Thursday, June 11, 2009

Scarification in Arkansas


Cruising down Haight Street, a man in front a tattoo shop flagged me down.

“Where you going?” I asked. It was the beginning of my shift and I’d repeat this question at least 60 more times before the night was over. It was a Tuesday in the dead of winter and I was happy to have a fare.

“16th and Valencia. I’m finishing up my back piece.” He didn’t clarify what “back piece” meant, assuming I knew the vernacular of tattoo culture. It was the late 80s in San Francisco and everybody in the Lower Haight had multiple tribal tattoos, bountiful piercings and standard issue Doc Marten’s. He took a liberty and I responded correctly, proving my hipster cache:

“You mean you just finished your back piece, right?” gesturing to the tattoo shop next to Walgreen’s.

“No, I was there getting scarification on my arm.” He peeled up a large bandage on his bicep, revealing 4 symmetrical vertical wounds, slightly raised and infected.

“Cool.” I said with a flare of indifference. I didn’t bother inquiring about the process, the infection said it all.

At the stop light at Church and Market, I flipped the dome light and turned around, my arm resting on the back of the front bench seat. He scooted forward, twisted his torso and pulled up the back of his shirt, revealing a very large and intricate tattoo of a medieval scene. It spanned the small of his back to the base of his neck.

“Cool,” I repeated. Not knowing what to say.

Pulling his shirt down, he said, “He should be able to finish it tonight. I’m moving back home to Arkansas this weekend to work on the family farm. Before I leave, I’m finishing up this piece on my back, I got scarification on my arm, I pierced my nipples, tongue and septum and tomorrow I got an appointment to dye my hair Manic Panic red. They don’t have any of this stuff in Arkansas.”

The light turned green and we rode in silence, as I digested his laundry list of body manipulations. To most, his instant transformation would appear contrived and calculated, a severe attempt to fit in with the trendy scene that enveloped the era; however, hearing him matter-of-factly talk about getting scarification like running an errand, I figured he wanted to return to Arkansas with trophies from the big city...and be noticed.. Being from the suburbs, I understood this urge.

I pulled over at 16th and Guerrero. As he exited, I looked out the back door and said, “Good luck in Arkansas, they’re gonna love you.”

No comments:

Post a Comment