SLACKJAW by JIM KNIPFEL
April 6, 2014

Oh, I Donít Know What Iím Doing

 

Sometimes I like to bolster myself in those long dark hours by thinking Iím a pretty smart fellow. Iíve read all those books, after all, spent all those years in school, and Iíve been able to con a living out of writing nonsensical stories for over half my life now. Gotta be pretty clever to pull that shit off, eh?

††††††††††† And in some ways I suppose I am pretty smart. The problem is, Iím smart about incredibly stupid things. Iím a master of uncovering film subgenres no one ever knew existed before (like trucker noir and asteroid movies). I can identify beer brands by the shape of the bottle. I can quote long passages from T.S. Eliot and Henry Miller from memory, and can follow the stream of consciousness in Celineís later novels. Iím smart about things that are of absolutely no use to anyone.

††††††††††† The problem is Iím nearly fifty years old now and remain deeply, profoundly ignorant about the fundamental things most people take for granted. The skills and knowledge people use to function in the world every day remain utterly alien to me. I donít know how to do anything on my computer except type. Because I canít see, though, sometimes Iíll accidentally hit a button I didnít intend to hit, sometimes hit four or five of them in a row, and find myself in some kind of terrible trouble from which I cannot escape. Then, when Morgan comes over to extract me from whatever Iíve done, Iím astonished at the kinds of things sheís able to make the computer do. All those little functions hidden away somewhere in the machine all that time. She pulls them up without thinking (which is how I got myself into the situation in the first place), clicks on a few things, and there you go. Not that Iíll ever learn what they are or how to use them, but stillóitís pretty amazing theyíre all in there like that.

††††††††††† Home repairs, likewise, arenít exactly a specialty of mine. If I canít fix something with duct tape, Iíll throw it away and buy a new one. That said, youíd be amazed at the number of things you can fix with duct tape. The chair Iím sitting on now is held together with duct tape. Before I moved out of my apartment in Philly, I fixed a hole in the bathroom wall (the result of a drunken burst of anger) with some duct tape and white spray paint, and no one ever noticed. But machines of even the simplest kind (like pulleys or levers)? Iím completely lost, especially if electricity is involved in any way. I was forced to take a year of shop classes in junior high, and not a day passed that I wasnít filled with paralyzing dread in anticipation of those hours. How I ever passed is beyond me, as I no longer recall a single thing I supposedly learned there. Yet it all seemed to click so easily with the stoners and the thugs in class with me, most of whom are making very good livings now because of it.

††††††††††† Hand me a cell phone and I have no idea how to turn it on or off, let alone where Iím supposed to be talking. I mean, the damn thingís four inches long, it comes nowhere near my mouth, so how the hell can the other person hear me if Iím trying to listen to them and talk at the same time?

††††††††††† It goes without saying that I donít drive now, but I never even drove when I was a teenager. Every time I got behind the wheel it was like slipping into the cockpit of a Stealth Bomber. And that was in 1981, when the only things I had to worry about were turn signals, the gas and brake pedals, the shift and the radio.

††††††††††† Things simply confuse me. I drift through an increasingly, maddeningly complex world with no idea whatís going on around me or what most people are talking about half the time. Two guys were over to Morganís apartment preparing to paint the place. As they explained the nature of plaster it occurred to me they might just as well have been explaining all this in their native Polish. Somebody brings up baseball in a bar and Iíll excuse myself and go have a smoke. The entertainment news comes on the radio and I have no idea who any of these celebrities are. Iíve never heard their music or seen their movies and even if I could see I seriously doubt I could point any of them out in a police lineup. Maybe my deep seated ignorance about things most people take as given is an idiocy born of simple boredom. Maybe itís because I just donít care, or would rather be thinking about something else. Iím always anxious to learn new things, just not those things.

††††††††††† At the core of it all, at the core of everything it seems, is money. When I was a kid I was aware, careful, and responsible when it came to money. I had a savings account by the time I was nine, and made regular deposits from money Iíd saved from my allowance, from odd jobs Iíd done for old ladies up the street, from wherever I found it. In junior high I took out several certificates of deposit, and by the time I reached high school Iíd stashed away a nice little bundle. Of course being a kid the only things I spent money on were Mad magazine, fifty-cent paperbacks, movie tickets and the occasional monster model.

††††††††††† In the ensuing years the financial wizardry I exhibited as a boy all melted away, as did any working knowledge of the financial world. Of course Iíve never again had that kind of money to play with. I no longer have a savings account. I have a checkbook and a credit card, and thatís it. I had a savings account back in the early nineties, but the bank swallowed it up without my knowledge because I failed to maintain their ridiculous notion of what constituted a ďminimum balance.Ē I have no retirement plan, no IRA, no 401(k), no money market account, no investments, no vision of anything beyond the end of the month. Iíve never balanced the checkbook, figuring so long as the bank claimed my account had more money in it than I thought it did, I was in good shape. People (the responsible types anyway) are sometimes terrified to hear that, but hey, itís gotten me this far, right?

††††††††††† Iíve even had people offer, free of charge, to help me organize my finances, but Iíve always politely declined. Seems to me my finances are pretty well organized, as explained in the above paragraph. To put it another way, Iíve never had enough money to organize. As a result, my taxes are simple (though I always have someone else do them for me), my expenses are few, my needs are meager. I live in a hole in the ground. If you have nothing, you learn to live with nothing. Should I find myself diagnosed with some dread disease or if everything I own is swept away in a natural disaster, well, there you go. I donít have that much to lose, though I would miss that copy of The Green Slime.

††††††††††† The problem is when people start talking about money, I shut down. I donít care about rates and percentages and investments. Theyíve never been a part of my world, and Iím not interested in changing that.

††††††††††† This willing ignorance on my part may soon become problematic, as Morgan and I start talking about maybe finding some little house where we could actually live together. This would of course entail any number of things I know nothing about, like banks and lawyers and real estate brokers and property values and city codes and contractors. As daunting as it all is, though, we again comfort ourselves by saying, ďWell, stupid people buy houses all the time, so we should be able to figure things out.Ē

††††††††††† I just hope the lady at the bank is impressed to learn about that rarely discussed film subculture of movies featuring heroes who are blind martial arts expertsóor that Iím still alive today, considering everything.

 

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