SLACKJAW by JIM KNIPFEL
April 5, 2009

It Never Stops

It Never Stops

It Never Stops . . .

 

Things were slow Thursday morning, so I decided to take a quick walk. I hadn’t been outside in a few days, and thought the light and the air and the movement might do my head some good.

            As usual, I was wrong about that, so I came home. I was only gone for about fifteen minutes, but when I let myself back into the apartment, my landlord was in the middle of leaving what sounded like a long message on the answering machine. There was some tension in her voice, so I picked up the phone and asked her to start over from the beginning.

            It seemed my upstairs neighbors were having some trouble with their plumbing. Unfortunately, the handymen couldn’t get to the pipes from that apartment, so they’d need to go at them from below (i.e. my apartment).

            More specifically, they needed to come in here and rip out large portions of my bathroom ceiling in order to replace some old lead pipes.

            I’m very happy my landlord is so good about making needed repairs on the building, but Jesus Christ—not a month goes by that I don’t have some large men with power tools in here making an ungodly racket and mess of some kind or another.

            “All right,” I told her. What choice did I have? What I wasn’t expecting was that they’d be knocking on my door five minutes later, armed with hammers and drills and butane torches and what-not. I stepped back from the door and let them in, thinking “Well, there goes the rest of the day.”

            I guess it’s a kind of neurosis, but I simply cannot type, think, or do anything at all when there are people with power tools in the apartment.

            They began pounding and crunching and drilling while I sat in the kitchen, smoking, cringing and wincing. The timing could have been a lot worse, I suppose, but still.

            At one point one of the men came into the kitchen for something, and paused a moment to peruse the various oddities on the shelf.

            “That’s Lenin,” he said, pointing at the small bust of Lenin.

            “Yes, it is,” I said.

            Then he pointed at my Chairman Mao. “And that’s Mao tse-Tung.”

            “Yup.”

            “I know these things.”

            I don’t know if his tone was accusing or admiring. In any case I was relieved when he returned to the bathroom.

            When they stopped at about six that evening, they had torn a few gaping holes in the bathroom ceiling, and a few more directly above the bed in the next room.

            “We see you tomorrow, eh?” they said as they were leaving. “Early. About nine or ten.”

            I guess I should have expected that. “That’d be swell,” I said, through gritted teeth. I was exhausted. It’s a pretty insidious neurosis that way. When I’m not allowed to go about my business for whatever reason, my brain turns stagnant and ugly.

            Worse thing is, while I find it impossible to work when there are men with hammers ripping out my ceiling a few yards away, I also find it impossible to work when I know men with hammers will be showing up at some point in the future. I don’t want to be in the middle of something when they barge in, so I don’t bother doing anything at all.

            That night in the shower, I looked up toward the hole directly overhead, fully expecting to see a squirrel or one of the upstairs children staring back at me. It was more than a little unnerving, so I finished up quickly and got out of there. Once in bed, I tried hard to forget about the holes above me as I lay there, praying nothing would crawl out during the night.

            The next day was much the same, but in the middle of it all my landlord stopped by to see how the handymen were doing. During her inspection of their work, she noted a few other things around the apartment that needed fixing. Some of the tiles on my floor were cracked (and always had been), there were a few holes in the ceiling left by last summer’s electricians, and my shower curtains were, well, nothing you’d want to shower near.

            “I can live with them, really,” I told her, “it doesn’t bother me.” But it was no use. She returned an hour later with new shower curtains, and arranged to have the handymen do something about those cracked tiles when they were done with the ceiling.

            That evening, the handymen left with a happy and ominous, “We’ll be back Monday . . . or maybe Tuesday. Not sure which yet.”

            “Oh,” I said, as my spirits slipped deeper into the void.

            Once they were gone, I began to survey the damage. The floor (and everything else) was covered with a thick layer of plaster dust, and chunks of the ceiling were scattered throughout the apartment. I’d have to do some sweeping and mopping when this was all over with.

            These guys have a bad habit of moving things around while they’re in my place, so I began, as I could, to move things back into place so I’d at least know where they were until the handymen showed up again. My scrub brush was on a stack of videotapes against a wall. Several crumbled and used pieces of sandpaper were on various bookshelves. A milk crate was in the middle of the floor. A stack of towels was at the foot of the bed.

            After a few minutes, I noticed I was having trouble finding my bucket. It was a large, blue bucket I’d just purchased a couple of months ago. As much as a man can and should like a bucket, I liked that one. But while I could find everything that had been stored inside the bucket, the bucket itself was nowhere to be found.

            “Oh, those fuckers,” I thought. Sometimes they move things and sometimes, well, they just take things.

            Not wanting to go accusing a couple of illegal aliens of, you know, stealing a blind man’s bucket, I just went to the hardware store the next morning and bought myself a new one.

            After I got it home, I decided I’d do a quick sweep before they returned so I didn’t have to spend the entire goddamn weekend stomping on plaster chunks.

            I set my new bucket in the bathroom and went to grab the broom.

            It wasn’t leaning in the corner where I always lean it.

            “Oh, goddammit.”

            An hour later, after feeling my way around all the walls and through all the closets and behind all the bookcases, it became clear they’d taken my broom, too.

            (To be honest, I’d stolen it from them a year ago, so I guess technically it was their broom. But still, I only stole theirs after they stole my first one.)

            In no mood at this point to go back out to the hardware store to buy a new goddamn broom, I sat down and started smoking.

            Later that day after Morgan came by, she went into the bathroom to assess the damage herself. When she came out she asked, “What’s this doing in the bathroom?”

            She handed me the small knife I use in preparing most of my dinners.

            “Oh, I have no fucking clue,” I said. “And I’m not sure I want to know.”

 

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