Freudian Slips: Gilligan's Island of Discovery

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Location: Irony, New Jersey, United States

Life takes us many places. It's a box of chocolates and a Hansel and Gretal trail of candy wrappers. I have filmed as an actor in The Happening, Invincible, The Lovely Bones, The Bounty Hunter, The Greek American, Bazookas, Limitless, TV's Its Always Sunny in Philly, Outlaw, New York, The Warrior, The Nail, Game Change, Cold Case, & commercial work includes The Philadelphia Eagles, Septa, Coors, Turbo Tax & Carnival Cruises. Freudian Slips spotlights irony in short story format.

August 21, 2005

Gilligan's Island of Discovery

I caught a few minutes of a reality television show called Return to Gilligan's Island. It reminded me of an unusual experience while working as a behavior modification program technician in an institution. Residences were divided by cottages. I was assigned the behaviorally involved unit comprising thirty six developmentally disabled misfits that the world had failed. The worst of the worst surrounded me. I tried to make the most out of my job.
Human behavior adheres to few absolutes but it is absolutely fascinating to study. Sometimes behavior can be molded and other times it is like a jungle better left untamed. You never know until you try. Danger is involved in behavior modification because it is often met with resistance. While my yearly clothing stipend reminded me of the danger, behavior modification is not a job for the weak-minded or chicken littles.
As the facilitator of socialization programming, four groups of nine individuals moved through my classroom during the day. I honestly forget what I was trying to teach the day that came under illumination. Call it boredom, call it filler conversation, call it coincidence. Don't ask me why but I began to sing the theme song from Gilligan's Island out of the deep blue yonder.
"With Gilligan, the Skipper too. A millionaire and his wife. The movie star, the professor and Maryanne all here on Gilligan's Island."
Call me Gilligan but I heard an echo in a room full of non-verbal clients. I looked around the room and found a few clients responding to my acappella rendition. The loudest respondent, Cammy, was actually humming the show tune. I have always had a loud subconscious but this left even me wondering aloud. It you let it, life happens like this.
Cammy was a stoic solitary man, who savagely beat himself in the head hundreds of times a day. He was non-verbal and generally misunderstood but somehow the Gilligan's Island theme song awoke him from slumber. I wish I had videotape of what I am about to describe. Picture plugging a zombie into an electrical outlet. Cammy had an awakening, a magic moment. He went from flat lining to animate at mach speed over a television show jingle! He grinned ear to ear. His head beat in rhythm. Stop the singing and Cammy would deflate like a punctured tire. It was bizarre! Each time my hoarse voice sang the stupid song I got a reaction. I eventually went public with our duet. I showed the disbelieving staff, who immediately looked for marionette strings.
Once I got the actual Gilligan's Island theme song on a cassette tape I went to work. This was no Broadway production but I began to pair good behavior with the motivational music. Cammy wanted me to just play the music as a theme song to his uneventful life but I wasn't a play therapist. I was a behavior modification program technician. Cammy came to understand my expectations of him although initially it wasn't smooth sailing on a three hour tour. Through behavior modification I trained him to work for short periods of time on a variety of tasks with his hands. When put to productive use, his hands were incompatible of committing self-abuse. As hokey as it sounds, after Cammy worked I would then reward him with the playing of the Gilligan's Island theme song. His incidence of self-abuse began to wane.
For all you special education teachers out there, this may not seem like much progress. For someone so profoundly retarded with severe behavior problems this was akin to finding buried treasure on an uncharted desert isle that irony had put on the map.



Blogger eatmisery said...

Teachable moments are rewarding in more ways than one.

6:15 PM  
Anonymous et said...

Joe, how sweet you are! Uplifting story.

8:07 PM  
Blogger Joe Tornatore said...

i don't know who was more surprised him or me.

too bad I had to get off that island.

8:52 PM  

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