SLACKJAW by JIM KNIPFEL
March 29, 2009

Love Child on My Doorstep

 

Now that my door buzzer has been fixed, I’m quickly remembering why it “mysteriously stopped working” twelve years ago. I’m also quickly remembering how to ignore it.

            When it went off Wednesday afternoon, I wasn’t expecting any deliveries and lord knows I wasn’t expecting visitors, but I grabbed my keys and tromped downstairs anyway.

            Opening the front door, I found a UPS delivery person with a large and heavy box at her feet.

            “You Jim?” she asked.

            “Yup.”

            “Then this is for you.”

            “Oh,” I said. “Thank you.”

            I found this very odd, but I still signed for the package, dragged it upstairs, and dropped it on the kitchen table. I wasn’t expecting anything—and certainly nothing this heavy.

            I examined the box before opening it, just to make sure that it was in fact addressed to me. Didn’t want to go opening the neighbor’s mail again. That’s always so hard to explain.

             I eventually did find my name on the label, and also discovered that the box had come from my publisher. That cleared things up a bit. It was probably copies of the new book.

            I grabbed a large kitchen knife, sliced the box open and folded back the flaps. That’s when the phenomenological shift occurred.

            Now, when you can hardly see and find yourself confronted with something other than what you were expecting, it can sometimes take a little while for the brain to figure out exactly what went wrong.

            I stared down into the box and saw something that wasn’t my book. At first I didn’t know what it was, so I reached out a hand and touched it. It was smooth and glossy, and it only took a few seconds to realize that I was touching a book cover, but the cover to a book I hadn’t written.

            “Ah,” I thought. “My editor must have sent a copy of this other book along with mine because she thought I might like it.”

            (Or something like that.)

            I picked up the book and examined it more closely. It was a memoir by Allegra Huston entitled Love Child. (Apparently she was raised by the great John Huston until she was 12, then learned that she wasn’t a Huston at all. It’s all quite complicated.)

            “Well that was very nice,” I thought.

            I set the book aside and returned to the box. Instead of finding several copies of my book beneath Ms. Huston’s, however, I found another copy of Ms. Huston’s. And another beneath that one. (Like I said, sometimes it takes the brain a while to catch on.)

            All told, the box contained twenty copies of Ms. Huston’s book, and no copies of my own.

            I went into the next room and began composing an email to my editor that opened:

            Ummmm . . . I don’t want to appear ungrateful, but I was wondering . . .

            Ten minutes later I had my answer. As expected, it was just a minor glitch. A simple labeling error. I was quite relieved to learn I hadn’t been sent twenty copies of Love Child as a, you know, gift. Nothing at all against Ms. Huston or her memoir, which I’m sure is very interesting—I simply don’t have room for twenty copies of anything.

            The funny thing was that if a box full of Love Child was sitting on my kitchen table, chances were very good that a box full of Unplugging Philco was at that very moment sitting on Allegra Huston’s kitchen table. I don’t suspect it’s the sort of book she would enjoy (even though I know absolutely nothing about her)—but I did sort of like the idea of my silly book being in the possession of a Huston (even if she wasn’t really a Huston).

            It was arranged that a messenger would swing by the next morning and pick them up, so I returned to the kitchen and taped the box shut once again. The next morning the messenger showed up, I handed him the box, he handed me a much smaller box containing a few copies of my book, and that was that. All was well.

            At about 7:45 that night, my buzzer went off again. This time I ignored it. If I’m not expecting someone or something, I stop responding to external distractions like that after normal business hours. Nothing but trouble. The buzzing eventually stopped, and I relaxed again.

            A minute later, there was a knock on my apartment door.

            “Oh God,” I thought. “They broke in.” I didn’t know who they were or what they wanted, but if they broke in it was trouble. It’s happened before, and I was in no mood.

            I tiptoed to the door and listened. They knocked again, and I began looking around for the nearest weapon.

            I heard my upstairs neighbor’s voice. “Jim?”

            “Yes?” I asked through the door, still not sure what I was dealing with.

            “UPS just dropped off a box for you . . . I think it’s books.”

            “Oh,” I said, and opened the door.

            He handed me the box, I thanked him, and again dropped it on the kitchen table. This must’ve been the box I was supposed to receive the day before. I grabbed the same kitchen knife and sliced it open.

            Inside I found ten more copies of Love Child.

            I was tempted to pull out all the books and inscribe them before resealing the box, but I didn’t. I was also tempted to hold an impromptu stoop sale, but I put that idea out of my head, too. Any number of terrible ideas came to mind, but I quashed them all and went to get the packing tape.

            Four days later, the box containing the Love Childs (Love Children?) was still sitting on the bench by the door. The messenger never showed up on Friday, and I had been assured he would be at my place “any minute now.”

            Strange thing was, I had developed a sort of affection for Love Child. So much so that when the buzzer finally went off, I winced. I wasn’t sure I wanted to part with them anymore.

            Nevertheless, I grabbed the box and toddled downstairs. When I opened the door, there stood a man with a large box at his feet.

            ”You Jim?” he asked.

            “Uhhh . . . .yeah?”

            “Got a delivery for you.”

            ‘Oh . . . you—you aren’t here to pick something up?”

            “No. You call for a pickup?”

            “Not exactly. It’s a long story.”

            I set the box I was holding on the ground, signed for the new one, and handed the clipboard back. Then I stood there for awhile staring down at the new box, not wanting to know.

 

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