I got a lot of tattoos – all but a few of them being text.
I never set out to have them like this, I just started liking how they were looking. images would always have a shelf-life, in my opinion. sure, a dolphin with ‘CANCUN 4EVER’ makes sense for a few days over Spring Break… but it might not have as much meaning when I’m 40… which is in… 2 years. fuck. let’s move on.
Memento wasn’t a factor, either. I liked the movie, but didn’t walk away going ‘yes. that.’
travel was also never something I thought would be the reoccurring theme, as I don’t jive with people who call themselves a ‘traveler’ when asked what they do. it’s one nauseating step below those who tag their vacation photos with #blessed, but – as it would turn out – many of them do deal with The Going.
so, I don’t know – except that I got really, really lucky with a tattoo artist – the one who’s done 26 out of the 31. he’s in Brooklyn and that’s all I’ll tell you. reason being is that he hates this stuff and is trying to get out of it. ‘if I’m drawing an image and I get outside of the lines a bit – I can fix that. if I do that on you, I’m out of a job.’ so, fair enough. but he still allows me to come in once-a-year with my little list of words. a weird mix of annoyance, coupled with the jealousy of every artist. but god help me if I ever come in with someone else’s work.
anyway. here they are, in a left-to-right-order… of sorts.
01. I wasn’t planning on getting a tattoo here, but a week before I went in, Brother Jeremy sent me this quote and I fell in love with it: ‘but paradise is locked and bolted. we must journey around the world to see if a back door has perhaps been left open.‘ – from the German poet Heinrich von Kleist. for anyone who’s followed the barrage of FB/I’gram updates, I’m shortly headed on a large adventure on my boat – so this seemed quite timely.
02. to say that ‘I love my nephew‘ is an understatement. and the day he was born, I was hit with the most wonderful and terrifying feeling. I was now an Uncle, and he would forever look up to me. this – ‘d. nephew‘ is short for ‘dear nephew’, as I’m always writing him postcards with little adventure nuggets along the way – in hopes that he too will someday see what I’ve seen. [as a side note, I recently became an Uncle again to a gorgeous niece and was tempted to put her birthday underneath this, but thought it unoriginal. something soon, though.]
03. [I was so scared my mother was going to be upset when I got this back in 2007, that I wore a large ACE bandage over it the entire time I was in Tulsa.] there’s a book that greatly affected my decision to move onto a boat and try to get around the world, a book by the name of ‘There Be No Dragons‘ – a fantastic read by an old fella who sold everything, bought a boat and had adventures – but what intrigued me most about it was the title, and the history behind it. see, back in the olden days, explorers and adventurers were given money by the kingdom to explore the oceans. but of course, back in those days, most thought the world to be flat. so said explorers would never venture too far into unknown waters, thinking they would fall off, or worse. but when they got home, and when the king and queen would ask them why they didn’t go further, they’d cite dragons as the reason and that quote – [rumored to have originated in Portugal] ‘daqui em diante, nao ha dragoes‘ or, loosely translated: ‘from here and ahead, there be no dragons’ – resonated with me.
4. ‘shut up and play the hits.’ was something the lead singer of Arcade Fire shouted at James Murphy in LCD Soundsystem’s final show – as seen in the captivating documentary of the same name. but it was what it meant that made me put it on my body permanently – a reminder of my place, my role, what I think I was put here to do – which is to show people who might not have the opportunity – the world. my job is not to moan about politics, the weather, gas prices - it’s to stay [relatively] quiet and deliver the stories, the pretty pictures… and I really like LCD Soundsystem, which helps.
5. the lovable deadbeat Charles Bukowski had one thing to say about trying something… and it was this: ‘if you’re going to try, go all the way. otherwise, don’t even start. this could mean losing girlfriends, wives, relatives and even your mind. it could mean not eating for three or four days. it could mean freezing on a park bench. it could mean jail. it could mean derision. it could mean mockery – isolation. isolation is the gift. all of the others are a test of your endurance, of how much you really want to do it. and you’ll do it, despite rejection and the worst odds. and it will be better than anything you can imagine. if you’re going to try, go all the way. there is no other feeling like that. you will be alone with the gods and the nights will flame with fire. you will ride life straight to perfect laughter. it’s the only good fight there is.’ – I mean… how could I not have that on me?
6. the word ‘flanuer’ is my favorite in the French language. it’s basically a man who strolls around town, with no fixed destination. it was also the moniker of my brother Pierre, who left us back in 2008. the bottom part ties into that, but it’s also a tribute to my favorite book, the gist of which is a man who is quite happy to lounge and to loaf - something he sees as noble, something most do not.
7. ‘I see skies of blue / and clouds of white / the bright blessed day / the dark sacred night / and I think to myself…’ - aside from the obvious being that this is one of the greatest songs ever recorded [alongside ‘Runaround Sue‘], it became kind of a mantra of mine when I started The Bike Trip last year. from the day I landed in Berlin and then set off to Amsterdam, I played it once-a-day. sometimes when I was happy, sometimes when I was sad, but once-a-day, just to remind myself of what I was actually doing – biking around Europe and North Africa. a few days out of Amsterdam, I came upon this little village – with a gorgeous square – and began snapping photos. there was a band to my right and they began playing a song for no one in particular. and that song? you got it.
8. I don’t really get Shakespeare. I mean… nope, not even going to make an excuse for that. however, when I [attempted to] read Merchant of Venice, and came across the quote from Portia to Nerissa: ‘how far that candle throws it’s beams! so shines a good deed in a naughty world.’ it made me smile. the power of simply being kind.
9. a few years back, when I was living in New York City, some friends and I caught the inimitable Goran Bregovic at Carnegie Hall [!]. his English was good, but he got stuck on trying to explaining how one’s situation in life should never delegate how their nights are spent. ‘it’s like… it’s like… well, champagne for gypsies, I suppose.’ I woke up that next morning and walked straight to the tattoo parlor.
10. it’s no shock that I’m a Wes Anderson freak. and when Moonrise Kingdom came out, I saw it three straight nights – in the same theater, with the same hidden bottle of wine, by myself, and would go on to see it two more times that month. his entire works aside, this film seemed to speak to the innocence and purity of adolescent love. the matter-of-fact-ness of it all. and this quote – ‘no… I said… what kind of bird are you?’ – from Sam to Suzy when he first saw her, seemed to sum that up for me.
11. in one of the decade’s best page-turners, ‘Devil and The White City‘, the architect responsible for designing the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair, Daniel Burnham, famously defended his strive for awe with this quote: ‘make no little plans, they have not the magic to stir men’s blood.‘
12. [I wish my arm weren't wonky here, it's actually a very straight tattoo.] growing up, we weren’t allowed a television, which sucked as a kid, but I’m very thankful for now. what we did have was a free ride to the library as much as we wanted, so – being landlocked, poor and curious in Oklahoma – I inhaled every adventure/exploration/travel book possible. and who mightier than Jacques Cousteau, who penned ‘when a man has an opportunity to live a life extraordinary, he has no right to keep it all to himself.’ – I liked this. and I liked it a lot more when I met his grandson, Philippe Jr., at a bar in Los Angeles and was able to show it to him.
13. like so many back in the 90s, I got a Chinese tattoo - 找 – for ‘strength’ or ‘power’ or something one gets in his 20s. years later, when I moved to China, someone commented on my ‘incomplete tattoo’. I asked what he meant and would find out that what I got was grammatically incorrect [great], as it was basically a preface to ‘looking for‘, but didn’t have the following subject matter. so – essentially – I was looking for something, but what that was was unclear… which now makes sense. the broken circle around it was one of the first things I ever wrote, an essay on ‘breaking the circle’ – or – how to change up the monotony of life’s routine. [needless to say, I was kind of an asshole in my 20s.]
14. the best concert I’ve ever seen is Paul Simon. hands down. and Graceland might be the greatest album ever put together. but it’s significance – the soundtrack to my recent stay in New Orleans – was big for me. for some reason, I/we just couldn’t seem to play anything else. I mean – we did, but it always came back to Graceland. there were a thousand quotes I could have gotten, but, with things being what they are, this one – ‘he is a foreign man / he is surrounded by the sound [the sound] / cattle in the marketplace / scatterings and orphanages / he looks around, around / he sees angeles in the architecture / spinning in infinity / he says amen! / and hallelujah!‘ – from ‘You Can Call Me Al’ – begged to be inked.
*the ‘dot’ was my first tattoo. I sat down, they poked me with the needle and I decided I wasn’t going to sit through an hour of that. so I left.
15. strange to see a different font, even for me, but this was a] before I met my artists in Brooklyn and b] the closest I could find to the author’s handwriting. back in 2008, while in the city of Rajasthan, India [the city that would end up being my favorite from the entire trip there], I was up late drinking with a few folks and – having been fed-up with everything that is travel in India – I re-quoted some advice given to me when I first arrived: ‘India. you’ll hate every minute of it until you get home… and then you’ll love it.’ the group chuckled and one fella said that it reminded him of the poet Vikram Seth’s passage of: ‘I sometimes seem to wander the world, merely accumulating material for future nostalgia.‘ I made a mental note to have that put on my arm as soon as I got home.
16. every time I’m home, Mum makes her famous chicken enchiladas for my first and last meal. it’s been like this for years and so, I decided to get that recipe put on my arm. for the record, when I asked her for it and told her why, she refused and I had to snoop through her cookbooks to find it. there’s a very, very good chance she’ll kill me for this.
17. Tom Hardy’s line to JGL in Inception both made me laugh and made me think.
Absurdity. my first boat. oh, how I loved it. but then I got kicked out of England and had to give it to the boat yard and then – recently – got a new one. but you can’t have the name of two boats on you, just as you can’t change the name of a boat. so, to appease Poseidon, I begrudgingly crossed it out, so that I might have safe passage on my new sailboat…
19. … named Odyssey. we all know the book, but it wasn’t until I looked up the definition of the word that I knew this was the boat for me: a long wandering or voyage marked by many changes of fortune. – sounds about right.
20. back in 1999, when I sold everything and headed to Europe with a one-way ticket and an over-stuffed backpack, I reached into my side pocket and found a note from my Father. and it read: ‘dear bud, remember the 4 L’s: live. love. learn. and leave a legacy. -dad’ – and if that doesn’t sum up my old man, I really don’t know what does.
21. this time last year, I was in the South of France with one of my besties. drunk on 3 days worth of ‘pink wine’, he hugged me and said – in fluent English, but with a French take on it – ‘man, we must do this every year. and then we’ll be old, and it will be perfect; sitting here, drinking wine and laughing for nothing.’ and I said ‘my god, Nico. that’s a tattoo.’
22. of all the greatness that Hunter S. Thomson left us, this – from The Rum Diary – might be the greatest: ‘there’s a thin veneer between the dream and the reality. wake ‘em up, and the people might ask for their money back.‘
23. I almost got married last year to a girl who’s laugh became my daily objective. when we first met, she thought that the Heath bar I had was for her [her favorite], when – in fact – it was for me [my favorite]. later that evening, I made a crack about loving her ‘in sickness and in Heath‘. a few weeks later, I was in New York and she was having a tough day, and so, I decided to get this on my arm to make her laugh again. it worked. it ended up not working out and this past time in the city, I realized that the last time I was there, it’s when I was in love with her…
24. and while I will always be, it also was something I needed to let go of, so I got a[nother] nod to Wes Anderson’s ‘A Life Aquatic‘ by crossing it out and putting ‘DEEP SEARCH‘ below. if you don’t know the movie, it won’t make sense. but if you do, well… you’ll know why it’s perfect.
25. in ‘A Moveable Feast‘ – possibly Papa Hemingway’s best, he sums up people in the absolute best way I’ve ever read with this: ‘the only thing that could spoil a day were people, and if you could keep from making engagements, each day had no limits. people were always the limiters of happiness, except for the few who were as good as sprint itself.‘
26. I’m an Otis Redding nut. like… freak. I waited outside his ranch until his family came out, and then, years later, under the guise of National Geographic, I stalked them again. terrible, I know, but ‘go ask Otis’ is all you need for a good day, a sad day, or a confusing day. throw on an album [‘Sings Soul Ballads‘, perhaps?] and you’ll see.
28. the greatest story I’ve ever read, and perhaps the greatest story ever told… and it goes like this:
‘sunshine was creeping across my rug. it was almost seven-thirty. I sat on the edge of my bed, puffed an old cigar butt, and thought about what Bob Boone had said to Tug McGraw.
it was the World Series. Philadelphia versus Kansas City. Tug McGraw of the Phillies was pitching. it was the fifth game of the series, the bottom of the ninth, with the Kansas City Royals behind four to three. the Royals had the bases loaded with two out. Kansas City had just won two straight games to tie the series, and now they had a chance to win a third and go ahead of Philadelphia three games to two. the game was being played in Kansas City. the ball park was packed. the crowd of over fifty thousand frantic Kansas City fans were on their feet, yelling their heads off. it was bedlam. in the middle of all that commotion, Bob Boone, the Phillies’ catcher, asked the umpire for a time out and walked to the pitcher’s mound. he said something to McGraw, turned, and walked back to home plate. you know what he said? he said, “isn’t this exciting?”
what a wonderful thing to be able to say. – Chuck Barris, Confessions Of A Dangerous Mind, p. 8
29. and lastly – my ichthus. I’m not a religious man at all, I like gospel. what the Bible and Jesus are to you, The Good Book and The Good Lord are to me. there’s a reason you never see a Baptist Brunch at Stubbs, and what Christianity has turned into disgusts me, and I’m fairly certain the Man Upstairs is looking down right now, shaking His head, going ‘what the hell did you do with my message?!’ – but enough about religion [shut up and play the hits, Queen] I like the story behind this symbol. and, well, I figured Mum and Dad couldn’t get too angry about it. [sorry about the mosquito bites, I live in a trailer.]
… and there you go. all 29 + 1 of them. the +1 is hardly a tattoo, but I guess it counts.
[and there's one more, but... no. it's bad. so bad. some other time.]