Friday, May 20, 2011

Dick Swanson's secret powers

Dick Swanson has super powers. He's got perfect pitch, always has. He'll start singing Led Zeppelin's "Kashmir" and even nail that "da-da-da" guitar part at the beginning. He'll burst out with a deep baritone rendition of a '70s classic like Neil Diamond's "September Morn," astonishing bystanders. He knows shadows. He checks the Missoulian every day, in print, to get the times for sunrise and sunset, and from there he knows where and when a certain triangle will fall across a wall or a tree trunk will become a diagonal across a sidewalk. His memory is phenomenal. Tell him your birthday—let's say January 7, 1976—and in fewer than five seconds he can correctly tell you that you were born on a Wednesday. You say "May 6, 1957"—and he puts his fingers to his temples, and announces, "Monday." He can do this backward and forward, into the past and future. Imagine having that kind of memory, that calculating power in your head—and being kept under 24-hour supervision. Illustration by Kou Moua Dick, who is 57, can be intimidating with his 6'6" frame, especially for strangers when he raises his voice or stands too close. He was sitting on his porch recently, drinking a diet Mountain Dew, when I asked him what it meant to him to be autistic.

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