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Illustration by Russell Christian.

Jim Knipfel's books are available from Amazon.com:


Ruining It for Everybody, Jim Knipfel's 3rd memoir. An anti-spirituality spiritual manifesto.


The Buzzing, a novel about an aging and embittered journalist who stumbles onto what may be the story of a lifetime.


Quitting the Nairobi Trio, available in hardback or trade paperback.


Slackjaw, available in hardback or paperback. Also available, Blindfisch, the German translation.

You can also send email to Jim Knipfel

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Slackjaw by Jim Knipfel

A Depraved Mind’s Twisted Lair or
One Other Way Possessions Damn Us

 

It might be wise to say straight off that I have neither the intent nor desire to perpetrate any sort of audacious, horrific crimes at any point in the near future.

Not the intent, anyway.

Still, I have to worry a bit. Maybe it’s the helicopter circling outside my window at the moment that’s got me thinking.

Whenever someone is arrested for, say, threatening the president or shooting up a church or eating someone, what happens? Investigators go to the guy’s apartment and rummage through his belongings in a frenzied search for evidence. The next morning, the papers are filled with lurid, tongue-clucking accounts, not just of the dirty dishes, but of the books and magazines and records the guy owned as well. The implications are clear: “How could this guy’s friends and neighbors not have known something was seriously wrong? Anyone who’d own a copy of Helter Skelter has got to be twisted and deranged.”

How often have you seen someone tried and convicted in the tabloids almost solely on account of his taste in literature or movies? Last summer when Daniel Rakowitz’ latest sanity hearing got underway, some reporters made a big deal that he had true crime books in his cell, and was especially proud of the ones which mentioned him. (But who wouldn’t be?) The guy who shot up that upstate mall earlier this year was “obsessed with Columbine and Jonestown.”

The most recent example I’ve seen involved Jeff Weise, the kid who shot up the high school in northern Minnesota on March 21st. Even before all the bodies had been counted, it was being reported that the 17 year-old was “obsessed with Goth culture and Nazis! He openly admired Hitler!”

Yes, well.

Have you ever taken a moment to scan through your bookshelves or DVD collection, and imagine what conclusions a stranger could draw about you?

Myself, I’ve done that a few too many times, and that’s why I’m worried. Even if I don’t really do anything awful, but the cops or the FBI still find reason to stop by my apartment, I’m doomed.

I finally got rid of the “Kill or be Killed” sign above the kitchen table, but that was the least of my concerns. Once inside, you can’t go five feet in any direction without finding something to nail me on.

If you walk in the front door and turn to your right, the first thing you’ll see is a collection of films about political assassins: Suddenly, Manchurian Candidate, Black Sunday, Day of the Jackal and the like. (“The creep had fantasies of killing someone much more important and famous than he in the hopes of becoming famous himself!”)

A few feet to the left of those and a few inches up is a stack of serial killer movies and documentaries. A couple of Manson movies, that Gacy movie with Brian Denehy, Henry.  Next to that are the Jonestown films. (“He idolized monsters like John Wayne Gacy and was consumed with his sick obsession with the Jonestown massacre!”)

The rest of the shelves are paced with classic film-noir, but that won’t matter.

On the shelf on the wall opposite the movies are small busts of Lenin, Wagner, Poe and a smiling picture of Mao—all beneath a black Jesus painting. Those things were gifts given to me by friends. All except for the Jesus painting—I bought that one myself for $8. (“In his deranged mind, the ideas of Communist leaders like Lenin and Mao blended with those of known drug addict Edgar Alan Poe and famed anti-Semite Richard Wagner! An above them all was a sacrilegious portrait of our Lord and Savior!”)

This is just way too easy.

The record collection is a no-brainer. Wagner again (“Nazi!”), the old punk rock (“He was full of rage!”), and all those Joy Division records I bought when I was 18 (“He was fascinated by goth culture!”). All the Sinatra, Elvis and Merle Haggard would be conveniently ignored, and I’m hoping they never heard of Blood Axis, but I guess the hundreds of movie soundtracks could lead them to conclude that I “lived in a fantasy world in which movies became my only reality.”

A few feet further along the wall, and they’d hit the first of the bookshelves that mattered. There they’d find the true crime section, with its Manson, Jonestown and Ed Gein subsections (no need to comment on that). Next to that is a shelf and a half devoted to books about insanity as a cultural phenomenon, and another shelf and a half devoted to clinical studies of aberrant behavior. (“He apparently made a failed attempt to understand why he was perverted the way he was!”)

All those “How-to” crime books put out by Loompanics sure won’t help matters, either—Dirty Tricks Cops Use, How to Dispose of a Body, How to Falsify Documents, How Con Games Work, and too many others. (“He was so obsessed he never realized that these books always left out the one crucial detail necessary to actually make them useful!”)

On another shelf sits the pile of books about surveillance technology and methods of avoiding it. They were research materials for a novel that never materialized, but I doubt I’d be able to convince anyone of that. No, it’ll be, “He was a paranoid who was convinced that he was being watched all the time!”

That’s about the point where things really start getting complicated. We’ll skip the criminology and prison sociology section under the window and move straight on to the religious material.

The religion section, see, contains a Bible, a Koran, a Book of Mormon, a Bhagavad-gita, several Tony Alamo newsletters, and a few other basic texts from world faiths. Those bleed into the Necronomicon and the Satanic Bible, then a bunch of other books about Satan, Hell, and the idea of evil. Lots of those. And an Encyclopedia of Witchcraft and Demonology. A big subsection of End Times and Apocalypse literature. And, of course, the requisite Nazi books. My favorite’s the collection of movie stills, each containing a famous actor playing a Nazi. (“He was a Satanist who was fascinated by Nazi ideology! He worshipped Satan and Hitler as his god! He thought the end was near, too!”)

Before they could get too far with that, though, they’d run smack into the revolutionary anarchist pamphlets, and the Marxist tracts and the Situationist anthologies.

(“He was a twisted, bomb-throwing Satanic Nazi anarchist who cared about nothing and was trying to bring about the revolution!”)

Turning around, they’ll see the pile of Godzilla films (46 of ‘em in all) stacked on and around the television. (“He had the emotional maturity of a 9 year-old,’ Doc Sez. “A man so obsessed with giant monsters is crying out in rage over his own feelings of inadequacy!”)

On the mantle over the non-existent fireplace, they’ll find a reproduction of a pirate’s headstone, an ornamental dagger from Saudi Arabia, and a mannequin’s hand (painted black), given to me by an architect friend who found it in an abandoned dungeon he was about to renovate. All those things up there had been given to me over the years, and I didn’t know where else to put them. In the papers of course, it’ll be, “The perverted altar in which he prayed to his demon pirate king and sacrificed stuff!”)

Then there’s the UFO and cryptozoology section (“Kook!”), the JFK assassination section (“Conspiracy nut!”, the zombie movies (“Human beings were nothing but dead meat to him!”), dystopian science fiction films (“He was convinced society was in a state of collapse!”)

There are the dozens and dozens of unlabeled videotapes. The less said about those, the better.

Yeah, I don’t have a chance. Funny thing is, though., that while each one of these things individually may constitute damning evidence, taken as a whole they’re just plain incoherent. (“He was an insane mess of jumbled and conflicting ideas—all of them bad!”).

While the sane part of me only casually worries about someone actually making a big deal out of my crap, another part of me is tempted to go out and get some more, even less coherent crap, just to throw them off the trail when the inevitable occurs.