You Cut Out His Brain, You Bloody Baboon!
by Jim Knipfel
I opened the door and stepped back into the apartment, after seeing my ex off again. I crawled under the table and sorted through one of the crates of alcohol she'd just left, to see if there was anything drinkable. After passing on the vermouth, the liqueurs, the rest of the fetid remains of her father's suburban liquor cabinet, I found a bottle of whiskey with a few splashes left at the bottom. I pulled myself up into a chair.
"Well, kids," I said aloud to the two beasts lying sprawled, unconcerned, across the floor, "here we are again, huh? Just the three of us." They both stared up at me like I was some damned idiot, expecting an answer from cats. It hit me then that, not only was I left the near-impossible job of mopping up after Hurricane Laura, but I was also slowly turning into Charlton Heston. Or if not Mr. Heston himself, at least some Charlton Heston-type creature. I poured myself a drink. Strange the kind of madness we surround ourselves with to protect us from the coldness of space.
Maybe I should explain (or maybe not, come to think of it). The night before, as I was sitting on the living room floor, eating my TV dinner, working on that fifth beer and watching Hard Copy, I heard the scratch of a key in my apartment door. The door opened, and Laura walked in. This was something I wasn't expecting.
A few hours later, my apartment was about half the size it was before she walked through the door (she'd just arrived with a van full of things--furniture, books, booze--salvaged from her late father's house in Michigan). I swear, the woman can be in the apartment for five minutes--just stop in to use the phone or grab a coat--and leave the place a complete shambles. This time, unfortunately, she was here to dump off a truckload of large, unwieldy objects.
So now I had to start learning my way around again. I had just about gotten a handle on the way the place was set up before. Of late, I'd been kicking fewer chairs and running into fewer doors (as long as they stayed where I left them). Now I had a whole new array of doors and chairs to contend with. But that's okay. I'd deal. Always do. The bigger problem was this Charlton Heston thing.
After spending too many nights camped out in front of television sets with my friends John and Linda, the three of us forcing, clawing our way through such Heston masterpieces as Airport 1975, Naked Jungle, The Awakening, The Omega Man, Soylent Green, The Agony and the Ecstasy and, of course, those first two Planet of the Apes films, something seems to have taken hold. Linda had always joked that John and I were obsessed with Charlton Heston simply because we figured his example would teach us how to be more manly.
But it's not manliness, in the end, which seems to have infected me; instead it's the solipsistic "Last Man on Earth" psychosis that Heston always seems to slip into. This is characterized, for the most part, by wandering around his environment--be it an apartment, the desert, the cockpit of a disabled 747, wherever--talking to himself. And not only talking to himself, but talking to the things around him, too--inanimate objects and animals. And not only talking to them, but making bad jokes, which are inevitably followed by a bitter, cynical chortle, which seems to say, "I'm the Last Man on Earth, and no one will ever get to hear my funny joke."
I've been doing that. It's not just my cats, either--everybody talks to cats--I've been talking to bookcases, old records, sinks and doorknobs. I've also been saying "Oh...my...God" a lot--a line which can be heard in every single Charlton Heston movie ever made.
It frightens me. If I don't do something about it, in a few weeks time, I'll be grabbing the Big Guy's face and trying to force him to say his own name.
Maybe the key to understanding this came in a letter I received yesterday. Just a little chatty note from my friend Phaedra--yet in the middle of it all was a tiny sentence, not preceded or followed by anything connected to it, just a little independent observation that slapped me hard in the face.
"You write in the first person," she wrote, "but you live in the third person."
This was a notion that Grinch always held firm to, at least all those years ago when we were causing so much trouble.
"Y'know, Slack," he'd say in his speedball twang, "Some time ago, I decided that life was nothing more than a real long movie. The problem most people make is that they decide to live in really boring movies. Me, I've decided that my life'll be directed by Russ Meyer."
"Yeah, that's great Grinch," I remember telling him at the time, "so tell me how the hell I ended up in Eraserhead."
Times have changed, and so have movies. So now I'm forced to ask myself how I ended up in The Omega Man.
Probably a mixture of loneliness, cynicism and a rage that burnt itself out--taking most of me with it--some years ago. Of course, working as a receptionist doesn't help much.
It struck me at exactly 3:15 on a Thursday afternoon (I wrote it down!) that what I was witnessing while answering the same telephone a few hundred times a day, giving the same answers to the same five questions for nine hours a day, was the slow, agonizing strangulation of the very notion of human communication. Again, not a new idea in and of itself--my ex and I used to argue this question endlessly--until you finally witness it nose-to-nose, and recognize yourself as one of the guilty parties involved in its demise.
Regardless of the fact that I am forced to deal with them on a near-perpetual basis at work, I find myself moving farther and farther away from humanity. I get home and find an answering machine full of messages from folks I'd normally want to talk to, but I just clear the tape and ignore them.
Unfortunately, I've been cursed with this fucking gravely sing-song drawl that seems to amuse most of the people who call the office. That's something, I suppose, some hint of human contact. No matter the disgust I feel, I still do what I can--when voices on the phone ask me how I am, I tell them the truth (it's never good news; regular callers have learned not to ask).
I make fun of the voices, the questions, drop non-sequiturs into my answers, just to see if folks are listening. Most aren't. In the end, no matter how I may try, it's still just a matter of disembodied voices exchanging disembodied information. And, in the end, I still go home to an empty apartment every night (well, empty except for two cats who can't pronounce their own damn names and a newly-deposited impassable clutter), and start talking and making bad jokes to inanimate objects. It all has that rotten odor of comedy about it.
Perhaps that's why I puke every morning before leaving for work. For the first few weeks I thought it was a simple case of nerves--a product of the fear that accompanies having to step outside to face a world full of Anthony Zerbas--but it didn't stop, and it hasn't stopped.
I get up, shower, dress, eat something, gulp my morning array of pills (in the end I'm still just an anchor-headed, pill-poppin' gizmo), put my shoes on, then step into the bathroom and retch. A simple blorp. Like clockwork. Then I go to work. It's either my own way of mourning the death of communication, or I have stomach cancer. In the words of every bad local TV journalist ever spawned, "Only time will tell." But by then it'll be too late.
Of course, my clockwork vomiting may simply be one more symptom of what that delightful Oswald Spengler called "a failure of nerve," just one more signal post along that long, tedious collapse of Western Civilization. We can only hope.
Copyright by Jim Knipfel. Published originally in the NYPress. All rights reserved.