SLACKJAW by JIM KNIPFEL
May 1, 2011

Again with the Cursing!

 

For the most part, my innate stubbornness takes the form of refusal: refusing to leave the apartment no matter how “nice” it is outside, refusing to see a doctor no matter how big that lump gets, refusing to try a new, simpler way of doing things if the old, complicated, pain-in-the-ass way worked just fine for me. But sometimes it goes the opposite direction, and I will attempt something repeatedly, no matter how absolutely hopeless it may seem, until I figure it out. Finding my local post office for instance.

            I knew it was there. I’d been shown exactly where it was, I’d even been taken inside, yet for some reason I couldn’t find it on my own. Try as I might, I inevitably ended up in a bank, or a dry cleaner, or trying to enter a warehouse through a window. But damn it, I was going to find that post office on my own if it killed me (which it might), so late one bright Friday morning I set out once again, package in hand.

            I knew it was beyond Eighty-Sixth Street, because that’s where I ended up making several people nervous in a bank. So after crossing Eighty-Sixth, I kept walking. I knew it was on the east side of the street, that much I remembered. But as I walked, nothing was making itself obvious in any of the usual post office ways. No big flags out front, no big signs reading “Post Office,” nothing.

            Man, no wonder they’re having such trouble, I thought. Nobody can find the fucking place.

            Of course other people could find the post office. Stupid people could find the post office. I was the only one who couldn’t, which right there may explain why they were having such troubles—I mail a lot of things.

            By the time I hit Ninety-Fifth Street, I knew I had well overshot the mark again. I hadn’t given up yet, just needed to be more thorough on the way back. It had to be between me and Eighty-Sixth Street somewhere, and I was going to find it. The hand holding the package was growing sweaty.

            A young woman stopped me on a corner and asked me where she could find a bakery. Why people are always asking the blind for directions, I don’t know.

            “I have no idea,” I said. “Do you know where I can find the post office?”

            She didn’t know, so we both continued on our separate, bumbling quests.

            Once again I began contemplating the possibility that my first visit there had been a ruse, a set-up, a grand, elaborate joke to throw me off.

            Trying to ignore that thought while concentrating on the buildings I was passing, I didn’t notice the mattress someone had pulled out to the curb. Well, not exactly the curb—they made it about half way across the sidewalk then apparently got bored or distracted and dropped it there. It caught my left foot, and I flopped hard, face-first, across the filthy mattress, bouncing once before rolling onto the sidewalk.

            “Oh!” I heard a woman exclaim from somewhere behind me. A moment later she was beside me, hoisting me to my feet with unusual ease.

            “Are you okay?” she asked, as she roughly brushed me off and patted my arm. Large woman, she was, with a husky, smoke-ravaged voice. I assured her I was just fine, and thanked her for her help.

            “Good thing that mattress was there to break your fall, huh?” She straightened my hat.

            “Yeah, I could’ve gotten hurt otherwise.”

            She was still patting my arm with her large hand, so I thanked her again and asked her where the post office was.

            She told me I was headed in the right direction—in fact the post office was at the end of the block. “You can’t miss it,” she said.

            As I walked away I finally put the pieces together. Those were mighty big hands she was patting me with.

            That was the nicest transvestite I’ve met in a very long time, I thought. Not just nice, but right, too. As I approached the end of the block, I hit a mailbox, and next to the mailbox was a door, and inside that door was the post office. With a new, giddy spring of victory in my step, I entered.

            Being as it was around noon on Friday I expected crazy lines twisting and curling to the back of the post office, but the place was empty. And by “empty,” I don’t mean there were two or three customers waiting—I mean it was completely devoid of customers.

            “I’ll help you,” a lonely postal clerk called to me from his window.

            I passed my package over to him, and he looked at the address. “Wow, Green Bay?” he said. “I’ve always wanted to visit Green Bay—Hey, what’s it like there?”

            “Well, back when I was growing up there—“

            “Wait—you mean you actually lived there?” He was very enthusiastic about the whole Green Bay issue. Given that there was nobody else in line, we spent the next few minutes talking about the assorted joys of northeastern Wisconsin living (though I stopped short of unbuttoning my shirt to reveal the Packers sweatshirt I was wearing underneath). He seemed captivated by every detail, though I never learned why he was so intrigued by my hometown.

            We had a nice chat, and I headed on my way, now knowing forever how to find the post office.

            Once back on more familiar ground, I stopped in my usual deli to pick up some beer and more smokes.

            “Hello, hello, long time no see!” the Egyptian deli man sang as I stepped up to the counter. “With tomato, lettuce and American cheese!”

            A few moments later I continued on my way home, thinking that I had somehow stumbled into the nicest neighborhood in Brooklyn. It was astonishing, really. Everyone was being so damned friendly.

            Strolling happily down the last block before my apartment, I heard a pair of sharp heels approaching from the other direction. The street was otherwise empty. Being in a good mood, I edged to the right so the woman would have room to pass unimpeded.

            As she passed me, she issued a guttural hiss about level with my shoulder. “Khan . . . kiwi . . . Santeri!”

            I stopped, but the woman kept walking. “Well, shit,” I whispered.

            Morgan tried to convince me I was wrong later, but it sure as hell sounded like a curse to me. Either that or Dutch. I’m pretty sure it was a curse, though. I know these things.

            Typical, isn’t it? The day’s going well, the sun is shining, you achieve a personal victory, then someone has to come along and put a Santeria curse on you. I’ve been cursed before, and it’s a huge pain in the ass.

            As the days passed and no visible signs of a curse made themselves apparent—I hadn’t turned a funny color or shrunk to the size of a gerbil—I started to forget about it. There were other things that needed doing. Besides, these were enlightened times, sort of.

            Then a week later I headed out to run some other errands. Again the streets were silent and empty when suddenly the same Santeria high priestess burst out of a bodega I was passing.

            “Nyushu!” she growled at me. It was either “Nyushu” or “Tie your shoe!” but it seemed awfully harsh for a simple helpful suggestion that I tie my shoes. Besides, after she passed I checked and neither of my shoes was untied. So now I don’t know what the hell to expect. I mean, it’s not like she could make things much worse at the moment. But who knows what she might have in mind? Only thing I knew for certain is that next time I went looking for the post office, it wasn’t going to be there.

 

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