SLACKJAW by JIM KNIPFEL
October 15, 2017

For a Few Snippets More

 

I was on my way to the store this morning when I passed a garbage truck making its usual Monday morning rounds. I was a couple of blocks away from my apartment, but as I passed the truck one of the garbage men called out to me.

            “Hey buddy, how ya doin’?””

            “I’m swell,” I shouted back over the roar and grind of the truck. “How ‘bout yourself?”

            “Looks like you’re gettin’ around pretty good, there,” he responded, apparently referring to the cane I was tapping along the sidewalk in my search for the corner.

            “Well, I’ve had a lot of time to practice.”

            “That’s great! Ol’ Buddya mine was blind. He had a little stick like that, too. We used to have a lotta fun with him, go into Manhattan and . . . ”

            It went on for about five minutes, the two of us standing on the corner as one of New York’s Strongest regaled me with stories about his old blind friend’s shenanigans. Then he wished me a good day and scampered on down the street to catch up with the truck, which had continued on without him.

            It’s Mister Rogers Fucking Neighborhood down here, I tell you. But as I continued tapping toward the grocery store, it occurred to me that the people in this neighborhood may be a bunch of Trump-loving, racist knuckleheads, but they’re a hell of a lot friendlier than those fucking self-righteous liberals in Park Slope. It also occurred to me things would likely be reversed if I was Egyptian.

***

Over the course of the past year or so, I’ve trained our cats, in proper Pavlovian fashion, to respond to my snapping fingers as the one and only signal that it’s time to eat. There’s something about the sound that can penetrate the deepest feline slumber, and once they hear it they hop up and trot into the kitchen where they line up neatly next to their respective bowls. It’s all pretty funny to watch. No one else’s finger popping gets the same reaction out of them, and if I don’t snap my fingers it means it’s not time to eat yet and they leave me alone.

            On the downside, should I snap my fingers absentmindedly during the course of the day without feeding them immediately afterward, they’ll fly into a murderous frenzy. This means I can no longer listen to that live Bobby Darin album except right around feeding time.

***

I’ve been writing cautionary tales about the threat posed by clowns for the past thirty years or so, though my own deep and abiding fear of clowns can be traced back much further, to a terrifying encounter I had with a Shriner’s Circus clown when I was seven or eight.

            But a funny thing has happened in recent years. Beginning with the first appearance of the Northampton Clown in 2013, creepy clowns soon became a worldwide hysteria, with harlequins topping terrorists as the number one fear in the public mind. Creepy clowns began appearing throughout Europe and the States. People were being arrested for simply going out in public in clown garb. And all this was only exacerbated with the release of Rob Zombie’s killer clown grindhouse picture 31 a couple of years ago, and much more notably the recent high-profile film adaptation of Stephen King’s IT. Hating and fearing clowns of all stripes (and polka dots) has simply become the norm.

            As much as I’d like to pat myself on the back for once again being ten minutes ahead of my time on this whole clown panic business, now that the panic has gone mainstream, I’m starting to rethink my position on the clown issue. I think back to all those party clowns I interviewed for a story I was writing in 1993 (reproduced here some months ago). Suddenly I’m finding I actually feel bad for them.

            For the most part they were decent, earnest people beneath the face paint and rubber noses. They sincerely felt they were doing Good by bringing joy to children and restoring a little bit of magic and wonder to the world. My own phobias aside, clowning has been a viable and almost respectable calling for over two hundred years now, ever since Joseph Grimaldi donned the baggy suit and greasepaint. Now it seems it’s gone forever.

            What parent in his right mind would ever hire a clown to entertain at a kid’s birthday party anymore? What shop owner would post a clown out front handing out free balloons to drum up business?

            Just consider the long-term economic ramifications of this global anti-clown hysteria. Thousands of professional clowns across the nation are about to land on unemployment. And who in the hell is going to hire an ex-clown? And that right there raises the obvious civil rights questions. Clowns represent an entire class of people who are suddenly being denied work not for any lack of ability, but simply on account of what they are. Deny someone a job because they’re gay or disabled or Muslim or Hispanic, and you’d have the ACLU on your ass so fast it’d make your head spin. Refuse to hire someone because he’s a clown, and no one blinks an eye. In fact everyone would tell you you made the right decision.

            Think about that one for a minute.

***

Over the past five or six years, hit and run driving has become the most popular participatory sport in New York City. Hardly a day goes by that you don’t hear about a pedestrian or bicyclist somewhere in the five boroughs getting mowed down by an out of control taxi, a city bus, a box truck or a car driven by a drunk off-duty cop before the driver speeds away.

            Despite his clear pro-car, anti-pedestrian agenda, NYC’s mayor at least attempted to pay lip service to the issue by instituting the hilariously and ironically misnamed Vision Zero program shortly after taking office. The idea was that hit-and-run drivers would face much tougher penalties if found guilty. Only problem is, most hit-and-run drivers never come close to the point at which they’d be found guilty of anything, as most are never charged.

            But that’s all beside the point. Just a few weeks back the city trotted out a new plan to, if not cut down on hit-and-run fatalities exactly, at least get the city off the hook when the inevitable happened yet again.

            A new generation of MTA city buses now come equipped with a stern electronic female voice that announces “BUS…IS…TURNING” to warn pedestrians in the crosswalk that the massive vehicle at the stoplight is about to turn the corner so they can get out of the way in time, because lord knows that fucker ain’t stopping for no one, no how.

            So you see? It takes the responsibility off the driver to actually, y’know, look where he’s going or check his blind spots. Nope, the warning was there loud and clear, so if some octogenarian with a walker gets ground under the wheels and dragged six blocks, it’s her own damn fault for not heeding that clear warning and getting out of the way in time.

***

I was making my way down the narrow cleaning supplies-pet food-beverages aisle in the grocery store when an elderly woman with a cart turned the corner and began shuffling down the same aisle toward me.

            “Where’s the dog food?” She barked. “All I see is cat food.”

            “Oh, I’m sure it’s there someplace,” I offered.

            As I tried to slowly and carefully edge my way around her, she parked the cart in the middle of the aisle and started scanning the shelves packed with cans and bags of assorted pet food. “I think they’re prejudiced,” she muttered. Then she spotted what she was looking for. “Oh. There it is. But way up there?”

            I was almost around her when she barked at me again. “Come here!”

            “Okay. Can, Um, I reach something for you?”

            “Yeah, you see that green one?”

            “Nope.”

            “Well look where I’m pointing—It’s that one there. On the top shelf.”

            “I’m sorry, but I, um, can’t see.”

            “I know that! Give me your cane.”

            What choice did I have? I handed it over. She then started flailing it at the top shelf, as small bags of doggie snacks rained down on me. Sticking my hand up in self defense, I accidentally caught the very bag she was swinging at.

            “Is this the one you were looking for?” I asked, handing her the small pouch.

            “Yeah!” She snatched it away and handed me my cane, tip first.

            “Thank you,” I said, taking it from her. “I don’t believe my cane was ever put to better use.”

            With a grunt, she continued shuffling her way down the aisle.

 

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