Newsgroups: alt.foot.fat-free,alt.slack

Subject: Pants Diaries: Doorknobs for Nancy

From: nospamum@radix.net (MegaLiz)

Date: Sun, 05 Apr 1998 04:20:55 GMT

 

[Another of those Things That Happened Stories]

 

I used to have a good friend named John Doe. Really. Every now and

then I wonder about him, but I'm not sure that you can FIND a John

Doe--the CORRECT John Doe--if he isn't a band member. So I have NO

IDEA whatever happened to THIS John Doe. He was an UNUSUAL person and

had a seamless amorality. Even I, in my hazy condition, noticed that

unfetteredness about him.

 

 

He was very, very clever and tore through school work as if he'd seen

it all before. When we both had a troubling chemistry problem, John's

solution displayed a rare cunning, while mine had just balls-out

nerve. The CHEMISTRY PROBLEM was that our chemistry classes were

taught by a maniac drunk who made difficult material purely

incomprehensible. John volunteered to work for the teacher, copied

down the file cabinet model numbers, and wrote to the manufacturer to

get duplicate keys. THEN all he had to do was intercept the mail,

which unfortunately meant two months of PERFECT attendance.

 

 

I did pretty well in chemistry, but I never bought any answers from

John, since I had my own method. Whenever the teacher was stuporously

drunk and wandered into The Lab I just erased my grades in his book

and put down what I thought I might have earned if I had learned

anything. Twenty other kids watched me do this, and all they had to

say was, "Could you do some for me?"

 

THIS concludes my digression into the reason that I don't believe in

tenure.

 

ANYWAY, John was the most clean-cut kid I had ever seen outside of an

Osmond Family teevee special. His hair was always in place and his

clothes had an eerie just-right fit. If he'd worn a tie, it would

never ever have been skewed. He had an unusually healthy-looking

complexion that made one assume that he had all his food groups at

every meal with a whopping glass of milk alongside. Since John seemed

to take to heart the idea that a nice boy should "let his smile be his

umbrella" he was usually seen displaying his perfectly aligned teeth;

teeth that were all exactly the same size.

 

We became acquainted during long school bus rides, and when he wasn't

scamming other students, we would talk about ANYTHING. We were under

an increasing pressure to choose careers and colleges even though all

of that was an impossibly far off four years away. I told John that

all I knew for certain was that I didn't want to be a postal employee.

John countered that he'd ALWAYS known what he wanted to do, he wanted

to train to become a mortician.

 

This explained his tidiness in a new and horrible way.

 

Our bus rides came to an end after about a year, when I moved to my

new house with my new family. We were what you might call a blended

family, as if it were possible to smoosh a couple of teenagers and

distracted adults into a home and call it ONE thing other than a MESS.

 

Initially, I spent a lot of time walking around the neighborhood

alone, making my inspection, and then asking at home about the things

I found. I didn't ask anyone about the Burned House, however, because

I preferred my own disaster fantasies.

 

 

It was a large, elegant-looking house, up on a hill, surrounded by a

large yard and woods, like any good haunted house would be. From the

street, it looked almost normal, since the windows had been boarded

from the inside and the bricks walls were still doing what brick walls

are supposed to do. The very first thing that one noticed, however,

was that the roof was blackened and had caved in at the center.

 

John Doe came to visit that first summer and didn't waste any time

suggesting that we visit the Burned House. So we did. We didn't have

to be particularly sneaky about getting to it--the nearest neighbors

were separated from it by acres of dense woods. I doubted we'd be able

to get in, but while I was in the back, he found a way to slide the

boards away from a side door and gestured at me to follow.

 

We entered at the kitchen, and it was the blackest, crunchiest kitchen

I had ever seen. There were black pots on the stove, black dishes in

the sink and over-turned chairs curling around heaps of debris. The

place had a smell of ancient mildew and charcoal. I had never seen

John so excited. He was alight with the prospect of a site autopsy,

and actually I was also plenty pleased, myself. It was all just too

too Nancy Drew.

 

The light from the central hole in the house was sufficient, but I

found myself staying away from the corners as we moved through each

room. The roof had been opened by a column of flame that erased the

ceilings and floors from the basement to the roof, as if a gigantic

suburban cookie cutter had stamped it out. The damage was clean and

circular and only brushed against the uppermost flight of stairs into

the attic. We were able to navigate everything but those with ease.

 

Apparently, no one had ever bothered to come back and sift through the

remains and the house had an creepy completeness to its contents. We

found prescription medicine in the bathroom cabinets and pictures

(although bad ones) that could have been salvaged. Spongy, swollen

books and papers had washed up in every room, and every LARGE room

contained a ruined piano. It was evident that the place had been done

up in hundred-year-old style, with silky wallpaper, beaded archways,

chandeliers and faceted glass doorknobs.

 

The residents had been really crappy dressers, however. Either that or

they had heroically rescued only the GOOD wardrobes from the blaze.

John kept wandering off while I inspected closets: he was more

interested in the damage than the victim profiles, I supposed. It

seemed obvious that there hadn't been any children in the house for a

long time and the middle-aged mother had worn very few shoes. If the

father was a slob, I couldn't discern it, but I suspected it just the

same.

 

I don't think I felt at all guilty about browsing through the life of

the Zapruders (the name on the prescriptions). It was like a repellent

museum and I found it interesting to see a lifetime's accumulation of

THINGS turned back into their pulpy and splintery constituents.

 

I DO remember being petrified when John decided to pick his way up

that last flight of stairs. Five or six of the risers were halved and

one was missing entirely, but he moved quickly and shushed my warnings

like a suicidally dedicated junior undertaker on the trail of a really

valuable body.

 

Hopping from foot to foot, I rehearsed my explanation to the police:

"I don't know WHY he had to go up there, but he was up there a long

time...(sob)...then there was this tremendous crash, and...and...Can I

have a drink of water please?"

 

"Sure! But first we have just a FEW MORE QUESTIONS," the sargent

leans closer huffing his coffee breath at me. "The young man's name

was...?"

 

"John Doe," I reply as my eyes begin to shift pleadingly to the other

officer.

 

 

"Don't get cute with ME, miss. I KNOW what you told Officer Splatt

there--"

 

"But it IS his--"

 

"And you ARE NOT going to sit there and tell me that you don't know

that young man. Do you think we LAUGH when nice, clean young men are

LURED into abandoned houses and killed for pocket pot money? DO YOU?

Who do you think you ARE? Some kind of Teenaged Black Widow?!?"

 

"No sir. Actually I thought I was Nancy Drew! You know, the wholesome

yet inquisitive titian-haired role model of my earliest youth!"

 

The Sargent leans in even more to shout, "Where is the CAR?!?"

 

I try not to, but flinch anyway, "We...We are TOO YOUNG TO DRIVE!

HONEST!"

 

But this is just stupid, because none of THAT actually happened.

 

 

As it was, John came half-flying down those stairs a few minutes

later, looking very pale and refusing to explain himself. He didn't

speak again until we were leaving, and then all he said was, "Here,"

as he handed me a dozen doorknobs. He'd piled them up by the kitchen

door while I was off browsing the squishy stuffed animals.

 

He'd removed every single doorknob he was able to detach, just because

I said I liked them. When we got back to my house, I put them in my

closet and gave him a big glass of milk in return.

 

We never discussed it again, but later I learned that none of the

neighborhood kids had been inside the Zapruders' house. They firmly

believed that SOMEBODY had died there. The most dramatic version

included a runaway wife, live-in poker buddies, gunshots and an arson.

 

My favorite version, although the most vague, came from Daddy Two:

"When you have a houseful of drunks with guns and pianos, who the hell

knows?"

 

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"Is it just me...or do I have tape in my hair?" - Spunky