Oh Fuck! I’m Mad! Oh Fuck!

Whenever a dairy truck drove up to the campground store, Barry would shout, “Whooooooaaaa! Milk!” And whenever an elderly lady came out of a trailer, he’d chant, “Gramma, gramma, gramma…”

Barry had a fast walk with plenty of bounce, and he bent sharply at the waist the way Groucho Marx did when he was darting around, up to no good. Barry had the pack-rat instincts of another Marx brother: Harpo used to wear a trench coat that doubled as a storage closet, while Barry wore fatigue pants whose pockets were always stuffed. He filled them with dog-eared family photos, along with thick stacks of magazine pages that he’d torn into neat little squares.

He was always in motion. When sitting, he often jabbed his right index finger into his left palm. “Uhhh, uhhh, uhhh, uhhh…” he’d say to the beat of his jabs, throwing his head forward each time. When the tip of his finger became mashed, he’d make two fists and tap them together to the same rhythm, still with the nodding head and the “Uhhh, uhhh, uhhh, uhhh…”

Living in Boulder from ages eight to twenty-four, Barry developed a number of institutional or stereotypic behaviors—nonfunctional movements that are repeated over and over. He did these whether he was standing or sitting, usually with a smile on his face. He was like a perpetual motion machine. He always seemed to be either jabbing his finger, tapping his fists, clapping his hands, flapping his hands, rolling his head (especially when he wanted to ignore a supervisor who was speaking to him), rocking back and forth, or panting loudly.

Tests showed he had the vocabulary of a three-year-old—along with “Oh fuck! I’m mad!” which most three-year-olds haven’t mastered yet—but he put plenty of feeling into the words he did know. Milk! More! Two! Gramma! Broke! Ooooooh! All done! Eeeeeee! Whooooooaaaa! Enthusiastic and vociferous, he had little use for tentative question marks or tepid periods, reveling instead in the exuberance of exclamation points.

At lunch Barry often held up his lunch box and announced its condition—“Broke!”—then displayed his “Milk!” and any other noteworthy food items he had that day. His taste was not necessarily reliable, however. Once, in the Sewing Department, a supervisor asked him to hold a spatula she had just dipped in a tray of silkscreen ink. Barry, accustomed to spatulas covered with frosting, licked it clean. It didn’t seem to bother him. The rest of the day he wore a ring of ink around his mouth.

Barry was twenty-nine but looked nineteen. He was 5’7” and skinny. He rarely shaved, and there was usually a sparse growth on his chin. His eyes were blue-green, but it was the whites of his eyes that were really striking. They were visible all the way around the irises, even above and below, with blood vessels snaking throughout. He had a perpetual wide-eyed look, as though everything he saw and pointed to was quite extraordinary.

And Barry did a lot of pointing. Often he let out a loud “Whooooooaaaa!”—a harsh sound that vibrated in his throat—then pointed urgently at absolutely nothing. He loved being in the limelight, at the forefront, all eyes and ears upon him. Barry, like about half of our clients, lived in a group home. Each of these state-supported homes provided round-the-clock supervision for six to eight adults with intellectual disabilities. One day Barry and some other group home residents had just finished a picnic lunch and were walking to a public swimming pool. Barry, grinning, was a half block ahead of the pack, nodding his head to the beat of “Uhhh, uhhh, uhhh, uhhh…” One of the other residents caught up with him, though, which Barry didn’t like, so he smacked the guy in the face with his plastic lunch box. He led the rest of the way by himself.

He could never quench his thirst for attention. When he was working at the Center, even on a job he was proficient at, he’d stop after each step, wanting congratulations for what he had just done and encouragement for what he was about to do. Occasionally Barry worked on a mailing contract. These came to the Center about once a month and involved filling envelopes with bank statements. We’d give each client ten empty envelopes and ten bank statements at a time. That way, if a client ended up with an extra envelope, we’d know he had accidentally put two statements in one of them. After the client filled his envelopes, we’d take them and give him another set of ten. Mailings were usually rush jobs and could get hectic, with supervisors running around, counting out envelopes, checking envelopes, recording production, and basically trying to keep up with the clients, but that didn’t concern Barry. He wouldn’t let us just grab the ten he had finished; we had to stand there patiently while he handed them to us, one by one. He viewed each envelope as an achievement, deserving of individual recognition.

Sometimes when it was time to go to work or class, he’d stand outside the room, looking at the floor and smiling, until the supervisor or teacher issued a special request for his presence. Barry didn’t like being told what to do; we were supposed to ask. Whenever a hint of demand crept into a supervisor’s voice, Barry would turn away, look straight down, and shake his head: “No!” If there was something we actually insisted that he do, he’d let out a bloodcurdling scream.

He was excited, though, to be part of the campground cleanup crew. He liked being the number-one helper, always carrying the water jug, shovel, and hats out to the van. At the campground he was a good, energetic worker. When I got him to walk slowly, he could spot the cigarette butts and the gum wrappers, but usually he ran fifty yards ahead of us because he wanted the glory jobs—picking up aluminum cans and big pieces of paper. If he saw a garbage sack that some campers had left behind, he’d let loose a high-pitched “Eeeeeeeeeeee!” He’d point at it urgently to make sure I didn’t overlook an event of this magnitude. As soon as I said, “Yeah, Barry, I see it,” he’d race over and pick it up.

Whenever a dairy truck drove up to the campground store, he’d shout, “Whooooooaaaa! Milk!” And whenever an elderly lady came out of a trailer, Barry would nod his head to the beat of his words as he chanted, “Gramma, gramma, gramma…”

Sometimes he was too loud, even for a campground. The first week he was out there I responded by calling over to him, “Barry, keep the noise down, will you?” but he would immediately stop in his tracks, swearing and refusing to work. I knew he loved spending the day outdoors, away from the Center, so I decided to take advantage of that. The next time he got too noisy, I walked up to him and said quietly, “Barry?”


Both of us were looking down and speaking in low voices. “Barry, do you know the rule we have out here at the campground?”


“Okay, well, the rule is, we have to work quietly, ’cause there are a lot of people camping out here. So anyone who wants to keep coming out here has to work quietly. Can you do that?”


“Okay, good.”

And that was it. The soft tones of our conversation left him in a subdued mood, and he worked hard but quietly the rest of the day. From then on, once a day, he’d get a little carried away. Then we’d have our conference, and he’d be fine after that. Barry still managed to express his natural exuberance, but did so without getting out of hand.

Most of the time, anyway. One day when Lynn was supervising the campground crew, Barry ran over to a trailer and picked up what appeared to be a sack of garbage, but turned out to be a sack of charcoal briquettes. A woman popped out of the trailer and grabbed the sack. Barry yanked it away from her, but she latched on to it again. They were fighting over the sack when Lynn ran up and told Barry to let go. He did, but then yelled, “Oh fuck! I’m mad! Oh fuck!” Then a chilling scream. Lynn told Barry to go to the van, but he oh-fucked for several hundred yards before he got there. The woman, who was from Kansas, said people like that shouldn’t be allowed in public.

What do you think about what you've read?