Sunday, February 9, 2014

Mark of Destiny

“Dude” in the late 20th century may have come to be the generic “stranger” name, the latest generation's "hey you there" or "listen Bub"; but there was a time long ago when it was reserved for only one person; and at the moment this story begins, Dude was both drunk and stoned, an incredibly self absorbing combination.

Dude was nearly always one or the other, but rarely both at once. The effects of one angst inoculant tended to cancel the other, booze had a bad habit of making an LSD trip into a lovely roller coaster ride through flowers and towers and marshmallow pie, with hour long pauses spent on internal conversation meant to determine whether puking would be so frightful in stereophonic Technicolor 3d that it should be avoided at all costs. In reverse, LSD made it very hard to actually get drunk, as one might lift the beer can halfway to one’s lips and then stop to study the seemingly random flight path of a passing house fly for at least the few hours it might take to determine exact speed and, well, whatever it might be that swirled around in one’s brain as the beer can sat unswilled within inches of one’s oral orifice.

In spite of those complications, he was doing quite well with the mixture in a physical sense, neither being sick nor, except on a rare occasion, leaving his body for a touch of extra-planar travel. But psychologically, he was very, very sad. This was nothing particularly new, Dude was always quite sad; in fact the substances were ingested daily with the hope of changing his outlook. Alas, as is nearly always the case, they only served to accentuate the misery of the user, making it nearly impossible to do anything but concentrate on all the reasons why he was doomed to be miserable.

Dude decided, with the help of the aforementioned intoxicants, that he needed a visible expression of his curse, a bold sign that said “I am cursed! Stay clear or you too will suffer the effects of my black cloud!” He would tattoo the phrase “Born to Lose” on his bicep, and would do so while partially anesthetized by the all-purpose cocktail.

There were many reasons to create a flag, but the most obvious was, first impressions are everything. Upon seeing the mark, men would think “Wow, this guy’s doomed; he has nothing to lose!” Within the circle of people that Dude was involved with at that time, thinking someone had nothing to lose would make the observer cautious, wary, perhaps even a bit skittish. If one desired solitude and a measure of safety from random violence, keeping people wary was atop the list of things to do.

And then there was the opposite reaction, the compassionate persons interpretation of such a sign. A man who wore Born to Lose on his skin would be a strong man, a man who has faced his destiny and laughed in it’s face, or at least named it and pasted its name on his epidermal sleeve. Chicks like strong men who aren't afraid to show their weaknesses new age activated emotional center. Lastly there would be the Nightingales, those looking for a patient on whom to practice; it was never a bad thing to be coddled a bit, so long as one didn’t let it get out of hand.

It may have simply been that Dude's sitting alone in the kitchen of his gang’s clubhouse, staring at the butcher knife handles protruding from the Chicago Cutlery block, was truly to blame for the original spark of the twisted idea that took mutant shape and finally spewed forth as a barbaric call to action. Then again, it may have been remembering his friend’s really cool cigarette smoking skull tattoo that made him desirous of something even more pungent, something more honest, heady, poetic; Something that definitively said ME ME ME!!! Whatever it was, only mechanics stood in the way of a man and his dream.

Dude stood with some effort, and leaned toward the counter on which the knife block was resting. Luckily, Dude was very tall, as if he weren’t he likely would have misjudged the distance and fallen flat on his face, perhaps broken his nose and then forgotten about the tattoo altogether. As it was he caught himself before flopping, and balancing on one hand he paged through the selection of finely honed tools. The chef knife was too big certainly, and the paring knife a bit too small. The bread knife was serrated and he could only imagine trying to read scalloped lettering might be difficult, so he passed on that choice. There was only one perfect pick, an eight inch boning blade, a prime rib roast slicer extraordinaire. It had a blade small enough to grip without cutting one’s work hand, a tip small enough to be accurate and… was the only blade left to choose from so it would have to do. With a great deal of flailing he was able to right himself from his dangerous lean, slip his scalpel from it’s sheath and re-seat himself near the necessary surgical accessories; what was left of the six pack, and the huge crystal ash tray that was already overflowing with a thousand Marlboro red filters and three weeks of ash.

To delay the operation would have meant allowing time for second thoughts, so to save himself the complication he dug right into the job. It became clear immediately that there was a minor problem. The knife was not quite as sharp as a slab of bacon, though it was nearly as greasy. That would mean two things; it would take greater pressure to inflict groovatures in which to splatter ink, and because it would take more strength, artistic flair would need to take a back seat to “get er done”. There would be no round half circles on the “B”, it would need to be one square box atop the other, the “O”, a larger, single square box; the “R”? A square box missing its right side and bottom.

He tried sawing, scraping and gouging, but none would give him the ability to finesse. The “canvas” didn’t help either; skin is far too pliable and prone to move around under a blade the thickness of a slice of bread.

If I were to say it was a “hack job”, I would be honest and quite descriptive certainly, but just as crude as the act itself. So let’s just say the final work looked a bit like a petroglyph drawn by the hand of a Neanderthal, or other barbarian of like talent and intelligence. Could it be recognized as lettering? Of course. Could it be read? One needs to imagine an artist nearly blinded by mood altering substances, cocking his head sideways like a small dog in search of a treat, squinting in bad light through heavy cigarette smoke stamping printed words into his arm with a jackhammer, and you can answer your own question. Yes, it could be read, so long as one had the time to stare at it a bit and sound it out, like a teenaged small town radio disk jockey trying to say Martina Navratilova on the air for the first time. “Bah oornn tuh uuooooo loooozzz! Oh, I get it now! Wow… that’s heavy!”

It may have taken as long as an hour, time is a variable creature while under the influence, and it was quite painful so checking the clock now and then was a chore too difficult to handle. It might have been far less painful had Dude thought first to walk a few dozen yards around the apartment in search of a razor blade, to save himself the chopping. But as you might have surmised, walking and LSD are enemies of a sort, and one would be disheartened indeed to awaken from a long, drug induced stupor and find himself jogging down the center ditch of a local freeway in the nude, a not impossible scenario; so it was common to stay put during the mid-portion, or “peak” of a “trip”.

Dude was rather pleased with himself all in all. As he knew what the lettering was supposed to say, it read easily, even upside down as it was. But then it dawned on him that he’d forgotten one item; he had no tattooist inks. Simple scars would be fine for a while; actually, once he’d thought about it the scars alone would be damned manly and might cement his reputation as a crazy thug, definitely not to be messed with. But then, smart sort that he was, Dude imagined needing to refresh the lettering once enough healing had taken place, right after some creep had looked his bicep over and said “Hey, what’s “BIN T OSI mean? Thatchur name? You some kinda foreigner or something?” He presumed a more long term marking would be good, and it was the perfect time, while the blood was still flowing and the skin cells not yet on the road to recovery.

All the ink he could find within LSD walking distance of his kitchen chair was one Bic pen, black, half empty. He plucked it from the counter and toyed with it while he pondered the permanence of what he was about to do. He’d thought more than once during the project that his actions were stupid, that his friends would groan and roll their eyes when they saw what he’d done, and talk behind his back about what a moron he was, secretly wanting him to just go away and never come back because the club was not meant to be a haven for idiots. While he was pounding out the “N” in born he stopped and considered that he could simply say that he’d been walking to the store and had been attacked by passing gangsters sporting dull knives who’d tried to maim his steering wheel arm and had accidentally cut a word into his flesh and then run away. But even he, even stoned and drunk, didn’t believe that one. The longer he thought of backing out the more he recognized how true the words were. He was cutting “Born to Lose” into his arm and he was so pathetic he couldn’t even finish the job without debating its merits even after already having gone too far. He sucked. He was a loser. He deserved to be branded. The game had changed; it was no longer about making a statement in order to speak his mind. It was about writing his resume in a public place, about announcing his self-hatred, and the hatred of what had passed for his sixteen years of life to that point.

Dude snapped the disposable pen in half and bit through the inner plastic, exposing the black goo. Then as if he were tracing a picture with a broken glass covered crayon, he gouged the jagged shard into his tattoo, opening the wounds yet wider while depositing a layer of indelibility atop the drying blood. It hurt so badly he nearly screamed aloud, his writing fist was covered in black and red and in the sweat of the moment he nearly passed out. But he finished, set down the utensil and took a long drag off his smoke. It was done, the degradation was complete. He wandered outdoors and found a cubby to curl into, a space between the shrubs and foundation where he could lay in the dirt and come down from on high, alone, as always, as it should be.

Within a few weeks Dude noticed a strange, blue line running up his festering arm, from the site of the oozing wounds upward and on a collision course with his left upper chest area. It was almost as if someone was sneaking into his room as he slept, injecting blue dye into his veins so as to draw a line between his elbow and heart. The pain too had become intense; the throbbing was nonstop and the tenderness made him wince every time he moved the arm.

It was during a moment of weakness that he succumbed to the agony. Not knowing what to do, whether to run or cry or hang himself from the nearest tree, he instead thought to see the high school nurse. There may have been a lower point in his life at some distant later date, but nothing to that moment compared with the humiliation he felt, squirming into the first aid office, whining about needing some kind of pain medication. “BABY” he screamed silently, over and over, mixing the word with a number of expletives. It was as if he were two people; one a big bad thug, and one a spineless wimp, and somehow old spineless was winning the day.

The nurse was quite taken aback, once she’d worked her way through the amateur bandaging and gently pried it loose from a major infection. Dude was sure he saw her wipe tears from her cheeks after having turned away a few moments, and she’d become amazingly quiet for a woman that was generally a blabbering font of positivity.

The same hour spent in creating the masterpiece was spent removing the sickness from his skin. It too was painful, teaching Dude that cutting verbiage in oneself could lead to long term discomfort, a valuable lesson and one never forgotten.

Within a few months the physical wounds had healed, and the emotional baggage had been stored for perusal at a later date. Without the ink, the scars were too irregular to seem as print, they did indeed look more like someone had carved him in a knife fight, or he’d fallen from a ladder and landed on a bed of bent nails. Near forty years later Dude could still recognize the words he’d formed with the help of a spike and a ball point pen, but only because Dude could remember the incident and could visualize the spelling of abject hopelessness and utter defeat. He’s lucky in a way. It’s not something just anyone can see. So no one’s really noticed. And that’s probably a good thing.

16 if a Day

It's hard to be sure what I thought as the blade pierced my skin
It was so long ago
it was less sense than show
But I know "Born to Lose" was my message, advanced by cheap gin
it was misery's mark
crying out from the dark
a dramatically loud violin

It wasn't a week 'till infection made blue every vein
poison crept toward my heart
from my sophomoric art
As my bicep swelled up I took refuge in powdered cocaine
no, the drug wasn't cool
but I hated high school
and the coke made a pleasure of pain

Then it finally became so diseased I had no other choice
but to guess which was worse
amputate...or school nurse
Yea, I'm sure that she heard the embarrassment deep in my voice
she was googly eyed
as she unwrapped my pride
she stood silent, her eyes getting moist

It likely was ink from a ballpoint that caused all the fuss
kids, remember this tome
don't do tattoos at home
What remains are deep scratches, it could have been quite hideous
pain obsession is bad
stow your knives when you're sad...or...
you might visit a hospital, trussed

1 comment:

  1. What a horrifying tale. I'm glad he had the sense to go to the nurse.