SLACKJAW by JIM KNIPFEL
May 6, 2012

The Loudest Man in the World

When I was preparing to move into the bunker, my new upstairs neighbors told me a little bit about the other folks on the block. There was an extended Greek family, a German family, lots of Irish and Italian households, and the king of it all was Sammy.

        “Sammy’s very . . . loud,” they told me. “You’ll be able to hear him a block away, even if you’re inside. But he’s a nice guy.”

        They were right about being able to hear him. I often heard Sammy as he stood on his stoop having the simplest of banal conversations—about the weather or the results of the latest Yankees game—but with people across the street and halfway down the block. He was a man with no secrets, as he broadcast them to the entire neighborhood every time he opened his mouth. Whether you were standing in front of him or down the street, he saw no reason to change the volume.

        It was about six months after I moved in that Sammy and I first met face-to-face, and in the ensuing weeks I learned a number of things about him.

        He was a big, burly guy who loved classic seventies rock (Stones, Boston, ELO, Queen), and so I wasn’t surprised to discover that the music that always seemed to be blasting from one house was Sammy’s doing.

        Sammy loved pigeons and was often in the process of nursing one or more shitbats back to health. That helped explain why there was always a flock gathered outside the house where the rock and roll was blaring.

        He always seemed to be suffering from one egregious and debilitating injury or another, usually the result of some horrible home improvement-related mishap, and he was always very anxious to tell everyone about it.

        “Here, feel this,” he’d say, grabbing my finger and rubbing it over his rough, calloused palm. “Feel that big hole there? Got that while sanding the floor, and it hurts like a son of a bitch!”

        The first and most important thing I learned about Sammy was that he was not only loud, but he also talked incessantly. It was almost as if he was scared that if his mouth ever stopped moving, his heart would follow suit. As a result, he seemed to utter whatever thought entered his head, no matter how crass or irrelevant. Unlike most people suffering from the same phobia, however, much of what Sammy had to say—and he had quite a bit to say on a great many topics—was at least intriguing.

        He stopped me one recent Saturday afternoon on my way home. He was out in front of his house with a small group of friends, who’d stopped by his place to watch a hockey game.

        “Hey buddy, how’s it goin’?” he shouted though I was a mere six feet away. (I think he forgot my name long ago, so I’m just “buddy” now, which is cool with me.)

        “How’s your gal?”

        “Oh, she’s doing just fine,” I told him. “Just coming back from seeing her.”

        “Aw, hey, better not say ‘seeing,’ huh? Haw haw haw haw!” As the laughter subsided he slapped me on the shoulder. “Aw, but I’m just jerkin’ ya around.” (That’s another thing about Sammy. While at first he was fascinated by the physical realities of the blindness, over time it had simply become an easy source for cheap jokes. That was cool with me, too.) Before I could say anything, he realized he had to keep his heart beating and so kept talking.

        “Yeah, I just had a fight with my girlfriend. Walked out on her. An’ I walked out on her on accounta she yelled at me. I don’t need to take that shit.”

        “Oh, I’m sorry to hear that.”

        “Yeah, an’ she yelled at me on accounta I yelled at her. I mean, she’s got a herniated disc in her neck, an’ she hurt it again ‘cause she did somethin’ stupid I told her not to do.”

        Although it sounded like a perfect match to me—she probably hurt herself while hanging drywall or fixing the boiler—I kept my mouth shut.

        “So I yelled at her an’ said ‘don’t do that stupid shit ‘cause you’re gonna hurt yourself.’ Was I wrong to walk out?”

        Never interfere in a boy-and-girl fight. “well, I . . . ahh . . . ”

        “Yeah, I think I’ve about had it with women. Think I’m gonna go all homosexual.”

        “I dunno there, Sammy—can’t say that’ll really change things.”

        “Y’know I gotta friend who’s a mason, an’ he ain’t been able to get work for eight months now.”

        I had no idea where the hell that came from, but have learned it’s just better to go with it. “Really. That sucks, huh? I know a lot of people who’ve been looking for work for a long time now.”

        “Yeah, they say the economy’s getting worse. I dunno what the hell’s gonna happen. I mean, they cut out the space program ‘cause they say there’s no money for it, right? But lemme ask you this—what about our spy satellites? What the hell happens there? We got no way to send them up ourselves, so what, are we gonna send our spy satellites off to some other country and have them put them up there? I mean think about it—are we gonna send our spy satellites off to Russia to have them put them in orbit? Does that make any sense? I just don’t get how these people are thinkin’, right?”

        I wasn’t really sure where this whole spy satellite business came from either, but I had to give Sammy this much: he was a man who was always thinking, and thinking in curiously logical ways. Unfortunately at the time, I had a bit of a massive hangover to contend with.

        “I really don’t have an answer for you there, Sammy, but it sounds to me like you’re onto something.”

        At that moment one of his guests interrupted to ask about more ice for his drink, and I used it as an opportunity to slip down the block to my apartment, where the aspirin was waiting.

        “All right there, buddy,” he shouted. “You be careful now, and don’t walk in the wrong door!”

 

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