People Think I Make This Shit Up. People Are Stupid
by Jim Knipfel
Let's just take Tuesday morning for an example. Monday night I stumbled home, drunk and tired, only to find waiting for me a pre-release cassette copy of the new album by America's most notorious and mysterious neo-nazi band. I didn't ask for it. I didn't even know they had my address (a little fact that worries me some). Still, there it was, staring up at me like some devil dog inside my front door. I brought it upstairs, plopped it down on the kitchen table, showered and went to bed, hoping that my head wouldn't be bothering me too much the next day.
As it turns out, the pain I was in the next day wasn't physical. It's hard to say what kind of pain it was, exactly--spiritual? psychological? I'm not sure, but by the time I got into work I was hunchbacked and exhausted. I tried to listen to that damned tape while I ate my breakfast, but somehow trying to eat a bowl of Cheerios and drink a mug of cold coffee while some (very) angry young man chants "Make Love! Make War!" over a tape of Charles Manson just doesn't work. I gave up, gathered my things together and sat down to put on my shoes, both cats yelping at me in a frantic attempt to keep me home to play. All the windows were closed, so I didn't hear the hubbub outside.
When I stepped outside the front door, a little queasy, somewhat unsteady, I walked straight into a movie scene being filmed on the sidewalk at the bottom of my steps.
Big production, it seems--trailers, klieg lights, cameras, cables everywhere, actors, gaffers, best boys scrambling about like roaches trying to get out of the light.
"What in the hell is this?" I shouted at the people who were blocking my gate. Dozens of bleary and angry eyes turned to stare at me. I stared back. I had to get to work, and these people were getting in my goddamned way.
I stomped down the steps, shoved my gate open, and stepped gingerly over the snaking cables, silent, aiming for the film crew-free zone a few yards down the sidewalk. The crew kept staring at me with a strange mix of resentment and frustration. Despite the annoyance, in the back of my head I was hoping that, of all 23 takes that they took of my steps that morning, they decided to use the one in which "that weird guy in the hat walks out his door and yells, 'What in the hell is this?'"
It was too late. My day was already in some kind of tailspin. I was fucked. As a result, whatever causes it--karma, aliens or simple drunken misperception--went into overdrive.
Two blocks away from my subway stop, a block before I left the quiet residential street and hit the commercial district, I saw two people wresting on the corner before me. More than simply just any two people, though--that would be no big deal, I'm used to it--these were two female crossing guards, both in full crossing guard regalia, having themselves one helluva catfight in the middle of the sidewalk.
"You gotta go to the hospital!" the woman on top was screaming.
"The hell I do!" the other screamed back, scratching at her opponent's face. I don't have the imagination to make this shit up.
I knew then that I was either dreaming, in which case I should just sit back and enjoy the show until I woke up, or I was being handed a series of bad omens and should take them at face value, meaning that I should turn around and go back home for the day, let everything pass. If Alexander the Great headed out with his troops one day to conquer Hibernia and the first thing he ran into was a film crew outside his tent, then some crossing guard catfight, there's no doubt that he would've postponed his invasion until the next day.
Unfortunately, I'm not as wise as Alexander was, so I plodded on hopelessly towards the subway.
On the platform, some fool with an acoustic guitar was singing Beatles songs earnestly. My confusion and befuddlement slid towards nausea. When the train finally came, I grabbed a seat, sat down and tried to cool off the burning in my head. I'd done a pretty good job too, until we hit 2nd Avenue.
The train stopped, the doors opened. Folks got off and a few others got on. The doors didn't close. We sat there. Nobody else seemed to notice that we were just sitting there--or if they did, they stayed as stone faced as I did. More people got on. I began to get nervous. I get nervous in crowds, and my car was getting a little too crowded for my already unstable mental health. Still, we didn't move.
Minutes later, the conductor shouted for the brakeman over the p.a.
The doors stayed open, more people got on. Only then did the conductor announce, "Uhh, es'cuse me, ladies an' gennleman, but we have a sick passenger in the last car of the train."
That was it. I decided to walk from there. As we all know, the mythical "sick passenger" could be suffering from anything from a nosebleed to eight gunshot wounds, and I was in no mood to hang around and find out how badly this one had been mangled.
I stood up, shoved my way through all those bags of shit with feet, and broke free through the open doors onto the vacant platform. It wouldn't be such a bad walk. Just a few blocks further than usual, and I was early anyway. It'd give me time for a smoke or two. Christ, but I needed a drink. I decided that I'd have to spend my lunch break at the shark bar again.
Anxious to get the hell away from the whole scene, all the strangeness that had hooked up with me, I paid no attention to where I was going. Stomped up the stairs. Looked familiar. Went through the turnstiles and up the steps to street level. I had a smoke out and lit before I hit the sidewalk. Kept my eyes down and just started walking.
It took me awhile to realize that I hadn't crossed any of the streets I was supposed to cross if I was headed in the right direction.
"Eh," I thought to myself, "I'll give it a few more blocks."
And it took a few more blocks to realize that I was walking into the morning sun. I stopped, threw away the dying butt and lit a new one. Standing there, I pictured the U.S. map and figured out where the sun rises. I zeroed in on New York, then on Houston Street, only then realizing that I was walking in the wrong direction.
"Damned neo-nazi satanists!" I thought, as I turned around and headed towards work. "They're the ones who got me started this way today!"
A block after my change in direction, a young, what you call "street tough," fell into step with me.
"Brought you white ass into the wrong fuckin' neighborhood, man," he informed me.
"Tell me about it," I said, still walking.
He stayed with me for three or four blocks, but after that first little exchange, his end of the conversation degenerated into little more than a series of sputtered obscenities.
"Tell me about it," I mumbled.
A block after he turned off, a man walking in the opposite direction caught sight of the big eyeball on my shirt and began screaming, tunelessly, "Here I come, Constantinople! Here I come, Con-stan-tinople! I am coming, Constantinople, here I come!"
I gave up. It all seemed perfectly normal by this time. I glanced at my watch. I still had fifteen minutes to get into work. It was already too hot. Maybe that was it. Maybe I was simply hallucinating this whole thing. It's happened before. At the weird intersection where Houston splits, I stood next to an elderly Asian man, both of us waiting for the light to change. Just a few more blocks to the safety of the office.
"Safety of the office"? What in the hell kind of madness was I slipping into?
To bring me back to reality, it seems, the Asian man started whacking at my left ankle with his cane. I thought it was a simple accident at first, so I stepped out of his range.
He followed me and whacked some more. I was on edge, obviously, and considered swift and brutal retaliation, but I didn't want to be the subject of a Post cover story the next morning: "Elderly Chinese Man Beaten to Death With Own Cane."
Instead, I zipped between cars, through Houston's early morning death race to escape him, lit another smoke at the opposite corner and, a few minutes later, opened the office door to find my faithful receptionist's desk waiting for me like a trusted friend. Of course, the minute the clock struck nine, the phone rang, and I found myself trapped on the phone with a man who insisted on speaking with someone who was no longer among the living.
"I'm sorry, sir, but she's no longer with us."
"The hell she isn't! Put me through!"
"Uhhhhh, I'm real sorry, sir..."
"Sorry, my ass! I demand to talk with her this instant!"
What could I do? I hung up and strapped myself in for the ride, realizing, finally, that Tuesday is Retard Day where I work.
The next morning, on the train into the city, I thought I had broken the spell. I thought a few beers and a good night's sleep would clear the travails of the previous day right the hell up. I was riding smooth and easy.
It was right about then, at the East Broadway stop, that a well-dressed man got on the train, knelt down on the floor directly in front of me, and, without saying a word, began, very methodically, to undress.
"People Think I Make This Shit Up. People
Are Stupid" copyright Jim Knipfel. Published originally in