SLACKJAW by JIM KNIPFEL
July 15, 2018

Snippets Seven: Rise of the Machines

 

The scruffy white guy who sometimes hangs around the bodega in the morning came in a few seconds after me, and immediately began arguing with the old snarly Egyptian who runs the place. They were keeping their voices low, so I couldn’t tell what they were arguing about. It sounded personal, like a fight that had been simmering for a while.

            After I made my way back up to the counter with my beer and juice, the old man stepped behind the register, still raging. “Think you’re such a fuckin’ big shot,” he said to the scruffy guy who was still standing by the coffee machine behind me. “You’re a fuckin’ shit. You sleep in a basement.”

            “I know,” the man said quietly and with obvious shame. “So what’s with the coffee? It’s all watery.”

            “No it’s not!” The old Egyptian shot back. “It’s great!”

**************************

I was crossing the Parkway on my way to the grocery store. It was about nine on the morning of some minor holiday or another. As I neared the far corner, I passed a man standing in the crosswalk. He muttered something. I didn’t know if he was on his phone, talking to himself, or talking to me. I couldn’t understand much of what he said except for the final line: “ . . . and it makes me so mad!”

            Well, with that I had to pause. If it was something I was doing, or if there was simply something about my person or demeanor that was pissing him off, I wanted to know what it was. “Pardon?” I asked.

            He turned to me as we both stood in the street. “I’ve been standing here waiting for the bus. But this bus here says ‘Not In Service.’ I mean, I been standing here waiting a long time, and I get ‘Not in Service’? That makes me so mad.”

            Not sure how to respond to that, but gleaning he just wanted someone to listen, I offered a simple, “I’m sorry.”

            “Oh, wait,” he announced. “There’s another bus coming now. And if that one says ‘Out of Service’ too, that’s gonna make me REALLY mad!”

***

In the last “Snippets” column, I included an off-the-cuff list of respected cultural icons I simply didn’t like as much as I was supposed to. It received a very, well, what we’ll call lively response, with people sending me their own such lists, commenting on my choices, or attempting to argue with me, pointing out why I was wrong for not liking this or that entry. People do love their lists.

            Given that the first list I’d turned in was far from complete, here’s a second edition of assorted unfathomable hatreds. There will likely be many more to come.

Joan Baez

Lucille Ball

Hepburn and Tracy, both as a team and individually

Paul Simon

U2

Joan Didion

Aristotle

Catcher in the Rye

John Updike

Jonathan Lethem

John Cheever

John Irving

Jonathan Franzen

Jonathan Safron Foer

Oh, fuck it—just make that every writer named John or Jonathan, with the exception of Jonathan Swift.

Martin Amis

The Replacements after they sobered up and became a pop band

R.E.M.

Joyce Carol Oates

Sylvia Plath

Puccini

David Byrne’s solo career

Shirley Temple

The Sopranos

The Wire

Mad Men

The Allman Brothers (did I include them last time? No matter—I hate them enough to list them twice)

The Doobie Brothers

The Eagles

Kirk Douglas, excepting maybe five pictures

Germaine Greer

Barbra Streisand

Bob Hope

Bing Crosby

The solo careers of all the original members of King Crimson

Louis Armstrong after he started singing

James Bond movies

Paul Auster, except for the work he did on that great restored Beckett centennial edition

Frank Capra

Baseball

Gary Cooper

Truman Capote, with the exception of In Cold Blood

Basquiat

George Bernard Shaw

Keith Haring

Sonic Youth

Most Tennessee Williams

The Grateful Dead, though that goes without saying

Jackson Browne

Gone With the Wind

Vivienne Leigh in anything at all

Clark Gable in pretty much anything at all

Crosby, Stills & Nash, though that goes without saying, too

American Westerns

It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World, with the exception of a few scenes

Mae West

Ava Gardner

Sammy Davis Jr. with the exception of his Now album

Farley Granger

Bette Davis

Bette Midler

The Clash after the first half of London Calling

            Well, okay. I think that’s enough for now. And anyone who wants to argue with me about The Clash should go listen to the second disc of London Calling again first. Jesus.

**************************

A middle aged couple, I’m guessing a few years younger than me, was strolling down the sidewalk past my building as I was getting ready to drag the trash cans out to the curb.

            HER: “I mean, I just don’t get it.”

            HIM: “He wants to go to school.”

            HER: “yeah, but . . . he can’t even WALK!”

**************************

I was on my way to the subway after making a quick visit to see my friend Daniel in Park Slope. I was always anxious to get the hell out of there and back to Bay Ridge. It was about three in the afternoon, meaning school was about to let out. That made me even more anxious to get the hell back on the train and away.

            As I waited to cross Fourth Avenue, always an insane and deadly proposition, a man stopped next to me and asked if I needed any help getting across the street. This was an almost unheard of bit of neighborliness in The Asshole Ghetto, but I reflexively waved my hand. “Oh, I’ll be fine. But thank you kindly for asking.”

            “You know there’s an island in the middle of the street just waiting to trip you up,” he cautioned. His voice was calm, knowing, and a little smug.

            “Oh, yeah,” I replied. “That island and I have become intimately acquainted over the years, so I should be fine.”

            “And there’s a black dog right in front of you. You probably don’t want to whack it with your stick. You never know.” Then he paused a moment. “I suspect you’ve whacked a few dogs with that stick.”

            “Oh, I’ve whacked all manner of living creature with this stick. Dogs, toddlers, the infirmed, celebrities, mothers, trees. The rich and poor alike.”

            “Well,” he said. “Have a nice day. And be careful.”

            Only much later did I realize who the man was, and wished I’d had the wherewithal at the time to have whacked him with my stick, too.

            (Hint: He’s in the above list somewhere.)

 

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