SLACKJAW by JIM KNIPFEL
February 10, 2013

Not Retarded Enough

 

There were signs, there were portents, and everything was pointing in a single, undeniable direction. Even during the most recent flood, as I was mopping up the storeroom I paused, fully conscious of what I was doing, and said to myself, “See?”

            Nothing had been going much right in recent years. Not just the floods and the health, but the work was falling away too, in part because of the general economic outlook and in part because of a culture slipping even deeper into the abyss of vapid illiterate stupidity. It had happened around me before, and in those times I found the best way out was to try the ol’ Scotch gambit—to make an ill-conceived leap in some untried direction for no real purpose beyond escape. The results might well be disastrous, but at least they’d take the heat off for a few months, maybe longer. That’s how I ended up working as a bill collector and a security guard. When no rational, logical outlets are available to cover the rent and the booze each month, I try something I’ve never done before. So after exhausting all the job possibilities that made sense and hearing only the wind in response, I began looking in more ridiculous directions.

            That was starting to seem hopeless, too, when I finally received a response from the mop factory.

            Only my friends Grinch and Homer thought it was as funny as I did. I think Morgan was worried that if I went through with it—if I actually started working at a mop factory— the inevitable conclusion would either be another workplace massacre or my being mangled somehow in the mop-making machinery. And even if she was right about that, at least I’d have a chuckle while it lasted. In the end I think the thing that was pushing me hardest in that direction was a simple one: I just really wanted to be able to tell people that I work at a mop factory.

            What struck me as most strange about it all was that everyone I mentioned this to—every last one of them—always asked the same question. “What do they do at the mop factory?”

            What do they do at the mop factory? What kind of rock have you been living under since before the Industrial Revolution? They make MOPS, dumbass!

            Jesus!

            There was a bit of a cheat here, I admit. It wasn’t like I simply sent them a resume and they called me back. No, the mop factory had a history, it turns out, of hiring the blind. I hated to play that game. To me it was yet another admission of failure. But I guess I’ve said it before—you push a man far enough, all his principles go straight out the window like so much jetsam.

            It took a few weeks to get an interview set up, as people were taking vacations and there were assorted mop conventions to attend. And all that time I found myself swinging between giddy delight at the prospect and cold, sickening dread at that same prospect. Any kind of job at all meant leaving the Bunker, dealing with people on a daily basis, making that commute no matter the weather, and worst of all putting on pants. That potential massacre I mentioned might well erupt by the end of my first week (though chances were good that even if I could get my hands on some firearms I likely wouldn’t actually hit anyone, no matter how many hundreds of rounds I fired.)

            The interview was finally scheduled for a Wednesday afternoon, and even with Morgan’s help the directions I’d been given—they seemed so clear and precise on the phone—sent us stumbling off lost in a string of subway station Habitrails and in the wrong direction through an angry maze of a slum. We eventually made it to the factory with a few minutes in our favor, but once inside I started to wonder. The air was heavy with the reek of some brain-eating chemical solvent and in the distance behind the thick walls was the grinding and pounding of some unimaginable machine.

            Behind the bulletproof glass mounted on the reception desk for reasons that made me curious, a large and angry woman shouted “Yeah? Help you?” at me as if I was deaf, not blind.

            “Yes!” I shouted back, thinking maybe she was the deaf one. “Thank you!” Then I shouted the reason for my visit.

            We took seats against the wall and waited. Along the wall directly opposite the reception desk was a display case featuring everything they made there. Because it wasn’t just mops, see? They made brooms and dustpans, too. That sparked my interest some, as it seemed to hint at the possibility for advancement.

            A few minutes later Greg, the factory’s recruiting manager, charged into the office and gave my hand a vigorous throttle.

            “How was the trip over?” he asked. “Any trouble?”

            “It was a nightmare,” I said, only later thinking that it was likely not good interview form to choose “it was a nightmare” as the first words you speak to a potential employer. But what the hell, I hadn’t done one of these in a very long time.

            He led me through a couple of doors into an open area with several desks, and sat me down at his. He was talking rapid fire the whole way, and I’d already lost track of what we were talking about. Guess it didn’t matter. Once seated at his desk he gathered up all my paperwork and asked a few more expected questions. I showed him my official registration confirmation with the State Commission for the Blind, and he was shocked to note that it had been typed on a real “typewriter”.

            “Yeah, it was awhile ago,” I told him. “I’ve been avoiding them since.”

            Once he got all the information he needed, it became clear very quickly that I wasn’t going to be working at the mop factory. Yes, they had a history and reputation for hiring the blind, but.

            “We need people with at least partial vision to work on these machines down there. Otherwise it’s simply too dangerous.”

            “Oh.”

            In short, yes they hire the blind, but I was too blind to be hired. I guess he hadn’t realized that from what I’d told him on the phone and in my emails.

            “Plus, we aren’t hiring right now. We have enough workers, and we don’t want to let any of them go, as you can understand.”

            “Sure.” I was beginning to wonder why in the fuck I’d been brought across town for a damned interview then.

            Although it was evident everything had been settled, we chatted a bit more out of politeness, before he led me back out to where Morgan was waiting. We shook hands again and he sent me on my way.

            He glanced at the clock. “Oh,” he said. “The shift is letting out right now, so be careful—things are gonna be a little busy downstairs with everyone heading home.” We assured him we’d be fine, and headed down the steps.

            When we reached the lobby, Morgan noticed something about all the people around us.

            About eighty percent of them, she whispered after we put a safe distance between ourselves and the factory, were . . . ahh . . . just a little off somehow. That would explain the worker on the sidewalk outside the front doors standing stock still, staring at the ground. It would also explain why the Employee of the Month, whose photo was displayed so proudly in the waiting room, had Down’s Syndrome.

            Greg may not have said as much in so many words, but it was suddenly clear that I didn’t get the job at the mop factory because I was both too blind and not retarded enough. And that, I believe, would be a first.

 

You can contact Jim Knipfel at this address:

With occasional exceptions Slackjaw generally appears weekly. For email notification of other Jim Knipfel publications (books, etc.) and events please join the Slackjaw email list here.