SLACKJAW by JIM KNIPFEL
September 26, 2010

(Correction: In my July 18th column, “The World Just Got Two Steps Blander,” I cited a story concerning the origin of the Fugs—something about trading a pair of X-Ray Specs for a guitar. In the column, I claim it was an Ed Sanders story, but I was mistaken. As it happens the story, written by Jose Padua, appeared in the 1998 anthology Crimes of the Beats. It’s also completely fictional. My apologies to Mr. Padua, and I hope he doesn’t mind that I will continue to accept that story as true. You should do the same—where else do you think legends come from?)

 

The Day it Rained in Ninnyville

 

It was about quarter after five when I first noticed the low roll of thunder outside the window. As it rumbled on, however, I began to think it must be a plane. Thunder doesn’t go on for that long. But it didn’t fade or grow louder—it was a steady, unwavering rumble. If it was a plane, it was standing still. Listening more closely, I decided that no, it couldn’t be a plane. It must be thunder. But if I was right, it was like no thunder I ever heard before.

            Suddenly everything outside went black, and the wind began tearing through the window, thick sheets of horizontal rain splashing through the screen. There was a crash in the kitchen.

            I wandered in there to find a large saucepan on the floor. I generally don’t keep my saucepans on the floor. It had been sitting on the window sill until the same insane wind and rain shearing through the window blew it to the ground.

            I slammed that window shut and headed back into the front room, where the wind, blowing in the opposite direction, was making a hash of things. People on the street were screaming. I slammed those windows shut too. Then the phone rang, and I forgot all about it.

             It was my agent talking business, and the subject of an abrupt and crazy storm never came up. The call lasted about ten minutes. When I hung up the sky was clearing again, so I reopened the windows and went about my business.

            A few hours later the phone rang again. This time it was Morgan.

            “Are you okay?” she asked.

            “Sure, much as usual, anyway. Why?”

            It seems on the news they were running interviews with sobbing women from my neighborhood, along with shots of downed trees, crushed cars, and baby seats hung from high branches.

            “They’re saying it was a tornado.”

“Oh, bullshit. These ninnies don’t know what a tornado is. They’re just overreacting, as usual.”

            Later I turned on the news myself, and sure enough that’s what they were saying—that a twister hit “upscale Park Slope.” And I still say bullshit. It was a crazy storm, yes, unlike anything I’ve ever seen here, yes, but I’ve been through tornados, and this wasn’t one. No one paid any attention to me though. Saying “no it wasn’t a tornado, you simpering doughheads” wasn’t good news copy, I guess.

            At around ten that night, the phone rang again. This time it was a neighbor who’d just returned home from work. He wanted to make sure I was still alive. It seems he hadn’t heard anything about the “killer tornado” until his route home took him up the right or wrong street, depending upon your perspective. It happened to be the street around the corner from me.

            “There were trees everywhere, and the further I went the worse it got.”

            “Uh-huh,” I said, even though I was thinking that things never really got bad enough.

            “One fell on an SUV and cut it in half.”

            “Good.”

“My wife says the steeple blew off a church, and crushed another car.”

            I did get a mighty chuckle out of that one. “Hey, where’s your God now, old woman?”

            “All these people were out on the street, staring solemnly at this fallen tree. A bunch of them were taking pictures with their cell phones, holding them up like they were holding up lighters at a rock concert.”

            “Jesus. They were probably just mourning the drop in property values.”

            I guess I don’t take these things very seriously, but it never ceases to amaze and annoy me. New Yorkers talk endlessly about how tough and resilient they are—“we’re New Yorkers”—but present them with the slightest inconvenience and they begin simpering like Chihuahuas, all the while spouting crap like, “Oh! We must stand tall!” and “Oh! We must continue to live our lives as we always have!” But they never do. Every snowstorm, terrorist attack or imaginary tornado, they just get more flaccid and whiny and helpless.

Shortly after getting off the phone with my neighbor I heard the roving wood chippers out on the street.

            Well, that was quick, I thought. Then I remembered where I was. I’d love to see how fast the city would respond if the storm had hit Bed-Stuy or some neighborhood in the Bronx instead of Park Slope. Just goes to show the power of a few rich whiners picking up the phone to complain about an inconvenience.

            The next morning I was awakened by the sound of news helicopters thumping overhead, apparently filming the, um, “devastation.”

            I got myself together and headed for the grocery store. Along the way I encountered a few broken branches and two downed trees. There were some broken car windows and, much to my delight, some pieces of furniture in the middle of the street. I must say, though, I was awfully disappointed. After all that I had heard the night before, I was half expecting to step outside to find myself in New Orleans after Katrina. The Post was describing the aftermath as “like something out of the apocalypse.”

            Yeah, well, I’ll tell you—my own apocalyptic fantasies are a hell of a lot better than what I found. Instead of Dresden or Hiroshima, I stepped out into Brooklyn with some branches on the sidewalk and some furniture in the street. And joggers. In fact the joggers were a far bigger inconvenience to me than the trees. If I got on the phone and told them where I lived and whined a lot, I wonder if the city would send around a chipper for the joggers? I should make a note to find out.

            Morgan called again not long after I got home. On the news, she said, meteorologists were saying that if it was indeed a funnel cloud that passed through, we likely wouldn’t have been able to see it.

            “Because it was using a secret inviso-ray, I bet,” I guessed. It’s funny how funnel clouds are absolutely visible and easily spotted when you’re in some podunk section of the country (like Northeastern Wisconsin), but the moment they sneak up on some affluent New York neighborhood they become invisible. I wanted to go outside and smack some random passer-by.

            I’m fully aware that the National Weather Service is saying that there were indeed tornados in Park Slope and Forest Hills Queens. Now Queens I almost believe, but having seen what came through here, I say pshaw. Just goes to show (again) that the National Weather Service is like the FDA. Throw enough money at them, confront them with enough rich people demanding whining rights, and they’ll say whatever you want them to say.

            For the rest of the day the clean-up crews trolled up and down the street, looking for something to do. And behind closed doors the push was on to declare the entire neighborhood Hallowed Ground.

 

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