last one in, Cubby sat inside a vintage Volkswagen cab while
the driver, palming directions in his steering-wheel hand
(a well-worn address, many times folded and unfolded), wended
through narrow, rutted side streets and unpaved alleys, as
deep into the inferno as one could get. In the rear, Cubby
was bug-eyed; his face, puffed and distorted with drink and
misdirected energy, was contorting into deformities, even
worse than those of the passersby. The taxista discharged
him before a block of battered storefronts. At one time, when
the tumbledown street had been busy, the fronts had been painted
like a fun-house, sharp pink against yellow. Now it was solid
gang graffiti. Cubby knew where he was, and found a staircase
leading up, hit a landing, passed through a metal gate with
an unlatched asylum lock.
was a small apartment and a studio; every inch of wall was
hung with flash; a weird array of sketches and photographs
and wooden grape-crate slats decorated with abstract black
tribal shapes, stark Catholic images; the Holy Infant and
Our Lady of Perpetual Mercy and various miracle-working saints.
The room reeked of hydrochloric acid, but it wasn't coming
from the tattoo equipment, it was coming from the proprietor's
skin; his sweat smelled like a car battery. He was perched
on a grungy, mealy sofa in a vague lotus position. His feet,
wrapped in heavy woolen socks, jutted over the edge; he was
almost six and a half feet tall, and didn't fit the couch.
Still, he had a settled look. A Parcheesi board sat on the
floor beneath him, next to a grocery bag filled with reefer
and some gems of local cuisine, three days old, half-eaten
in a plate.
stood in the doorway, supporting himself, dumping perspiration.
Swollen capillaries gave his eyes a severe, lusterless look;
he focused them on the lotus man's chest. A scapular with
a plastic cross hung there, and below that, on the skin, was
a single, huge picture; a beautiful young Hindi boy, with
his foot on the head of another beautiful young Hindi boy,
who was dead.
lotus man considered Cubby through fluttering eyelids. His
name was Darius, but he went by 'Ant'. A joke, of course,
referring to his size. Cubby could appreciate jokes like that.
Ant looked like a marble carving; an intense pallor delved
into the hollows of his cheeks, his lips were almost white.
He was a junkie, and a certain lucidity arises in the skin
of junkies, growing more intense in the weeks before they
die. They begin to resemble sculptured shells, since the corrosion
is moving from the inside out, like a corpse decomposing within
a vacuum chamber. At the final stage, they fairly glow. Prevailing
wisdom suggests that, since they are so close to death, the
light is supernatural.
was dusk, but a rooster was screaming somewhere. Ant unwound
his limbs, pushed himself up, using a crutch cut from an acote
branch. Acote was supposed to be spiritual wood, channeling
potent energies. Barring intervention from one of the flash
saints on the wall, he needed all the help he could get. He
was from Oakland and was still a bit California cosmic; he'd
come to Mexico chiefly for the dope. Cubby hovered in his
doorway, briefly confused by the odd light and the smell.
"Am I drunk?" he asked.
you're drunk, all right".
I fucking deserve to be".
old dentist chair sat in the center of the room. Cubby lurched
in, plopped down into it. He tore away his shirt and pants,
sat naked. He handed Ant a pad of paper from the Jena hotel.
"How hard would that be?"
glanced at the pad, at the bloated, pasty, drying skin, but
not too closely. "Easy or hard, that's how; like everything
else. Depends on what you're willing to settle for."
displayed five thousand pesos in hundred-peso notes. That's
what he was willing to settle for. Ant had no qualms about
it; no matter the details. This was Cubby's seventh trip to
the studio; his seventh session. He knew the situation; it
never changed. Cubby was a good customer, and this would be
the final visit; neither one needed a Harvard education to
work that out. Still, it took Ant a little while to fire up
his enthusiasm; it took a candle, some brown dust, a red-capped
syringe to establish telepathic contact with his muse; but
finally, eyebrows knit, he knuckled down with his needle bar,
inscribing strange, polysyllabic names from the Jena pad onto
Cubby's skin, one by one, in odd, but precise calligraphy,
up an arm, down his back, the nape of his neck, on his leg,
on his crotch, winding between past souvenirs, other names
he'd scratched there in other sessions, names of young girls,
of expendable children, of men with beard stubble. Names that
drove the grammatical wife to distraction every time Cubby
disrobed. Cubby couldn't care less; these names were more
real than life. This time, Cubby wanted one on his hand, and
Ant balked a little, though not too much: he'd lost that argument
with clients before. "It's what you show the world, you
know; and who knows what you're gonna have to do someday?
Like, you wouldn't get one on your face, would you?"
his chronic state, Ant worked with consummate skill; there
were no stencils, and his strokes were long and relaxed and
deep and decisive. It took nearly three hours to get everything
down, every name. During that time, there was no sound but
the hum of the tattoo machine and the demented rooster shrilling
in the alley.
day in, at check-out time, the desk boy kept his eyes averted;
the Jena manager grinned, "...I hope chu enjoyed chore
stay, Mr. Deeler..." with a big mouthful of Chief Wahoo
teeth, far too polite to mention the bloody bandages swaddling
Cubby bare, haggard arms, much too ingratiating to mention
Cubby's forehead, where 'Chucky Ley' was scratched in scabbed-over
orange letters; nor was there any fuss made when Cubby performed
his customary dry-out ritual, killing his seventh hotel goldfish;
pouring the remainder of his Don Cuervo stash into the aquarium
in the lobby.
Gallery Design and Hand Model:
2002 Artzar -
All Rights Reserved