SLACKJAW by JIM KNIPFEL
November 8, 2009

The Schadenfreude Never Ends

 

Few of the things that worried me about teaching had anything at all to do with the actual teaching part. Instead they concerned the things the teaching would disrupt, like “not leaving my apartment” and my drinking schedule. As for the latter, the shakes usually kick in about four or five in the afternoon if I don’t have a drink, so what do I do when the class runs until six?

            As it’s turned out I’ve mostly been able to keep things under control until I get home, at which point I start drinking like an Indian in order to get my various chemical balances up to speed.

            The necessity of leaving the apartment and confronting the public has proven a little trickier. Traveling is never a simple task, and traveling at the times I need to travel is a monstrous ordeal. Forget about small victories like getting a seat—simply getting on a train any time between five and seven is a near impossibility (multiplied eightfold when you can’t see). I try to remain patient in the subway station, letting the insanely overcrowded trains roll on past, hoping beyond hope that there’s another half-empty train waiting in the tunnel. Sometimes that scheme actually works.

            Before getting on the train, however, there’s the little business of getting from the classroom to the subway station. The route itself is very simple—four blocks straight ahead, two blocks to the right. But there are obstacles aplenty along the way: dumpsters, active driveways, scaffolding, oblivious pedestrians, eternal, unchanging construction sites, cement planters. And with the sun going down earlier and earlier, things get a little more difficult each week. So I keep the cane out and I tap away. To date I’ve suffered no serious injuries.

            The same can’t be said for the people around me, however.

            It was shortly after six one night. Class had gone well enough, I suppose—we’d talked about Socrates and I’d screened the first half of an almost unbearably grim German comedy. I was in serious need of a drink, but apart from that I had no pressing complaints.

            The walk from class over to Park Avenue had been uneventful. Hadn’t barked a shin on anything, hadn’t stepped on any small dogs. Still, I’d only be able to breathe easier once I got down to the subway platform. Above ground, you never know what’s going to happen.

            I waited with a handful of other people on the corner, and when the light changed I began tapping across the street.

            Now, Park Avenue’s tricky if you can’t see because there’s an island in the middle to separate the northbound and southbound lanes. After all these years, I still need to remind myself every time I cross that I’m not in the clear yet when I hit the island—there’s still another street to go, with traffic coming from the opposite direction. Making things worse, the light isn’t that much longer than it is on the narrower streets, so I need to keep moving.

            When I hit the far curb, I knew the entrance to the subway station was just a few yards in front of me. Everything would be okay. Another thirty seconds and I would be safely underground again.

            What I hadn’t counted on was the young and burly woman running full-bore straight at me, yelling (maybe to herself, maybe to someone she was with, maybe to the blinking “don’t walk” sign itself) “I can make it! I can make it! I can make—“

            It was right at that third “make” that both of her fast-moving, high-heeled feet got tangled up in the end of my cane. I don’t know if she didn’t see the cane, as focused as she was on getting across the street, or if she somehow mistook the cane for some kind of miniature golf obstacle she didn’t expect to swing back her way at that particular moment. Whatever the case, the handle of the cane jerked violently in my palm as the woman got tied up and went down. And when I say she went down, I mean she went down hard. There was no time to prepare, no time even for the simplest of self-defensive reflexes to kick in. She just went straight down face first, slapping her belly across the curb and spilling into the street. And when she hit, she made a sound like nothing I’d ever heard come out of a human throat before—part groan, part howl, part hiss. A purely animal shriek of pain and humiliation.

            I swear I didn’t trip her on purpose—but still, thank god for rush hour, because I had plenty of witnesses who saw her running at me and yelling a split second before she was licking the asphalt.

            In an instant, a group of people had gathered around her. I leaned in, too, more for appearances than out of any real concern, and had to refrain from kicking her in the stomach.

            “Is she okay?” I asked. The woman hadn’t made a human sound yet, but three men were raising her to her knees, then to her feet.

            “She’s okay, yeah she’s fine,” one man said, though he sounded far from convinced. I wondered if maybe she’d broken an ankle or some ribs the way she went down.

            I waited another minute or so, the people around us staring and murmuring, until the woman finally gasped out “I’m okay.” She didn’t sound too convinced, either, but she began hobbling across the street being supported by two gentleman.

            I turned and headed for the subway station finally, trying to keep a concerned and troubled look on my face.

            This was not easy to do, given how loudly I was cackling inside. I can make it! I can make it! I can make—

            HA HA HA HA HA HA HA

            Ah, there’s no topping classic slapstick for a hearty old-fashioned belly laugh at the end of the day—even if you have to keep it inside.

            That sort of small but potentially deadly personal disaster befalls me on an almost weekly basis. It was good to see it happen to someone else for a change. Especially a stupid fucking cow like that, who should watch where she’s going. She should know better than to go running and screaming through rush hour crowds. No, I hadn’t tripped her on purpose, but I sure wish I had. Goddamn idiot. Well, at least she’s kept me chuckling for a few days.

 

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