SLACKJAW by JIM KNIPFEL
August 26, 2018

Snippets 8: Dream Warriors

 

I got dressed Monday morning and headed into the other room where Morgan was sitting with a cup of coffee. “You’re wearing that shirt,” she said.

            “Which one’s that?”

            “It looks like a Nazi salute.”

            Lord knows how many t-shirts I’ve picked up along the way over the past forty years or so. Band t-shirts, movie t-shirts, t-shirts from events and museums and bars, and a couple, well, lord knows what. So I have t-shirts from Clownfest ’93, Tokyo’s Museum of Parasitology, my beloved Ruby’s Bar, and about thirty different Residents t-shirts. They’re all jumbled together in a small mountain range of fabric and ink on the third shelf of the closet. Every morning I just reach in and grab at random, meaning I never have the slightest idea what the hell I’m putting on, and so have no idea what kind of message I’m sending to the world when I step outside.

            Of them all, there are only three Morgan suggests I refrain from wearing outside the apartment. One’s the Residents shirt covered with small, stylized, but perfectly recognizable ejaculating penises. I had no idea that was the design when I bought it at the merch table after a live show. Another, sadly, is my Mentors t-shirt. It’s not that there’s anything patently offensive about it, amazingly enough, just a black design on a gray shirt—the band logo over the image of three executioner hoods. To be honest it’s a helluva lot more innocuous than my other Mentors shirt, which was the same design, but in white ink on a black shirt. Yeah, try and picture that for a second and you’ll see why I sent it to Grinch. My wife’s concern was that, given the large Middle Eastern population around here, executioner hoods might be taken the wrong way.

            Then there was the one I was wearing that morning. It wasn’t a Nazi shirt, though it had been misinterpreted as such by the young, righteous and slow-witted. It was actually a gift from a friend who’d visited the Soviet Union when it was still the Soviet Union. The shirt’s design is a reproduction of a Stalinist-era Neo-Realist propaganda poster announcing the launch of the first of the Five Year Plans. So amongst all the flags and the proud Cyrillic proclamations are the images of, yes, several hands upraised in what undeniably resembles a Nazi salute. If you’re too slow to recognize Russian, forget about reading it, then misinterpretation is very easy. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been approached by righteous half-wits who asked if it was a Nazi shirt, to which I inevitably replied, “No, dummy, it’s far far worse than that.”

            It occurred to me as I was changing shirts that I wouldn’t run into this trouble nearly so often if I just grew the hell up and dressed my age.

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In the past two Snippets columns, I included lists of revered cultural icons I fucking hate. My editor suggested it might be interesting to turn that on its head, to draw up a list of things I actually liked. So here’s another off-the-cuff list of uncool and often maligned bits of cultural flotsam and jetsam that I adore, no matter what the hip urbane types think. Fuck them—Gilligan’s Island was amazing.

·      Ed Wood’s movies, and without a shred of smirking irony

·      Henry Miller beyond just Tropic of Cancer and Tropic of Capricorn

·      Norman Mailer

·      R.E.O. Speedwagon

·      The Green Slime (1971 sci-fi monster movie)

·      W. Lee Wilder’s films

·      Meatloaf’s Bat Out of Hell I and II

·      Novelist Tito Perdue

·      Gilligan’s Island

·      Grant Hart’s post-Husker Du albums

·      Wisconsin

·      Neil Young’s directorial debut, Human Highway

·      Tex Johnson and His Six-Shooters (aka Cactus Jack and the Wranglers)

·      Roger Ramjet cartoons

·      Punch Drunk Love, the P.T. Anderson film with Adam Sandler

·      Blue Oyster Cult

·      The NYC subway system

·      What Coney Island was like thirty years ago

·      Eighties New Wave

·      The Mentors

·      Brian DePalma, at least until 1986 or so

·      The Doors

·      Bill Cosby, at least until he stopped being funny in the Eighties

·      Roger Waters-era Pink Floyd, though not Waters himself

·      Ernest Hemingway

·      Jesus Christ Superstar

·      Stephen King’s short stories

·      Made for TV movies from the Seventies

·      Jaws: The Revenge

·      Herb Alpert and the Tijuana Brass

·      Tom Laughlin outside the Billy Jack movies

·      Road Runner cartoons

·      Dark Passage (both the novel and the film)

·      Bigfoot movies

·      The Dead Kennedys, up to and including their final studio album, Bedtime for Democracy

·      Halloween III: Season of the Witch

·      Jersey-based preteen hardcore band The Russian Meat Squats

·      David Lynch’s short-lived comedy series On the Air

·      Spike Jones and His City Slickers

·      Elvis after 1968

·      Sid Vicious’ live solo album, Sid Sings

·      Movie novelizations

·      Local crime blotters as literature

·      Mr. Magoo cartoons

·      Edgar Ulmer’s The Black Cat (1934)

·      Dracula vs. Frankenstein (1971)

·      Spam (the canned meat)

·      Godzilla vs. Megalon, and in fact every Toho kaiju eiga ever made

·      Bill Rebane’s movies

·      The Unabomber Manifesto

·      Louis Ferdinand Celine’s later novels

·      Wally Cox

·      The soundtrack to The Brain from Planet Aros

·      William Girdler’s movies

·      The exorcist II: The Heretic

·      Alice Cooper

·      Paul McCartney and Wings

·      Norman Rockwell

            And I’m not going to apologize for any of them.

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

One hot and humid Friday morning in late June,  an organization called Transportation Alternatives staged a protest in front of the offices of local state senator Marty Golden. Apart from being a true blue Trump supporter, Golden, simply put, is an asshole and a fucker. There’s too much loathsome crap in his background to get into here, but for our purposes let’s just say he’s one of those politicians who sees bicyclists and pedestrians as little more than speed bumps. Transportation Alternatives, meanwhile, is an advocacy group pushing for pedestrian and biker rights in a city which has come more and more to resemble Death Race 2000 in recent years. That morning they’d brought together the parents of children who’d been hit and killed by cars in the neighborhood, only to see the drivers walk away without facing any charges. You can run over anyone you like in this city, even speed away afterward, and there will be no charges. The focus of this particular protest was to push for more speed cams in school zones. A recent bill to order more speed cams had failed, and after telling these same parents he was fully in support of the measure, Golden had turned around and voted against it. I guess drunks with SUVs contribute more to his campaigns than goddamn third graders.

            Anyway, lord knows I’m no activist, am not political in any way, and long ago learned the futility of protests. Still, given I take my life in my hands around here just running errands a block away from my apartment, I did like these Transportation Alternatives people. I was on my way to the bank that morning, but given that fucker Golden’s office was a block away itself, over there between the corner vegetable stand and the Italian joint, I decided to swing by to see how things were going.

            Tapping up the sidewalk, I could tell I was passing through a small group of people, figured this must be the protest, and paused. “Excuse me,” I said to no one in particular. “But are you camped out in front of Marty’s office?”

            “Yes,” a woman said, clearly a bit hesitant and suspicious. I wondered what kind of abuse they must have been receiving from the passing locals. A lot of the locals love that fucker Marty, and hate protesters of any kind.

            “Well, I just wanted to tell you that I think what you’re trying to do here is great.”

            Suddenly I found myself surrounded by people who now considered me one of them. That’s okay. We chatted a bit, and I learned that the city had sent out a massive police presence to protect Golden from about a dozen peaceful protesters, and five people had been arrested—all of them, it turns out, parents of children who’d been run over. But they were wrapping up now and preparing to move on. I wished them well and continued on my way to the bank.

            A second later I heard a voice behind me. “Sir! Excuse me, sir!”

            (It’s funny how after I went completely gray I suddenly became “sir” and “Papa” to people who had previously called me “buddy.”

            I paused and turned, and a sweaty young man caught up with me, a young woman in tow. He introduced himself. I recognized the name from Morgan, who keeps me up to date on these things. He was the guy who ran Transportation Alternatives.

            “I couldn’t help but hear you say you’d come by to show your support.”

            “Well, actually I’m just on my way to the bank, but whatever. Sure.” I went on to tell him that as a pedestrian, and a blind one to boot, I appreciated what he was doing.

            “Would you mind offering a brief video testimonial about why you came out to join us today?”

            I froze for a second.

            “You don’t have to if you don’t want.”

            How do I always end up stumbling into these things? I was just going to the damn bank. I guess groups like these really do love having a cripple or two on board.

            “Sure,” I said. “Be happy to.”

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

After giving him the address and confirming it three times, I hadn’t said a word to the cabbie who was driving me home from LaGuardia after I spent a week and a half in the Midwest. What should have been a four hour trip, from entering O’Hare to stepping out of LaGuardia, had turned into a twelve-hour ordeal. I was hungry and sweaty and exhausted. And not much in the mood for chit-chat. He listened to his cricket matches and I stared into the darkness, only vaguely attempting now and again to figure out what the hell the cricket announcer was talking about.

            When I heard his GPS direct him to take a turn onto a street in my neighborhood, I finally perked up. “That wasn’t a bad trip at all,” I commented.

            “Yes,” he said. “The traffic was not bad.” That was apparently all the opening he was looking for. In a voice that was a little too loud and a little too shrill, he half turned around in his seat and barked, “HOW LONG HAVE YOU BEEN BLIND?!”

 

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