. Check out what the van just burped up.

A short, overly heavy chap exits the driver’s seat, his greasy hair braids entwined like nesting snakes. He opens the ancient van’s sliding side door for an equally heavy woman in a long, flowing dress reminiscent of prairie times, which may be the last time it was washed.

Just need a bonnet and Little Joe, comments Three, humming “Bonanza.”

The van is black inside, not from lack of light but dearth of clean. Two soiled creatures walk straight to my three tables lined with cookies, cakes and pie slices set to be sold to hungry truckers needing a break. “Coffee!” demands the man –

Braid Pit, Three cleverly names him.

– without greeting. His odor headlocks my nose. Four asks, Would that body melt if it met water?

“Yes,” I answer Four and the man, adding for the latter’s benefit that the coffee is given on a donation basis.

“Ain’t free?”

You’re not gonna get a dime out of this character, cautions Five. Keep your guard up.

Braid rambles, meaningless words filling the air his body pollutes. One of my fellow workers steps near. “He looks hungry,” she whispers. “Slip him some freebies.”

No need, glowers One. Check out Laura Ingalls.

My eyes swing right. Our prairie princess stuffs cookies at high speed into deep dress pockets.

As I step toward the Pilfering Puritan, Mr. Pit realizes his distracting tactics failed. “Nothin’ to eat for several days,” he says in a mournful tone. “Stopped here to wash in the bathrooms.” He pivots slightly, points to the parking lot. “Live in our van. That’s all we do … drive up and down Interstate 5.”

Hogwash! shouts Six, his image too strong for my queasy stomach and assaulted nostrils. Who pays all the gas and oil that clunker eats?

A small hand taps my tense shoulders. The whisper returns. “It’s OK. Really.”

Does she not see the woman filling still more hidden pockets?

Soft, gentle, convicting. “Say something to encourage her to have all she wants.”

Highway robbery, laughs One. In the truest sense.

I line up with Miss Ingalls, her pockets bulging like cloth chipmunk cheeks. “Would you” – I grimace – “like a cup of lemonade?”

Special“She don’t speak,” interjects Braid. “Can hear, alright, but she’s dumb.”

Did he just call the kettle black? asks Four, disbelieving.

We don’t say “dumb,” growls Three. She’s mute, that’s all.

“Picked her up in Quee-bec seven, maybe 10 years ago,” continues Braid as Miss Ingalls fiercely gulps three lemonades. “Ain’t never said a word.” He scratches his ample belly, yawns, walks toward the restroom. “Gonna go bathe. Stay here.”

Not a problem, replies Five, gagging. For any of us.

I watch the blackened figure take bow-legged steps, his huge belly parting his spindly legs. Screen Three whispers, Remember those “talents under wraps,” boss? Time to unveil.

Leaning over the decimated desserts, I clear my throat and address the cookie monster.

Quebec, eh? utters Three through my lips in his finest New Providence High School accent. Parlez-vous Francais, mademoiselle?

Black, sighs One, write your exchange in English. We get that you’re speaking another language. You’ll sound much sharper this way. Your French teachers, Monsieur Castaldo and Madame Sardella, won’t be embarrassed by incorrect translations.

Miss Ingalls emits something between a gasp and a squeal, so emboldened Three asks, How old are you?

“Don’t know,” she replies in Quebecois, a thick French dialect of Canada. Five screens burst into unrestrained cheers, then quickly quiet for the woman’s next answer: “Maybe my thirties.”

Despite fast-thinking Three’s many years since high school, he pulls up every French noun, every verb conjugation, every idiomatic expression those teachers taught. Words pass my lips in almost unbroken flow.

Miss Ingalls answers slowly, testing tongue long dormant. Braid Pit had called her a child. She seems mentally no more developed than that, but Three easily converses at this low speed.

My peripheral vision picks up several faces, stunned co-worker expressions silently etched in place. Mesmerized mimes are joined by painfully protesting Mr. Pit.

“She don’t talk!” he insists as she turns to him and continues her French. “Wh-what’s she saying?” he mutters in contradiction, begging translation of her lazy stream of syllables.

lonelyMiss Ingalls shares nothing Earth-shaking, according to Three. Just that she’s tired, hungry, and lonely for family in Canada.

“You should take her back up where you found her,” I tell Braid. “Drive around a bit. Post a photo of her in places. She may yet have kin.”

Braid looks forlorn, lightly taps the woman’s arm with his meaty fist. “Don’t wanna lose my travelin’ buddy.”

Doubt she shares the sentiment, warns Six.

Three asks Miss Ingalls, Do you want to go with him?

She half-smiles, slowly nods in agreement. “Don’t really know any other way.”

“Of what?”

“Of life.”

She accepts a final lemonade –

So much juice! remarks Five. They’ll hit every rest stop on this highway.

– as I hand over one last round of cookies and bid them well. I wave, then my kind co-worker softly punches my arm, too. “All that French,” she says. “Didn’t know you had it in you.”

In me! boasts Three.

“Just grateful she couldn’t report how bad I was.”

“You, Mr. Blackwell … always such a surprise. So many talents.”

“Can’t show ’em all at once,” I laugh. “Keeping some under wraps.”

For just the right moment, says Three, humming Le Marseillaise.


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Postcript: Don’t be fooled. I do not excel in French. The young woman proved responsive only because I spoke in her heart language and my words sang to her.

That doesn’t always happen.

Standing on the edge of the Yucatan jungle, I scan what’s left of a rugged beach along the Gulf of Mexico. (Last night’s wild storm brought crashing waves into my tent. I dreamed I was drowning.) My eyes light upon a bikinied lass struggling to erect her tent. She is Chupette, from France.

Nudged by Screen Three, I strike up conversation, the only one I’ve had in my travels throughout Mexico. (My Spanish is limited to “Hola, amigo, where’s el cuarto de baño?” Asking for bathrooms impresses no one.)

But this woman is thrilled to have lame linguistic company in so lonely a place. Tent snapped together, she hugs me, prompting Screen Three to push through my lips and utter in French, May I have a kiss?

Mademoiselle Chupette gasps, steps back, speedily lifts one hand in a manner that suggests I will see stars for several years. I shout in good old American panic, “Wh-what’s wrong?”

The sincerity softens her. “Two verbs in French sound very much close,” she says in that wonderful accent. “One asks for kiss, the other for – ” she reddens deeply – “ehhh, much more, you would say?”

Unslapped, screens cheer Three, who whispers humbly, C’est la vie.

* * * * *

Imagine runnin’ with a rhino

First day on Earth?