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

The Buzzing, a novel

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

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

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Slackjaw by Jim Knipfel

Taken to the Cleaners—Sometimes doors just get in the way

It was about time, I figured, to do something responsible, something other adults do as a regular part of their lives. Oh, I have a job and pay my taxes and all that, but for all my old man crankiness, I still live pretty foolishly. I still eat my meals and watch the television while sitting on the floor. My diet's a mess. I still own very little furniture. And my entire wardrobe has been given to me by friends, strangers, or my mom. (I have never once bought underwear for myself.)

Yes, I figured it was time I did something a grown up would do, so I was going to drop something off at the dry cleaners. What could be more normal and responsible than that? You hear people talk about it all the time, right? "Oh, I need to pick up the dry cleaning," and all that. I hadn't dropped something off at the dry cleaners in lord knows how long. A decade at least, I'm guessing. I usually just throw my clothes in the laundry bag, without worrying much about sorting them.

All the weather reports I'd heard promised that it would be dry and sunny for the next several days, so I figured it was a safe time to drop the trench coat off. I'd been wearing it for years, it had never been cleaned and, to be honest, was pretty filthy. Whenever it got damp it started to stink of old smoke and sweat. Plus the two remaining buttons were just kind of hanging there. The people at the dry cleaners, I figured, could take care of that.

So one warm Thursday afternoon after work, I stopped into my apartment, dropped my bag off, grabbed the coat and took it to the dry cleaners.

Now, the dry cleaners is directly across the street from my place. I can't look out my front window without seeing it. I've become intimately familiar with their operation—at least as much as one can be from only seeing the exterior. I knew they had a little white dog, and I had a rough idea of their hours.

I crossed the street, and when I got to their front door, I found it closed. I felt around for a bit but couldn't find the handle. I gave the door a push, but it didn't budge.

I took a step back to gauge the situation, looking once more for the handle. Nothing was obvious. There was a flat piece of metal taped to the door, but when I tugged on it, nothing happened. It was just a piece of metal taped to the door, and none too securely at that. I peered through the glass, but it was too bright out, and I couldn't see anything inside. I thought of knocking, but figured no, I'll work this out myself. I really hate doors sometimes.

Then I saw the buzzer. That made sense. You need to get buzzed into the laundromat I go to—and they'd installed that after this very dry cleaners was the scene of a brutal robbery a long time ago. If anyplace is going to have a buzzer system, this place would. So I hit the buzzer, took a step back, and waited. I hadn't heard any buzzer through the door but figured it did its job.

I waited and waited, but no one came to the door. I hit the buzzer again.

People were strolling up and down the sidewalk, walking dogs, bringing their kids home from school, satisfied and comfortable with the fact that they were normal, capable, well-adjusted adults, doing things that adults are expected to do.

Maybe they stepped out for lunch or something, I thought. But if they'd done that, you'd think they'd put a little sign up. I looked through the glass again, shading my eyes against the glare, but it was useless. Then I tugged on the metal thing taped to the door again. This was getting ridiculous. I didn't want to turn around and go home at this point, even though home was just across the street. I was here now, dammit, doing something responsible adults do, and I was going to see it through.

I knocked on the door and waited again. They had to be open. The gate was up. It was a busy time of day for them. So why the hell weren't they answering the door? I shifted my weight and looked around myself in annoyance.

Only then did I notice that the other door—the left half of the double doors—was propped wide open.

Oh, jesus christ, I muttered, squeezing my eyes shit and shaking my head. I took a step to the left and walked through the open door.

Inside, a young woman was standing behind the counter, staring at me. She'd clearly been standing there the entire time, watching me fumble about with the closed door for the past five minutes.

"Hello," I said. "I'm an idiot."

She told me I would be able to pick my coat up late Saturday afternoon. I thanked her, took my ticket, exited back through the open door, and went home. Later that evening, it started to rain. More than just "rain"—a series of violent thunderstorms moved into the area. It rained hard for the next two days, while my only raincoat sat across the street, getting cleaned. That’ll show me.