SLACKJAW by JIM KNIPFEL
March 23, 2014

Discombobulation

 

This year, for the first time in over twenty years, I opted to forsake Joe’s Taxes, hard as that name is to resist. Morgan had been doing her own taxes, and now that we were all married-like we decided to do them together. The very idea of taxes usually pushes me to the point of open weeping, mostly because I always know I’m gonna be reamed despite living well below the poverty line. This year was no different, but knowing Morgan had done them before made it a little easier. There was even that slim chance combining our incomes might lessen the blow a bit. Plus she wouldn’t charge as much as Joe. We sat down in front of the computer about nine Sunday morningwith all our forms in hand, figuring it would take us forty-five minutes, an hour tops.

            Five and a half hours later we decided to save what we had, shut down, and return to it the following Sunday. Among other things it turned out she needed a form she’d never heard of, and I had to track down a thirteen year-old receipt (yeah, good luck with that one, chummy).

            “I had no idea you were a business when I married you,” she said after we gave up.

            “Well,” I offered, “I’m not a very GOOD business.”

            Foggy and dazed and numb from the mental assault, I gathered my things together and headed out for the subway, defeated again. It wasn’t terribly cold that day compared with previous weeks, and the sidewalks in Manhattan had been pretty well cleared of ice and snow. Still, I could barely feel my feet as they hit the pavement. I could barely hear the traffic on Broadway or the people around me yapping on their cell phones. It had been a hell of a morning, and I was walking in a dense cloud as the mental exhaustion and the hangover fought for supremacy. That was okay. The trip home more than anything at this point was a matter of muscle memory, there was little conscious effort necessary on my part. All I needed to do was be careful enough not to walk off the edge of the platform. That’s where the cane would come in handy. All I had to do was stay upright and keep moving and I’d get there soon enough. A few smokes and a few beers after I got home and I’d be right as rain again. Then maybe I’d start looking for that fucking receipt. Or maybe not.

            A train was pulling into the station as I reached the turnstiles, and I stumbled aboard as if in a dream, without bothering to ask what train it was. I’d figure that out later. It was headed in the direction I was headed, and that’s all that mattered until we got over the river. When the doors closed behind me, I leaned back against them and fumbled for some kind of handhold. Sitting might’ve been nice, but no one was making any offers and I didn’t want to risk sitting in some stranger’s lap (again), even if it would get me a seat.

            The hangover was starting to get the upper hand on the computer tax daze. I could feel it. It always crept in a bit more insistently around this time, whatever the hell time that was.

            There was a vague announcement that seemed to indicate I was on the right train after all. Well, that was something anyway. I leaned against those doors, thinking nothing, feeling nothing except a sore lower back as the train rumbled over the Manhattan Bridge.

            When we finally reached my stop about half an hour later, I stepped off onto the gray and gritty platform and began tapping for an exit. There were only two in that station, and the closest one was toward the back of the train. I didn’t care much for that exit for some unfathomable reason, but it was closer this time. Christ, I just wanted to get streetside so I could light a smoke.

            I felt my way through the nutgrinder turnstile and found the stairs. Okay now, from the top of the stairs it was simple. All I had to do was take a hard right, walk to the end of the block, take another right and cross the street, walk straight for two avenue blocks, cross to my left at the corner, walk one block, turn left and find my damn gate. It was simple. Didn’t even have to think about it. Just light a smoke and set the legs working.

            So I did. Took that first lungful and my already spinning head swayed even more violently. That was good. Made it to the corner, crossed the street, and kept walking. The sidewalks here, no surprise, weren’t as clear as they’d been in Manhattan, most of them only offering an eighteen-inch-wide strip of clear pavement along the row of front gates, with a couple of long stretches of well-packed ice. I just had to shuffle slowly, is all. I was almost there.

            At one point the cleared strip, from what I could sense, made a strange veer to the right I didn’t recall encountering before. That was okay. Probably just something to swing around the bus stop. I kept walking, paying what attention I could to the two-way traffic to my left. So long as it was over there, so long as it wasn’t whooshing past inches away to either side of me, all was well. It was a little chillier here, I noticed, than it had been when I left Morgan’s. I dropped the cigarette and reached for another, pausing to light it. There weren’t many pedestrians out, which was always a relief.

            I reached the next corner, waited for the light, and crossed. Once safely on the other side, I stopped.

            Something was wrong. I thought a bit more about it, and yes indeed something was most definitely wrong. Facing the way I was facing and standing where at least I thought I was standing, I should’ve had two-way traffic behind me and two-way traffic to my left. Instead I had two-way traffic to my left, but only one-way traffic behind me. Yes, that was definitely wrong, and because of it I had no fucking clue where I was or where I was facing. That wasn’t good.

            Morgan has always pointed out my dog-like sense of direction. It’s a valuable asset when you can’t see. Bay Ridge is laid out on a grid of numbered streets and avenues. It’s impossible to get lost in Bay Ridge whether you can see or not. So if I have a dog’s sense of direction on top of it, how in the fuck could I get lost? I knew exactly where I was going, it was all straight lines. So why was I not where I thought I was?

            “Oh, christ,” I thought. “I had a stroke, didn’t I?” Standing there on the corner on a late Sunday afternoon, I moved both arms and they seemed to be working. I grinned, frowned, grimaced, made a whole series of grotesque faces to make sure everything on both sides was still mobile. It seemed to be, but that didn’t help my situation.

            I heard a man approaching from behind and stopped him. “Excuse me,” I asked. “But do you suppose you could tell me where I am?”

            “Fifth and Seventy-sixth,” he replied, in an accent I couldn’t identify.

            “You sure about that?”

            “Yah—Fifth and Seventy-sixth.”

            I thanked him and sent him on his way. If he was right, if he wasn’t lying to me to grab a few cheap yuks, I was a block away from where I was supposed to be. It may not sound like much,right? Just one measly little block off. But one block’s a killer if you no longer know where you’re heading. Christ, I’m an idiot, and I still had no idea how I got there. Alien abduction? Blackout? CIA microwaves?

            I crossed the street, then stopped again. That was stupid. If I don’t know how I ended up where I was or even what direction I was heading, then crossing a street does me absolutely no good. Okay, so I’ll stand off to the side here and wait for someone to walk past. They’ll give me directions. Should’ve asked that last guy, but like I said I’m an idiot.

            I waited, and no one came by, the streets were empty again. Well goddammit, the one time I want a few pedestrians around, the one time I actually want someone to grab my arm and lead me somewhere and what the hell?

            The next problem facing me, I knew, was convincing whoever did come past next that I wasn’t a panhandler. I’ve run into that before. If I’m just going about my business I can’t keep them off me, but if I ask for assistance, there’s trouble. Shabby-looking blind guy on a corner saying “Excuse me? Excuse me?” Yeah, it doesn’t really fly. Might as well be holding out a tin cup full of pencils.

            When I finally did hear a small group crossing the street toward me, I got myself ready, and as they passed I said, “ExcusemeIwaswonderingifImightaskyou fordirectionspleaseasIseemtobealittlelostthanks?!”

            Oh, that didn’t sound good. Now they’ll think I’m crazy on top of it. Still though, a woman stopped. “Talk to me hon,” she said.

            Thrown by that for a moment, I paused, then said, “Um, yeah . . . I seem to be a little discombobulated.”

            “Where do you want to go?”

            I considered, just for fun, giving her an insane address in Utah. Then I reconsidered and told her the truth.

            “Oh, you’re not far away at all.”

            “Yeah, I know that. I just don’t know what direction I’m heading.”

            Well, after a lot of broad gesturing on my part she got me turned around and headed in the right direction. I still had no idea how I got there, what terrible error I’d made along the way. But I wasn’t going to worry about it. I lit another cigarette,, set the legs in motion, and stopped thinking about anything at all.

 

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