Rather Disturbing

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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:

Dan Rather
CBS News
New York

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

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