Sam is a streamliner. Everyone knows who they are, although no one calls them that when the teachers are around. He’s one of the kids who wouldn’t be in the main high school if it weren’t for a special program. Most of the day he’s in his own classes with 8-10 other streamliners. But during class change, Sam comes out into the hall.
Sam talks to everyone. “What’s the capital of Nevada? Carson City. Carson City, Nevada.” Most of the people do not know what to say back to him. “Where is the Space Needle? Seattle. Seattle, Washington.” Sam has a wonderful fund of knowledge and likes to share it.
Sam is making a heroic effort to fit into one of the most intimidating social environments known to mankind – the American public high school. “Where’s track and field? Varsity track and field?” Sam has no hope of succeeding at this. The streamliners are treated like mice, kept for 50 minutes at a time in a nice warm cage, and then dropped for 10 minutes into a cold swimming pool. No normal person would do this to them. “What’s the capital of California? Sacramento. Sacramento, California.”
I am Sam’s friend. Sam isn’t aware that he has any friends. Sam isn’t used to having anyone answer his questions. I think I’m the only one who does.
“Are you peeking? Are you cheating?”
“No, I’m not peeking Sam.”
Last year, when I first answered one of his questions, he blinked and walked away quickly. Sam wasn’t used to having anyone talk to him like that. Now, if you ask him a question, he’ll answer it.
“What’s the capital of Michigan Sam?”
“It’s Lansing. Lansing, Michigan.”
Streamliners get their name because they have some obvious behaviors that make them stick out. Some admin got the idea that if you dumped them into extreme social turbulence those oddities would get smoothed over and they would become more like everyone else. More streamlined. I guess they never stopped to think what that would feel like if you were someone like Sam.
This year, Sam is getting close to conversational. We were walking up the stairwell between first and second hour when I saw him in front of me. “What did we do first hour, Sam?” He looked straight ahead and said, “Yoga. First hour yoga.” Then he hurried away down the hall.
Sam is progressing. His questions are more complicated this year. “Are we looking at Google Images ‘lolly-pop’?” Sam ran the mile. Big frizzy-haired, thick-glasses, freckle-faced Sam made it 4 times around the track. “Where is vending? All natural spring water vending?”
I think after senior year they are going to let Sam out of here and give him a high school diploma. I think that’s what they are going to do with me, too. I have no idea what Sam’s going to try to do after that. “Where is ‘do not enter’ sign?” I don’t have any idea what I’m going to do after that either. I don’t like sitting around in school, wasting my day, when I could be out skateboarding. I don’t like teachers who don’t teach and whose classes are just a big, jumbled website that they can’t even navigate around themselves. But if Sam can get up every day and do this – I can do this, too.
I’m going to miss Sam. I wonder how much he would learn if he weren’t forced to streamline. How different his life would be if he weren’t dumped out into the hall every hour to have girls snicker at him and roll their eyes. “Are we presentable today? Are we in fashion?”
“You lookin’ good Sam. You lookin’ real fine.”