Tales from the Life of Jack McKnife: Freak Magnet

Last Friday evening after work, I hopped on a #8 Halsted bus and headed north to meet my pal Johnny for a beer. At the very next stop, a hunched over old woman in brown polyester got on the bus, made her shuffling way down the aisle, and sat down next to me.

“Look at these,” she said.

“Oh,” I replied, “a couple of teeth.”

“Yeah. They’re my wisdom teeth. I had them removed.”

“Oh… Did it hurt?”

“I suppose. But what really hurt were the lies. What really hurt was the betrayal!”


“They thought I was asleep. But I heard them in there. Talking about me. Plotting. Scheming. They wanted to take my money! But I outsmarted them, didn’t I? Not so wise now, are they!?”

And I’m thinking, just thirty-six more blocks to my stop. Just thirty-six more blocks.

It never fails. They find me. I could be on a crowded bus, a train, walking down Michigan Avenue during the height of holiday shopping season with jammed traffic and a million pedestrians and bike messengers—somehow the crazy person will sense my presence, locate me, and come in for the kill.

Say I’m on the subway. I see them get on—I’m attuned to them as well—the twitching guy in the torn up coat or the bag lady, and I always notice the looks on the faces of all the people around me. The fear. They’re all thinking, “Please God, not me. Not me, please, I’ll do anything!” When I see that look I just want to stand up in my seat and yell out, “It’s okay everybody, don’t panic. You’re all safe. I’m the one she’s after.”

But I never do that. I just sit calmly in my seat and await the inevitable, and the crazy person makes their way down the aisle, sits next to me, and strikes up a conversation. And all around me, up and down the train car, a collective sigh of relief is breathed as the tension simultaneously oozes from two hundred shoulders. Safe for another day.

I’d like to know that feeling. That relief. But I never do. I never have, and I never will, because I am The Chosen One—The Freak Magnet. I ride the buses and subways of this city so that you may read your newspapers, your People magazines, your John Grisham novels in peace.

You think I don’t like to read? I do. I like to read. Hell, I love to read! Novels, short stories, articles, the backs of cereal boxes, you name it, I love to read it! But I don’t get to read. I don’t have the time. I’m too busy protecting the rest of you people!

You owe me.