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December 05, 2022

Socks and Shrubbery

By Michael B. Tager

While I had dabbled in spontaneous public nudity in the past, I had never considered it in a sober light and so, on the first day of school, when I went to the art department of the university looking for some kind of work and noticed a sign that requested a figure model for one of the sculpture classes, I had to take some time to process. I took the flyer and scanned it while slowly making my way across campus.

I rarely went to either of the art buildings, so I was tentative as I walked away, making sure I was going the right route. My school was peculiarly laid out and I was always losing my way, partially due to my own inattentiveness, but also because the paths between buildings wound in ludicrous ways. To reach Degrassey, you had to weave through three quarters of a mile of narrow trails around streams and across crumbled stone walls, past gazebos and man-made clearings.

Due in part to my efforts in making eye contact with girls (and hoping they liked boys with red, almost-clean ponytails, army surplus jackets and bony arms), within a few moments I was hopelessly turned around. I reached to my back pocket, where I often kept the freshman orientation map that had thoughtfully been provided when I first started this school. I was in a stage of life where "doing laundry," "paying bills" and "being generally responsible" were concepts that were largely foreign to me. In this case, it happened to work out in my favor -- I had been wearing the same pair of jeans for the past four weeks and the tattered map was still in my pocket.

While trying to figure out which way to go in the labyrinthine walkways that made up the campus, I stepped off the path and into a little clearing. I hunkered down for a moment, feeling the muscles in my calves groan in protest. I thought to myself, before I started reviewing the map in earnest, that I really needed to get more exercise. It is never a good sign when a short walk and a bend puts you at risk for bodily damage.

Before I had figured out where I was (and where I was going), I heard a noise behind me. It was a kind of rustling coming from the bushes and kudzu on the edge of the clearing. Curious, I went padding over to investigate.

"Give me your clothes," a voice that sounded like crushed gravel said from the undergrowth as a six-inch, rusty (but obviously sharp) knife came thrusting at me, clasped in a grimy, shaky hand. "I need your pants and your shirt. And your shoes. And your socks. And your drawers. I need them all. If you don't give them all to me ..." With every statement, the blade thrusting from the kudzu would shake and erratically bounce toward one of my body parts. "I'll cut my name into your dong."

"Why do you need my clothes?" I said (in a voice that I hadn't heard since I was 12 and my creepy uncle Denny asked me if I liked movies with gladiators.)

"Ask me another question and I will filet you like you were a fish. A fish named Nero. Now proceed with silence, fish." With that, the blade jabbed nearly into my eyeball. Despite being petrified, I was oddly calm and noticed a greenish growth trapped under brown, broken fingernails. I hastily obliged with the crazy man and started stripping. I had a flash of hysteria and thought that the crazy man in the bushes might ask me to sing a strip-tease (as had happened at least twice in the past six months with my ex-girlfriend, Cheryl). Luckily, once my assailant saw that I was obeying, the voice quieted and the arm stopped randomly moving toward my vital areas.

When I took off my pants, I heard a snicker from behind me. I turned my head as I stood in my emergency-undies and saw a small group of girls pointing in my direction.

"Less staring, more giving me clothes, jerk-off." This time, the blade lanced into my shoulder. Yelling in pain, I took off, wearing only my underwear and one sock - its mate was in my hand.

I had never moved so fast in my life. I am not, by nature, an active sort. A normal day for me entailed waking up around noon, vacantly watching talk shows while eating cereal and maybe going to class. In fact, the only reason I was looking for work was because my fascist father started telling me, "If you think I'm going to pay out of my nose to fund your debauchery when you can be a slack-ass just as easily here in Vermont instead of wherever the hell you are, you are out of your mind," etc.

I started running in the opposite direction of the girls. After all, Crazy-Man might not be too particular whom he stabbed. As I took off, their high-pitched laughter turned to higher-pitched screaming. Apparently the scary person had already emerged from the underbrush in pursuit of me. I had a head start, but I didn't like my chances of escaping some clothes-jacking lunatic.

Within a minute, I already had trouble drawing breath and I felt my thighs start to cramp. Thirty seconds after that, I felt blood start to soak what was left of my sock: my school is a big fan of red brick, and all the sidewalks are paved in it. Red brick, while wonderful to look at, is not good to nearly-bare feet running at breakneck speed. I wanted to cry, but I didn't have the breath. I could hear, behind me, the thudding of my pursuer's feet, swiftly catching up to me. I could also hear him cursing continuously at me.

As I ran over one of the many elaborate steel bridges that spanned over tiny, tiny creeks and ditches, I could tell from the reverberations beneath my feet that Crazy-Man was within feet of me. "Give me your clothes, you son of a whore!!" Reasoning that a lunatic might make a lunatic decision, I dropped the sock I still clutched in one hand. With a cry of lunatic victory, Crazy-Man abruptly stopped chasing me and spent a few precious seconds picking it up. Trying to withstand the pain and keep up the pace I had set, I continued to speed away.

As I neared a group of buildings, I could see groups of people loitering on the lawn in ones and twos, some reading, some doing homework, some just gossiping or smoking. All of them were staring at me approaching with something between horror and amusement. When the looks of amusement disappeared, and it was all horror, I knew that Crazy-Man was back on the chase. Some kind soul, as I was running to the doors, held one open for me and I hurtled through, crying thanks.

"Hold the door, you son of a bitch! That there son of a bitch has my clothes," I heard behind me. When the door didn't slam, I realized that my crazy person had managed to get in before the door closed and, since it was only seconds later, I also realized that my lead was even slimmer than before. I ran down the long, open hallway that was the main feature of each of the buildings on campus. Each one was huge, airy and designed to encourage intellectual discourse out of the students coming from each of the classrooms located off the corridor. While this is great and all, it interferes with finding a hiding spot when being chased. And all the people I ran past seemed little inclined to assist me. Oh, they were more than happy to yell and run around like assholes, but come to a dude's aid?

I then saw a flashing silver light and felt the air move on my cheek. Then I saw the knife that Crazy-Man had thrown bounce off the wall just ahead of me. Bending, I scooped it up as I turned, hearing, "Give me my knife back you son of a whoooooooore!" It sounded close.

A short distance ahead of me, I saw a small group of students enter a large, sturdy door that slowly started to close. Hoping that where a small group of students were going, a large group of students might also be, I used whatever was left of my reserves and hauled ass. I could almost feel Crazy-Man's cracked hand on my now-bloody shoulder. I could sense his foul breath.

"Give. Me. Your. Under. Wear," he screamed in my ear. When I felt his spittle hit my back, I bellowed (shrieked like a girl) and used the very last of my energy to squeak through the door as it closed, feeling a sharp tug on my ponytail and broken nails claw out a few strands before the door slammed ...

I then heard a heavy thump and felt the door violently vibrate. Only then did I let out a long, shuddering breath, slowly unclench every muscle in my body and let out a strangled sob.

"Excuse me," called out a voice. I whirled, fist holding the knife raised and adrenaline pumping.

"We were wondering if you were going to get here," the voice called again. As my eyes adjusted to the light, I saw 20 sets of wide eyes staring at me and a soberly dressed older woman slowly approaching. "Daphne over at the art department said someone was coming over ... but we expected ..." She trailed off and took a look at me: the ridiculous amount of sweat, the long scratches all over my body, the raised fist, the knife, the blood. Nodding, she turned around to her class.

"We will begin shortly." Turning back to me, she said, "If it is at all possible for you to take off your underpants ..." her eyes flicked down to my torn and slightly gray boxers, "and somehow resume this pose, well, we can begin."

Twenty students began chiseling while I stood there.

Article © Michael B. Tager. All rights reserved.
Published on 2010-04-19
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