By Ron Scopelliti
The turn of a friendly knob
When is the last time you noticed a doorknob? I mean, really took notice of it – noted its color and shape, appreciated the way it felt in your hand and the smoothness with which it turned. If you’re anything like me, you’re probably so focused on what’s on the other side of the door that you completely ignore the mechanism that allows you through.
It comes to mind because I’ve been systematically replacing doorknobs in my house, and it caused me to notice how little attention I’ve paid to them in my life. There are doorknobs that I’ve been turning ever since I was old enough to reach them, yet I’d have trouble saying for sure whether they’re brass or chrome, or what their shape is.
The one exception I can think of is this really annoying doorknob for my hall closet that only works if you turn it in one direction, and I have trouble remembering which direction that is. I sometimes suspect that it randomly changes, like Marty Feldman’s shifting hunchback in “Young Frankenstein.” It frequently causes me to use language generally reserved for HBO’s “Deadwood,” though I don’t think I’ve ever referred to it as a “hoople-head.”
Speaking of TV, I’ve noticed that there are very few doorknobs in “Star Trek.” Every single door – not only the ones at retail stores – just automatically opens with a woosh as someone approaches it. That would annoy the hell out of me if the door to every apartment and every room just opened on its own. You completely lose that moment of contemplation before you open the door, when you decide how you’re going to greet the person on the other side. Casual or formal; hug or no hug. Is there time for a quick armpit sniff before opening the door? Then again, what would be the point because it’s not like I keep deodorant in my car.
One show that had more respect for doorknobs was “Bewitched,” where Samantha’s Aunt Clara had a doorknob collection, and used to take her doorknobs with her when she traveled, because she took comfort in polishing them. I recently found out that this wasn’t originally part of the character, but when writers found out that actress Marion Lorne collected doorknobs in real life, they decided to include it in the show. I was never a huge fan of “Bewitched,” but Aunt Clara’s doorknob collection always stuck with me for some reason.
I have a vague memory of a band called Aunt Clara’s Doorknobs, but it may be a false memory, because I can’t find any mention of the band online. My recollection is that I saw the band’s name on a flyer at the old Rathskeller in Kenmore Square, but it may just be something I misread due to the combination of dim light, brain-splitting music, and Heineken. Or it may have been something that came to me in a dream. Either way it speaks to my original point because, despite the prominence of the word “doorknob” in this memory, I have no recollection of what type of knob or handle was on the door of the dear, departed Rathskeller.
Though I didn’t find this possibly non-existent band online, I did find an association of genuine doorknob collectors. While doorknob collecting is an easy thing to play for comic effect, I find it comforting that a group of people is paying so much attention to something that I so regularly ignore. While I mindlessly use the doorknob as an expedient means to get to the other side of the door, they devote a significant part of their lives to taking the doorknob away from the door, and focusing on its own merits. They don’t care what door it’s attached to or what room it might allow access to – they just appreciate the doorknob for being a doorknob. I think I’d be a better person if I could appreciate things more for what they are, and less for what they can do for me, whether it’s a doorknob, a cup of coffee, or the person serving me that cup of coffee.
You always hear that old aphorism about one door opening when another door closes, but it would fit in better with my existentialist outlook if the metaphor was less passive. Doors seldom open themselves, except in “Star Trek” and shopping plazas. As I continue to find my path through life, instead of looking for a door to open, I’ll be looking for a doorknob that I can turn. From now on, don’t show me the door – show me the doorknob.