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Shield Yourself

© 2000 Philip Stone 

 SHIELD YOURSELF, it said.   Shield Yourself From Potentially Harmful...
     Adam's eyes lost track of the text, distracted by the beautiful young model staring down at him from the billboard.  He could not see the color of her eyes through the glare cast off of her wonderfully bronzed cleavage.  He could, however, feel her stare spiraling down from the suntan lotion ad.  Picking up speed, it snowballed in an ultra-violet tunnel, funneling towards him.  He watched her sharp and focused stare move across his arm, leaving a curvy line of goose bumps.  It looped around and around his pale, sweaty limb like a minuscule cartoon rabbit digging a tunnel just underneath his skin.  He felt light headed.
     Less than one hour later, Adam was pondering the marvel of automatic doors as he
walked head down into the supermarket.  The rows of florescent lights cast a comforting
reflection on the shiny market floor.  He followed the dotted line past the produce and into aisle #3.  His arms looked healthier in this light.  He smiled and looked up, satisfied that he had stopped in front of the shelf containing the suntan lotion.  He placed one bottle into his empty cart.
     Like yesterday, Adam didn't leave the supermarket with just one item.  Recently, it was
becoming difficult for him not to be distracted by the amount of products in these giant
superstores.  He was quite surprised at how many of them he was able to fit into the cart as he unloaded his groceries onto the cashier's conveyor belt: a can of Gillette Shaving Cream, three plain white t-shirts, a case of Budweiser, one pair of Ray-Ban Sunglasses, a case of Coke, a box of GE light bulbs, one bucket, suntan lotion, a bag of Doritos, Suave Shampoo, a full set of king-size bed spreads, and lots and lots of Duracell Batteries.  Without looking at the price, Adam handed the cashier his credit card, signed his receipt, and wheeled his cart out to the parking lot.
     As he was backing his car out of his parking space, Adam glanced at the clock on the
Ford's dashboard.   He was supposed to be at the hospital at five o'clock to pick up his brother. He was already five minutes late.  One hour had been lost in the supermarket.

     Spencer was about half a foot shorter than his younger brother.  His eyes once glowed like two globs of Crest Toothpaste on an overhead projector.  At that moment, though, they were denied their former glory--upstaged by the dark purple sacks hanging just above his cheekbones. Spencer climbed into Adam's Ford, shut the door, took off his Yankees Hat and placed it on the dash.  Jason watched a small clump of hair fall to the floor between Spencer's feet.
     "Sorry I'm late," Adam said, as he pulled out of the parking garage and onto the street.
     "Ain't no thing," Spencer said.
     "How's that fine-ass proctologist that you told me about?" Adam asked.
     "Oncologist," Spencer said.  His eyes were closed and his head was resting on the seat.
     "What?" Adam asked.
     "Fine-ass Oncologist," he repeated.
     "Oh," Adam said.  "How is she?"
     "Still looking like a wet dream," Spencer said.
     Adam nodded and looked over with a grin.  Spencer's eyes were still shut.
     "Spence?"
     "Mmm?" Spencer said.
     Adam turned his head forward, looking out over the road.  "Did they, uh...do you know
how much...or how many times you have to, uh," Adam paused and scratched his nose.  He took
a deep breath in and out through his nose.  "When do you have to go back?"
     Spence sat silent for a moment, "I'm sorry, Adam.  What'd you say?"
     "Nutin'," Adam said as he parked in front of Spencer's apartment.

     Three days later, Adam left the mall parking lot with a new pair of Addidas on his feet, a bottle of CK One in his pocket, a Tommy Hilfiger coat in his trunk, and a Swiss Army Knife
hanging from his keychain in the ignition.  As he drove through the neighborhood surrounding the mall, he begin to feel a strong kinship with the other motorists.  At the red light, he turned around to get his new coat from the back seat and placed it on top of the passenger seat, draping it next to the window.
     The drive around the neighborhood brought a warm grin to his face.  Sandwiched between
two luxury mini-vans, Adam felt stable and assured.  He reached over with his right hand and
began to stroke the arm of his new coat.  It had been a few weeks since he felt this fickle.  He rolled down his window, freeing his good vibes to mingle with those of the other motorists.
     Bobbing his head to the modern rock smoothies flowing from his stereo, Adam threw a
wink to the girl in the Volkswagen on his right.  She wanted him.  He decided to favor her with another wink and a light honk.  Returning his eyes to the road, he caught sight of a small clump of hair resting on the floor near the passenger side door.

     One hour later, Adam found himself standing in the Jiffy Lube lounge paying for a full oil change, a transmission flush,  two new wiper blades, and an interior vacuuming.  The technician took his credit card, printed out a receipt, and sent Adam back on the streets in his smooth running Ford.
     The trip from the Jiffy Lube to his apartment failed to recover Adam's light-hearted
attitude.  The Big Mac meal from the McDonalds drive-thru sent a brief tingle of happiness up
and down his spine, but when the last french fry disappeared into Adam's mouth, the feeling
passed.
     Adam feared another night in front of his television.  After a quick phone call, Adam got
back in his car drove straight to Jason's apartment, stopping only once at Sportmart to buy a Cubs hat.

     Jason Friedman, known to his friends and customers as The Weedman, stood six feet-five
inches tall and weighed in at two-hundred and fifty pounds.  The number of times Jason had been seen away from his couch was so small that his intimidating height was clear only because of his gigantic hands.
     During his two year stint at the University, Jason's status quickly changed from a potential basketball star/future academic to an unfortunate waste of talent.  His hands, which once gripped basketballs with such force that they feared lopsidedness, seemed better suited for working the remote control, scratching his stomach, pushing buttons on the microwave, and packing bowls.
     Jason soon found himself back in the suburbs living with his father and working full time
as a doorman at a hotel downtown.  He found this job to be much more interesting than a
basketball court or a classroom.  For one, his height was an enormous advantage--he could spot
an empty taxi in a traffic jam four blocks away.  Young businessmen staying at his hotel were so intimidated by this enormous specimen that they often found themselves giving Jason their money for the most trivial acts--directions to Walgreens, or a match for an unlit cigarette always paid off with a couple of bucks for The Weedman.
     In his two years at the hotel, Jason saved up enough money to get his own apartment in
the city, established enough contacts so that he could deal in his spare time, and learned how to talk like a Texan used car salesman.  He was able to keep complete strangers entertained for hours with foul mouthed jokes, fabricated stories of sexual prowess, and the animated tales choreographed by the movement of his magnificent hands.  Those who were not entertained were usually frozen with fear.  Jason was, without a doubt, the most aggressive pot head in the city.

     "Lock the door behind ya," Jason said.
     Adam did as he was told.
     Jason was sitting on his couch, leaning over his coffee table.  His enormous index finger
was pushing a lighter around in circles.  "Have a seat, fool," Jason said with a smile.
     Adam sat down in the Lazy-Boy across the table from Jason.
     "So how ya been, man?" Jason asked.  "How's your brother doing?  Heard about that the
other day."
     Adam nodded.  "Yeah, he's doin alright...I mean, we don't know, uh..."
     "Is it real serious?" Jason interrupted.
     Adam scratched his ear, "I don't think so.  The whole things just got me a bit, uh..."
     "What?  You alright?" Jason asked.  He lowered his eyebrows, "Is that a new hat?"
     Adam stared at him.
     "You look like shit, my friend...but you've never been dressed better.  So that's cool, huh?"
Jason said.
     "Yeah, well, I been buying all kinds of shit the last couple weeks.  Spring fever or
something," Adam said, placing his hat and a twenty dollar bill on the table.
     Jason's hands came to rest in his lap and an unusually confused look appeared on his face.
He sat and stared at Adam for a moment.  A smile grew across his face, "Right, so you want an
eighth?"
     Adam nodded.
     Jason slid a bag across the table to Adam.  "Smoke a bowl with me, right?"
     "Shit Jay, ya know, I was kinda of hoping to get going..."
     Jason's left hand appeared in front of Adam.  It held a packed bowl and a lighter.  "One
bowl, huh?"
     Adam took the two items, leaned back, and surrendered himself to his new environment--a
place where clocks and sunlight were replaced by burritos and bacon.

     "Remember when I used to live up north with my dad?" Jason asked.
     "Sure," Adam said.
     "Well, that used to really suck back then, cuz the commute to work always took so damn
long," Jason said.
     "So?" Adam asked.
     "Well...shit, dude.  I'm 'bout to tell you a story."  Jason's right hand was stroking his chin.
"It's funny, alright?"
     Adam nodded.
     "Yeah, so when I lived with my dad, it always took one hour to get there and the same
back.  It didn't matter if it was rush hour or midnight, the train always took one hour.  I don't know how the CTA worked it, cuz it seemed like something was always goin' wrong; some
crackhead fell on the tracks, the Mexicans set fire to the Wilson Street platform, Bulls won the Championship, a family of silverback fucking gorillas got loose in the tunnels--didn't fucking matter.  Always one hour," Jason said.
     Adam scratched his nose, just below his crinkling brow.  His index finger slowly
straightened and pulled away from his face as if he was tentatively raising his hand.  "So what?" Adam asked.
     Jason's head quickly jolted about fifteen degrees to his left.  "Well Adam, if you'd hold on a fuckin' sec..."
     "It's just I don't have time for another..."
     Jason held up his hand.  It was almost touching Adam's face.  "Adam," he extended his
fingers.  "Adam," his hand pulsed again.  "Ad Rock, if you'd please.  It will all make...the story don't make sense 'till the fuckin..." he stopped talking to slowly massage the bridge of his nose for a moment.  "Let me finish, huh?"
     Adam conceded a nod.
     "So this one day, I'm on my way there, 'bout two o'clock.  Must've been a Cubs game
cause it was packed to the doors with little kids, and alcoholics with hats and flags and shit.  I step on thinking...great, I gotta stand for the next hour cause it ain't nice to take seats from kids or old folks.
     "So we leave the station and I notice there's this one row with no one sitting in it.  I can't even lift my elbows off my body it's so crowded, but there's still two goddamn seats open.  So without thinking twice, I mean it didn't even occur to me that there was a reason no one wanted to sit there, I work my way over and sit down next to the window and relax.
     "First thing I notice is, both of the people sitting in front of me are fucking crazy.  These two were definitely not going to the Cubs game, ya know?  Just two train people.   I'm pretty sure they weren't together either.  Just both of 'em too crazy to be bothered by the other one's bullshit. So I think, okay, these yups from Wilmette don't want to sit near two dirty fucks talking to themselves, so I get to sit down for the next hour.  I can deal with that.
     "The one of the left, the black guy, he was quietly singing to himself, but he had his head down so I could barely hear him.  After a minute or so, it became very difficult to ignore the other guy.  The one near the window--the white one.  He had a stack of newspapers and he was taking them and crumpling the shit up, page by page, and jammin' it into his clothing.  Like, up his sleeves, down the front of his shirt, and around his neck.  And this was back in July, so ya know, he wasn't trying to keep warm or nothing--he was just fuckin' crazy.
     "Then he started unfolding the newspapers to advertisement pages and started to kiss
pictures of models.  He was smiling and nodding and giving long, wet, and noisy kisses to these newspapers.  I was like..." Jason dropped his jaw and looked to his left and right.  His eyebrows and shoulders shot up in agreement.  "You know?" he laughed.  "Yeah, so wait, then, he was kissing the newspapers, right, he started to kiss the window next to him.  Not the same long kisses his was giving the advertisements.  These were short--loving--kisses.  And everybody in the damn train, except the crazy black fucker was staring at him.  No one was talking, murmuring, or nothing.  The train was completely silent 'cept for the noise of the guy next to him singing showtunes.
     "So homeboy must of known that he had everybody's attention cuz he stopped and looked
around smiling.  I got this real uneasy feeling, cuz I seen that look before.   The same look that a baby sometimes gets right before it shits its diapers.  You know, you're not sure if that smile means the baby's loves shitting or if it's actually smarter than we think.  Like maybe, 'ha ha, every time I poop, this fool's gotta clean it up,' you know?  It's a really creepy look, especially when you see it on a grown man--crazy or not.
     "This fool's turned around and lookin' me straight in the eye.  His clothes were really bulky cuz of the newspapers, right, and he looked like a damn cartoon character--all puffy and smiling and shit.  His right hand slowly started to work it's way into his coat, like he was reaching for something, all the while he doesn't take his eyes away from mine.
     "I was like, ah fuck, and I was looking around laughing but everybody in the damn train
car--musta been hundred of 'em--was staring at the two of us, except for the crazy dude next to him.  He was still singing Sinatra songs."
     Jason stopped and repacked the bowl.  "How about this shit, eh?  He's got his hand in his
coat like he's about to pull out a gun and go New-York-City-Subway on all of us, starting with
me.  Still lookin' me in the eye, he slowly pulls out his hand.  Now you won't believe this...he's holding a bag of candy.  Those jelly kind of things, you know, shaped like orange slices and covered with sugar.  This dude holds the candy up to my face and asks me if I could open the bag for him."  He gave Adam a wide eyed and open mouthed smile and waited for a response.
     Adam rolled his eyes.  "So?"  He put out his hand and spun it away from his body a couple
of times in a wrap it up motion.
     "Yeah, yeah, right, so I took the shit from him, laughing, opened it up and gave it back to him.  You know, I was kinda relieved that he didn't have a gun.  Hell, the whole train was
laughing.  Except for the black guy sittin' next to him, of course,"  Jason paused and took a drag off his cigarette.  "Hey, and I gotta tell ya, if there's one thing I learned that day, in that one hour, it's this: never open up a bag of candy for a fucking crazy guy when you know you gotta sit behind him for an extended amount of time.
     "He put one slice in his mouth, chewed it up real good.  This fool was loud--slurping, and drooling and that kinda shit.  But instead of swallowing the stuff, he spat it out into his hands and started rubbing it all over his face and neck like it was cologne.  He lifted up his shirt and was rubbing the shit on his goddamn chest.  And still, not a sound from anyone in the train.  They were staring in amazement.
     "After he was coated, he started chewing up more of the candies and rubbing the goo all
over the window of the train.  He was licking his fingers, and smearing this fucking nasty shit all over the goddamn window.  Then he starts taking some leftover newspaper ads and sticks them to the window with this candy, like he was wallpapering the goddamn train car--or at least the window next to him.
     "So I finally get the balls to look at my watch, cuz I was afraid that I had only been sitting down for fifteen minutes or something like that.  It was 2:45--I had been watching this guy for forty-five minutes.  And I'll tell ya, I can't even begin to explain how weird this was.  I know, it may sound kinda fucked up to you, but I know what you're thinking.  I am not bullshittin' any of this.  This is not just some Weedman anecdote--this happened."
     After a moment of silence, Adam tried to speak, "So, that's it?  He wallpapered the ads to the..."
     "No, no, no.  That's not all that..."
     "Why do you keep interr..."
     "Hold it Adam..."
     "...upting me cuz--Godammit it's getting really annoy.."
     Jason leaned across the coffee table and held his giant index finger to Adam's mouth to
shush him.  Adam closed his eyes and took a deep breath through his nose.  He noticed that
Jason's finger smelled like the insides of a pumpkin.
     "Adam, I'm sorry.  I'm almost finished.  Indulge me, huh?"  Jason didn't wait for approval.
"So our friend's got the whole window covered with lingerie ads and Walgreens coupons and
whatnot.  The whole window, though, like no light could get through, ya know?  He had to stand
on his seat to cover the top part and..." Jason laughed, "the crazy fool almost fell into my lap while he was up there.  Anyway, I guess he still wasn't satisfied cuz he loaded up his mouth with another candy slice and started chewing away.
     "I'm looking around at the rest of the passengers, giving them a look like, This ought to be good.  Kind of excited, but still a bit frightened.  He pulls the mess out of his mouth and smears it all over the back of a sheet of newspaper.  Oh man, this is funny," Jason laughed.  "He's got this newspaper all ready to mount on something.  It was so damn quiet at that moment that I swear I could hear the hearts of every damn yuppie on the train beating in succession like a drum roll.
     "You remember the crazy old black sitting next to the white guy?  The one singing John
Denver songs and whatnot?  Homeboy takes his newspaper and tries to plaster it right across that black guy's chest,"  Jason stopped to laugh.  "The black crazy...I mean this guy never even looked up during any of this, like nothing weird was going...he grabs the white guy's wrist with one hand
and the newspaper with his other hand.  And, I swear, cuz I will never forget this, he pulled his neighbor up to his face and said, 'Listen friend, cast your spells on someone else.  I don't need them.'  Then he crumpled up the newspaper and threw it across the train.  Then he goes, 'You coward,' and he spits on the floor.  I'm like, alright, cuz for some reason, all of this was starting to make sense to me.  Then the black guy stood up and walked across the train into the next car.
     "So I'm about to look down at my watch when the train attendant announced my stop
over the intercom.  It had been exactly one hour since I got on..."
     "Felt more like an hour and a half," Adam interrupted.
     "Sure thing, funny guy," Jason said laughing.
     Adam frowned.  "So that's it?  That's the end?"
     "Hey fuckface, what d'ya expect?  Yes that's the end," Jason said.
     Adam stuffed his purchase into his pocket and stood up, stretching his legs and back.
"Well, that's cool, I guess."
     "Next time I tell it, someone'll die at the end," Jason said.  His giant hand shot across the table and swallowed Adam's hand, shaking it up and down a couple of times.
     Adam recovered feeling in his hand and thanked Jason.  As he left, he heard the door lock
behind him.

     One hour later, Adam was sitting in his dark living room in front of the television.  He had a bag of Doritos, a can of Budweiser, and a pack of Parliament Lights.
     As he looked down at his feet to admire his new shoes, Adam's legs felt as if they had
suddenly been injected with iron.  It was during a commercial for American Airlines.  He sat there staring at his heavy, sagging limbs, for about five minutes.  The TV cast a pale, blue light across his one-week-old pair of Calvin Kline Jeans.  His knees begin to ache from the inside out.  As he pulled his legs up onto his chair away from the light of the television, Adam realized two things.
First, Jason was a genius.  Second, Adam had left his new hat at the lair of the Weedman.
 
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