by JIM KNIPFEL
April 12, 2015
Just This Side of Murder
A few years back some supposed TV news program interviewed me as part of a special episode they were putting together about the phenomenon of school shootings. (I’ve written about this before). I was approached initially because I’d been a suicidal kid with a bad attitude who, together with a sociopathic friend named Grinch had done some awful things, though nary a one I regret.
Considering some of the things I’d recounted in print and the general attitude I seemed to express most days, during the pre-interview the show’s producer asked, “Was there ever a thought that the two of you might kill someone? Was that thought ever in your head?”
“Oh my god of course!” I belched back. That’s when they decided to include me in the show.
In the end my interview, much to my relief, was clipped from the final broadcast, mostly I have to believe because the answers I gave ran counter to the thesis they were looking to push. Still, I was relieved to be cut simply because interviews of any kind always make me extremely uncomfortable, and in general I don’t express myself very well while speaking. I always end up regretting everything that came out of my mouth. Now after a few years, I think I’ve come up with the proper response to the question, “for all your talk about it, why didn’t you kill anyone?”
Okay, assuming we didn’t, here’s what I should have said.
Grinch and I had all the characteristics of your modern-day school slaughtering team-ups. I was a long-term suicide case. Grinch, as mentioned, was a sociopath with a military background who was quite comfortable with firearms. We were both destructive, reckless, nihilistic, and we despised our peers (and everyone else). We were also a little too smart for our own good and had read a little too much late Nineteenth century German philosophy. The Leopold and Loeb comparisons were obvious, but without all the gay underpinnings.
It’s not that we didn’t talk about killing. We talked about killing on a daily basis. Like unrepentant killer Carl Panzram had in the twenties, we even concocted plans to trigger a global war, just as a lark.
I think I told the interviewer the reason we never killed anyone (again assuming we didn’t) was that we didn’t have access to guns. That was a weak excuse and not exactly true. We could’ve gotten our hands on the proper weaponry easily enough if we’d wanted, or we could’ve simply used other means. We were mighty clever fellows, after all.
No, the thing that really stopped us, I think, the thing that separated us from most modern mass killers, was that although we were both filled with an almost seismic, apocalyptic rage, we also shared a goofy, dark sense of humor, even about my assorted failed suicide attempts, that trumped the rage. Entertainment was the name of the game to us. Murder was too serious a business, too often undertaken by half-wits with no sense of humor. Instead, we channeled our destructive anger elsewhere, into a series of very public pranks designed to hurt people’s brains and sensibilities more than their bodies. So we wrote frothing, angry letters to the editor that made no sense whatsoever but still got published. We took down call-in radio shows, held fake protests in a town known for its protests, nudged otherwise peaceful, legitimate protests into ugly brawls, and plastered the town with disgusting posters that served no other purpose than to offend people. We started the occasional fire and spread nasty rumors about the terrible thing we planned to do next (which of course meant we never had to do it). We rode city busses while carrying axes, smoked bad cigars in fancy sweater shops, and our band, the Pain Amplifiers, played its first show at three a.m. outside the library in the middle of finals week.
Along with the general, run-of-the-mill vandalism and thievery, we made a public nuisance of ourselves in ways that almost seemed to be making a point, but really didn’t. It was an art form to us, the new dada, and allowed us to express all that deep and ugly rage in a way that made both of us laugh really, really hard. In philosophical terms it was just this side of murder, kind of like those really despicable types who make crank calls to the parents of children who’ve been murdered, or set up fake charities to prey on disaster victims, but, y’know, funnier.
There was of course some serious anti-social aggression at the heart of these pranks, but to us they were merely whimsical. Plus it was more fun than killing some random frat boy (tempting as that was) or shooting up a local high school. Admire the stout-hearted types who did those things as we usually did, mass murder was a sloppy and strenuous business with very little payoff. It was too simple, too banal, too obvious and commonplace, and not nearly funny enough. And we were pretty lazy on top of it. The real kicker though was that we always got a hoot out of seeing our latest dumb exploits reported by confused reporters on the local evening news, and the obligatory “shooting ourselves in the head afterward” in the aftermath of a school massacre would have precluded that.
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