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A couple times now, I’ve taken part in the Lifeline Theatre Storytelling Project — on Monday nights, a few intrepid souls will perform personal stories that they’ve written. Last night, I told this story:

The Trooper

I’ve managed to collect a few scars in my life. Most of them are nothing more than small white lines; evidence of my inability to properly slice vegetables; testaments to my hack-and-slash approach to shaving. Nothing that tells a story of courage and daring-do. But there is one  — one that I prize above all the rest — that is more interesting: one that tells a tale of fortune and glory, of a battle hard-fought and won. It is on my left wrist, a nickel-sized patch of wrinkled skin, and this is its story.

I was 14 – a freshman in high school – and a friend offered me a one-day job walking around one of the northern suburbs going door-to-door to hand out flyers for some politician. It was a long, grueling day, but it paid the unheard-of sum of one hundred dollars. A hundred dollars? I’d never had a hundred dollars before.

Well, that money was burning a hole in my pocket. So two days later, after school, I walked over to the strip mall on Dempster & Dodge and strolled into the Sound Warehouse — you know, back when music stores still existed. I probably spent an hour in the store trying to figure out what to buy. I don’t remember what else I looked at but I can tell you exactly what I bought: Automatic by Jesus & Mary Chain and a poster from Iron Maiden’s single “The Trooper.” A strange juxtaposition, I know, but I was eclectic way before it was cool.

I left the store and headed back up the street towards home. I hadn’t gotten more than three blocks when I saw a large 2-door car — a Lincoln Continental or a Grand Marquis — driving the opposite way down the street. The driver called out to me:

“Hey man. You want to buy some weed? I’ve got dime bags.”

Now, I was 14, and I’d smoked some pot, but I hadn’t really found it to be all that interesting. But I had friends that were into it, and I was suddenly filled with what I would later realize was the desire to be the “playmaker.” The guy who gets the assist. So that when I was hanging out with friends and someone asked, “Does anybody have any weed?” I could casually say, “Oh, uh, hey, I’ve got some.” And everybody would remember me as the guy who, that one time, had some pot.

And I had money. And it was just burning a hole in my pocket.

I walked out into the street, approached the car, leaned down into the open window, the Iron Maiden poster rolled up tight and held securely between my legs. Automatic was in its jewel case in my left jean jacket pocket. “How much?” I asked. “Ten bucks?” I thought I remembered someone saying that that’s how much a dime bag cost.

“Yeah,” said the driver. “Sure. Ten bucks.”

This being my first drug deal, I didn’t know the best way to proceed; I didn’t know that asking to first “see the stuff” was a good idea. I pulled a ten from my pocket and handed it over. The driver took the bill, tucked it into the waistband of his shorts…. And started driving off.

But not fast enough that I couldn’t grab onto the door of the car and trot alongside, yelling, probably inappropriately loudly for the neighborhood we were in, and the illegal activity we had just been transacting, “Give me my fucking money!”

Unsurprisingly, the only effect this had on the driver was to make him speed up. Just a little. Just the slightest additional pressure applied by his foot onto the gas pedal. Just enough to turn my trot into a gallop. I was undeterred. “Give me my fucking money!”

The car went faster still, until my feet could no longer keep up. I felt my the toes of my shoes scrape along the pavement, and then my knees, and then my left hand. My right hand? Still locked tight on the door of the car. I was being dragged down the street.

I wish I could recall what thoughts were going through my head at that moment. God only knows why I didn’t let go. It was only ten dollars, it wasn’t worth being run over by a car. Most likely, there were no thoughts other than “Oh fuck oh fuck oh fuck” — the kind of running refrain that drowns out thought, makes it impossible to take any sort of action at all.

I’d also love to know what the guys in the car were thinking. It had started as a beautiful early spring day, just two buddies out for a drive, running their simple con: find some dumb kid who looks like he’s got a few extra bucks, get him to hand over the money and drive off. What could be easier? Then, suddenly, there’s someone hanging off the side of the damn car. Do you plan for this during your morning meeting? Like, “Okay, I know this sounds insane, but on the off chance that there’s someone hanging onto the car, here’s what we do….”

Here is something I learned that day: when you’re being dragged by a car, every second feels like a minute; every foot feels like a mile. I don’t know how far we’d gone. It was probably only a block at the most when I finally lost my grip on the car and fell to the pavement.

My thoughts then? Fuck. There goes my 10 dollars. Also, probably, Ouch.

But, instead of tearing off like I expected, the car stopped. I’d like to think that I leaped to my feet and brushed some dirt from my shoulders like, I do this shit all the time, now, sir, about my fucking money. But, more likely, it was me peeling myself off the pavement, dazed, confused. Staggering to my feet. What happens now?

And here’s the part that people often find hard to believe. Hell, I find it hard to believe myself. The dude driving the car pulled my ten dollar bill from his waistband and held it out to me. “You’re fucking crazy!” I took the money; they drove off.

I was left standing in the street to take stock of my situation: my jeans and jacket were ripped, my knees were both scraped and bleeding, and my left wrist which apparently had taken the most damage was torn open. But, other than that, I was little worse for wear. Even with all the pain there was still a small smile on my face, a feeling of elation. They had tried to con me, but thanks to my complete and utter lack of foresight and rational thought, I had managed to come out on top; a little bloody maybe, but still on top.

So I limped back to find my poster lying in the middle of the street, picked it up, and headed home. Along the way, I tried to come up with a story to tell my family about what had caused my wounds. A story that didn’t include trying to buy weed or getting dragged by a car. I’m pretty sure I went with “I fell down.” or something along those lines.

But we knew the truth: the twisted, snarling, skeletal solider and me. And while that poster has long since been relegated to the trash bin,  I still have that scar: a permanent reminder that there’s a right way and a wrong way to buy weed; that my life is worth a bit more than ten bucks; but that sometimes, very occasionally, you need to be fucking crazy in order to win the day.