SCAB VENDOR — CONFESSIONS OF A TATTOO ARTIST
by Jonathan Shaw
Chapter 1 – Suicide Prevention
Sitting all alone in the big empty crumbling penthouse apartment in Hollywood, Cigano looks out over the same old shitty view of Los Angeles, sprawling like a giant barren cancer ward of wretched memories, all the way out to the cold blue Pacific Ocean. Easter Sunday. Shit! Classical music station is playing on the radio and, once again, he is completely, devastatingly alone. Alone in Los Angeles again. Fuck! Cigano wonders sadly how the hell he ever wound up back in this cold ugly angry parking lot of lost souls after so many years traveling the world.
Why here? Why now? Why? Fuck! It’s not right, he muses miserably. Why did I come back to this fucking shit-hole again? What the fuck did I expect to find in this rancid black pit of nothing? NOTHING! SHIT! SHIT! RELIEVE ME OF THE BONDAGE OF MYSELF! he begs an invisible God he has suddenly ceased to believe in. RELIEVE ME OF MY FUCKING PAST, THE MEMORIES, THESE SHIT-EATING PARASITIC HELLISH HORRORS OF MY FUCKED UP BENT MIND!!
He can feel the nightmare walls closing in on him here, the familiar blackness of ancient resentments and memories and fears plodding across his soul again like rapacious creditors bearing their giant damp straightjackets. He prays and prays… and still there is no relief. Nowhere to go, nothing to do, nobody to talk to or be with or share this merciless soul-shattering emptiness with.
Drowning in a raging sea of memories and regrets, Cigano broods on the past. He thinks sadly of all the people, places and things his clamoring unsatisfied ego have robbed him of forever now. He feels as if an army of hungry ghosts is marching across the endless parched desert of his brain as he remembers his women, the girlfriends and lovers and friends he once lived with and loved and inevitably lost to his own wretched selfishness, his devastating inability to form any real partnership with another human being; his restless, gutless, irritable discontented nature, the heart-stifling curse of his unsatisfied, unsatisfiable warped damaged mind…. Amy, Vera, Alessandra, Talita, all gone now. Shit! Happily married with kids and living in domestic bliss with their simple sane happy useful little husbands out in suburban lands of far away. Lost to him and gone forever from his miserable useless life of shit. SHIT SHIT SHIT!! Those doors have been cemented shut for him forever now, he muses sadly as he remembers what an old Gypsy woman told him somewhere along the long road to this insufferable here and now, the words that were tattooed forever onto his soul that foul dismal day. “Your days of married life are over forever now, boy.”
Twenty times a day, at least, the thought of diving out the window to a bone-crushing death comes over him like an echo of his father’s dying curse. And still he sits brooding in his chair, looking out over the futile grey-blue vista that offers no hope of relief; unable somehow to commit his aching body to the final plunge into that cold hard soulless cement of the parking lot thirteen floors below.
Ten years clean and sober now and Cigano has never felt himself so close to the first drink, pill, shot, snort, bullet to the head, whatever. The pain is almost unbearable. Pain? Pain of WHAT? he wonders. Everything is fine here, fucko, he reminds himself. And still the pain of his wretched existence is there, gnawing away at his tortured intestines like a big hungry slobbering walrus, eating at his floundering tenuous sanity, telling him it’s not worth a rat’s ass, this life, these childish hopes and dreams and literary aspirations…
The best of your life is over now, mano. Now all you got to look forward to is old age, sickness, solitude, insanity and death. Nobody gives a shit about your fucking self-obsessed demented little scribblings anyway, or even if you live or fucking die anymore… just like you once never gave a shit about anybody else. Now, after finally waking up and helping all those fuckers to get well and move on with their wonderful little lives, now you finally get to reap what you sowed back there in the infinite fields of Nothing. Hah! Well done, fucker! Better to go out in a flashing blaze of glory now than to sit here for another goddamned day looking out this shitty dirty old window, staring into a sea of bubbling churning ugly recollections of hell, worrying about paying a bunch of goddamn bills and waiting for so-called friends who never return your fucking calls here in this stinking pit of the isolated damned. And for what? Nobody’s got anything to say worth listening to here anyway. Bastards! Death would be a fucking relief from this living hell. Back in L.A. Shit! Fingernails, pillowcases, parking tickets, headaches, toothbrushes, frazzled nerve endings, leaky faucets, wilted flowers and burned-out candles sitting cold and barren on a dusty neglected shrine to Nothing. The fucking Heartbreak of Psoriasis. Fuck it! End it end it end it end it just end all now!!
The worst part of this incessant mental horror-show for Cigano is that he knows that he’s caught like a shivering flounder now in an iron-clad net of his own thinking… the bondage of self, maudlin self-pity, resentments, disappointments, self-centered fears, self-destruction, death… shit! he thinks as the words flow through his mind again and again like a river of poison diarrhea… end it end it end it end it end it end it, a noxious mantra of bubbling futility arising from the overflowing sewer of his own rancid consciousness; Alcoholism, Ego and Self. The Curse of a Hundred Generations.
Argghh, fuck it, he growls as he gets up from his chair and lights his twentieth cigarette of the day. Your ego is definitely not your amigo here, mano! Grow some fucking balls and deal with it. Don’t let the bastards get ya now. He’s getting hungry now too, he realizes with grim amusement. Night has suddenly fallen again like a greasy shroud. Soon it will be time to venture out like Nosferatu the Vampire and eat another solitary plate of cheap greasy Thai food. Just for today, he muses, it still beats the cold bloody asphalt omelette bellowing at him from that sprawling ugly parking lot down there. Anyway, he thinks, suicide seems like such a permanent solution to what must, after all, amount to a temporary existential dilemma… maybe things will work out a little better tomorrow.
Once again Cigano dives head-first back into the Wound, seeking refuge in the only door left open to him now. The weary tattoo man opens his notebook and begins to write of another world in another life… a better fucking world than this ratty little shit-fest, he sighs softly as he remembers sitting in Veracruz back in the day, reading to Jaco about his first weeks in Rio de Janeiro a million years ago. Past, present and future begin to magically merge as his pen scurries across the page like a little phantom shadow seeking shelter from a storm.
Chapter 2 – Cidade Maravilhosa
“The place I first saw through the dusty lens of a cracked windshield looked nothing like the Rio I’d dreamt of all my life,” Cigano reads. “But I would eventually discover a life there and a home in a dubious community artists, outlaws, misfits and drunken poets.
“I walked along, taking in the streets of Rio de Janeiro for the first time that day, slowing down briefly here and there to glance in a store window. One place in particular captured my attention; a little shop. I looked in at shelves displaying a baffling variety of strange colorful effigies; statues of voodoo deities, devils, saints, mermaids, hags and harpies, skeletons and weird serpent-headed mythological beings, gatekeepers of the Netherworld. From the cramped low ceiling hung row upon row of chains, pendants and colorful beads made of crystals, shells; exotic tributes, offerings and links to a baffling complex Afro-Brazilian spirit world; a World Unknown which obviously dominated even the most mundane aspects of daily life in this strangely easygoing place.
“Suddenly I thought of the strange voodoo shrine I’d come across near the mouth of the Amazon. I looked down at the strange esoteric symbol tattooed on my forearm, the one I hadn’t remembered getting, and suddenly everything seemed oddly related. It all made sense to me somehow, even though, on another level, it all made less sense than ever.
“As I walked along, the details of the city drew me in, subtly, inexorably, immediately. As I took in my surroundings on that first long slow walk through the crowded downtown area, Rio de Janeiro seemed more inviting and still more enigmatic with every step. I wandered a bustling downtown neighborhood in a daze, past street vendors, hawkers and little corner bars standing open to the street. Huge blue macaws stood sentry on wooden perches at doorways clutching bits of tropical fruits in their shiny black talons while shirtless men argued amicably over soccer games blaring from the little transistor radios they clutched jealously in one hand, small water glasses filled with rum in the other.
“There was something homey, warm and welcome, I felt, about this strange city as I glided along in my easy rum-soaked stupor. The sights, smells and rhythms of a big unfathomable human machine subtly enveloped me in its strange euphoric warmth. And at once I felt right at home in Rio, I realized as an inner sense of peace and belonging guided my step; that strange, quasi-mystical culture shock that I’d felt first stepping on a Mexican train; like first arriving in Veracruz, but somehow more profound and permanent, and without any apparent motive. On the surface, I mused, Rio appeared not unlike so many other places I’d been along the way. And still, I knew, there was something special here.
“I’d traveled by foot, bus, thumb, boat, train, ship and truck across the wild savage forgotten backlands of the Americas; over years of hunger and struggle, violence and brotherhood, loneliness, triumph and strife to get to Rio. Maybe that’s why I felt as ready to fit in here as well as in anyplace I’d ever been. And I did fit in; I could feel it deep in my core as I walked along easily, taking in the cool easygoing atmosphere of this home I’d dreamed of for so very long. But there was something else now, I would realize, something ephemeral in the air that led me on past its decaying colonial buildings and coughing groups of shirtless bastard sons of decadent history and tradition; something unseen bidding me a fair welcome, stoking a dreamlike sense of wellbeing that transcended the stark reality of my present situation; alone and largely unfamiliar with local language, culture and people; an eternal stranger in another strange land, wandering unknown streets without a destination, two steps away from being homeless and penniless. Well fuck it, I thought as the words of Antonio Pedro resounded in my ear. Here’s to destiny and fuck the whole miserable world. Right on the money, I thought, grinning like an idiot. Who needs a destination when one has a destiny? And the pieces of destiny were falling into place already in my mind, like the lyrics to an old song sung by a madman somewhere deep inside of me. And I liked it. Vagabundo Corazon. As I walked past another botiquim, I heard it playing on an old jukebox inside. I stopped in front and listened to the words. And I vaguely understood them with my mind, even as my heart seemed to absorb their esoteric essence like a thirsty dying plant.
Meu coração vagabundo… quer guardar o mundo… em mim…
Finally I walked away, softly repeating the soft Portuguese song lyrics, humming the strangely familiar tune as I walked off down the street… my vagabond heart wants to hold the world inside me… I lost all track of time in my aimless wanderings. Finally I found myself walking through a series of narrow labyrinths in an antique Bohemian quarter in the looming shadows of old Art Deco style office buildings. There were busy little shoeshine stands and snack bars displaying a variety of colorful fruits and strange bottled concoctions on dark wooden shelves behind ancient tiled counters. On the other side of the road were winding overgrown footpaths leading up into steep hillsides bursting with life. Impromptu sidewalk gatherings in the shadows of the playful dusk crowded the walkways in front of little open air bars. The smokey smell of grilled sardines and garlic and piss filled the trembling air with sweet-sad plaintive sounds of chorinho music, blending with mingled voices, shouts and peals of animated laughter. Looking up into the hills I could see the winding cobblestone paths lined with weather beaten colonial-style houses, their ornate wedding cake facades peeking out from the wild overgrown vegetation. Off on a slightly more distant hillside I saw the teeming ticky-tacky cluster of shantytown favelas, those ever-present hillside slums of Rio, dotting its verdant hillsides like complex ancient tattoos of unfathomable hieroglyphics on the surface of a vibrant alien civilization.
Copyright Jonathan Shaw 2011.
I just want to say how much I love reading your work.
thank you!! It’s people like you who make it all worth it!
Loved, the whole section on Rio, really vivid and alive.
there’s alot more to come… this is just a ”teaser” haha
Great and powerful stuff, JS. I wonder if the voodoo markings and the “hungry ghosts” are somehow related… no “coincidences” around here, right? ..and I just read Midnight In the Garden of Good and Evil. really great for seeing a true southern gothic tale with enough kharma and ghosts for any voodoo literary chaser.
Here’s the quote I’m looking for –
“You can drink all you want to when you’re at the grave of a person who loved to drink,’ she said. ‘You’ll never get drunk, ’cause the dead will take the fumes away from you. By the time you pull the top off the bottle, they done beat you to it. You can drink for hours. Mr. Jim told me the boy loved Wild Turkey, so I gave him a little drink to get him in a better mood. Me, I like to dip snuff. When I die, you can carry me my favorite snuff. Peach or Honeybee. Put it under your lower lip when you sit by my grave.”
– Minerva from Midnight In The Garden Of Good and Evil by John Berendt.
I don’t wana give the impression I’m trying to romanticize drinking booze, etc… I was fascinated by the connection to physical addiction and spiritual addiction… the idea of a ghost who’s still addicted to whiskey is fascinating to me… Since the book was based on truth and a real voodoo priestess…
“Diseases of the soul
are more dangerous
and more numerous
than those of the body.”