SLACKJAW by JIM KNIPFEL
September 15, 2013

Dunderhead & Lummox

 

Grinch and I didn’t know anything more about them than we needed. What we knew most of all was they kept crossing our path while we were at Madison, and when we weren’t laughing at them, we wanted to do them some serious harm.

            Dunderhead, as we knew him, was a tall, lanky type with a long face, stringy, unwashed, and thinning hair, and round John Lennon glasses. His movements were slow and fluid, and despite a profound lack of talent of any kind, he considered himself an artist of some sort. Lummox was, as the name implies, a burly oaf, a broad-shouldered, square-headed Nordic type with a scruffy blonde beard, bad teeth and a leering voice. Neither of them was ever known to bathe. In an odd way, Lummox was the more enigmatic of the two given that he rarely spoke, and I can’t recall ever seeing him other than tagging along with Dunderhead. They seemed to have some passing connection with an older sleazy commie bum known as Rat-Faced Earl, but what that connection amounted to was never clear. My guess was Rat-Faced Earl sold them low-end pot, undoubtedly talking about the coming revolution and bitching about Reagan through the whole transaction, as that’s pretty much all he did.

            Anyway, Dunderhead and Lummox almost always seemed to be around whenever Grinch and I were doing, well, whatever the hell it was we were doing. Today they might call them media pranks, but at the time we were just amusing ourselves in ways that more often than not happened to make the evening news. Whether we were vandalizing the banking district or getting banned from the student union (again) or staging a fake police chase down the middle of a crowded State Street, there were Dunderhead and Lummox lurking around in the shadows, watching.

            Even if they weren’t there in person, they’d somehow catch a whiff of what we were up to, and a couple of days later they’d ape it, whatever it was. They even came to us for instructions a few times (“So you just, like, inject the liquid steel into the keyhole?”)

            There were some major differences between what they were doing and what Grinch and I did originally, however. While Grinch and I took our nihilism seriously, offering no meaning or explanation whatsoever for smoking cigars in fancy sweater stores, Dunderhead and Lummox had what they considered a “philosophy.” See, in their own minds they modeled themselves after the Situationists, the sociopolitical student movement behind the May ‘68 revolt that shut down most of France. What all this meant in the case of Dunderhead and Lummox was that they would loudly quote slogans from famous Situationist pamphlets in public. I had my own brief flirtation with the Situationists, but have long since come to consider their endless sloganeering little more than contrived, pretentious gibberish. Dunderhead and Lummox sure seemed to take it all seriously, even though I don’t think they had the slightest understanding of what any of it meant. They were just happy to believe that all the Situationist talk about “desire” meant they could masturbate in public, which they often did.

            Another major difference between their antics and Grinch and my own was that they lacked style and subtlety and, yes, class. Mostly style, though. One spring afternoon, Grinch and I were banned from the student union (again) for quietly and persistently setting up an absolutely absurd (and completely unauthorized) information table to promote our organization, the Nihilist Workers Party. Two days later, the cops were sent over to make sure the NWP’s (just as absurd) protest rally didn’t turn ugly. Three days after that, here come Dunderhead and Lummox, who managed to get themselves banned, too, by marching into the union, jumping on top of a table, and screaming slogans they were reading out of books. Where’s the creativity in a couple of smelly creeps shouting slogans? You could walk down the street any day back then and pass dozens of smelly old hippies shouting slogans. Big fucking deal.

            The most damning thing about Dunderhead, Lummox, and their weak hijinks was that they were dumb, gutless, and they had absolutely no sense of humor. For all their revolutionary spoutings, they were terrified at the prospect of taking any real chances. Long before such idiocy became commonplace on YouTube and Facebook, they wanted to make a video of themselves committing a series of petty crimes (gluing locks, setting fire to USA Today machines, etc.), but didn’t want to actually appear in the videos themselves doing these things. Instead, they asked Grinch and me if we would go on camera doing all this in their stead. Well, um, no, we wouldn’t, because we’re not fucking morons.

            That same day, I remember, Dunderhead gave me a long speech about how dangerous he felt televangelist Pat Robertson was becoming.

            “I think someone really needs to take him out of the picture,” he said. The person he had in mind for the job was, of course, me. His plan involved my getting a job as Pat Robertson’s cook, and then poisoning him. Now, is there any real point in going through all the things that are deeply and profoundly wrong with that plan? Of course the first response of any rational, or even half-rational, person, would be that Dunderhead was simply joking. But trust me, he wasn’t. He didn’t know how to joke. Nevertheless I humored him and left.

            When I saw him again several weeks later, he asked me how things were moving along with the plan.

            “What plan is this?” I asked.

            “The one about getting rid of Pat Robertson.”

            “Oh, fine, no problem,” I told him. “That was easy as pie.” Then I paused. “Wait a second—did you just say ROBERTSON? I thought you said Pat ROBINSON!”

            Dunderhead didn’t think that was funny at all. He never thought anything was funny. He didn’t seem capable of comprehending that whatever we did, Grinch and I, as well as the Situationists, were laughing all the while. What made us laugh even harder was noting that whenever we started doing something seriously antisocial, Dunderhead and Lummox fled, only to return a few days later to do the same kind of thing, only more safely.

            Okay, so maybe there was that whole “public masturbation” business, but even then they seemed shocked when the people around them got upset, given that all they were doing was “expressing their desires.” Or something like that.

            Last time I saw them was a year or so after I moved to Minneapolis. I was oddly happy to encounter them in an empty courtyard outside a classroom on the University of Minnesota campus. As usual, Dunderhead was reading aloud from the Situationist book he always carried with him in case he felt the urge. He was making quite a performance out of it, too, waving his free arm, dropping to his knees, pounding the ground, the whole deal, all the while reading directly from the book. I would’ve figured that by now he had the thing memorized and could just spit out the slogans he wanted from memory, but I guess not. As usual, too, the audience for his little show consisted of Lummox and Lummox alone. Not wanting to make him lose his place, I wandered over to the low cement wall where Lummox was sitting and hopped up next to him.

            As we watched, I casually pulled the lighter from my pocket and lit a smoke. Then while I had it handy I burned all the hair off both arms. Then I began setting fire to other things around us—discarded newspapers, sandwich wrappers, paper cups. Lummox watched all this for a bit, then whispered, “Hey, you better stop doing that, man. You might get in trouble.”

            Saddest thing of all, if not exactly surprising, was that he was serious.

            I have no idea what happened to those poor fools after that. Without Grinch and me to ape, maybe they simply continued their reading tour in empty courtyards all across the country. Or maybe two days after I saw them they set themselves on fire.

 

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