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