A Human Sampler

A Human Sampler–Introduction

“Through this anthology of portraits, I have tried to convey the incredible variety of people who are lumped together under the umbrella of intellectually disabled.”

Chuck College

I went into the restroom, leading Chuck behind me, and in one of the stalls I found a Chuck College lunch sack floating in an unflushed bowl. When I pointed at it, Chuck said loudly, “Oh, no!”

Smoking Alone

“Several times Ben was caught stealing, and because the kids who talked him into it had threatened him, he wouldn’t say who they were. He also had a temper, and the tantrums he threw in town frightened some of the neighbors.”

Dancing Fingers

“At school Lisa wouldn’t participate in group activities. When children came with their mothers to her house, she’d set her dolls out for them to play with, then go off by herself.”


“Amy’s voice was hoarse and her speech had a mournful tone, as if to say, all pleasures are fleeting–only weariness and persecution endure.”

I Deep Breath

Wally, a client who loved to provoke him, would sometimes grin and say, “Boulder, Charles? Charles going back to Boulder?” Charles would bite his hand, then grab a paper towel and write, “Mad, Mad—NO MORE BOULDER.”

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…”


“One day when the clients were outside waiting for the buses, I found Leroy around the side of the building, pulling his zipper down. In front of him stood dull, compliant Ruthie, her pants dropped to her ankles.”

Your Mouth!

Grant extended his arm and held it rigid, pointing his fist at Craig. “Your mouth!” he shouted. He slapped his other hand over his face, and a few moments later his voice exploded: “Shut up!! Your mouth!!”

A Mind in Disarray

Afterwards, sitting in a chair, Dave would be breathing hard, his body would be shaking, and his face would be drenched with tears. “I’m sorry, I’m sorry,” he’d sob, and he’d want to hold hands with the people he had just attacked.


Margo put her thumb on her nose, waved her curled fingers at me, and giggled. “Goo-bye!” she said, and I laughed too. She spread laughter in others wherever she went.


“For Holly, lethargy was not a passing mood, it was a chronic condition. She dragged through the hours, dragged through the days. Life was not a gift she had received; it was a sentence she had to serve.”

Going to the Bathroom

“One moment Gus would be working in his wheelchair, the next moment his arms would become rigid, his legs would kick out, his eyes would roll up into his head, and his body would be seized with rhythmic convulsions.”

Nothing Comes Easy

“Walking came no more naturally to Ray than talking. After getting up from his seat, he’d stand there swaying, as though he were about to take—and fail—a sobriety test.”

’Ur Not My Boss!

“Whenever I went over to check her work, Wanda would turn her back to me, bury her glass in her lap, and bend her head down to her knees, becoming as round and impenetrable as a sow bug.”

Feeling Small

It was a typical lunchroom episode in the on-again, off-again romance between Jerry and Candy. “She don’t like me no more!” Jerry shouted. “Candy Allison don’t like me no more! I’m not gonna sit by Candy Allison!”

The Sexual Power of Sadness

“Candy attracted a retinue of suitors whose protective instincts could be aroused by a woman’s tears.”

The Sexual Power of Joy

“I used to marvel at the fact that getting Becky in or out of the work area involved almost the whole crew, with the male clients practically tripping over each other trying to win her attention and her gratitude.”

The Shepherd

“George was breathing rapidly, his head and shoulders were bent forward, tense, and his color had turned ash gray. Inside he was throbbing: his eyes bulged and his head seemed even larger than usual, as menacing as the thick end of a club.”

Bug on Water

“Stan was convinced he always had, and always would, irritate people. Criticism was what he expected from the world; it was what he thought he deserved.”

Between Two Worlds

“Roger reveled in the status he had at the Center, but was tantalized by the possibility of making it on the outside.”

A Woman of Entrances

“Blanche walked down the ramp laughing and shrieking, scattering gleeful hellos upon the silent, puzzled group, like a buxom hostess descending her marble staircase, bantering hysterically.”

The Craftsman

Deeply ingrained in Henry’s personality were certain principles of behavior, certain unshakable habits, from which he never strayed: “Say what you’re supposed to say. Do what you’re supposed to do. And always be accommodating.”


“I enjoyed reading these notes, though I never saw or spoke to the woman who wrote them. I didn’t even know her name. We were two strangers sharing scraps of paper concerning the one person we had in common.”

Sam Was Content Where He Was

“You know, Glenn, I’m really lucky, really lucky, working here at, at Easter Seals. I got, I got all my friends here, and all my girls at Tracy’s Restaurant. I’m really fortunate, I really am.”

The Man Who Was Almost an Island

“Doug would forcefully resist anyone who interfered with what he wanted to do, but other than that, he didn’t interact with people at all.”

The World Within

“Jody was forever drifting off into private realms, while everything around her—the room she was in, the people she was with, the job she was on—faded like a memory.”

The Quiet Man

“At lunch or break, Andrew would hurry across the lunchroom and find a seat; then he’d sit there quietly, too shy even to look at other people.”

I’m Dumb

Jackie had a pained, guilty look on her face. “I don’ mean to talk to myself. I didn’ know, I didn’ know. I’m sorry. Are you mad at me?”

I Got My Orders

“Except for lunch and breaks and class, he stood beside the workfloor sink all morning, then all afternoon—arms folded, head drooping, silent. I had heard about Earl’s work stoppages before, but this was the first one I’d witnessed.”

Life Is Beautiful / Life Sucks

“Joyce’s moods were fragile, ephemeral things, subject to dramatic shifts; she could go from euphoria to rage with astonishing speed.”

Falling Apart

All of this began to wear on Ed, who acquired a haggard, dispirited look. If I asked him how things were going, he’d shake his head, then laugh without humor and say, “Oh, don’t even ask, Gren.”

The World Is a Theater Full of Critics

“Neal was shy, and seldom spoke; and when he did, it was in a quiet voice. His speech was hard to understand; often I had to ask him to repeat himself, and that embarrassed him. He’d rub his hands together nervously before trying it again.”

An Affable and Violent Man

“Leon wanted a world that was oozing with good cheer, a world where there were no conflicts or tensions, and where every day was a nice day, and he couldn’t deal with the fact that there is no such world.”

Booiful Day, Huh Gwen?

“The flat face, framed top and bottom by prominent eyebrows and a prominent jaw, was striking, yet there was something about it that was very open—something that suggested Ken was unflaggingly friendly and decent.”

Ramona in Love

“Ramona was as squat as a bulldog and had a great round belly. Her shoulders were beefy and her walk was determined, unstoppable—like watching an oversize bowling ball coming at you.”

He Lived Alone

Occasionally a jewel fell off right after he glued it on. Otto would go into a rage, his face and fists quivering, then let out a roar. If I asked him what the problem was, he’d respond in a loud voice, “I—don’t—want—to—talk about it!”

It Duthn’ Theem Fair

“Sluggishly Norman moved about the Center, trudging from workfloor to lunchroom, lunchroom to workfloor, ad infinitum, resigned to the tedious but obligatory routines of life. There was no place he was eager to get to.”

This One Couldn’t Be Crushed

“I was in the storeroom upstairs, stacking things as they arrived, and every ten minutes in walked this crippled but indefatigable gnome, hauling another box full of glasses.”

Group Portraits

1) Four guys carry a big piece of glass. 2) The Oak Ridge Boys cause an uproar. 3) Sometimes, how you dance shows who you are. 4) There are a lot of ways to say goodbye.