SLACKJAW by JIM KNIPFEL
March 31, 2013

Mr. Bad example, Part II

 

He was a journalism student working on his master’s thesis, a five thousand word puff piece about blind people who’ve gone on to do, as he put it, “spectacular things.” Without going into everything that’s wrong with that sentence and everything it says about the future of American journalism (“Was his dream from childhood to write for Parade magazine?” Morgan asked), the simple skinny was that he wanted to talk to me. He explained that since going blind his father had run in several marathons and competed in several iron man competitions. He was also talking to a blind woman who taught other blindos how to dress for success. So why he chose me is a bit of a mystery.

            I wrote back to explain that I have run in no marathons, I have never been named a federal judge, I’ve never flown cross country solo, and I didn’t help people. I have done nothing spectacular and was by no means noble. I simply sat in my basement apartment and wrote dumb stories. That’s all. Because of that, I didn’t think I would have much of anything to contribute to his ridiculous thesis.

            This did not dissuade him, and neither did my two subsequent attempts, so I then did what I usually do in cases like this: I sent him to my friend Ryan Knighton instead. I was always passing these people off to Ryan, because he’s nicer than I am. Ryan’s another blindo who’s done all sorts of exciting things around the world. It probably would’ve been polite to let Ryan know I was pawning this kid off on him, but that wouldn’t have been nearly as funny.

            Well, Ryan got his revenge. He was very polite and talked to the kid for over an hour, as I figured he would. He told him some funny stories about narrow escapes and derring-do, then he promptly sent the kid straight the hell back to me.

            “Wait,” I said after making the mistake of picking up the phone. “So you just got off the phone with Ryan and now you’re talking to me?”

            “Yeah.”

            “If you were gonna talk to me at all, I wish you’d talked to me before talking to him. Now this is going to be even more disappointing than I imagined.”

            “He was great—told me stories about surfing in Maui, and going to a rattlesnake roundup in Texas.”

            “That’s what I mean.”

            “It’ll be fine,” the kid said. “Everyone has their own stories, and they all mean something. They’re all great in their own way.”

            Christ, he really was bucking for that job at Parade. “Yeah, I used to think that, too. Then I learned better.”

            He started in with the questions, and it immediately became clear that he hadn’t done a single lick of research before picking up the phone. Which, yes, pretty much sums up the state of contemporary journalism. Screw Parade—he’d probably be a senior editor at the Times before he was twenty-two.

            “Maybe we could begin by you telling me where you come from and what it is you do?”

            It was an open door. I could’ve told Mortimer here that I was an astronaut, a fire chief, or the CEO of Sony. But no, it was all too pathetic. I tried to be polite for some reason, trotting out the rote answers. Then as things were clearly winding down he asked, “So do you have any other activities apart from writing?”

            “Not sure what you mean by that.”

            I mean, have you ever gone surfing, or climbed a mountain, or anything like that? Any of those sorts of things Ryan did?”

            I was quiet for a few seconds. “Um, no. I haven’t gone skydiving, I never skied down Everest, and I never rescued any drowning babies. Went to the bar a couple nights ago, that count?”

            Then it was his turn to be quiet.

            “Hey, how’s this? Applied for a job at a mop factory not too long ago, but they didn’t want me. Not retarded enough.”

            He made a few uncomfortable noises on the other end of the phone.

            “Look, I said, “I’m sorry, but I warned you. I sit here in the basement and write stupid stories. I do that all day long, except now and again I’ll head out to the bar. Going to the grocery store is a fucking adventure for me.”

            “It’s okay,” he said. “we all have our own stories to tell, and they’re all great.” Every time he repeated that trite phrase, I could hear a little more of that original conviction leaking out of his voice. I was clearly well on my way toward proving him wrong. Serves dumbass right for not doing his research.

            Fifteen minutes after I picked up the phone, he shut off the tape recorder. He’d given up. This was supposed to be an uplifting piece about noble types who don’t let being all crippled keep them from proving that they’re better than most everyone else. Bitter, ornery drunkards are a dime a dozen. I tried to convince him that it had nothing to do with the blindness, that I’d been like that long before the sight went poof. In fact, the crippledom was the least of my concerns. More than anything else nowadays, it bored me.

            “Sure,” he said, “I can understand that,” even though he didn’t. Then out of nervousness or simply to prove he had no idea what I was talking about he began ticking off all the people he was interviewing, and all the spectacular things they’ve done.

            It was about then that I started making fun of him aloud. I just couldn’t help myself. I generally let the ignorant delusions and insipid verbal tics of youth slide, but this kid was doomed and someone had to have the common courtesy to let him know it.

            As expected, he quickly made an excuse, hung up the phone, and (I presume) promptly erased the tape.

 

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