Now that Stinky Joe has left the car, I’ve got the train all to myself. There is something comforting about an empty “L” car after a long work day. It allows me to stretch out, audibly exhale in frustration and exhaustion and have my no-one-is-watching moment. Today, it’s necessary and much appreciated.
I throw my shoulder bag on the seat next to me and step out into the aisle. I inhale, balance myself — so that I may properly train surf and avoid touching anything on the train — and stretch my arms out to my sides and exhale. The sound I make is half groan, half sigh of relief. I feel better, more relaxed. I’m relaxed enough that I almost forget about the last — holy shit, it’s 2:00 AM — wow, nineteen hours. I slump back into my seat suddenly feeling completely exhausted. Thank God this is my stop and I’ll be home soon.
As I walk down the northernmost stairs of the Morse “L” platform, I realize how quiet my neighborhood can be. It’s a nice change. I exit the station and veer to the right heading north up Glenwood. Glenwood is split by the “L” tracks — the northbound lane runs on the east side of the tracks and the southbound lane runs on the west. I cross Lunt and follow the northbound lane towards my condo. As I walk past a row of buildings on my right that have been undergoing renovations, I toss my gum into the industrial size construction dumpster on my left. From behind the dumpster a man suddenly leaps out, blocking my path. I look behind me. Another man keeping me from going back the way I came. They’ve got me pinned in.
“What do you want,” I ask.
“To have some fun,” the man in front of me responds.
I assume that “fun” to him means that he and his buddy are going to beat the crap out of me. I know that I can’t fight both of these guys at once and expect to walk away. Hell, I know that I probably can’t even fight one of them and expect to walk away. My only chance is to distract one of them and hope I can outrun the other.
“Listen. I’ll give you all my money, it’s right here in my bag,” I say as I unzip the external pocket on my shoulder bag.
“We don’t want your money, man.”
The guy in front of me slowly moves closer and I can make out that he’s wearing a Cubs hat. I hate the Cubs. I root around inside the pocket until I locate my small bottle of hand sanitizer and flip open the cap. Cubs Hat takes another step and I lunge at his face, squeezing the bottle of sanitizer as hard as I can. He lurches backwards in surprise and then clutches his face. I turn and throw the empty bottle at the man behind me and sprint past Cubs Hat. I feel the adrenaline surging through my body and I have a brief moment of euphoria as I think that I’m going to get away. Then a hand on my foot. Just enough to trip me up. Cubs Hat managed to get enough of my shoe to make me stumble and that is all his buddy needed to catch up with me. He shoves me to the ground from behind. I skid on my shoulder and try to get to my feet. As I look up, I see a fist flying at my face.
Everything goes black.
So that’s what it feels like to get punched in the face. My eyes open and try to focus. I’m tangled in something. It’s something that’s moving. It’s the guy that punched me. I must have fallen into him after he punched me. I struggle to get free but he is on top of me pounding on my back. He has me down on my hands and knees. He steps back to line me up for a kick and I quickly find his hips with my hands and push and stand up in one motion. He rises off the ground about a foot before he is slammed into Cubs Hat, who has finally recovered from my mildly effective hand sanitizer assault. They both tumble to the ground and I turn and run. I turn right on Greenleaf and head for Sheridan hoping that there will be enough light and people to scare them off. Unfortunately, I have underestimated the effects of the punch to the head. I try to run as fast as I can but my balance is failing me and I begin weaving back and forth on the sidewalk, occasionally planting my hands on a parked car to steady myself and push off. I see cars ahead zooming by on Sheridan and realize that they will catch up to me before I make it. I try to keep moving but I have to think of something else.
For some reason I remember the lesson I was taught in elementary school that people won’t come if you just shout “help” and that you should shout “fire” instead. I’m not even thinking clearly enough to be disappointed in myself for what I’m about to do.
“Help! Fire! Help! Fire! Fire! Fire!” I shout.
I wave my arms around like I’m pointing at something hoping that someone on Sheridan will see me. I turn and look back and see Cubs Hat running towards me. His buddy is behind him but moving very slowly, limping like he twisted his ankle. I briefly wonder if this is lucky or unlucky for me. I’ll have to put up a fight against one guy, but two would subdue me quickly and I’d black out before I felt too much pain. I put the thought out of my head and start running. I can hear him closing in. I deliberately stagger towards the curb and drop down between two parked cars and take off my shoulder bag. I adjust the bag so that I am holding the strap in a loop around my left wrist and I grab the briefcase handle with the other. As Cubs Hat gets close, I spring up and swing the bag at his head. He doesn’t have time to get his arms up and the bag makes a dull thud as it connects with his head. He goes down. I reposition the bag, ready to strike again when he gets up. He’s not getting up. He’s not moving. He’s out cold.
Thank God I brought my laptop to work today.
I look up and see his friend frozen on the sidewalk about 100 feet away. Remembering his limp, I suddenly feel confident.
“I’ll knock you out, too, Limpy!”
“Fuck you,” he shouts as he turns and limps away.
I suddenly feel very dizzy. The adrenaline is wearing off and the pain in my head is very real. I feel my jaw getting tight and gently touch my newly swollen eye. I remember Cubs Hat lying on the ground and I grab my bag and start running home. I feel every punch that Limpy landed on my back as I run. I should probably go to a hospital. I just want to get home.
When I walk into my apartment, I set down my bag and go directly to the bathroom to assess the damage. I have blood on my face and shirt and all over my hands. My roommate walks by the open bathroom door and says, “Hey Ted, what’s up?” I wave as he passes by.
“Whoa! What happened to your hand,” he asks as he turns and moves back into the doorway, “What the fuck?”
“I ran out of hand sanitizer.”