EXCERPT: 'Here's the Deal: Don't Touch Me,' by Howie Mandel

I don't want you to think I wasn't innovative. Here were the remedies to keep the other kids from realizing that Howard had just pissed himself: Through a varying array of excuses, I would dismiss myself quietly before anybody noticed the wet spot covering the front of my pants, find my way to a puddle or a ditch, and submerge myself. There were no puddles or ditches right out the front door, so I had to travel a far distance to trip and fall into a puddle. But this allowed me to hold my head up high and declare proudly to my classmates, "I've fallen into yet another puddle!" Throughout my early school years, I was known as the kid who would fall into a puddle or ditch six or seven times a year. In retrospect, this seems equally as embarrassing.

My kindergarten teachers were named Ms. Smith and Ms. Judge, and I was called by my full name, Howard. I'm Howie now because Howard makes me cringe. Howard comes mostly with the connotation of anger. There was never any good news after Howard. Nobody ever said, "Howard, we have something great for you." It was always a demand or a reprimand.

All I remember doing in kindergarten was arts and crafts. Once we were doing a landscape, and three days in a row I apparently painted the sky purple. The teachers thought I was trying to be funny or combative, so they made me stand behind the piano. This was my first sense of what it felt like to be an outcast. All of the other kids were having fun painting skies, and I was placed behind the piano.

One day, my mom visited me at school and found me behind the piano. When it was explained to her what I had done, she asked me to show her the blue crayon. I picked up the purple crayon. She consulted with our family doctor about why I would do that. He eventually figured out that I was color-blind. Oh, good, let's add that to my list of attributes.

So I remember my kindergarten years as everybody playing while I stood behind the piano, not knowing why I was different from the other kids.

By first grade, I had other issues. Everyone including me knew how to tie their shoelaces. But when the other kids' laces came untied, they would retie them. When my laces touched the filthy ground, I could not bring myself to touch them. My grandmother had not waxed the schoolyard. The horror of touching those laces far outweighed the embarrassment of spending the rest of the school day and my trek home walking like Quasimodo, dragging my foot so that I wouldn't lose my shoe. It's amazing that nobody ever mentioned how strangely I walked.

To this day, my mother recounts a miserable child walking home from school. She could see me from our porch two blocks away, dragging one leg with the untied shoelace behind me.

My young brother, Stevie, had a sense of the things that horrified me. Like most brothers, we got into many scuffles. I'm not saying we didn't punch and hit and cause personal injury. But if I was chasing him, his last bastion of defense was running to the laundry hamper, removing the lid, and waving it in my direction. Just the sight of that lid was like my kryptonite. The tables would turn, and now he was chasing me. I would scream as if someone were after me with a knife. The lid of the laundry hamper doesn't sound toxic, and I don't know what I thought would happen if it touched me, but I was horrified and the fight would come to an end. Everyone including me just accepted this as the norm.

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