by JIM KNIPFEL
September 2, 2018
Derek and I remember that night differently, but to be fair we were both pretty outrageously drunk at the time. In a case like that, it’s generally best to split the difference and call it a day.
This was back around 1993, when I was commuting from Brooklyn to Philly two days a week as the Welcomat’s Editor-at-Large. I’d take the train down early Thursday, stay overnight, then head back to Brooklyn Friday evening. I had a choice of four or five places to crash during those days—Dave William’s place in South Philly, or Pissbucket’s in Germantown, or Suzanne and Peter’s in West Philly. They were all very cool about letting a young drunk sleep it off on a couch, sometimes with very little notice, once a month or so. Most of the time I crashed with my editor, Derek, his wife Linda, and their young daughter Cait on Baring Street. It cut down on logistics. Derek and I would head back to his place after work, and the next morning we’d just walk back to the office in Center City. They had a cot set up in Linda’s sewing room on the second floor, where I’d pass out until Moonlight, their black pug, woke me the next morning by hopping up and down on my head.
Dinners at Derek and Linda’s were always wonderfully raucous affairs, with copious amounts of splendid food and plenty of wine, beer and Yukon Jack, and any number of surprise dinner guests apart from myself. Sometimes Derek’s two older daughters would show up with their boyfriends, or a neighbor would stop by, or someone from the paper. Derek and I were usually both pretty drunk by the time the meal started, and continued drinking long into the night, sitting at the little table in the kitchen by the door that led to the garden out back.
One night some friends of theirs asked if their son David could stay with Derek and Linda for a few hours while they went to some event or other. David was the same age as Cait (I’m thinking they were about six or seven, but I could be wrong about that), so of course that was fine. Usually I get pretty nervous when there are too many youngsters around, but I was on my way to a solid drunk, so I didn’t notice as much.
Here’s where our recollections start to diverge. Derek remembers he and Linda being there this whole while, though as I recall Linda was off doing something for a couple of hours, and after dinner was finished and the dishes cleaned up, Derek stepped out to make an emergency run to the state store for more beer. This meant I had to keep an eye on the kids for about half an hour. This is never a good idea.
After Derek left, the three of us sat at the kitchen table a bit uncomfortably as I desperately wracked my sodden brain trying to think of some way to entertain children. I stared from one to the other on the other side of the table, then poured another glass of wine from the magnum of cheap white I’d picked up on the way to Derek’s place. Then I had a great idea.
“Hey,” I said to Cait, who was quite precocious. Certainly much more than David, as I remember it. “Does your dad have a staple gun?”
“I think so.”
“Well, could you get it for me? I want to show you a trick.”
Cait hopped off her chair, went into a storage room, and returned a minute later with a staple gun.
“Okay then,” I told them after Cait took her seat once more. “Watch this.”
I removed my hat, dropped it on the table, pressed the staple gun to my head and pulled the trigger. With a ka-chunk, a staple was driven through my hair and into my scalp.
The youngsters seemed delighted by this, so I did it again. Ka-chunk.
Yeah, this entertaining kids business was easier than I thought. All you have to do is inflict a little damage on yourself, and they’re happy as can be.
Ka-chunk. Ka-chunk. Ka-chunk.
At that point David suddenly looked incredulous. Few things in this world are more annoying than an incredulous six-year-old.
“It’s just a trick,” he insisted. “You’re not really doing it.”
In response, I set the staple gun down on the table, reached up. And yanked one of the staples free from my head. I looked at it briefly, noted there was blood on both sharp tips, and handed it to David to examine. Then something else crossed his face, a strange kind of impressed awe.
I pumped a few more staples into my head (it really didn’t hurt, just a quick sting as the staples barely pierced the scalp), and was about to ask David and Cait if they wanted to give it a try themselves when Derek walked in the door.
Despite my efforts to quietly shush them, they couldn’t wait to tell Derek about my funny trick. Derek being Derek of course, instead of being mortified by this reckless endangerment of children, he broke into great barking guffaws.
Linda got home a little later, and shortly after that David’s parents picked him up and took him home.
I don’t know if the phone call came later that night or the following morning. I think it was that night about ten, and I’m pretty sure Linda, the far more diplomatic and sober of the two, picked up the phone. Somehow, drunk as I was (even drunker by that point) I had an idea who it was on the other end, and what it was about.
When Linda hung up a few minutes later, she informed us that, as expected, it had been David’s mother, calling to tell Linda that under no circumstances was I ever to be left alone with her son again. This time both Derek and I started guffawing.
For years afterward, I wondered if David ever tried the staple trick himself when his parents weren’t around. I suspect he did.
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