SLACKJAW by JIM KNIPFEL
March 22, 2015

The Blindo Groupies

 

“Hey, how ya doin’?”

            I said nothing for several reasons. I was tapping my way across the Parkway, which always requires a bit of concentration, and this guy was standing on the far corner. If he wasn’t talking into his cell phone (which was the obvious guess), he was undoubtedly talking to one of the dozen or so other people in the immediate vicinity.

            “Hey! How ya doin’ today?” he repeated.

            I just kept tapping. But then as I drew closer to the far corner, he said, “Careful there—it gets pretty icy. Might wanna veer a little left.”

            Well okay, I guess he was talking to me. Who else would he be saying this to? “Thanks,” I offered, and veered a little to the left.

            “Okay, now you’re good.”

            I hit the far curb and stepped out of that godforsaken death race of a street. “Thanks,” I repeated. This neighborhood and it’s do-gooders.

            “Sidewalk up ahead’s pretty clear, so you should be okay. Which way ya goin’?”

            I pointed across the street, perpendicular to what he’d assumed, and where the sidewalk was undoubtedly not nearly so clear. “That way.”

            The voice was rough, born and bred south Brooklyn, and if I had to guess I’d put him in his late fifties. A small, wiry guy given where the voice was coming from. “Hey, can I help ya cross?”

            “Oh, I’ll be fine, really. But thanks.”

            “Ah, I’ll help ya anyway, that’s okay.” He lightly took my left elbow, and I sighed a little inside.

            “All right.”

            “Just waiting here to meet my girlfriend. She’s a nurse and works nights.”

            “That’s gotta be kinda tough, eh?”

            “Yeah, but what’re ya gonna do? She likes the work. C’mon, here we go. We got the light now.”

            He led me over the small piles of frozen black slush which had gathered at the corner, then across the avenue, talking the whole while, mostly about the shoveling situation. When we reached the far side he said, “Hey, can I talk to ya a minute?”

            The flags went up, but what choice did I have? I either talk to him here on this frozen corner, or he follows me to the bank and the grocery store. “Sure.”

            “C’mon, let’s go over here out of the way.” He began dragging me a little.

            Uh-oh. I began to sense what I’d just snagged here.

            “See, I’m real interested in this. There was this guy, took out an ad on Craigslist, and he was . . . visually impaired. He was looking for work. That is I mean he was looking for people to work for him. Help him out with stuff, right? But he was a real big guy too. Fat, I mean, so I guess that’s part of why he needed help.”

            “Uh-huh.”

            “Hope ya don’t mind my talkin’ about it open like this. I’m just real interested.”

            Yeah, I was right. What I had here was a blindo groupie. You run into them now and again. They’re a certain subspecies who’ve developed a fascination with blindness and will grab hold of any blindo they encounter to try and confirm their own misguided ideas about what a simple medical condition represents. Thanks to TV and the movies, most blindo groupies seem to believe not being able to see has given us some kind of mystical powers, as well as a secret magical key into a deeper understanding of the truth about the workings of the world and the human spirit. Well, I don’t know about that, but we sure do trip over a lot more shit than most people.

            “It’s like you guys been given a window,” he was saying, “the rest of us don’t got, see?”

            “Well, I don’t know about that. It’s really not that big a deal. Once you get used to it it’s more like an annoyance. Like a hangnail that won’t go away.”

            That didn’t really fit in with his theory so he let the tide carry it away and rolled on. “What I noticed with this guy—the guy who took out the ad?—was that he listened a lot. Didn’t talk much, but he listened real hard to what people were sayin’.”

            My god, he actually applied for the job? This guy was hardcore in his blindo groupiness.

            “I think ya just learn more about people and things if ya listen more instead of talking all the time, see?”

            “Uh-huh.” To be honest, I really wasn’t paying that close attention any more. It was cold out there on the corner, and I still had to make a long walk to the bank along some treacherous sidewalks.

            “My name’s Tommy, by the way.”

            “Jim,” I said, and shook his hand.

            “Tell you what I’m gonna do. I’m gonna give you my number, here.”

            Oh christ, I did not need any more numbers.

            I heard him fumbling around for a piece of paper. “I don’t got any of my cards with me now, or I’d just give ya that. I got those made up myself. Anyway, gonna give you my number here—my name an’ number—and you need anything at all, you gimme a call, right? You need something fixed around the apartment, little repairs or whatever, just gimme a call. Leaky faucet, anything. Leaky faucet’ll drive ya nuts after awhile, right? No job’s too small.”

            “Well, that’s very nice. thank you.”

            “Yeah, I just live right over here in this building. Hey—“ The thought finally occurred to him. “Should I even be writin’ anything down? Does that even make sense?”

            “My wife could read it to me.”

            “Okay then. I’ll give ya my name an’ number. An’ here’s my address, too, just so’s ya know you’re dealin’ with someone real.”

            He handed me the ragged piece of paper, which I slipped into my pocket. “Thanks very much.”

            “An’ there’d be no charge, of course.”

            “Oh, I would never let that happen.”

            “No, no, no, I’m serious. I’d never charge ya anything. But maybe I come over, look at the situation, see what I can do. Then maybe we could talk awhile about, y’know, your visual impairment. Like I says, I’m just real interested, an’ I’d love to talk to ya about it.”

            “Umm.”

            “Y’know, I’m kinda an artist, too.”

            “Really.”

            Okay, ya got that number, an’ I should let ya get goin’. It’s pretty cold out here. But take care an’ be careful. An’ God bless you.”

            Jesus I hate it when people toss that zinger at me. Nevertheless I shook his hand again and headed on my way. As I headed for the bank—is this a terrible thing?—I couldn’t decide if he was a sincere, legitimate blindo groupie, or an old con who took me for an easy mark. I think I’d be more inclined to call the latter.

 

[Author’s extraneous note: Mike from KGB—you know who you are—drop me a line, please. Thanks.]

 

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