SLACKJAW by JIM KNIPFEL
March 11, 2018

Snippets IV: Electric Boogaloo

 

I was walking home along the parkway after an early Saturday run to the grocery store.

            “You’re doin’ good, you’re doin’ good,” came a rough old voice from in front of me.

            “Thank you,” I replied.

            “Yeah, I just don’t want’cha to run into . . . I’m blind in one eye myself. The left eye,” he began as I stopped near him to listen. I had never run into this guy before, had no idea who he was, but it was obvious I was about to get another life story. “But I’m real grateful to my sister. My little sister. See, I grew up on this block. Down there. Then I was away for awhile, but my sister said ‘come on home.’ It’s been good, I been doin’ okay. I can still shave myself. I left the goatee, though. In the morning I felt the breeze come in through the window. I had the couch and I had a blanket and it was okay. And I didn’t pee myself. That happens sometimes. But you don’t wanna pee in the pumpkin, right? Well, have a good day!”

*     *     *

Just in case anyone should ask, or it pops up as a clue in a Times crossword puzzle, there are exactly seven orgasms in Richard Wagner’s Tristan und Isolde. I counted.

*     *     *

I was sitting on a sidewalk bench having a smoke as my wife picked up a few things at the grocery store. It was early Sunday morning, and the sidewalks weren’t terribly crowded yet.

            As I waited, I could hear the approaching footsteps of a man strolling up the sidewalk. As he drew closer, I sensed him veering in my direction. Not in any kind of threatening manner, just swinging a little closer as he passed.

            “Happy Hannukah, eighty-six,” he grumbled. Then he was gone.

            At first I assumed he was on his phone, which I’ve come to learn is always the smart thing to assume. But he said nothing more, which left me thinking the cryptic statement had been aimed at me. I might have thought little about it even then, except it was late October, nowhere near Hannukah. That made it even stranger.

            Then I thought, “I wonder if he meant ‘eighty-eight’?”

            I obviously couldn’t see what this guy looked like or how he was dressed, but over the years and for whatever reason, I’ve come to learn a bit about the coded language used in public by neo-Nazis. ”H” being the eighth letter in the alphabet, for instance, “eighty-eight” becomes code for “HH.” So for years now, “88” has been used as a shorthand salutation which translates as, yes, “Heil Hitler.” The “Happy Hannukah” business was a new one on me, but as another HH certainly fit the code pattern, right? And maybe that “eighty-six” was intentional, and he was using it the same way the rest of us use the term “eighty-sixed.” In short, maybe it was still neo-Nazi shorthand implying both “Heil Hitler” and a message about genocide.

            Or maybe I was simply reading way too much into it, and he was just a crazy person.

            When Morgan came out of the store carrying two bags of groceries a few minutes later, I told her about what the man had muttered.

            Without any further explanation from me, she asked, “Did he think you were Jewish or a fellow Nazi?”

*     *     *

Here are just a few of the words I would like to see come back into everyday usage among English speakers:

            Hogwash, higgledy-piggledy, flapdoodle, malarkey, balderdash, mooncalf, jobbernow, hugger-mugger, dag nabbit, and cotton-pickin’.

            Please start using them on a regular basis. Thank you.

*     *     *

I was standing on the front stoop having a smoke and chatting with the woman next door, a painter in her sixties. “Last time I went out on New Years Eve,” she told me. “I went to a party. Later in the night I was sober enough to know I shouldn’t be doing it, but too drunk to prevent myself from getting into a long argument with a ventriloquist’s dummy.”

*     *     *

I went to the bank this morning, and despite my best efforts and much to everyone’s disappointment, made it home alive.

*     *     *

I’m starting to get the impression Con Ed, the gas company, the city Water Department and the Streets Department have all somehow planted their own electronic tracking chips on me. I don’t know what else could explain it.

            I can’t tell you how many times this has happened in the past, and it happened again this morning. I’ll be running some kind of usual, boring errand to the bank, the supermarket, or the drug store, right? Everything will be fine and clear and quiet, la la la la la. I always know exactly what I’m after in these places, which means I’m rarely in these assorted establishments for more than five minutes. I pop in, grab what I need, check out, and leave again. Five minutes!

            But no matter how clear and quiet things were when I first step through the doors, by the time I step outside again, the sidewalk and streets around me will be swarming with city workers, deafening noise, monstrous machinery and randomly-placed barricades. There will also be a fifteen-foot-deep hole in the street that wasn’t there five minutes earlier.

            I have no idea how these things happen, how these guys move so fast, or why I encounter it as often as I do. Which leads me to that chip implant theory. Only remaining question is, why are city agencies so intent on fucking with me that way?

*     *     *

After noting my facility for making witty off-the-cuff remarks in response to hearing the day’s headlines, Morgan suggested I get on that Twitter business to share them with the world. Then, pausing a moment to recall the nature of most of those quips, she reconsidered, warning me to stay as far away from that Twitter business as possible.

*     *     *

It had been a good year so far, pretty much. The work was coming in regular, some of it from unexpected sources. The doctors couldn’t find anything all that wrong with me, try as they might. Morgan and the cats were doing well. Yup, everything was dandy. Then suddenly come the end of October, everything seemed to take a sharp turn to the south.

            What should have been a sure-thing book deal unexpectedly collapsed to dust, and both my agent and the publisher in question (an old friend) were pissed at me in the aftermath for reasons I couldn’t quite figure. One of the sites that runs my stories regularly posted a six-thousand word piece, then yanked it again about an hour later after one reader complained about one word, the fags. Afterward it seemed I had been blacklisted there, again for reasons that were never made clear. Plus I never got paid for the story. Editors at mainstream outlets who’d run a couple of short pieces and encouraged me, with strange enthusiasm, to write many, many more suddenly forgot my name and wouldn’t consider any of my subsequent submissions. An old friend, whose work I’d helped promote countless times in the past suddenly turned down my latest offer to do something about her new book, saying simply, “I’m doing fine as far as publicity goes, thanks.” Other friends who knew me fairly well were suddenly taking deep and great offense at things I said, and were cutting me off. Then I blew my lower back again, one of the cats got sick, and my computer started forgetting how to do the simplest of things. All within the span of about two weeks.

            In other words, things were back to normal, and I could relax again.

 

You can contact Jim Knipfel at this address:

With occasional exceptions Slackjaw generally appears weekly. For email notification of other Jim Knipfel publications (books, etc.) and events please join the Slackjaw email list here.