Onward, Urban Soldiers

Just read the headlines.
I know I do. It's a jungle out there. No, it's more than a jungle, and it's not just out there.

It's in something hiding its bacterial calling card--courtesy of chemical preservatives--right there in the rear of the bottom shelf of your fridge. It's in that gleaming power tool you've got out back that possesses no conscience whatsoever when it comes to slicing through pine versus flesh. It's in the strange new glint in the eye of that "pet" you call "King" or "Fido" that a few, short, thousand years ago would have been shearing limbs off beasts that could outrun Carl Lewis. That pet that can easily outrun you.

It's in the "air" you can see every morning; it's in the toxic weed killer you sprayed on that Hedera helix--common English ivy--last weekend, a plant known to cause nausea, vomiting and shock if ingested. And it's in the ragged breath of the person who just sat down next to you on the bus as you read this on the way home from the job where one of your "stressed-out" co-workers may show up tomorrow morning packing more than a sack lunch.

Oh, yes, ours is a savage existence that begins when we open terrified, mucus-shrouded eyes at the slap of a doctor's calloused palm. And it ends somewhere down this twisted path called life, in a black void where the only comfort is one of a thousand, self-righteously improbable "religions," all vying for your blind devotion (read: $$$) like slathering pitchmen on a midway of nightmares.

I know you know what I'm talking about.
And I know you're rubbing your sweaty palms together, muttering, "What can I do? How can I--American human--protect myself?"

Oh, yes, there is an answer.

All those times that I'd walk to the strip mall for my beef jerky and Budweiser--trifling, temporary pacifiers for the concern, fear and subtle-to-raging paranoia that we all feel almost constantly--and I always passed right by it. A store that is a one-stop supplier of the goods and knowledge a person needs to survive in this day and age.

It is called Defense Depot.
Sure, the place is small, unobtrusive, situated between a Chinese restaurant and a hair salon. It's listed in the Yellow Pages next to Hobby Depot, but don't let that fool you. Good things come in small packages.

I went in the other day, and the first thing I saw was an indispensable key to developing a sense ofcontrol, balance and harmony with everyday life, a veritable Tao Te Ching for the Nineties. John "Lofty" Wiseman's Urban Survival Handbook.

How to combat and survive such potentially subversive enemies as pollution, houses, cities, water, pets, ladders, body matters and bathrooms are only a few ofthe topics covered in this comprehensive, fascinating work. The British Wiseman should know; this from his foreward:

"In 27 years as a soldier, I was always glad to return home, where I could relax in the 'safe' domestic environment. How wrong I was! I once returned after four months in a fierce war without a scratch. I'd only been in the house for two minutes when I stood up in the kitchen and cut my head badly on a cupboard door. That started me thinking."

And it did me, too.
Luckily, Wiseman started thinking first,and has all the answers. Here are a few:

* Don't mix toilet cleaners. Various combinations can produce highly toxic fumes that cause "uncontrollable choking."

* If the doorbell rings and you're alone, give the impression you have company. "Shout something like, 'Don't worry, Tony, I'll go,' or, 'Take the dog into the kitchen, please, Mick.'"

* When traveling in urban areas abroad, "DON'T use soap in a Japanese bath; DON'T show anger in Bali; and DON'T--for God's sake--criticize the monarchy inThailand or touch anyone on the head."

After 320 pages of information like this, I guarantee that you will feel safe, alert and prepared to deal with not only the obvious pitfalls that plague us, but the insidious, hidden traps festering right under your very nose. Or you will simply become catatonic with fright for the rest of your natural life.

The Defense Depot offers much more than the handbook, and general manager Lance Harmon--ensconced behind a display case exhibiting nun-chucks, road spikes and the "Nancy Kerrigan model" extendible steel baton--fills mein.

"I just had a guy in here browsing through the books for about 35 minutes," says Harmon. "He's gonna come back. He didn't know what book he wanted, but he ended up picking up a Ninja key ring, studded with some spikes."

And what a wealth of treats to browse through. Sometimes, a person needs to retaliate in subtle ways; for $13.95 each, you can get vials of Green Gas (a wickedly embarrassing stench enhancer that activates when placed in coffee); the Evacuator (the definitive superlaxative); the classic sneezing powder, Stink Bomb; and a little something named to breathtaking perfection--Vomit Fluid.

"We get a lot of suits coming in while they're waiting for their chicken next door," Harmon tells me as I marvel at hisselection. "Also people from the haircare place, and a lot of college students."

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