Tattooed Face - Adam’s story
It was 1988 in Washington, D.C. I was 18 years of age.
I noticed a kid standing by himself. He looked familiar and I knew I had seen him before.
“Hey Baxter, you know that guy?”
Baxter turned and saw whom I was pointing at.
“His name is Adam…Acid…. or something?” There was only one Adam I could remember from Glover Park. I wanted to beat his ass. He had made fun of me for being dyslexic and he had been friends with Cross. He had even had Cross call me and threaten me. I watched the kid and he didn’t seem to know anyone. I walked up to him and looked at his face. He looked like a model from a Sears catalog. It was the same Adam.
“What’s up, Adam?” My forehead was sloped forward into a scowl meant to look threatening but he didn’t react. Smiling, he made a fist for me to stack with my own in a manner of greeting.
“Forrr realz?” he said, but he looked sedated and I doubt he knew who I was.
Joining Baxter, who was borrowing a cigarette from Ukala, who was grumbling about having to give one, I said, “Adam’s a fucking Zombie.”
“Ert derr Erzid,” said Ukala and I knew he meant, “It’s the acid.”
Adam filtered through punks with their butchered multi-colored hair and stood off to the side, alone in a Gap red and white striped rugby crewneck. He had blond, well-kept hair and blue eyes, and he quietly surveyed the scene. He had good looks. Punk Rock embraced the ugly; therefore Adam was offensive.
The curiosity seekers came once or even twice to see the spectacle of Punk Rock, but Adam became a part of the scene. There were kids who went to every show, every party, owned all of the records and the right clothes and no one knew who they were. Adam didn’t talk to anyone but everyone knew who he was. He became famous for being strange. That’s how the scene was; you didn’t have to be talented, you just had to stand out.
I was still staring at Adam when Baxter said, “I got this new system. Place the napkin on your belly and anchor it with a raisin by stuffing the raisin in your belly button.”
“Why would you do that?” I asked.
“So when you’re jerking off, it goes right on to the napkin.” Baxter was trying to make me feel better and I appreciated it even if it didn’t work.
“You have put a lot of thought into it.”
“If you’re going to do something, do it right.”
Adam was standing to the side of the stage.
“That guy takes acid like it’s water,” said Baxter. “It’s the only reason he comes to the shows. I heard that he drank an entire vile of liquid acid. Man, it messed him up. It turned him into a permanent nightmare.”
Monday after school, Edgea picked up Baxter and me and we drove out to the airport, past the Pentagon. There was a field at the edge of the runway. It was dusk and unseasonably warm for January. I just had on my leather jacket and baseball hat. A few others were parked there, doing whatever they did in parks at night. “Come over here.” Edgea limped ahead. “It’s great.” We walked up to the chain link fence and lay down in the grass, looking up. It was a clear night and the lights from the city were far enough away not to be a distraction.
“I took that kid Acid Adam to see Running Bear today,” Edgea said, turning to look at the sky for a plane. I wondered if she was fucking him.
“He’s a freak,” said Baxter.
“Yeah, but he’s cute… or he was until today.”
“Okay?” I said, unable to understand.
“Running Bear tattooed Adam’s face, like the Rolling Stone’s album cover “Tattoo You,” with paisleys, triangles, squares and lines crossing his cheek, eye and most of his nose.” She stopped and the rumbling of the jet grew.
“Here it comes,” she said, then laid back down. “Just keep looking up.” The noise was deafening and I started yelling just because I could and no one would know what I was saying. “FUCK YOU! YOU CHEAP FUCKING WHORE! YOU FUCKING BASTARD! FUCK OFF!” I tilted my head up and the world was upside down. The belly of the plane looked full and ready to set down on us. It moved close and I felt it’s weight. The DC-10 floated by and landed a few hundred yards from us with a skidding sound. We drove back to the city.
A week later, we went down to Dupont Circle, parking in the lot on M Street. Police surrounded the bookstore and they stopped us at the corner.
“What’s going on, Officer?” Andrea asked. She had changed out of her work clothes and had on a very short skirt. The cop looked at Lars and I and wondered why she would waste her time hanging out with two guys like us. She smiled at the officer and he smiled back.
“Some nut is in there and he’s taken the clerk hostage,” he said.
I could see in the window as Acid Adam pulled the clerk to the back.
“Oh fuck!” said Lars.
Adam had stormed into a bookstore and then undressed next to the philosophy section. After getting naked, he had taken the clerk hostage and made absurd demands. We could hear him yelling out the door at the officers.
“Back off, you fucking ape! I know the Gorilla King, so stay the fuck away from me, man!” He pointed at his own head, then out the door at the police. “Man, this nigga be crazy!” he said. I remembered how in Glover Park he had talked like he was a black rap star.
Across the street a girl was screaming something at the cops. As she tried to rush in, one grabbed her around the waist. Lars pointed to her. “That’s Adam’s girlfriend.”
“He has a girlfriend?” I said. I hadn’t had a girlfriend in a long time. How did he have a girlfriend? He was an idiot, I thought. I guess it’s easier to get a girlfriend if you’re an idiot. Girls seem to like that. I looked at her. She had brown curly hair, and was skinny with lanky arms and legs. She looked like she was throwing a tantrum. The cop just stood there, ignoring her. She was cute, with bad skin. I glanced over at Adam. I could see his prick and naked skin. His face was a mess of thick black lines. I guess they deserved each other. I wished Dash was here. He would have thought the whole scene was absurd.
“Oh, yeah,” said Lars. “A really ugly bitch with severe acne scars. Her parents spent thousands of dollars on reconstructive surgery to smooth her skin. She looked pretty good but then she went hitchhiking in Maryland. An old pervert picked her up and attacked her. She jumped from the car and ran through the woods. In a panic, she fell into a rock quarry, breaking her fall with her face.”
I noticed something was happening in the bookstore. The clerk walked out and an officer ran up to her.
“He doesn’t have any weapons,” she said. Moments later a few of the cops walked into the store.
They took him away in restraints. The tattoos on his face had grown and spread down his neck, like an octopus feeding on some poor fish. It seemed as if the parts that made up his cheek were moving together and then I realized he was smiling. Since he never made any demands for money or threatened violence, he was released the next day. We saw him at the next show on Wednesday night.
“He’s not going to last long,” said Lars as he looked down at his own crappy tattoos.
“I don’t know about that. He seems like he’s doing just fine.”
“It’s said that if you have a tattooed face then you have a death wish. The unwanted and constant stares from strangers drive you mad. It is just bad luck to have a tattooed face.” It made sense, but I still wanted one, not on my face but on an arm or leg.
A month later I was at a show and the last band was over. On my way out Sermon (the cop) spotted me and waved me to him. I walked over reluctantly.
“Hey, remember that kid with the tattoos on his face?” he asked. He was in uniform and I wondered if the punk shows were his new beat or if he was just lonely.
“Look at this.” He handed me a Polaroid. Police officers stood on either side of a body hanging from a noose, arms wrapped around its shoulders as if they were old friends. Adam’s tattoos seemed darker against the backdrop, drained of color.
A shutter rattled through me. “What is this? He’s dead, right?” I said calmly.
“Yeah, he’s dead, alright. A friend of mine showed this to me and I thought it was the same guy. I figured you would know so I brought it here.”
“How did you know I was at this show?”
“It’s the only show tonight.”
“Acid Adam’s dead,” said Baxter over the phone Tuesday night.
“I know.” I didn’t know how I should feel. I’d hated him as a kid, but since he’d started hanging out I’d gotten used to seeing him around. He’d filled a void that I hadn’t known was there. When I was high off the ground, I had an urge to jump. The urge is what made me afraid of heights, not the height itself. I wanted to jump but I didn’t want to die. Adam had jumped.
Ethan H. Minsker