what happens when a rose plucks coyote
guy in the hall says to me, "do you know the secret?"
across the hall is an asbestos abatement project underway. an opaque white plastic tent, eight feet tall and maybe ten feet long, serves as a containment chamber outside the office the work is happening in. the tent is plumbed with hoses sucking something out or pumping something in. there are valves. it looks like an emergency alien birthing facility. earlier, brad skubinna reported seeing "beings going in and out."
the guy in the hall says, "do you know the secret?"
the asbestos abatement hoses suck or blow.
"you don't know the secret!"
"you should look it up. look it up. i can't believe." he glances around. "look it up."
the danger signs everywhere say something about lung disease.
"like on the internet?" i say.
"you don't know?"
"okay, i don't want to freak you out, but i've been practicing, and if there's something you want, you need to think it. if you're going to ask something of the universe . . . be specific. ask for a blue jeep with big tires and a chrome bumper and some fuzzy dice on the rearview mirror. because you're going to get what you ask for. so long as you're not greedy. that's the one rule."
he scratches his palm. "see," he says, "something's going to happen soon. when something's about to happen, i get this itch on my palm."
(it wasn't 1949. i felt so unworthy of her.
she said goodbye forever.
and like john and yoko wished, "war is over," i wish forever was old.
sometimes in bed in the blackness of eastern washington, i fear death. and i am sad. what is done is done. none of it to be erased. each of our vibrations, of we the molecular music jukebox humanoids, carrying on and on, forever more faintly and never still.
the fastest train. the fastest train. the fastest train.)
on the radio plays jimi hendrix, "foxy lady," and in my ear is the buzz, churn, buzz of caleb's tattoo needle, the intermittent, thought-filled silences of the needle, caleb with a demon's fanged mouth in the dimple of his throat and peering through thick, black-plastic-rimmed spectacles. he is shading with a row of needles, like a paintbrush of needles: shading, rubbing, wiping, shading. it feels like sharp fingernails on a bad sunburn. the needles sound muffled in the flesh.
it's a small studio. i'm in an office-like chair, arm propped on a pad. in the hallway, visible through a cutout in the wall, is an alien female inhaling directly from the nozzle of an unmarked, cylindrical tank, like for acetylene.
carl stops by.
he says, "how long you been at it?"
caleb says, "about two hours. some artists start the clock the moment you step in through the door of the business. but i don't do that. it's when the needle hits the skin, so you get a full two hours of tattooing."
"is two hours what you ordinarily do?"
carl says, "you ever have anyone pass out?"
"not if they tell me what's going on. but yeah. it's usually the big guys. they're too manly to say when it hurts."
i say, "why do they pass out?"
"they're in pain, and they deal with it by holding their breath."
"what other ways do people deal with it?" i ask.
"breathe," says carl.
"sometimes i can catch it before it happens," says caleb.
"when you're tattooing, all the blood is in the skin, and it's really hot. just before they pass out, i touch the skin, and i can feel it, it's cold."
"is that red ink or blood?" says carl.
"the blood under the skin," says caleb.
"so there's no color."
"traditional black and grey."
"when people pass out do they go all the way out?" i ask.
"all the way out. and they have really weird dreams. they're not out long, but their dreams are long."
"what do you do if they fall out of their chair?" i ask.
"catch them. it used to freak me out at first. but now i just go get a paper towel, put some cold water on it, put it on the back of their neck and go outside for a cigarette."
"come back and they're good to go again," carl laughs.
he said that already.
(how do you break the chains?
balls to the wall, man.
if you can find them.
how do you find them?
if you are not who you are, how do you know if some part of you is under metal lock and key?)
i ask tom o'day, "what is fluxus?"
tom is sipping whiskey, his face scored in deep wrinkles and grinning beneath an uncombed shock of thick black and grey hair.
he tells me about this guy who did this piece called something like "i love america, and america loves me." he flies to america on a plane to new york. at the airport he is picked up by an ambulance. some paramedics carry him out of the plane wrapped in white bandages and in the ambulance take him to the gallery. then he walks into the gallery with a black felt blanket draped over his shoulders. the gallery is empty but for a wild coyote. the artist sits wrapped in bandages and with his black felt blanket in the gallery with the coyote for three days. at first the coyote keeps a distance. but then it approaches and gets aggressive. it tugs on his blanket and growls. but by the end of the three days, he and the coyote are sleeping together.
and then the paramedics come and take him back in an ambulance to the airport, load him on a plane and send him home.
so all he ever saw of america was a coyote in a gallery, and all america saw of him was a figure in white bandages draped in a black felt blanket.
later, i tell rusty, "i believe that's the most brilliant and amazing thing i've ever heard of anyone doing ever in the universe, don't you think?"
"it's interesting," she says.
one day coyote decided to fast.
many times before, coyote had gone hungry, but never before had he fasted, or, with food available, chosen not to eat. for one it was dangerous not to eat when you could. and for two, the food coyote had at the moment was particularly tasty and nutritious. but raven had said if you never control yourself you'll never become yourself; and he had gone on to explain that the ultimate self control was in controlling the urge to eat--denying the body through exercise of the will.
not a week before, coyote had gone to see the movie about mike tyson, "tyson."
coyote was the only being in the theatre, though it was opening day, the 7:40 showing. he sat towards the back and in the middle. he had snuck into the theatre under his jacket a dead hare. earlier he had taken the dead hare to lorinda knight's and to it explained some things about the various pictures on exhibit. and, of course, he had his flask. less than an hour ago at the baby bar he had bummed a cigarette, and he was feeling satisfied and, as the lights went down, warmly enshadowed.
in the movie, tyson told the story about how cus d'amato made him a deal: "you do everything i say, and if you ever lose, you can quit."
and so tyson did everything cus d'amato said, and he never lost a single fight all the way to being the youngest heavyweight champion of the world in the history of american boxing.
coyote got to thinking.
why did tyson need cus d'amato to tell him what to do?
coyote decided to make a deal with himself. he would do everything he told himself to do, and if ever he felt unhappy again, he could quit. he imagined himself telling himself to do all sorts of pure things, rising steadily, and deservedly so, towards evermore happiness.
it seemed so simple.
but it was hard.
it was hard being cus d'amato and coming up with pure things to do.
and it wasn't easy being tyson. pure things were hard to carry out.
if you don't fast, coyote thought, you can't complain ever again about not being happy. happiness is just beyond the exercise of the ultimate self control.
and that's what coyote was thinking when he was shot in the back with a tranquilizing dart.
everything went black. he heard his flask hit the ground, and he heard a glug of whiskey last thing.
when he woke up, he was in an art gallery with a german in bandages.
on the radio plays "i'm so glad, i'm so glad, i'm so glad." bzzzzzz. bzzt. bzzzzzt. mmmmmm. mmmmmm. bzzzt.
caleb says, "people wouldn't get tattoos if they didn't hurt."
"is that true?" i wonder aloud.
"yeah. think about it."
picture a world with tattoos sprayed on in the gentlest mists of permanent, and perhaps pleasingly fragrant, ink.
i recall jaydn's words, "tattoos are companions."
"could a tattoo applied without pain be a companion?"
"no," says caleb. "it's in the process of tattooing that you and your tattoo get to know each other. your body remembers the endorphins, too. some people get addicted to it. a lot of people's tattoos don't mean big stuff, especially when you see people covered in them. they're probably just into tattoos."
carl is the one recommended caleb. caleb has done some of carl's tattoos.
carl is an instructor of fine arts.
caleb has no credentials in the arts.
at oz fitness on the treadmill i had asked carl how as a formally trained educator of the fine arts he is comfortable entrusting to a person without formal credentials the artwork to be forevermore upon his flesh. how do you figure?
and carl says, "you mean if he were to take some drawing classes?"
"yeah. or a degree with lots of drawing in it."
"well, for one, he's good. so it doesn't matter how he got there. and if you think about it, all he does is draw all day, and he's been doing it for fourteen years. and before that all he did as a kid was draw."
in prepping the studio, caleb wraps the small tabletop of glass in cellophane, lays out a stack of blue paper towels (the durable kind that don't shed particulate matter, wet or dry), sets out three unlabeled plastic squeeze bottles of fluids, wraps each in plastic, preps the machine and gun, puts on his spectacles and, with a small magnifying glass, inspects the points on the needles. he loads the gun, puts a large dollop of vaseline on a blue paper towel, and, with the vaseline, adheres to the towel six disposable thimbles he fills with shades of grey to black.
also, no pain, no rite of passage.
and no days of caring to come.
different studios recommend different care regiments. always the advice is to keep it clean and moist, protecting it from infection and drying out. some studios sell care packs with a bottle of soap and some lotion, like lubriderm.
my sister, in addition to being one of the most powerful people in the california environmental protection agency, is a secret spirit being and massage therapist, and to bottles of oils--olive oil, like what you cook with, sesame seed oil etc.--she adds essential oils and, sometimes also, salts of the sea. she says when you mix oils for your body, you must add your personal power oils. everybody has different power oils. that's why it's much better to make oils for yourself than to buy ones made by strangers for broad markets. one of my sister's power oils is rose. for my ointments i mix jojoba oil, patchouli and grapefruit.
caleb sits back and tosses into the garbage can a blackened blue paper towel, takes up a new towel, wets it with soap from a squeeze bottle, wipes my arm and looks. the soap is soothing. the ink glistens. he pushes the foot pedal and the needles vibrate and he dips the needle tips into one and then another of the disposable thimbles of ink, mixing shades in changing proportions. he draws close, positions the gun like a pair of chopsticks and gets to work. from the moment the needles touch the canvas, ink pools, concealing everything. i ask caleb, "how do you see what you're doing when you're working in those pools of ink?"
"oh i can see it."
on the radio plays led zeppelin, "immigrant song." chun dah-duh chun dah-duh chun.
the hammer of the gods
he sits back. he wets the towel some more and wipes my arm. "he runs through the fiery storm of war," he says smiling.
the land is scorched, black and grey, engulfed in flames and blown in troubled gusts of blacked smoke.
coyote was sad. he was sad about all the bad things he had done and couldn't take back. the past was the past. but the presence of the past in the present is forever. the movies were a place to get away. and the garland theater wasn't too far from the bar he liked to stop in at for gin. october is the time of year it turns cold in the land of the spokane river, and coyote's coat had thickened as the month approached an unusually bitter end. the curbside meters of grey metal looked grim and frost-bitten.
he sat in the very back row, wore a hooded sweatshirt, was slumped low. he had a bag of unbuttered popcorn and a bottle of red label johnny walker he had stolen out of the back of a liquor delivery truck in the valley.
the movie was a midnight showing of "the matrix," and the scene was neo in a nightclub filled with loud music and bright, garish, multi-colored beams, bursts and sweeps of light. earlier, neo's computer had told him to "follow the white rabbit." the white rabbit turned out to be a tattoo on a pretty girl's shoulder. he followed her tattoo to the club. and in the club he meets a stranger says her name is trinity. neo has heard the name before, but thought trinity was a man. and trinity asks neo: "do you know the question?"
and neo says he does.
and trinity asks, "what is the question, neo?" and neo says, "what is the matrix?"
what is the matrix?
if you want to know the answer . . . well, it's impossible to describe what you must go through.
in the end you must die in a cradle of computerized empathy.
coyote feels mentally prepared for courageous acts.
though ripples never die, they may be overrun by waves or swallowed up in depths.
coyote remembers back to those strange days in an art gallery.
it seems happiness is like the osprey hits the fish.
"to hell with flight!" you say, and fold your wings. sometimes you hit the water. sometimes glass. it seemed simple. coyote slid lower in his chair. sometimes the sound of the projector made him jump.