SLACKJAW by JIM KNIPFEL
September 6, 2015

Trajectories

 

“Are you okay?” she called from the kitchen.

            “Oh, I’m fine,” I called back. I was in the bathroom splashing water on my head. I was pretty sure I was fine in spite of everything, but when I stepped around the corner a few seconds later, face still dripping, she said, “My god, you’re really bleeding.”

            Here’s the funny thing, see? There are eleven doorways in this apartment, if you count the closets. It’s not a big apartment by any stretch, but it’s been cut up in weird and unexpected ways that left it with an unusual number of doors. It took me a few months, but I eventually came to learn not only where they all were, but also which ones were usually open, which ones were usually closed, and how far the open doors were usually, well, open (they differ). So now I have an ingrained set of standard trajectories for navigating from one part of the apartment to another without injury. The only problem arises when one of the open doors is closed a mere three or four degrees more than usual. That’s when the bleeding starts and the question again arises whether or not I should start wearing a hockey helmet.

            I generally shuffle around the apartment lightly feeling my way along the wall with one hand while keeping the other in front of me in a defensive posture against the unexpected obstacle. This doesn’t always work, given at the same time I’m generally leading with my face. So once a month or so, when one of those fucking doors is slightly out of position, I discover it with my forehead.

            Here’s the funny part, though, even if it seems funnier to me than it does to Morgan. It doesn’t matter if the door opens in or out, or if the hinge is to the right or the left. I always without fail hit exactly the same spot on my forehead, just a millimeter or two to the right of my left eyebrow. I have a scar there now, it’s been there for a long time, and it’s one I reopen every damn time this happens. The same fucking scar. It’s almost miraculous. By all accounts, after such a seemingly random scattering of repeated blows to the head, my whole forehead should be a roadmap of scar tissue, but it’s only this one little vertical gash maybe three-quarters of an inch long, even after those countless assaults. I think it must say something about either German efficiency or classical physics, but I’m not exactly sure what. Or maybe it just bears out what a photographer noted several years ago when he told me I had “an apelike brow.”

            A couple of hours before I split that scar open and bled everywhere again on Sunday afternoon, Morgan and I went for a walk by the Narrows, the body of water along Brooklyn’s west coast, the one separating Brooklyn from Staten Island. There’s a promenade over there that’s generally pretty quiet except for a few joggers and some shell-shocked Army vets practicing their kung-fu moves.

            It was a warm morning, and a bit more humid down there than we’d expected, so we decided to cut things a little shorter than usual. We turned off the promenade and headed back into Bay Ridge proper around Eighty-sixth Street. The path we took led through a small overgrown park, and though we usually cut straight through the trees and assorted drab foliage to the street, this time Morgan noticed a little side path she’d never seen before. On a whim we veered off our standard route and followed the winding path as it snaked its way north through the heart of the narrow stretch of park..

            It was pleasant enough I suppose, and the shade and greenery meant it was at least a few degrees cooler than things had been on the concrete promenade.

            We had just come around a small bend in the path when Morgan said, “I’m sorry—I didn’t mean to scare him away.”

            It turns out there was a man up ahead of us, just standing there along the side of this little-used path, feeding the squirrels. When we came into view, the squirrel he’d been feeding darted away up a tree.

            “It’s okay,” he said. “It doesn’t matter.” The voice was gruff, the spot-specific accent a heavy one. “I have something more important to tell you about.”

            Later Morgan told me he was a burly guy of about sixty, wearing a shirt unbuttoned to the navel and a gold medallion around his neck. Had I known this before I heard him speak that last sentence I would’ve run screaming. As it was, all I could think was a quiet “uh-oh.”

            “A month ago I had an epiphany,” he said.

            “Uh-oh,” I thought again.

            “ . . . For all I have experienced in my life—everything I’ve ever seen, or touched, or smelled or tasted, everything I’ve ever done—none of it was as true and real as this.”

            I was starting to sweat again. How do I always find them?

            “But before I tell you about the epiphany, I want you to read the same two books I did. This is the only good use for a cell phone. I want you to write the titles down”

            “We don’t have cell phones,” Morgan told him.

            “Okay then,” he told her, “you remember the first title, and he remembers the second. Then when you get home look them up and read them. Never have two books made such a life-changing impact on me. They changed everything.”

            Yeah, I suppose he sounded earnest and sincere, but that only made it all the scarier. Whatever it was it apparently prompted him to start lurking creepily along seldom used paths, feeding squirrels as he awaited the next unsuspecting wayfarer. I was just wondering when he was going to hit us up for a few bucks.

            I’m not going to repeat the titles of the two books here, not wanting to encourage this sort of behavior. Suffice it to say both books were written by preachers, and worse, preachers based in the San Francisco Bay area.

            “I was at a party last week and I was explaining it all to a woman and she said, ‘Oh, that’s just the tract. That’s just the Church.’ And yes, it does have to do with the tract and the church and Jesus the Almighty Christ, but it’s much much more than that. This is why you need to read these two books, to see what I saw and understand what I’ve come to understand. Then the next time I see you, we’ll talk about what happened to me a month ago.”

            With that, and much to my dismay, he let us go without having cornered us there for an hour, without asking us to pray with him, and without asking us for cash. Maybe that in itself was a tiny blessed miracle, and I walked away vowing we would never again walk down that particular path.

            Point being, if you don’t ever change your trajectory, you’re gonna keep running into the same fucking thing over and over again. And if you do change your trajectory you’re gonna keep running into the same fucking thing over and over again. Either way, you’re screwed.

 

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