Entry #34 – May 9, 2016

Last week my mother went on her spring vacation. This time she took visited Niagara Falls, with plenty of pictures to prove it, and then went up to Montreal. She didn’t like Montreal as much, not because she didn’t like the city but because it makes her anxious when most of the people around her are speaking a language she doesn’t understand completely. It isn’t a major problem for her, especially since that will describe a lot of places in the United States in a few years, but it is an issue when you’re on the vacation to relieve the stress of the past few months and prepare yourself to be fully prepared to take on any challenges of the next few months. Overall, though, she said she enjoyed the trip and, while happy to see us again, is still excited for her next vacation in November.

My father and I spent the time pretty much in the same way as we spent the last vacation. He’d been sick of even seeing the kitchen after cooking for the past few months, so we went out to eat four nights that week. And after all of them he would drop me off at home and go hang out at the bar with his friends. One night he didn’t even come home, and he never explained why. But then I’m not entirely certain about everything my mother does when she goes on vacation, so I’m not casting any judgement. Thankfully, I knew the steps required to make the same breakfast I always have, so I didn’t have to go to school hungry.

I had my second driving lesson this past weekend. This one covered parallel parking, and it was kind of a nightmare. I followed every instruction the best that I could, and even when I had memorized all of them I couldn’t seem to do them correctly. I was always hitting one of the cones, whether going forwards, backwards, turning, or especially turning while backing up. It’s very confusing to me trying to figure out which way I need to turn the wheel to turn the car in the direction I want it to go when I’m in reverse. If I think about it, I can figure it out, but eventually I’m going to have to be able to back up and turn without spending half a minute remembering which direction I should be turning the wheel. Anyway, my performance was so inadequate they suggested another lesson just focusing on the parking. My parents won’t be very happy having to pay for at least four lessons instead of three, but at least when they take me to practice they won’t be as frustrated with my ineptitude. That’s where the real difficulty begins, since I’ll be using my parent’s cars to do the practicing. Not only do they not have brakes on the passenger side, if I damage them bad enough they’ll have to spend time in the shop, or worse. At least there’s car insurance and just enough public transportation available here in case that happens.

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Entry #33 – May 2, 2016

I took my first driving lesson on Saturday. I’d spent enough time the past few months in the simulator to make sure I could finish it without crashing the car, and since I’m writing this you can see I succeeded. But the simulator wasn’t great for demonstrating what driving a real car was like. I mean, I know it’s difficult to simulate the environment, plus other cars, plus the actual driving mechanics. But until you deal with a real vehicle, with actual people driving the other cars, pedestrians crossing the road and roads that all have different sizes, shapes, and speed limits, then you can’t know what it’s like. I mean, you’re in control of an incredibly heavy high-speed vehicle that can cause, and receive, massive damage if improperly directed.

It all starts when you’re sitting in the car listening to instructions. I have to try and remember all the little facts from driver’s ed, but it turns out there are many things that they didn’t bother teaching you there. For example, the turn signal stalk on this car also has dials that control the windshield wipers and lights, and you have to remember all the different settings on them. For example, how many turns it takes to make the wipers constantly on, how you turn the rear ones on, or how to turn on the headlights without turning the dial too far and turning them to high and blinding the driver coming towards you. You find out that there are about a dozen different steps before you can even get out of the parking space and onto the road. Check back, check left, check front, put the key in the ignition, turn the key, put the car in drive, turn the steering wheel, put on the gas, and turn the steering wheel again. I was already tired just getting the car started much less driving it.

Luckily, the rest of the lesson went better than I was expecting. There were still a lot of rules I had to learn on the fly, and I made quite a few mistakes along the way, but thankfully there weren’t any major issues. It helped that there weren’t many people on the roads today, but I still had to deal with cars parked on the side of the road. I had to make sure that I wasn’t hitting those cars while remaining on my side of the road, which was exceedingly difficult. We went on a more rural road, which didn’t have any other cars on the side but did have hills. I was just getting used to the speed of the car when I learned about how you need to put more gas going uphill and less going downhill to maintain your speed. It seems it would be easier for the driver if the gas pedal always set a constant speed. The important thing is I made it through the lesson, and it gives me hope that I can pass the driving exam at some point.

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Entry #32 – April 25, 2016

I turned sixteen on Tuesday. Paul asked me when my birthday party was, and I told him I wasn’t having one. He had had one for every birthday, including one when he turned sixteen back at the beginning of the school year, so he was very confused. I had to explain why I didn’t want to have any party to celebrate my birthday. My parents did throw small parties when I was younger; mostly their friends and my father’s family would show up. Of course, I don’t remember anything from when I turned two so all I have are stories and video to know that there was a party that year. But the fact that they threw one even if when I had no idea what was going on suggested to me at an early age that my birthday parties were more for the people attending them and not for me. In addition, I don’t like dealing with too many people or too much noise and excitement anyway, so if it is really a celebration for me it’s a terrible one because having a party is doing the opposite of what I want to do. So I haven’t had a party since I was six, when I told my parents to stop and they did.

Instead, it was mostly the same as any other day with the exception of me getting a few gift cards. I didn’t magically develop a sense of what I wanted to ask for in the four months between Christmas and now, so that’s all my parents could get me. Otherwise, it was pretty much business as usual, which is just fine except for the fact that I still had to come here. If we have to celebrate birthdays I’d much rather do it by not having to come to school than dealing with a bunch of people making incredible amounts of noise in my house.

The only real surprise was Kat giving me a copy of Colin McEvedy’s The Penguin Atlas of Modern History. I had talked about how much I liked the McEvedy’s Penguin Atlases of Ancient History, Medieval History, and Recent History, but I didn’t mention that I was missing Modern History to complete the set covering European history. I asked how she got it, and she said that she was at a used book store and she bought the whole Penguin Historical Atlas set without remembering she already had a copy of the Modern History atlas. Which means that either this copy was hers or the copy she bought, but she didn’t say. Either way, the book would have been a used copy, but it looked brand new. Now I feel like I have to figure out something to give her when she turns sixteen, and I have no idea what. Plus, her birthday is a few days after the end of the school year, so I don’t even know if I’ll see her then. At least it isn’t something I have to worry about for nearly two months.

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Entry #31 – April 18, 2016

We finished covering the scare of ‘75 in class last week. Two weeks seems a bit too efficient for such an important topic in this course, but I guess everybody knows most of it because it directly affects our lives. The thing is, we’ve known for over twenty years now that none of our children are going to be like us. On the one hand, they may be easier to deal with in a lot of ways, but on the other it might be harder to form a connection to them. Maybe we would adjust like my mother’s family adjusted to dealing with her, but one of our problems is trouble with change so I don’t know. But it’s too early for me to think about having children anyway. I did learn that technically we’re at the tail end of the Missing Generation, because the birth rate has been increasing ever since the turn of the century. People like my mother that were affected by the scare aren’t as afraid of having children that are like them, and people like me know their children will be born like your generation so they aren’t afraid of the potential for caring for a low-functioning offspring the rest of their lives. The new generation doesn’t have an official name yet; I think the current ideas relating to some kind of “rebirth” are rather tacky.

Further government response to the upcoming societal collapse was slow, even by their standards. The laws regarding employment and education requirements didn’t even begin to be enacted until 1990. It took until 1993 for the federal government to start helping school districts create or expand special lower schools. And it wasn’t until 2001 that immigration standards were relaxed in order to bolster the workforce now and for the future. The rest of the world didn’t have any paranoia about pain relievers, so everyone coming here was like you. And they needed people like that to do the jobs people like us were unsuited for, including taking care of those of us that were lower-functioning.

The future of the country is going to look vastly different than it did in 1975. Spanish is a requirement in schools now out of necessity; it’ll be surprising if half of Congress doesn’t speak Spanish at home in thirty years. Chinese, Hindi, Korean and Polish are still optional, but one of them would still be useful to try to learn if I somehow master Spanish first. The previous few decades have been marked by children like us being completely different from our parents, now the next few will have our children different from us. Society is going to have to completely re-position itself again as demographics change. Maybe in fifty years life will be more like it was in 1975 than it is in 2016. Peoples’ minds will be more similar to the way they were then. If I happen to still alive by then, I just hope that at least some parts of the way we live today are preserved.

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Entry #30 – April 11, 2016

So we finally reached the disaster that was the Analgesic Scare of 1975 in history class last week. One instance of someone poisoning over the counter painkillers early in 1975, while having tragic results, sure had a huge effect on the public’s fears about pain relievers. This is especially noticeable in comparison reaction to the similar 1982 event in Chicago. I mean, there was no scientific evidence that the medications themselves were harmful, but people still avoided them as if they had caused it. Nine months of declining sales lead to someone finally offering that new “all-natural” product you are well aware of, which quickly because the leading painkiller in this country. It then took the government three years to notice that a large percentage of the infants being born had speech delays and banned the substance that caused it. Then everyone went back to regular pain relievers and since then they are all perfectly fine the way it was before some people decided they needed to be changed for no good reason.

Everyone was assured this new substance was “safe” because it was all-natural, although that didn’t stop people from not taking medication that has the same active ingredient that is found in all-natural willow bark. But the new reliever caught on because it was extremely effective and didn’t seem to cause any side effects. But even if didn’t feel any different, it permanently changed various reproductive processes enough that the effects were passed down to their offspring. People didn’t notice at first; even if a child low-functioning you won’t know for a while if there’s a speech delay. And it took until a whole lot of them before a pattern emerged, and a longer period before they figured out what the cause was. By that point most people had gotten pain from arthritis or headaches or some other ailment and had taken the new reliever to help them. It was long after that that people figured out it affected all the children of people who had taken it at the time; it just affected us each differently.

So once the truth came out the birth rate plummeted. I mean, human biological urges, birth control failures rates, and the stigma of abortion being what they are babies were still being born, but there were much fewer and very few were planned pregnancies. There were few kids to fill the schools, hence the name the Missing Generation. Our history teacher showed us pictures of this school’s cafeteria in the early 1980s and the early 2000s. In the first picture, the room was completely full; in the second it was over half empty. I also noticed that in the early 1980s picture the room was painted in garish colors as opposed to our current off-white walls. Those that hadn’t taken the new pain reliever during the period were still having kids, and eventually drifted into communities populated by similar people. There are still some kids like us and some kids like them in each other’s schools, like Paul for example, but that got increasingly rare as time passed after the scare. Their kids desired things that we didn’t, and it resulted in mostly homogeneous communities.

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Entry #29 – April 4, 2016

It’s warm enough outside that Mark can start wearing shorts again, thankfully, which was important because he didn’t want to go to his new job in snow pants. The convenience store near me put up a help wanted section on the municipal employment website for a shelf stocker because they fired the one they had for making a few too many mistakes while hungover. Since there was an official employment request he had to pass a skill based test, which in this line of work just meant putting a few items in their correct areas. It’s standard procedure that has to be followed, nobody involved really took it seriously. At least now when I go to the store for toothpaste I won’t have to look in the soft drinks aisle.

The requirement for skill based testing for any job openly advertised is great for people like me. It allows us to show that we can do the job, or have potential to do the job given training, without taking into account our lack of social skills. Some jobs have easier tests than others. My mother, despite having a master’s degree in accounting, had to do series of exams on various real world accounting problems when she applied to different firms. This was in order to get experience so she could get a CPA license after she passed another series of exams. My father’s tests were a bit different, since working in Human Resources does require you to have social skills so interviews, both with you as the interviewee and interviewer, are required parts of the tests. Every business has to set up the system so that it holds up to legal scrutiny, because if the tests don’t apply to the job, for example by adding in unnecessary interviewing, they could get sued over it.

The problem with the system is that it only requires skill based testing for jobs that are openly advertised. People still get jobs through connections, either alumni groups or websites or friendships or family or some other method. Sometimes they bring in multiple people for interviews, so there’s still competition but one that someone like me couldn’t win. And a lot of businesses only recruit students from the private schools that are designed to drive away people like us. It’s still standard operating procedure in a lot of sectors like consulting, law, medicine, and government, although if you’re really good and lucky you can still get into one of them even if it’s at a low level. Most senior level management positions also hire this way, although that makes sense because they would need good social skills to manage large numbers of people. But the system still makes it a lot harder for us to get some of the top paying and highly prestigious jobs in the country, even if we are just as good if not better than people not like us in some of them. At least skill-based testing allows for more of us to get jobs, and having a good but not great job is much better than having no job at all.

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Entry #28 – March 28, 2016

I didn’t get much sleep last night, so I took a nap in the afternoon and consider it lucky that I managed to wake up and get this done by midnight. Spring break went well, just like winter break I had a lot of time to do the stuff I enjoy. On Friday we took a flight to go to visit my mother’s family for Easter, and we didn’t get back home until 3 A.M. last night. I wish we had the break the week after Easter instead of before, because then I’d have gotten to sleep in today.

The visit to my mother’s family was enjoyable. Her parents are very comfortable with someone like me after raising my mother, so there were fewer issues than with my father’s family. It also helps that I have two cousins, although they’re both younger at ten and five. My uncle was affected the effects of the scare, so he’s like his parents but his children are like me. There was very little small talk, no questions asked if we needed to take breaks, and very few sensory disturbances. My mother talks about how my grandparents had no idea how to deal with her when she was my age, but they’ve learned well in the years since then. I know my father’s parents try hard, but having to care for a kid and then three grandchildren like us instead of just one grandchild makes a world of difference in knowing how to cope with us. And I know we can often be difficult to cope with.

My five year old cousin is a cause for concern for his parents. He was a late speaker, which put him in the track for the lower schools so he could get the help the school administrators thought he needed. But he’s nearly finished with kindergarten and he seems better than I remember a lot of the kids being when I was that age, and not that much worse than when his sister was five. He’s still not great, but his parents have a dilemma with deciding what to do about the schooling. Right now his test scores put him right on the dividing line between the upper and lower schools. His parents could appeal and say that his speech delay means that he’s made progress faster than normal and he should be moved to the upper school for first grade, but if he gets stressed out there and fails to pass the classes he will get sent back and might not be able to return. Or they could wait and see if his test scores and teacher evaluations definitely make him eligible for upper school, but the type of teaching at the lower school there may set him back and lower his scores. The divide is sort of arbitrary anyway, with Mark and his brother being obvious as to where they belong but a lot more kids being so close to the line that they end in the wrong environment where they can’t thrive.

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