God of the Mudbugs

I was staring down into a cooler full of crawfish. I guess I zoned out because my vision went a bit blurry and I tried to imagine that moment from the prospective of the little creatures about to be boiled alive and salted. Their final moment would be on a red and white checked table cloth as monsters ripped apart their bodies; their death song would be simple slurping sounds and crunching. I’m not saying that the crawfish had any idea that doom was imminent, but existence was still quite shitty for every little creature in that cooler.

 

Crawfish are cannibalistic and there were at least one hundred pounds of the little savages just writhing around beneath my gaze. How horrific would that be for the ones on the bottom? I was witnessing a constant battle; it was crustacean king of the hill. The largest and strongest would claw their way to the surface only to succumb to exhaustion and find themselves back on the bottom.

 

I imagined a point of view from the cooler looking up. I pictured myself as a magnificent backlit giant with a booming voice saying “I choose you!” as I reached down into the cooler to save one of the crawfish from peril as if I were a god. I really did it. But I only saved one (saving a handful would’ve been weird) and I placed it on the lid of the cooler until I could find a bowl of water or something. That’s when I turned my back and the chocolate lab that’d been watching me with a sideways cocked head struck. She took my Chosen One in her teeth and started tossing him/her around the yard. The Chosen One snapped back a few times with surprisingly strong pincers but the smart money in a Labrador vs. Mudbug fight is always on the dog. She killed my little refugee and walked away from the corpse. I shrugged my shoulders at the irony and went back to gorging on liberally seasoned swamp-people cuisine.

 

I stayed sober that night and went bar hopping as a designated driver (which is a station I’m starting to enjoy). The “sober guy” is also a new perspective for me and just as novel as my previously imagined one. I’d stand and talk or sit and watch with a water bottle in my hand and I saw the revelry around me as the bouncers and bartenders must see it; ridiculous. There were women that I’d dub solid twos that were walking around like dimes. There were pudgy bastards strutting like pimps. Old men were experiencing temporary youth via Jack Daniels and young punks were puffing out their chests in imitation of maturity thanks to Bud Light. There were useless fights and missed opportunities and failed pick-ups all around me and I couldn’t help but smirk. All of these fools were writhing around me in a stumbling mass of humanity and all of them were oblivious to the fact that the God of the Mudbugs was in their midst.

The Chosen One

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Something’s Coming

They gave me an economy size bottle of pain killers when my wisdom teeth were removed; I think I was 16 and it was right before senior year. I was rattling them around in their translucent orange container when my dad called me at my mom’s house. His dad had died, as he put it, and I could either stay with my mom or come out to the valley and live on my own for eleven days until he got back. He promised to stash cash around the house so I wouldn’t starve. I told him there was no way in hell I’d miss the chance, and hung up my phone. My mom asked what he wanted, and I said “nothing, he can’t get me this week so I’ll need to have a friend pick me up.” She never would’ve gone for it, and rightfully so; I hadn’t done a damn thing to earn the trust.

 

And that’s how I found myself in a dilapidated ’65 Malibu SS heading to the valley with chipmunk cheeks and a pocket full of Percocet. The freedom was intoxicating. It was dusk and we were literally driving into the sunset towards untold adventure. The first party wasn’t that bad. My dad had called to tell me where the first envelope was hidden and I don’t remember how much was in it, but it was enough to completely fill the refrigerator with 40 ounce bottles of Old English like that old-school Dr. Dre video. We stole one of those six foot tall beef jerky tubes and fixed it up with eight hoses so a group of us could beer bong at the same time. It didn’t work worth a shit, but we named it “octopussy” and dubbed it badass. We also had one of those enormous Budweiser banners hanging from the rafters, and I don’t know if it came from the same place as octopussy, but it wasn’t acquired honestly either. Nothing really happened that night. We drank shitty beer and listened to shittier music until we passed out. There were thirty of us at most.

 

Do you remember those videos they used to make you watch in high school about spreading rumors? You know, you tell two people, and then they each tell two people, and then those four tell two apiece, and so on and so on. The video I remember kept filling the screen with more and more pictures Brady-Bunch-style until there were hundreds of smiling faces stacked on each other. In a nut shell, that’s what happened. It was State Fair time in the valley, and that fair was like a Petri dish for rumor. The parties kept getting bigger and bigger night after night and we were stoking the flames like rabid idiots.

 

The last party was on a Saturday. That day simply had a different feeling to it; there was a palpable sense of anticipation amongst my little click. Disaster was inevitable and we knew it because the party the night before was on the brink of insanity and every idiot in attendance was going to tell two more idiots and so on. I think we hit a hundred people some time before nine and I should’ve feared the mass of humanity that was migrating to my father’s home but for some reason, I embraced it. All the quintessential clichés usually reserved for unrealistic party movies were in attendance. There were naked women and fighting assholes. We had drag racing and bon fires and an impromptu live band headed by a bass player that’s a tad famous nowadays. My dad’s property had two 2000 square foot structures on three acres of land and by midnight, it was pretty much standing room only wherever you went.

 

I first started thinking that it had gone too far when people started pissing off the roof onto the people below. I guess they just wanted to clear a path to the front door so more kegs could be brought in but logic gets a bit soggy after that much drinking. The party had turned into a monster and it needed to die. We stabbed it with our steely knives by threatening to call the police, but we just couldn’t kill the beast. I apologize for the antiquated Eagles reference, but it fits.

 

The police finally did come, but not because we called them. The mile of road out to the highway from my dad’s house was completely shut down from all the parked cars and no one else in the neighborhood could get in or out. The cops had to hike in, and once they saw the size of my monster, they voiced their complaints to no one in particular, looked at each other, and then gave up before hiking back to the highway. That’s when I knew it had gone too far and the taste of fear wormed its way past the pall that a veritable cocktail of intoxicants had draped over my wits.

 

I retreated. I went as deep into the house as possible, which turned out to be my dad’s bedroom, with a few of my friends to regroup so we could figure out how diffuse the catastrophe. There were about eight of us in the group and we forced everyone else out of the room and locked the door. The best plan we could come up with wasn’t too dissimilar from the one that the cops had used; we were going to give up and let the party run its course. To kill time, we started playing with my dad’s guns.

 

There was an interior window looking out from my dad’s room into the room with the aforementioned impromptu band, and visible through that window, hanging on the wall, was a painting of a man and a horse in the night. My dad loved that picture. The rider was down off his horse looking off into the night as if he were afraid of what might be coming. One of my friends took my dad’s .45 and aimed across the bedroom, through the window, over the band, and at the horse’s head before pulling the trigger. I’m sure they make kids in high school watch videos about shit like this too, but we must’ve skipped that day.

 

Of course it was loaded. The window shattered, the picture was hit but the horse lived, and close to a thousand drunken idiots all tried to flee all at once. It was the mass exodus we had been hoping for and all it took was a sacrificial painting. The chaos lasted for a good twenty minutes as people were pushed past and trampled over; it seems nobody wants to be a witness to murder.  Cars honked and lights flashed but the police got what they wanted too. I wouldn’t call it a win-win, but whatever. There were about thirty people that were curious or brave or stupid enough to stay behind, and once it was obvious that no one died, we started cheering. And that’s when we saw the alcohol. The party had been BYOB for the most part, and nobody bothered to take that which they had brought when they fled. It was like the treasure you’d find in an alcoholic dragon’s cave. There was enough booze for a thousand people, but there were thirty of us. A few people trickled back in throughout the night, but there was still plenty of alcohol poisoning to go around.

 

The next morning, I did the only logical thing. I filled the hole in the wall with tooth paste, and fixed the picture with some sharpie. The bullet had gone through a black part in the painting and I had enough spare glass from the shattered window to fix the frame. I later blamed the window on the band (I think I said the drummer threw a stick or something). We spent six hours or so cleaning which was futile and then headed back to the fair for closing day. We didn’t really try to hide much because there wasn’t any point. My dad found a stack of pictures when he got back that demarked all sorts of debauchery but he never said a damn thing. He has since moved that picture at least three times as he’s redecorated over the years, and I don’t think he’s ever noticed my reparations. My buddy never paid me for the damages, but I wouldn’t have either. It’s hard to hold someone culpable actions bred in a moment you made possible.

 

What if my friend had aimed left and taken out the bass player? The indie rock station on my satellite radio would have one less band to play repetitively. There would’ve been death and arrest warrants and sorrow. What if he never pulled the trigger? I can’t imagine that any good could’ve come from that night if the beast would’ve kept feeding on hormones and bad decisions.

 

I’m starting to realize that I’m out of luck, and I’m nearly positive that luck is a quantifiable commodity. Everyone says that they did crazy things when they were young, but they usually say it with a fond smile. I don’t. I rarely admit it now that I’ve reinvented myself down here in the Land of Enchantment, but when I do, I let regret take rein of my expression. I’d love to go into further detail just to get it off my chest, but thanks to the statutes of limitation, it would be unwise to put it all in writing for a few years yet. However, I’ll admit that my decisions got poorer and poorer for a five year stretch beginning with that damn party. I’d love to tie this all together with a pithy little comment about losing my wisdom along with my wisdom teeth, but I didn’t really have any to start with. What if I really have let my karmic tank run down to “E”? Maybe I’ve used up every bit of grace that was gifted to me at birth, and now that’s it’s gone, maybe the bullets won’t miss.

Unknown Presence

Back East

My grandfather on my father’s side dropped out of school in the third grade to work in a coal mine as a rat. He was one of those dirty little bastards you always see in old time photos with a candle strapped to his head. He survived that to go fight in one of our world wars where he was awarded a purple heart with a cluster after killing people in the snow uphill both ways. He came home with a pair of magic shoes like Forest Gump.

My grandmother dropped out in the fifth grade, and I’d like to think she played the higher education card in their arguments. I’m not quite sure what she did for a living but I’ve been told it always involved a hair net. Her crowning glory was a craft room in the back of the house that was lined floor to ceiling with painted porcelain figures. I guess you could buy them in some sort of a kit that came complete with paints and an unadorned statue of a cherub or Jesus or a really fat pig sitting on his haunches. Grandma would paint them and bake them in the oven so the glaze would set and then she’d proudly display them as art in a room with plastic covered couches and multi colored quilts.

I don’t know how my grandparents met but their relationship was odd. I stayed at their house in Bethel, Ohio whenever my pops would take me “back east” for a brief reminder as to why he moved away in the first place. She’d wake up first which would go unnoticed because they had separate beds. Grandma would migrate to the kitchen and pop pills from a panoply of little orange containers before cooking something with Crisco. Grandpa would wake up shortly after, do ten sit-ups, strap on his magic shoes, and then prey to a framed picture of Ronald Regan that was closer to his bed than his wife’s mattress. He’d go to the TV room and watch game shows. I’m sure they went places out of necessity or spoke in passing, but theirs was a life divided.

Grandma made me rice crispy treats for which I’m grateful but she was ignorant and sheltered and we got in all sorts of arguments. She’d drop the N-bomb with a southern conviction and blame all her woes on the left. Our last argument was about cigarettes. She swore up and down that all that “cancer nonsense” was propaganda and that I could smoke if I wanted to; I was thirteen. I had a morbid wish that she’d at least get emphysema so I could pull out an “I told you so” but she never did. She died alone in a nursing home from some sort of dementia. I guess she’d often forget to dress. I don’t know all the details because family truths rarely burrowed under the wall my father had built between Alaska and back east.

My pops took the two of us and his parents on two family trips; one to Hawaii and one to Florida (maybe just to prove to his mother that the ocean existed). We went to Sea World during the Florida trip and attended one of their little shows that are full of dolphins and trainers with plastic smiles. They had decided to spruce up the show with a little comedic relief. One of the trainers dressed up as a drunken bum and constantly interrupted the show by overfeeding the dolphins or falling off a diving board. He got laughs and jeers from the audience but my fifth grade grandmother just didn’t get it.

There was one point in the show wherein the jester started to climb up to the highest diving board as he swayed back and forth in exaggerated inebriation. The head trainer, the one with the megaphone, waved an admonishing finger in the air and warned this supposed dumbass that he might hurt himself. He ignored the waving finger and stuck out his tongue which made the children laugh, but it made grandma snap. She stood up in the stands and started shouting. I can still picture her standing next to me and blocking out the sun with her muumuu encased Crisco figure. Her jowls were shaking and her arms were swinging as she yelled at the drunkard to get down before he ruined everything. I was poleaxed. She was serious. And that’s when it dawned on me that I, as an average middle school student, was smarter than this sixty something woman who had sired countless grandchildren. She finally sat down after the man fell off the ladder into the water and swam to safety. I’m not even sure grandma understood why the guy took a bow with all the other trainers at the end of the show, but I’m absolutely positive that I looked at the greatest generation a tad differently after that moment.

We drove back to the hotel in our rented convertible and that’s when I really started watching my father’s parents; it was the first time I saw them. Grandpa was looking at everything with disinterest. He was just passing through. It was either the mine or the war, but he was detached from reality by his toil. Grandma had simply never been attached to start with. A life of hair nets and tobacco in Ohio hadn’t prepared her for the coast. Florida is known for its retirement communities but she was looking out the window with distrust and a touch of hate. I smiled to myself as I realized that some things just belong back east.

Duck, duck, bitch.

There’s an hour long stretch of road between Palmer Alaska and Anchorage called the Glenn Highway. There’s a sign close to the Palmer side with removable numbers that keeps a running tally of the moose killed in accidents; it usually breaks 300 sometime in late spring. I always had a somewhat morbid fascination with that sign. Whose job was it to change the number every time one of those massive animals died? Was it some old man dressed completely in black with a wind burnt face that would slowly shake his head in disappointment as he adjusted the death toll? I’d like to think so.

My wife and I were headed back to Anchorage on the Glenn with our daughter safely strapped in her car seat like that cannibal from Silence of the Lambs when I spotted a mother duck crossing the highway with nine or ten ducklings trailing along behind her. I slammed on my breaks and swerved right onto the shoulder as the rumble strip groaned out its warning. It was a stupid thing to do because I endangered my family to save a few ducks but I clenched my fist and shouted “yes” after my success sunk in.  I was watching the ducks come closer to safety with a smug look of satisfaction on my face when a Cadillac drove by at eighty or so and managed to kill all of the ducklings except for one. It was one of those late 90’s two door models with gold trim because chrome simply isn’t flashy enough. My brain took a snap shot of the driver that I can still picture clearly; it was a forty something woman laughing into her cell phone and smoking a cigarette. She had bangs and shoulder length brown hair that matched her leather interior. Her khaki jacket had shoulder pads.

The mother duck paused in confusion and looked back at her lone child. It’s hard not to anthropomorphize here and I suppose that I could be doing quite a bit of projection, but that duck looked sad. I felt robbed. I had just pulled off a James Bond style maneuver and risked that which shouldn’t be risked to save a few animals that under different circumstances I might’ve eaten, and then this pompous bitch in her Caddy comes along and almost destroys an entire generation of duckling. My wife will tell you that I started to tear up, but if I ever admit to it, I’ll say that it was the result of overwhelming rage. I caught up to the Cadillac and stared over at the driver trying my hardest to make her head explode with telekinesis but it didn’t work. She didn’t even notice me for that matter. She just kept talking and smoking and flipping her hair. She was so completely plugged into the little bubble defined by the interior of her trashy-ass car that anything peripheral didn’t exist.

I slowed down and let my mind drift and I started thinking about that sign with its removable yellow numbers. It says “GIVE MOOSE A BREAK” along the top; we haven’t been giving many breaks to anything since the advent of the cell phone. A sign dedicated to ducks would be ridiculous, and maybe that’s because not much happens when you kill a duck; some bitches don’t even notice. Moose are different though. Their body is a good deal higher than a duck’s and they usually go through the windshield after you hit them. Plenty of people die that way on the Glenn every year but they don’t have a sign either. I guess they’ve got something in common with waterfowl, but I’m pretty sure that I’m the first to realize it.

Ramen Illusions

You can watch a Mexican man make Japanese sushi in an Irish bar during Oktoberfest in my little American town. And that’s not because some creative restaurant proprietor was searching for a gimmick. It’s all a result of poor planning and making do with what’s available. My point here is that my town is the antithesis of a culinary Mecca, and if you’re looking for good food, you usually look elsewhere. That’s why I was so surprised the first time I ate at Boon’s Thai Restaurant downtown.

 

The owner is a white man that traveled to Thailand and married one of the locals. The two of them moved back to New Mexico and brought a good portion of her family with them, and then they opened up an authentic little Thai restaurant. They import most of their ingredients from San Francisco and make offerings to miniature deities in a cloud of incense smoke before opening each morning and closing every night. It’s an eatery that simply doesn’t belong among all the others in this town; it’s like a perfect dumpling among egg McMuffins.

 

I used to eat there constantly and tell all my friends about what a treasure the place was. I’d faithfully order take-out and bring guests from out of town to the place to prove that there was a morsel of foreign culture hidden in this otherwise myopic oilfield town. Their noodle dishes were some of my favorites and I always made sure to pass along my compliments as I walked past the kitchen on my way out but I never really paid attention to what I was seeing because I was always in a spice and carbohydrate induced coma.

 

One day I did look and I wish that I hadn’t because ignorance truly is bliss. Right there in the kitchen by their bank of rice cookers was an enormous fucking stack of Top Ramen noodle packets. What happened to all the authentic fair from California? What happened to the secret family recipe list that I had always assumed I was enjoying? All of my pompous ramblings about “true” cuisine were now null and void. I had believed that I knew my ass from a traditional noodle and I was wrong. I’d like to say that I never went back but It’d be a lie. I started to make justifications for their shortcut that were nothing more than little lies to which I subscribed. Does it really matter? I don’t order anything with noodles any more, but I eat at Boon’s all the time; it’s better than anything else in town and that’s almost as depressing as my Top Ramen delusions.

Duct Tape and Fried Chicken

I have two beautiful daughters.  Most fathers would call their children beautiful out of a proclivity to dote, but mine really are.  They’re objectively beautiful.  It isn’t a subjective statement of fickle opinion to say that one day, not too long from now, both will be wreaking havoc in the hearts of doomed teenage boys.  My oldest is a demure little thing with green eyes colored like precious jade while the other is a wild little strawberry blonde with iridescent blue eyes and fangs.  She turned heads at two.

What should I do when that day comes?  When the calls start coming in, “Sir, may I please speak to Catelynn?” should I hang up the phone?  Should I ignore my own religious beliefs and call one of those old school girls-only establishments that’ve been pumping out fetishes for hundreds of years?  Or rather, should I lock my daughters in their closets bound in duct tape and feed them fried chicken until they have common sense to balance their hormones?  The fact is, I don’t know.  I think I know what not to do though, and I’m pretty sure I’ve made some mistakes getting to where we’re at now from which I can learn.

Maybe we can all get through this.  Maybe my children won’t end up in an A&E documentary and maybe I have something to offer other fathers, or maybe even mothers with their freakish natural instincts.  My wife has been pushing me to write this and take a break from fiction, so I’ll humor her.  I’m not the best father in the world, even though the card I get in June disagrees, but I’d like to think I’m doing a better job than mine did.  I’d like to think that I’m moving in the right direction as opposed to devolving into the father of the 1950’s.  I don’t have a degree in parenting, but I am a writer, and I am a parent.  I guess it only makes sense that I write something about parenting.

Have you ever begged a chemical reaction to reverse its self?  I mean have you ever looked at a pregnancy test that your wife just pissed on and verbally asked that little positive sign to morph into a negative?  Me neither.  We realized we’d be parents at the same time because I was leaning against the sink in my dad’s house while my wife stared down at our EP test with a crooked smile.  What can you do in a situation like that?  You can say “fuck it” and move on with life.  Get a real job, or at least one better than that of an intermittent painter.  Get a car, ass loads of debt, a home, and all sorts of unwanted advice: baptize the baby, get married so it isn’t a bastard, move closer to civilization and the comforts associated with it.  Does any of that help to ensure a better life for your child?  Do the devoutly religious mired in corporate America really have children that end up better adjusted than those born to modern day hippies living from one Saturday market to the next?

I don’t know.  My wife and I are right in the middle of the spectrum and our daughters get all sorts of compliments.  We didn’t do anything rash after our failed/passed pregnancy test, but what we did do was suck it up.  I was barely old enough to get drunk at my own wedding but I did.  Terra was a tad too pregnant to fit into a wedding dress but she did.  We had a tawdry little ceremony in an Elk’s lodge complete with water-stained acoustic tile in the ceiling, but it’s outlasted quite a few extravagant church-held weddings that we’ve attended over the years (the only similarity is that everyone keeps their wedding presents).  Maybe it’s better when you’re young and dumb.  Things are easier when you’re too stupid to worry.  Either way, time is an unmerciful oarsman on the slave ship of parenthood.

I got a job in the oil field and Terra started reading books on how not to kill your children.  Now there’s some scary shit.  Did you know that honey, most probably one of nature’s most seemingly innocuous substances, can kill children under one year old?  What the hell is that?  Honey is like ambrosia but it gives babies botchulism.  The more and more she read, the more scared we both got.  Really though, I didn’t have much time for fear.  I was a zombie slave working seventy hour weeks in coveralls that became part of my skin.  I stole a pair when I finally quit six years later to remind myself where we started and I’m glad I did.  We didn’t really plan back then.  We just bounced from one obstacle to the next and did our best to laugh it off.

I always envied the couples that planned for their future.  My eldest brother-in-law and his wife are one such couple.  They waited to have children until they were finished with their respective degrees while Terra and I changed diapers in a 30 year old condo with a flat roof in Alaska.  Maybe the architects copy and pasted some plan designed for southern California, but here’s some advice: avoid flat roofs in a region with butt loads of snow.  I was on a first name basis with the restoration people and our pots were literally used for flood control more often than cooking.

Long story short, my first daughter began to walk and talk and my paychecks got bigger.  Terra found work and the time to juggle all the shit that came our way.  Life takes its course.  It’s a fact.  Things were hard but I had a trick.  I thought about the fact that slaves would often birth their children in the field.  If a woman that lives by the whip can give birth with a cornfield as a midwife, if the poorest and most downtrodden mother in history can pick up her child and wipe off the dirt and afterbirth with her canvas clothing and smile with love, then I can make it.  I can look up at a leaking ceiling and laugh.

I’d like to say that I have two apple trees in my front yard to make this analogous situation more apt, but I don’t; there are three.  All three were planted at the same time by the same people in the same soil but they couldn’t be more different.  The one on the far left is tall, beautiful, and full of leaves.  It doesn’t bear much fruit, but the apples it does produce are large and crisp.  Quality over quantity, that’s how tree number one lives.  The middle tree is slightly less verdant.  She’s a tad stunted with pale leaves but over compensates with her fruit.  Her apples are two thirds the size of her sister’s, but she bears three times as many.  The third tree farthest to the right probably won’t make it another year.  Totally the bastard stepchild, she’s got a bark problem and the few apples she offered this year shriveled before they could be considered fruit.  I’m sure you see what I’m getting at here.

The only commonality my daughters share is their physical beauty.  Catelynn, my oldest now at ten years old, is an absolute Jedi.  She has all the abilities of a Savant with none of the hindrances associated with autism.  She’ll be sixteen when she graduates high school because she skipped a grade, she’s never come close to anything but a 4.0, and she’s mastering the piano as only a genius could.  She stands out and apart thanks to her gifts, and we’re helping her to deal with it.  My second daughter, Kinley at four years old, is a feral little beast with fangs that still played with poo at an age when her sister was completely potty trained.  You know those little rubber things that stop you cupboard doors from slamming?  Kinley used to chew those off.  We really didn’t think too much of it at first, you know “that’s just Kinley being Kinley; at least she’s stopped biting the cat”.  But then one day Catelynn looked under the couch and found a pile of those little rubber things.  Yup, my youngest was hoarding them.  That’s the natural instinct of a dog.  What the shit do you do with that?  Should I buy one of those retractable child leashed you see horrible parents using in the malls?  Do they make little girl sized muzzles?  Sometimes I swear Terra hooked up with a gargoyle, but then I look at myself in a mirror and wonder if I have a long forgotten pile of rubber things stashed somewhere.

The questions are bound to sprout up if you have more than one monster in your home.  Did I do something right with the first one that I’m forgetting with number two?  Or vice versa, whatever.  I guess you just keep watering your lawn and hope the sun shines evenly. I’ll end this little blog by answering the question I started with. When that first suitor calls and asks to speak with my green eyed angel, there’s no way I’m going to bind her in duct tape and lock her in the closet just to feed her fried chicken until she’s old enough to know better.  I’m a much better parent than that; fried chicken doesn’t have the fiber content necessary for a growing child.

Hypocrite

I’m a pompous ass when it comes to brand names. I get a feeling of aversion that I can taste when I think about anything generic, prescription drugs included, and the worst part is that I know it’s ridiculous. But that’s why I got so excited when I found my tattoo artist. His work had been featured in Skin & Ink Magazine and National Geographic. Those are some hard hitting brand names; hell, I’ve recently trusted the latter with my DNA. The guy had tattooed Buddhist nuns (which I didn’t know existed) and the guys from Deep Purple (or maybe it was Iron Butterfly) so I was sold. My wife and I were already going to Sedona for our tenth wedding anniversary, so I called Siva at Sacred Fire Tattoo and made my appointment.

 

It’s just as asinine as my penchant for brand names, but at times, I feel like standing up and shouting that I’m from Alaska. My roots there are oddly important, so I wanted some sort of tattoo that related to home. Plenty of people get the area code (907) or “Alaska Grown” inked on their skin but it’s a bit generic, and far too many women have already done the little dipper for me to pull it off as a masculine tattoo. So I went with Byers Peak. Mount Matanuska is the quintessential mountain with craggy peaks and shadowed ravines, and Byers Peak crowns it like a halo. I literally grew up in the shadow of that peak so having it imprinted on my back seemed fitting.

 

The fact that Sedona is spangled with vortices doesn’t matter much to me. The locals take it seriously though. They’ve even decided to forgo grammatical traditions and refer to them as “vortexes” both in the brochures and on the signs. Other than that, the town is a perfect little Mecca of red-rock awesomeness. They’ve got rivers and monasteries, fine dining and epic sunsets. Everyone is considerably more attractive than I am (what would normally pass for a model is merely a barista in Sedona) and they’re all freakishly nice. My wife and I checked into an overgrown bed and breakfast run by a covey of French artists (and one vampire) and then immediately fell in love with the place. I’m pretty sure you’re supposed to refer to them as a “covey” right? I think you use “flock” if they’re British. Sedona is one of those strange little bubbles of perfection that pop up in the craziest places. None of the surrounding Arizona cities are even comparable with Sedona, and it wouldn’t be hyperbole to dub it one of the best places on earth.

 

We spent the first part of the week wasting money and eating veal and planned the last half around tattoos. Siva runs his shop out of his house instead of a parlor as a personal preference, and he immediately put me at ease when I found it. He had that whole “peaceful Rastafarian” thing going for him and his shop was meticulously clean (I half suspected he used a bit of OCD along with his Windex). My wife’s tattoo, which we christened with tequila, took all of thirty minutes but mine was going to be an undertaking. Siva had a rather comfortable chair of some sort for me to sit in with my chest pressed up against a pad and my back towards him. I must’ve been nervous because I didn’t even joke about the fact that another man was shaving my back, but he’d probably heard it all before. I trusted him because the stencil looked right and his eyes, while a little bloodshot, conveyed confidence.

 

I remember looking down at my sandals when the pain started. The buzzing from his machine and the Celtic music put me in an introspective trance of sorts and that’s when I realized I didn’t know myself as well as I thought. My fence is vinyl as opposed to picket, but it’s still white. I have a job in sales. I don’t do drugs. I wear sandals when it’s hot and cowboy boots when it’s not. As a child, I swore on all that was holy that I’d never do or have any of these things. I promised myself that I’d never eat veal but I suddenly remembered that I had just paid forty-eight bucks for it. I was once repulsed by permanent body art and I’d slowly shake my head at the fools I saw with colorful sleeves of ink, but now I was only hours away from having a black and grey masterpiece on my back.

 

I mentally went through my list of “never ever’s” and all I had left was a personal promise to never use a tanning bed. But what if I was about to go to Hawaii and I wanted to avoid the beet-red burn my Irish skin always gets when I reintroduce it to the sun? It’d be okay to fake and bake just once, right? Holy shit. I had just justified breaking my last “never ever”. My transformation into the guy I despised as a youth, the suburban thirty-something, was complete. Maybe Siva should’ve inked “hypocrite” underneath Byers Peak to immortalize the moment. I laughed a little bit which Siva mistook for a lamentation. He asked if I was alright, to which I replied “yeah, why not.”