Research Notes · 07/25/2014

Knotty, Knotty, Knotty

Our Research Notes series invites authors to describe their research for a recent book, with “research” defined as broadly as they like. This week, Joshua Kornreich writes about Knotty, Knotty, Knotty from Black Mountain Press.


It started with his name: Shawn. Only, for so long a time, I had been seeing his name in my head as Sean.

I was nineteen. It was the hottest summer of my life. I had just landed an internship down in Union Square, so, I, a boy of the suburbs if there ever was one, decided to take the plunge for a change and rent, for not even three months, a room in the city, right in the center of the NYU campus — that is, if you can really call NYU’s campus a campus.

Speaking of for a change, my boss — should I tell you she had very nice legs? — she had it in for me, keeping me late in her office every day, so that I, a boy of the suburbs if there ever was one, could lug the objects of her industry from one room to the next for no money — no money at all! — so that I, in my boy-thinking head of mine, would think that this so-called “on-the-job” experience I was having with her cameras and her lamps and her editing gadgets would prepare me for wherever I, a boy of the suburbs if there ever was one, was going next in life.

Should I mention I once walked in on her in the bathroom with no one but me and her in the office?

So, one evening, in a rare exhibition of pity, this boss of mine with the comely legs — and not just for her age, mind you! — decides to tell me where that next going for me in life was: home.

She let me go home early.

For a change.

Go home, she said to me.

So, I went home.

Home being, in my case, a dilapidated two-bedroom dorm room on MacDougal Street.

There were four of us that summer — four of us roommates. This was, in my boy-thinking head of mine, the first time I was going to be the first of us home.

I had never met a single one of them before that summer — the roommates, I mean.

I remember thinking in my boy-thinking head of mine that, on account of my reaching what my hot-legged boss called home earlier than usual, the mailbox I was about to open — this was going to be the first time I was going to pick up the mail for all of us four roommates.

But then, as luck would have it — or was it intention that was having it? — I picked up that one envelope that was in that mailbox of ours, and saw that it was addressed in lead to someone named Shawn.

You mean Sean, right?

No, Shawn.

Shawn was his name.

Well, you get the picture.

She had it in for me, I tell you.

There I was, all by myself in the office, I had thought, so what I was thinking in my boy-thinking head of mine was why shouldn’t I? Why shouldn’t I, a boy of the suburbs if there ever was one, relieve myself in a clean bathroom for a change?

That clean bathroom being her clean bathroom — that clean bathroom being her private bathroom to be only used by her as a bathroom.

But in my boy-thinking head of mine, I was thinking no one but me was around, so I took a shot: I opened the door.

She was just sitting there, right on top of it all, sobbing away like there’s no tomorrow.

The seat, the lid, the whole kit and caboodle — she was sitting right there right on top of it all, crying herself into her hands.

Her skirt was pulled all the way up on her, but I could still see her legs regardless.

She looked up at me and stopped crying. She said something about her husband, but her crying made it hard for me to understand what it was she had said. I wanted to ask her to repeat herself, but I decided to refrain myself from utterance. I kind of just surveyed her calves for a second — okay, two, maybe three seconds! — and took a step backward.

She shut the door right in my face.

I went back to my dorm room of a home and relieved myself there instead.

I wanted to relieve myself when I came home that other night, too — that night this so-called Shawn decided to hang himself with his own belt, with his shirt off and his pants on and his laces all tied up and double-knotted, but the next going in my life had already happened, so I postponed my desired relief until after the police and paramedics showed up.

The rest is simple: five years ago, on Thanksgiving, my two cousins and I sat around on couches, talking about those old analog cable switchers they used to have for the TV sets we watched back when we were kids. We talked about how the old Playboy Channel used to come in all scrambled up.

I told them that back when I was a boy, I had figured out a way, with my boy-thinking head of mine, to unscramble it — or descramble it, I mean.

I then proceeded to tell them what that way was.

They listened, they nodded, and then we stuffed ourselves with stuffing.

Then I — by then a man of the city if there ever was one — went back to my apartment home on the West Side and wrote the first twenty pages of my second novel in black ink.

Wait a minute: is it caboodle or kaboodle?

In any event, she stayed home the rest of the summer, and they found a temporary replacement for her. His legs were not as nice as hers, but he let me relieve myself in her private bathroom whenever I, a boy of the suburbs if there ever was one, wished to relieve myself.


The work of Joshua Kornreich has been published, reviewed, and discussed in various print and online literary publications, including Unsaid, Meridian, Heavy Feather Review, Radioactive Moat, Hotel St. George Press, Largehearted Boy, Emerging Writers Network, The Pennsylvania Gazette, and VOX Press’s Complete with Missing Parts: Interviews with the Avant-Garde, with forthcoming appearances in The Collagist and Front Row Lit. His debut novel, The Boy Who Killed Caterpillars, originally published by Marick Press in 2007, will be reprinted in e-book format by Dzanc Books in Fall 2012. Kornreich lives with his wife and two sons in New York City.