As Dan Rather’s departure from CBS News was made official, I was reminded of Jim Knipfel’s memoir Slackjaw, a Bukowski-esque tale of the author’s suicide attempts, encroaching blindness and general nihilism. In a chapter titled “Dan Rather,” Knipfel wrote about moving to Minneapolis and encountering his bizarre new neighbor Ruth, who claimed to be 135 years old. Ruth asks Knipfel to drop a letter in the mailbox. “Scrawled in pencil across the front of the yellowed envelope,” writes Knipfel, “was:
No zip code, no street address,” he continues. “Ruth seemed to have interpreted Mr. Rather’s nightly signoff as an announcement of his mailing address for fans and well-wishers.”
Ruth leaves a letter for Rather four or five days a week on the floor outside her apartment, which Knipfel dutifully drops in the mailbox. At least until his curiosity gets the best of him. The first letter he opens offers a detailed account of Ruth’s first lesbian encounter. Subsequent ones speak of finding a mouse in her apartment. Some offered cash for Rather, which Knipfel pockets for booze.
The author eventually pieces together a picture of Ruth’s lonely life. “The television, and thus Mr. Rather,” he writes, “were all she had.”
Eventually, Ruth is evicted, and carted off in a van. Not entirely unlike the target of her obsession, in fact.
By Michael Malone