Punked

by Cris Kane

 A chance encounter with a punk rocker results in unexpected changes for a fussy, vain yuppie.

Added: Aug 2021 4,780 words 771 views 5.0 stars (2 votes)

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Rick Asher strode confidently down the sidewalk, treating it like his own private fashion runway in his tailored chocolate-brown Gucci suit. Without even being aware of it, he constantly checked his reflection in the windows of the parked cars he passed, admiring his handsome visage and perfectly-combed short brown hair.

Seeing a taxi heading his direction, he pivoted quickly and dashed toward the curb, immediately plowing into someone whose presence he hadn’t previously noticed. Rick toppled backwards, the back of his skull bouncing off the cement sidewalk, his briefcase popping open and spilling its contents. Dizzy, Rick boosted himself up on his elbows and looked past his Prada loafers to the man lying in the street. The taxi driver slammed on his brakes, saying a prayer in his native tongue, and the front right tire of the cab came to a halt pressed gently against the cheek of the man sprawled on the asphalt. The stench of burnt rubber wafted in the air.

The cab driver and several other pedestrians raced toward the man in the street to check on his condition. No one was rushing to help Rick, so he stood up and began to stuff his papers back into his briefcase. Suddenly, he heard an angry voice shouting, “Hey, asshole!”

It took a moment for Rick to realize that he was the asshole in question. He turned toward the street and saw the fallen man rising to his feet. He and Rick were both in their mid-twenties, but shared little beyond that. While Rick was conspicuously affluent in his dress, fastidious in manner, and entitled in bearing, the other man, Ace, was all sharp angles and quick moves, heavily tattooed and full of attitude. His buzz-cut hair was dyed a bright purple, a white Clash t-shirt, thrift-shop blue pants, and high-top sneakers crudely spray-painted silver. His ears and bottom lip were pierced, the back of his left hand bore a tat of the ace of spades, and his fingernails were painted purple to match his hair. He had dropped a pile of flyers for a concert he was doing that night, and they were now swirling in the breeze around him.

“You hear me, asshole?” asked Ace. “You gonna reimburse me for this?” He gestured to the ground where his guitar case was flattened. It had cushioned his fall to the pavement but his guitar was sacrificed in the process.

“Why should I pay you?” Rick asked.

“Because you knocked me into the street, you elitist motherfucker!” Ace’s face was turning purple with rage.

Rick’s anger was growing as well. “You ran into me! I was clearly signaling for a taxi. You should have stayed out of my way.”

The punk marched toward Rick, his spindly arms flailing. “Oh, so you think you just own the sidewalk, and the rest of us plebeians need to back off?”

English had never been Rick’s best subject—in college, he doubled-majored in business and binge-drinking—but he dimly remembered something from his driver’s test about plebeians having the right of way. Still, he was not going to concede the high ground to this lowlife. “That’s the problem with people like you. Always looking for a handout. Never taking responsibility for your own actions.”

Ace was now up in Rick’s face, his onion-bagel breath assaulting Rick’s nostrils. “People like ME? You don’t know a thing about me. But I’ve had more than enough experience with pricks like you. Snotty pretty boys getting by on your good looks. Lemme guess. Rich family? Had your whole life served to you on a platinum Visa?”

Rick was ready to fire back, but the guy had him pretty well nailed. “Why don’t you get a real haircut and find a job, instead of blaming other people for keeping you down?”

“You’ve got no idea what life is like for the rest of us out here in the real world. Take away your fancy suit and your thousand-dollar haircut and what are you? You’re nothing! You wouldn’t have a clue what it takes to live in my shoes.” Ace reached out his right hand and grabbed Rick’s left arm in a firm grip, staring furiously into Rick’s eyes.

Rick gazed down at the punker’s DIY silver sneakers and sneered, “I should hope not,” then yanked his arm free from the punk’s purple-polished fingers. Rick snapped his briefcase shut, walked around the punk and headed to the cab. “Come on, I’m going to be late,” he said, pounding his hand on the taxi’s roof.

As the driver hustled back into the cab, Ace raced over to pull his demolished guitar case from the road. As the taxi pulled away, Rick flipped the punk his middle finger, safely behind the cab’s window, while Ace leveled the evil eye at Rick.

Rick pulled out his iPhone and popped in his earbuds, playing the latest John Mayer album to settle his nerves. He checked his gold Rolex to see how late he was running. He didn’t particularly care about being late for work. With the amount of money that place brought in, they could afford to cut him some slack. When he arrived at the office, he made a beeline for the men’s restroom to straighten up. He hadn’t been particularly mussed by the incident and, after smoothing a comb through his hair and brushing some dust from his jacket, he looked immaculate as ever. While washing his hands, he noticed a small dark smudge on the back of his left hand. He tried to scrub it off, but it wouldn’t go away, so he shrugged, picked up his briefcase and exited toward the conference room where a meeting was already in progress.

Phibes and Monroe was known for its stuffy image, as personified by its CEO, Mr. Phibes, who was presiding over the meeting in his professorial drone, his snootiness emphasized by his unplaceable accent that suggested he had grown up somewhere between Boston and Narnia. “So nice of you to join us this morning, Mr. Asher,” said Phibes dryly in his idea of a witty remark.

Rick slid into his leather chair and smiled apologetically. “Sorry I’m late. My cab nearly ran over a homeless man.” There were gasps from his colleagues at the table, although it would be hard to guess whether they were more terrified by his brush with death or his brush with a homeless man. Dry-mouthed from the morning’s adventure, Rick reached across the table to pour himself a glass of water from a pitcher. As he began gulping down the water, he froze in position once he realized that Phibes had not resumed his usual morning pontification. Rick looked around for the cause of this silence and discovered that Phibes was pointing an arthritis-gnarled finger at the back of Rick’s left hand.

“What… is that, Mr. Asher?” said the old man dramatically.

Rick glanced at his hand, expecting to see the smudge he had noticed in the restroom, but in the intervening minutes, the shapes had sharpened into a distinct design of barbs and curlicues that looked exactly like a tattoo. He placed his right hand quickly over his left and laughed it off. “Just a note to myself. I didn’t have any paper handy.”

Phibes raised his profuse white eyebrows. “If that was supposed to be a note, I suggest that you work on your penmanship.” Rick chuckled mildly, as did some of his colleagues, and Phibes returned to his prepared remarks.

Rick lowered his hands into his lap and took another look at his left hand. It sure looked like a tattoo, and from rubbing it, it seemed to be permanent, not one of those henna jobs. He had never heard of tattoos forming spontaneously. Maybe it was some new virus spreading among hipsters, he thought with a grin. But it was no laughing matter. Even though part of Rick’s duties at the company involved less than savory matters like securing drugs and escorts for visiting clients, Phibes and Monroe prided itself on presenting a staid and conservative face to the world, and it just wouldn’t do for one of its top executives to have such a visible tattoo. In fact, one of the things that had most impressed Phibes at their initial meeting was that, unlike so many of his generation, Rick had emerged in his twenties without a single tattoo or piercing. It wasn’t a statement on Rick’s part so much as a manifestation of his fear of needles, as well as his overweening vanity. He worked hard to keep his body in excellent shape and saw no reason to deface it. Although Rick could think of no explanation for this sudden blemish, he wasn’t too concerned. He could just visit a dermatologist and have it lasered away.

As Phibes blathered on interminably. Rick noticed a tingling up and down his arms which grew into an annoying itch. He subtly slid his sleeves against the sides of his leather chair, hoping that would provide some relief, but it only seemed to make the sensation worse. He pushed up his left sleeve surreptitiously to see how much longer this meeting might last, but when he did, his Rolex was no longer on his wrist, replaced by a thick leather band with large silver buckles. Rick’s eyes widened. He found this even more inexplicable than the tattoo. He sensed the room spinning around him, and Phibes’s voice seemed far off and echoey, like he was being heard through a seashell. Rick had never done many drugs, but he definitely felt like he was tripping on something. He started to wonder if the water had been dosed, but he’d noticed the changes before he drank any water. He was staring blankly ahead when Phibes’s voice cut through the swirl of noise in Rick’s ears. With a jolt, Rick looked around and saw that the meeting was over and the rest of the staff was leaving the room.

“Are you feeling all right, Asher?” asked Phibes in a game attempt at expressing human compassion.

“Oh, yeah, sure. Just still kind of shook up from that taxi incident, I think.”

Phibes nodded and patted a bony hand on Rick’s shoulder. “Good. I’ll be counting on your help at this afternoon’s meeting with our visitors from Omaha. See you at three o’clock at the Darlington Club?”

Rick nodded. “Absolutely, sir. You can count on me.” He rose from his seat and made his way quickly down the hallway to the restroom.

He was relieved to find he had the room to himself, as the itching of his arms had become unbearable. He pulled off his suit coat and rolled up his left sleeve. With each turn of the fabric, he saw that the tattoo from his hand had climbed up his arm like a vine, expanding into ever thicker branches and curves. He quickly pulled off his silk necktie and set about unbuttoning his white dress shirt, revealing a black fishnet tank top in place of his usual v-neck undershirt. As he stripped off his white shirt, he saw that both arms were inked from shoulder to wrist, with the right arm sporting an even more elaborate and intricate sleeve than the left. Rick grabbed a wash towel, soaked it with hot water and rubbed against the skin of his arm until it was red and raw, but the ink would not budge. Rick raised his head to study his reflection and saw that, in addition to the arm tattoos, he had gained one across his chest. In script, written backwards so he could read it in the mirror, were the words “Carpe Fucking Diem”—“Seize the Fucking Day”.

Rick splashed his face with cold water, hoping to snap himself out of this nightmare. His handsome face hadn’t changed, yet something seemed different. He leaned closer and noticed that his eyes were ringed with dark lines, like the “guyliner” he remembered the Goths and emo kids wearing back when he was in high school. He rubbed a towel across his eyelids, but nothing smudged off. Rick brushed his hands through his hair, feeling the scratch of short bristles against his palms along this sides of his head. His brown hair now peaked in the middle in a modest fauxhawk.

Rick barely recognized the man in the mirror, and his heart was racing from a combination of confusion, fear, panic… and arousal. He could feel his cock growing hard inside his pants as he viewed this tatted-up version of himself. Although he had never wanted to get a tattoo, now that he was painlessly and instantaneously covered in them, he had to admit they made him look pretty bad-ass. He raised his thin but toned arms and nodded approvingly at the way his new ink warped its way across his biceps and shoulders. Hell, maybe the tattoos’ manifestation was his body’s way of rebelling against the staid corporate atmosphere of Phibes and Monroe. And, except for the hand tat and the lines around his eyes, they would all be hidden under his suit. It almost felt like he suddenly had a secret identity. He was Fuck-You Man.

Hearing voices approaching in the hall, Rick grabbed his coat and shirt and hustled into a toilet stall. Crouching on the seat so he wouldn’t be detected, he listened as two of his older colleagues chatted while they pissed.

“Could you believe Asher coming in late like that?” said the first. “Think any of US could get away with that?”

“He looked like he was stoned,” said the other. “I swear, that fucking pretty boy can get away with murder.”

As they flushed and left the restroom, Rick remained crouched on the toilet, his jaw slack. Is that really what his colleagues thought of him? He’d always thought of himself as one of the guys. They always treated him well… at least to his face. What a bunch of fucking hypocrites!

Back in his dress shirt, Rick poked his head out of the restroom and ducked into his office to grab his gym bag. It was nowhere near lunch time, but he really needed to work out some of the excess energy that was flowing through his body. He breezed past the receptionist and announced that he was going to lunch.

“Don’t forget you have the Darlington Club meeting at three,” called out the receptionist. Rick nodded.

Once he got to the health club, he was greeted by another surprise. Instead of his usual Under Armour compression gear, his gym bag contained a faded Joy Division tour t-shirt with the sleeves torn away, gray sweats cut off at the knee with scissors, a fingerless fishnet glove for his right hand, and a pair of worn Chuck Taylors spray-painted silver. Something about the shoes seemed dimly familiar to Rick, but he was finding it increasingly hard to think. His brain was buzzing with unfamiliar music, discordant melodies and angry words. He was going to need that music to propel him through his workout, as he couldn’t find his iPhone anywhere.

Walking onto the workout floor, Rick could feel some of the other members staring his direction. His new look definitely stood out among the lawyers, businessmen and other alphas pumping some life into their anemic bodies before returning to their boring desks in their climate-controlled offices and fighting their silly turf wars over contracts and plea bargains and market shares. Rick sneered at them with a sense of superiority. They were probably just jealous.

Instead of lining up for the elliptical machines today, Rick strutted his way toward the free weights, grasping a pair of fifties with hands that now sported black nail polish. He groaned with pleasure at each successful rep, pumping iron in time with the songs churning through his head, somehow knowing the words and singing them under his breath. Rick worked out more ferociously than he had in years, and his muscles responded eagerly, giving him a massive pump. He yowled animalistic grunts as he tackled even greater weights, and his noises attracted plenty of attention. At the end of one particularly draining set, he dropped the dumbbells to the floor, snarled at his reflection and emitted an epic yawp.

Moments later, he felt a hand upon his bulging shoulder. “Excuse me, sir, are you a member?”

Rick looked in the mirror and saw a security guard towering behind him. “Of course I am. Why else would I be here?”

“Yes, of course, sir. It’s just that, well, none of the staff remembered seeing you here before.”

Rick chuckled, realizing that if he was having trouble recognizing himself today, it wasn’t surprising that the staff couldn’t see past his changes either. “No, I bet they don’t.”

“Maybe you could show me your membership card?” the guard asked politely.

Rick was starting to get pissed and gestured to the well-groomed clientele. “What’s the matter? One of these rich assholes complain that someone like me couldn’t possibly belong here?”

The guard softened his tone, in hopes of encouraging Rick to do the same. “Please, sir, let’s just go to the locker room and you can show me your I.D.”

Rick calmed down. It wasn’t the guard’s fault. He was just a regular guy following orders from some fucktard. Rick swaggered toward the locker room, trailed by the guard.

When Rick opened his locker, his brain hit its latest speed-bump. He was sure he’d worn a suit here, but there was no suit hanging in the locker. He looked around to make sure he had opened the correct locker, but obviously he had, since he knew the proper combination. He reached into the back pocket of the black jean shorts hanging on a hook and extracted a nylon-and-Velcro wallet bearing a biohazard symbol. He ripped open the billfold and found twenty-seven dollars, three condoms and a Subway loyalty card, but no membership card for the gym. He shrugged. “I don’t have it.”

“Then how did you get in here, sir?” asked the guard, his patience expiring.

“I dunno. Maybe one of you motherfuckers fucked up.” Rick cracked a cocky smile.

Rick was pushed out the front door without having a chance to shower or even change his clothes. He dropped his gym bag to the sidewalk, stared back at the health club and raised both hands in the air, extending his middle fingers. Drenched in sweat and reeking from it, Rick defiantly changed clothes in the middle of the sidewalk, exchanging the sopping Joy Division shirt for a dry Sex Pistols tee. He dropped his sweatpants in full view of any nearby pedestrians, exposing a pair of white Jockeys instead of his standard Calvin Klein boxers, and stepped into the black denim shorts he had found in his locker. He had no change of socks, so he removed the old ones and slipped his silver high-tops back on over his bare feet.

He felt his stomach growling and headed toward his favorite French bistro, but the maître d’ shooed him away, declaring that he could not enter dressed as he was. “But I eat here two or three times a week!” Rick argued, to no avail. He heard the same thing at the next three restaurants he approached, and grew increasingly upset over this discrimination. He was tempted to launch a tirade at the next classy restaurant he found, but he was also desperate to take a leak. He was prepared to whip out his cock and pee in an alley, but he noticed a dive bar just down the block and headed there instead.

He stepped inside, swallowed up in its shadows and its welcoming stench of a century of alcohol spilled into the floorboards. The burly tattooed bartender smiled and asked, “What’ll you have?” Now that’s the kind of greeting Rick liked. He wasn’t sure why he had even been trying to get into those snooty overpriced shitholes.

Rick took a stool and ordered a beer and a shot of whiskey. He stared into the mirror behind the bar, curled his lip and checked out his hair, which now rose into a spiky green Mohawk bisecting his scalp. He scratched at the bare skin on either side of his head where fresh tattoos now snaked their way up from his neck. He smiled approvingly, his eyelids now caked with a pale blue eyeshadow.

Rick drummed his black-lacquered nails on the bar in time with the music in his head, and watched as two rough characters shot a game of pool toward the far end of the room. He stood up and walked over to watch their match, and when the eight ball sank and the loser stormed out of the bar in a fury, Rick asked if he could take on the winner. Thinking he spied easy money, the other player agreed… and by the time Rick ended their fourth game with a trick shot launching the cue ball over his opponent’s seven, Rick’s nylon wallet was stuffed with more than two hundred bucks. In his drunken haze, he only had the vaguest memories of his long lazy days at the frat house in college where he acquired his pool shooting skills. By this point, his memories of going to college at all were starting to fade.

He did, however, remember that he was supposed to be doing something this afternoon. When the words “Darlington Club” and “three o’clock” floated through his consciousness, Rick felt a jolt of adrenaline. He reflexively looked to his Rolex, but of course only found his leather armband. He rushed to the bartender and demanded to know the time. Upon learning it was 3:15, Rick downed the last of his beer and rushed out the door with his gym bag.

Head swimming and booze jostling in his stomach as he ran, Rick raced along, losing his bearings and desperately accosting wary strangers for directions to the Darlington Club. When he finally stumbled upon the tony establishment, he rushed past the doorman and practically tossed his gym bag to the coat-check girl. Rick took a pause in the foyer, to calm his breathing and gather his wits about him. He felt a sharp jab in his right earlobe and reached up, tugging on the silver hoop which now hung from a gauge hole. His metamorphosis was complete, finally escaping the Gucci cocoon that concealed him this morning and emerging at last as a fully-formed punk with bright green plumage and profuse black markings.

Rick swung open the doors to the dark-paneled smoking lounge of the club and strode toward the table where Phibes was boring the visiting clients from Omaha. Murmurs and gasps rippled through the room as people began to notice Rick’s presence. This Mohawked ruffian couldn’t have seemed more out of place at an Orthodox Jewish funeral, but Rick was oblivious to the impression he was making. He had never felt more confident in himself or more comfortable in his skin.

Before he even saw Rick, Phibes could smell Rick’s pungent combination of alcohol and body odor. Rick reached Phibes’s table and spoke swiftly, unaware just how slurred his words were sounding to others. “I’m so sorry, I got caught in traffic,” he said before belching.

Phibes spun around, baffled by the presence of this miscreant inside the prestigious walls of the club. If he hadn’t recognized the facial features and the strange markings on his left hand, Phibes would never have realized that this boorish thug was one of his most valued employees. Phibes turned bone white and forced a smile to the clients. “If you’ll excuse me for a moment, I will see what this gentleman wants.” He led Rick swiftly away from the table and into the foyer.

“What has happened to you, Asher?” Phibes demanded in a strident whisper. “You show up nearly an hour late dressed like…” Words escaped the usually loquacious executive as he took in the full spectacle of Rick’s new appearance. “What has happened to you?”

“What’s happened is that I’m finally being me. The real me. Not putting on some act to make people happy. I’m sick of kissing ass and I’m sick of listening to bullshit. Especially your bullshit. If you want me to work for you, you’ve got to accept me as I am, not as some fucking monkey in a suit.”

“Fine,” said Phibes. “You’re fired.”

Phibes nodded to two security guards who stepped forward to haul Rick from the premises. As they grabbed Rick’s beefy arms, the coat-check girl shouted out, “Wait, he left something!” Rick’s Adidas gym bag had now become a guitar case which he snatched in his hand. As the guards dragged Rick toward the door, the toes of his silver sneakers skating across the parquet floor. The guards dumped Rick outside on the sidewalk.

“You’ll regret this, Phibes, you fucking asshole!” Rick shouted as the front door closed. He sat cross-legged on the sidewalk, fuming at the way he had been treated. He opened the guitar case where he found a battered old Strat and a pile of flyers for a concert that night, with his own mohawked mug staring out from the posters mid-snarl. “BRICK BASHER,” the flyers proclaimed in jagged lettering, and the songs he’d been hearing in his head all afternoon finally had a context. Now he knew they were his songs, his own anti-capitalist, anti-consumerist, anti-conformist anthems, and he knew he would be infusing them with extra venom onstage tonight.

Hours later, Brick Basher and his band of similarly angry young men took the stage in their matching silver-painted sneakers, delivering a blistering set for the dozen hardcore fans who made it out on a Tuesday night. Brick’s voice was shredded by the end of the show, but his dynamic physical presence and charisma were obvious to everyone watching. Brick was on a high, buying drinks for everyone. He was putting a major dent in his pool-hustling money, but it didn’t matter to Brick. He felt free. Memories of his past life were fading rapidly now, to the point that he couldn’t even remember where he lived, or even if he lived anywhere. He wasn’t worried. He was pretty sure he could go home with any chick in the bar. Or any dude, for that matter. They were all staring at him with awe, and he wasn’t going to be hung up on anyone else’s bourgeois notions of how he should behave any more.

Early the next morning, while Brick was still snoring into the crotch of the well-hung groupie who had brought him home at 4 a.m., dried cum clinging to his lips, a fresh-faced young man in his mid-twenties arrived at the reception desk of the offices of Phibes and Monroe. He was wearing the only suit he owned with a narrow purple necktie, his unruly blond hair swept back from his forehead. His memories of the previous day—in fact, of his previous life—were extremely blurry, but he had woken up this morning with new sense of purpose and a stack of resumes in his briefcase. For some reason, he had felt compelled to make Phibes and Monroe his first stop, even though he wasn’t exactly sure what they did. He smiled at the receptionist, asked to see someone in human resources, and introduced himself as Asa.

As he waited patiently, he stuffed his left hand in his pocket to conceal the large ace of spades tattoo on the back of that hand, thinking it didn’t look very professional, totally unaware of how much square footage of his skin had been covered with ink only twenty-four hours earlier. He now found his single tattoo grotesque and juvenile. He dimly remembered his friends nicknaming him “Ace” back in college but, honestly, what kind of name was that for a grown-up?

Update posts:
Weekly Update: 7 August 2021

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