ColumnConscious life, hear me roar.
Santa Fe, New Mexico is home to one of my favorite coffee shops, the Aztec St. Café. When I lived there, I would spend hours with the locals, smoking American Spirit cigarettes and drinking strong coffee, including a too-sexy-for-his-own-good Taos Indian man, two actresses from New York City, a writer from Cape Elizabeth, Maine and a lesbian Kung Fu expert.
We were something off a Bob Dylan Basement Tapes album cover, a ridiculous on-again off-again crew, but there were always, always great conversations and ideas. In the year and a half that I lived there, these hatched into a pitched play for David Mamet, an affair with the Taos Indian man, and a near close encounter with the Kung-Fu expert.
In Santa Fe, as in any small town community, everybody knows everybody, which is why when Dave strolled into our space one day, we took the time to size him up. Most people couldn’t help it, with his thinning, long brown hair, his full-sleeve tattooed arms, his large, crooked nose and his rolling swagger. Dave was the freak fusion of Woody Allen and Braveheart, with tattoos.
The first time we talked, I was alone writing poetry. I had high hopes for myself getting published. I would roam the desert all day with my dad’s vintage 35 mm camera, looking for pueblo ruins and cemeteries and would come back to piece it all together, juxtaposing what was outside the Aztec’s door with what was inside the café.
One day, Dave said something to the effect of “Got a light?” or “Got an extra smoke?’ and that was it. We sat and talked for hours about writers, places we would see, and tattoos. It was like we’d been friends since birth.
When the big idea came up one day that I should get a tattoo, we drove over to meet Dave’s “guy” and have a “consultation” with Frank who had done most of Dave’s tattoos. I was 21 and sober and I just went for it, getting my first ink of the same koi fish as Frank’s. The fish was exploding from the water; the finished work depicted letters meaning “Live life.” I’ve never gotten another one, but over the years, have taken friends there to get their own.
In three weeks, I’ll be in San Francisco for work and a friend has told me about his tattoo artist I should check out. There’s always the sensation that returns, of ink equaling some vital form of rebellion. Over the years, I’ve considered many tattoos: a needle and thread, arrows, compasses and mantras. All hardly symbolic of something groundbreaking, which is why I never follow through. The tramp stamp of the fading fish is testament enough to little thought.
I doubt the majority of people in the world get tattoos they think hard about. Maybe, in fact, it never makes sense why we get them. Maybe that’s why I’ve never gotten another, instead content to tell people of my tattoo fantasies. They may think I’m a little off, but one day, when I’m 90, perhaps smoking peyote in the desert and clad in all the tattoos I want, it will all make sense.
I want names.
It’s not the symbols but the names I want. Hieroglyphics, badges of glory from people who have left a profound impression on me, for good or for not:
Snider, McCullough, McCallister, Manning, Pawlina, Parks, Bregman, Carlon, Burt, Cox, Oliver, Kerouac, Plath, endless swaths of heartbreak, laughter, shame, joy, darkness and inspiration. I want these people’s names inscribed up and down my back and arms, covered by crisp shirts so only I know the secret: That they are not only a part of my soul but real people.
And maybe someday, I can let my body tell a story, of once upon a time, in a land truly far away – the past – there were people who mattered and altered and created the woman who writes this to you now. To be the aged woman in the desert, wild-eyed and wasted, whispering for Dave.
Between the Lines, is a weekly column navigating the sometimes-sharp, sometimes-blurred lines of life and culture between city and country.