Dad was a tattoo gypsy, going town to town with his ink, his needles, his salves, and me. XXX
He knew everything about the tradition, from tebori to flash. But the man who taught me my traid XX XXXXXXXXXXXXX should not be held responsible for
When I was a kid my family was so poor we couldn’t afford paper. Dad would leave little memos all over his body, but in the long run that practice proved
WASTE NOT / WANT NOT
Even the roughest first draft needs a great deal of preparation and preplanni
Dad told me that my mother fell in love with his art long before she fell in love with him. The needle against her skin aroused her passion, and the message that
resulted made it permanent. At last, the process was transferred to the producer himself. And then I happened along.
“FIGHTING FOR YOUR BUSINESS”
I remember Dad standing at intersections, waving his needles and ink packs in the air, trying to sell simple tattoos to motorists stopped at the red light. It was
not a successful business model.
“A Journey of 1,000 Miles”
All’s well that ends well. But I know that an effective beginning is important, too. As long as I have tablets to write on, I’m determined to keep at it until I get it
BORN TO LOSE
What would you say to a blue print you just met?
BOB AND BUSTER
Closeted though I may have been by my father’s craft, I always knew my true nature. And it relied upon a writer’s, not a tattooist’s ink.
JOHNNY LOVES VIOLET
I, a tattoo artist, never uncover my body. Not even my face. I guess people find that a little odd.
My father, the would-be entrepreneur, once thought if he could stencil ink vaginas onto convicts; he could make their imprisonment more bearable. Later, when
I was older, he chuckled when he told me his initial research and drafting had been inherently interesting. But he found his clientele too set in their ways to be
receptive to innovation.
IF YOU DON’T WANT TO GET FUCKED UP DON’T FUCK WITH ME
My father’s most interesting tattoo idea involved an inchstick, a penis, and a…
Most of the work I get paid for is for something elementary and quick. A name. A motto. A cross. A heart is a staple (sometimes broken). A lightning bolt. But
every so often I get a request for something more elaborate – a butterfly, a dragon, mountains and surf, maybe a flowery skull with snakes – and that’s the
opportunity I live for.
Where does anything actually begin? Isn’t there always something that comes before? Should an autobiography begin with one’s first memory or one’s
ambitions? Accomplishments or intentions? Maybe it even starts before conception?
I was seven. The madman my father brought home raved constantly about a “bastard’s birthright,” about murder and betrayal, about risking his very life and
sanity to acquire and hide “the Devil’s Own Nest Egg.” And lots of other nonsense to boot.
FORMY TREASURE BEYOND PRICE
The glint in the stranger’s eyes was like lightning, his shout a thunderclap, as he screamed about the fortune he’d hid out in the desert and how precariously it
teetered in his fevered brain. The memory of its location must somehow be preserved or it would be lost forever. A map is what was needed!
MARK + ROSE
What marks my life apart from all others is the collaboration between my father and a lunatic to transform my body into a treasure map. Under the stranger’s
instruction, Dad would indelibly engrave every landmark, every direction, into the skin of his only son.
MERCATOR MANSON FOREVER
The night that I became a cartographer’s dream is inked into my memory like a
FUCKING TATTOO OF COURSE, YOU MORON! YOU HAVE TO WRITE BETTER THAN THAT IF YOU WANT TO SUCCEED AT THIS GAME!
PATIENCE AND PRUDENCE
The madman was nothing if not incoherent and contradictory, but Father persevered. Every time the crazy stranger would seem to forget some vital detail or
recover old ground in some different manner, Dad would have to retrace his own steps and modify his growing design. Mistakes inevitably multiplied as the
mapping got more confused and maze-like.
My back filled with lines and smudges, with scratched-in amendments and appendices, the manic mosaic they created covered my back and chest. Eventually
the manic mosaic curved up and down and around my arms and legs. They were just about out of parchment, so the final spot was marked on my face.
The stranger and my father fed each other’s insanity as they filled my skin with their mad designs. We all collapsed into an exhausted coma just as the gray
horizon began to peach.
WOMEN BEAR CHILDREN, MEN TATTOOS
As the sun was going down, Dad woke me up. “Hurry, Son, we need to leave.” Our exit was accompanied by the ragged snorts of the stranger, the designer of
When my scarred skin had nearly recovered, we braved the stranger’s desert sun. We had to stop periodically whenever we were lost, and Dad would take off
all my clothes, turn me around like a naked lathe, examine my armpit for some hidden clue. We searched for a week but never found any of the landmarks
etched in my epidermis.
NO PERFECT BEAUTY W/O STRANGENESS IN THE PROPORTION
After we’d abandoned the desert that first time, Dad decided my secret was too valuable to keep on display. He began wrapping me up like a mummy under my
clothes. I began wearing elaborate scarves around my head. I’m sure I would have been forced to wear a burkha if Dad had ever known what a burkha was.
A MAN CAN BE HONEST IN ANY SORT OF SKIN
What an odd pair we were, Father and I. We’d come into a strange town, a tall burning prophet and his midget bandaged up like a burn victim. No wonder
business fell off, even – especially, I guess – when we tried to sell tattoos door to door.
The Devil’s Nest Egg never faded from my father’s mind. It was more deeply etched than the deepest pattern he’d ever applied. Itself unchangeable, it managed
to blur my father until I no longer recognized him. As I grew from a child to an adolescent into a man, my father increasingly grew into a stranger. The
stranger’s lightning bolt would master his eyes, the old thunderclap would voice itself from his lips, and the night of the bastard’s birthright would manifest
itself again, as poor Father forced me to undress and he’d study the chart he’d sired.
ONLY DEATH CAN TAKE MY MOKO AWAY
I often imagined that we were being followed. Eyes were everywhere, fevered, bloodshot, but patient.
I was returning late at night from an acquisition of needed materials when I was confronted by the nightmare of my youth.
“You know what I want,” hissed the raspy voice from my past.
“But why?” I wailed, my heart like a drum. “Your map is worthless! It didn’t take us anywhere!”
“You fool,” the menacing stranger hissed. “I never intended to leave my secrets in the clear for any idiots to read. The sun had fried my ability to remember.
The details were still fresh, but I knew they would fade. I needed a mnemonic device, so I gave your father just enough topography to remind me, me! of the
true proportions, nothing more.”
“What are you going to do with me? Kidnap me?” I knew pleading would be worthless, but I was trying to buy some time to find an escape.
”Of course not. I have no need for you at all.” His teeth flashed, like the long knife I glimpsed in his hand. “I only need that treasure map you’re wearing!”
NO JUDGE BUT GOD
The sharp blade pierced the sharp skin. The stranger screamed in pain as the tattoo needle I’d purchased entered his hand, followed by a pounding blow on the head with the heavy bag it came from and several more needle jabs into his body. I don’t know how seriously he was hurt. I didn’t stick around long enough to
Dad never got any supplies that day. I got out of town as quickly as I could and never went back.
I suppose both of them, father and stranger, search for me still.
I SPEAK THE BODY ENGLISH
I’m constantly on the move, even more than when I was with Dad. I earn my living from the mindless tattoos that people buy on a whim, but I pursue my life’s
work more furtively according to happenstance. Someone gives me the time I need to create something complicated on the canvas of his or her body, but
unsuspecting, they actually provide me with the parchment I need for the tattoo novel I write. When I am through composing, I thoughtfully apply my
protective gauze and my stern admonishment not to remove it for a week. By which time I’m long gone.
LOVE LASTS FOREVER, A TATTOO LONGER THAN THAT
I keep a careful record of my work in progress, to be assembled and collated by some future scholar in search of an adventurous dissertation.
TATTOOED IN OUR CRADLES WITH THE BELIEFS OF OUR TRIBE
Duane Vorhees is now securely settled in Farmersville, Ohio, 50 years after he left there to go exploring. In the intervening years he lived in Canada, Korea, Japan, Thailand, and other exotic places like Charleston, South Carolina. He spends his time curating duanespoetree.blogspot.com, a daily webzine devoted to the creative arts. Above is his first-ever short story.