Advice and Stories of Love and Loss

Phil was tattooer. He gave himself a bracelet of barbed wire using a guitar string wrapped with thread, that he dipped in India ink. He said it hurt.

Later, he got a gun from a magazine. It cost him $200 and came with needles and ink. He practiced on a grapefruit and gave his drunken neighbor a rose on her ankle. But, I never saw it. I don’t know.

I went to Phil’s apartment to search through stacks of magazines looking for a design. Phil lived on the fourth floor of a place where the elevator never worked. Every ten minutes or so an El train rattled by. It got so loud conversation stopped. His apartment had the smell that Converse have when you take them off for the first time in days and its the middle of summer.

I decided to have ten of the most clichéd designs etched onto the tops of my toes. A tribute to my own stupidity.

I would only be in Chicago a couple of days, and wanted my tattoos on the spot. Phil wanted to wait a day, so we left to go meet some of his friends.

We started at some cave that offered glow-in-the-dark drinks. Then over to a place where illegal Irish immigrants gathered to drink and eat free sandwiches. Some Irish guy asked if I was Irish. I said, "Hell no, you mick bastard -- I'm Portuguese. We know how to grow potatoes too, you no good bog-trotter." Then I punched him. Not really. I told him I was half-breed Portuguese mixed with the standard white trash blend that included the Irish. He bought me a beer. Some girl bet me a fin that I wouldn’t go through with the tattoos. I felt like a heel taking her up on it, but who was I to tell her how to throw her money away? And anyway, fools are made to be whipped. The next day, after a few hours of teevee, it was time to head over to Phil’s.

He started by tracing out the designs I wanted onto paper to get the right size. I had chosen a martini glass, an 8-ball with a fuse, an eyeball with wings, a spade from a deck of cards, a panther clawing its way up my toe, a skull with crossed syringes, the rat head from Victor Brand rat traps, a lizard, a dagger, and a fly. I went into the bathroom to shave my feet. When I came out, Phil said the panther was too complex, that it would a blurry mess at that size.

Phil was one of the few people in the building that had a phone, so the neighbors used his. The girl who Phil inked the rose into was on the phone. Her little boy was laying on the floor drawing pictures of tornadoes. I asked him to draw me a fish skeleton. He happily drew me one, complete with arms, stuck in a tornado. I thanked him and asked him if it was all right if I didn’t use the tornado this time. He was disappointed and said if I didn't use the tornado, I couldn't use anything. I pleaded with him. I wheedled and cajoled, and he relented. Still mad, but he gave his seal of approval to a tornado-free fish.

Phil rubbed my toes with Speed Stick and went to work while I nursed Coors from 16 ounce tall-boy cans. Due to limited work space (my toe wasn’t big enough), Phil had to leave the arms off the fish skeleton. It took a couple hours and when he was done we went to the Irish bar to celebrate.

We left the bar and went to a party where we found that girl that owed me the five bucks and bought a couple of forty ouncers, and a bottle of Wild Irish Rose, the fortified wine of champions. I met another friend of Phils and drunkenly presented her with a bracelet -- a spoon off the counter I bent around her wrist.

We went to another party were we ran into the girl I had gifted with the bracelet. We left to buy some bottles of Boone's Farm wine, but the liquor stores were closed. Chicago follows the old Blue Laws that were enacted to make people show up at church sober. Basically, no liquor can be sold until 11 a.m. on Sunday mornings. We decided to get married while waiting for the bars to reopen.

It was May 19, 1991, and as I found out, her name was Amara. As a legally ordained minister, I can ordain other people. I ordained Phil in the car, and he married Amara and I in a McDonalds built on a freeway overpass in Des Plains -- home of John Wayne Gacy. Some hapless gear-jamming trucker named William Troutheart was pressed into duty as our witness as I fed quarters into a gum machine until I scored a ring.

I left my wife in Chicago, telling her I was going to the store for cigarettes.

The last time I heard from Amara it was about a year and a half after the wedding. Under the stage name Tiki Temptation, she had signed a contract to dance for a topless bar franchise called the Doll House. She was living with-gasp-another guy, and would soon be flying to Los Angeles because some producer thought she'd be perfect for a part in his new movie. I tried to explain the "Baby, I'm a producer" line, amazed that anyone would fall for it, but she insisted it was legit. She also owed the IRS about $8,000 and, although she had the money, she wasn't going to give them anything -- she just wouldn't file anymore. I wished her luck and she told me she'd call when she got to California. That was the last I heard from her.

My toes faded and blurred in under two months, leaving my feet looking dirty. If you look close however, it's possible to make out that the stains are tat-toes, a few are still recognizable. Smudges to remind me of a wife I don't know.


Second verse, same as the first



tattoos on toes
tattoos on my toes