Another window display for the month of August. I'm going to stick with the top part of it so that the picture doesn't lose the cool tattoo machines the author let me borrow to include. I have to say, it was a little exciting just having those things in my hands. Ooooh, dangerous! And shiny!
(OK, there aren't any needles in them.)
The book is Tattoo Machine - a memoir that is full of brash and hilarious and fascinating and flesh-crawling and at times poetic stories of a crazy tattooing life. Jeff Johnson, the author, lives here in Portland and owns Sea Tramp Tattoo Company, the oldest tattoo shop in the city.
I wanted to include a snippet from the book - in fact, I had in mind a certain story that made me laugh out loud, but
I just can't.
It's just too
I think my fingers are too wussy to transcribe the story of the Cleveland Puke Walker.
Wow, I just said puke in my own blog.
(Heck, if Shakespeare can say it, I can.)
One of the fascinating things about tattoos, of course, is their permanence - or mostly-permanence, anyway - and even Jeff Johnson has made choices he regrets. To set this up, Jeff has gone to another tattoo artist, Matt Reed, to see if Matt can cover up a tattoo on Jeff's arm, that he wishes he hadn't gotten.
"I've got good news, and I've got bad news," Matt Reed said.
"The good news had better be that you can cover this up," I said.
There was a pause on the other end of the line.
"That is the good news," he replied. I sighed with relief.
"The bad news is that it's going to be a shark biting an anchor."
I wish I could include the whole story of the origin of the tattoo Jeff had to have covered up with the shark biting the anchor - I will say it did involve a Las Vegas Elvis wedding chapel - but what I really want to put out there is his lovely musing on the subject. Tattooing someone's name on your body forever...
Beware the meathead dork who won't tattoo names. Art is an exercise of the imagination. If an artist can't imagine that a perfect stranger might have a chance at happiness, then I doubt they can imagine very much at all.
At the time I got the tattoo underneath the shark biting the anchor, it seemed like a good idea. My mind recoils from any deep probing of that period, like a tongue poking around a shattered molar hole, but a hazy overview summons up a feeling of general well-being and happiness associated with that time. I was having fun then. It was a lighthearted period eventually made sober by fanatics and by growing up. I was that young person. Things change, but history is real and permanent. I can lie to myself all I want, but there on my arm is a shark biting an anchor, a memento of failure and poor judgment, impermanence, and the worthlessness of personal fiction. Maybe we all need such a totem.
If I’ve done my math correctly (debatable), José would have been eighteen this month. When he was given to me, they said he was two and a half. I never knew what his birthday was, but supposedly he was born in the month of August.
Here are a few moments in a good dog’s life:
Young and chipper and sitting in the front seat of Tom and Elmo’s truck, on some lot, in some town, in some state, on the José Colé Circus (the names are just a coincidence). I’d never seen him before and glanced as I stepped by, and thought, oh, that poor, ugly dog.
Jumping from the seat on one side of the trailer to the seat on the other side of the trailer, all excited for guests, as we arrived at Tom and Elmo’s for dinner. Spaghetti. They fed him from the table. That was the night before the afternoon after, when Tom would come up to me and say, are you interested in José?
I thought Tim would never go for getting a dog, so I turned Tom down. Later in the day, Tim came up to me and said, guess what, we could have José.
First time being fed by his new owners, sitting on the floor of our clown van. He would go to the dish and fish out one kernel of food. Bring it over to me. Drop it on the floor. Look at me with that face that looks like love. I’d pick the thing up and feed it to him. Then he’d run over to the dish and come back with another. It was so cute I could hardly stand it, and he trained me good.
Nose to nose with a tiger rug – which is like a bear skin rug but an actual tiger – head and all, for little Chihuahuas to growl at and feel themselves quite the menacing beast. This was in a mansion once owned by one of the Ringling brothers, and the carriage house would soon become José’s first real home. He’d be there only for short visits between circus seasons.
Sleeping on my lap on the long jumps from town to town. Curled up happy, but never quite satisfied unless he was using my writing arm for a pillow, and I would sit for long hours journaling and writing stories with just the tips of my fingers moving the pen while he slept.
On my lap, again and as always, me cross legged on the carpet floor. Feeding him by hand. This, to most people, is the most idiotic way to treat a dog, and I understand all the implications – understand what it says about the pushover I was.
But if you take away all that, take away what it undoubtedly did to the human-dog relationship, making José the alpha dog, not me – I. E. spoiling him – if you put aside all of that and just sit in the moment – what lovely. To give someone complete security and happiness, to give the utmost of what a life wants.
Walking on the leash up to the circus arena, passing the line of shifting cages, each with a tiger inside. Tigers that jump up and bounce around behind the bars, eyes on José for a snack. José pulling against the leash to growl and bark at the tigers. He figured he could take ‘em.
Bites of hotdog and then lifted into the clown prop – like a cylinder – like a pet carrier but rounder and thinner, a painted-over grating for air to get in, but not much room for a dog, and I hated hated hated that thing.
He’s in there for half a minute, Tim said. And there were more bites of hot dog inside. But it was dark and small, and how could I know how scared he was for that half a minute? It was the stomach pump gag, and I was the nurse (balloon boobs) who came out to pump the stomach of the poor, ailing clown who ate too many tacos. Usually it’s too many hotdogs the clown eats, and when they pump his stomach, a dog comes out. Get it, get it? Groan. But this was the height of the Taco Bell Chihuahua campaign. So, out comes a Chihuahua. Cheesy, cheesy gag, complete with that horrible catch phrase.
I can’t remember how long that Chicago date was – two weeks? three? – but when we closed there, I said José wouldn’t be doing that anymore. That was the way I was back then. Took me all that time to finally put my foot down.
Here and there, Tim used to consider producing him in a magic routine. I said, sorry, it’s never going to happen.
Curled in the travel pet carrier on the floor of an airplane as I left Tim and left the circus and left the Midwest. Pissed off in the pet carrier. Not knowing he’d never see one of his main two people again, only focused on my fingers coming small through the unzipped zipper in the top.
I believe the next time José was in a plane, when he and I moved from Orange County to Portland, the nice stewardesses let me take him out and have him on my lap.
José’s first time meeting Stephen – neither too enthusiastic about it. In the beginning each one was a bit jealous of the other – José most of all, as evidenced by the fact that as Stephen and I were hanging out in the evening, José came, looked at him, and peed in the doorway.
Suddenly, after years of being only dog, now having to be around other animals – first the big and laidback dog Angus and cats Baby and Oreo, then the puppy Quigley – already bigger than José and as fast and full of energy as a balloon that slips between your fingers before the tying. Then, when Stephen and I moved into the apartment – Kitty. I never thought José would get along with another animal, but he did surprisingly well. Never bit anyone, though I’m sure he thought about it sometimes. When he moved in with Kitty, neither was too happy about it, but they begrudgingly accepted each other’s existence.
(Looks like they're sleeping together, but José's all eyes-open and watchful.)
But happy in Portland, with a steady home, no dressing rooms to wait in, no hotel rooms. Long walks down the Portland sidewalks, no burs in the grass, and snow only once in a while. Everything familiar – José’s home and José’s bed and still the same lap and still the same pushover to feed him by hand and give him an arm for a pillow. A good place for a good dog to grow old.
In the Dangerous Writing basement, coming up to the end of the night, and Charles and I were going to have to duke it out over the last spot to read. Tom said, okay, flip for it.
Somewhere in the middle of the lovely, crazy clutter that is the Dangerous Writing table was a tiny glass bowl with a couple euros in it. We didn't know what to use for heads and tails.
"No," I said, "let's call them... pips and..."
"Wankers," Kevin said.
I tried really hard to get them to let us flip pips and wankers, but I got overruled. I did wonder in the moment whether I was being disparaging to England. If the coin were from a country that didn't speak English, I'm sure it would have been in poor taste to say let's flip for [you fill in the blank].
But I just wanted to get to say wankers.
Alright, grow up. This is, after all, a serious place, this basement. One of the most important places on earth for me, in fact, for these past fourish, fiveish years. Charles had the euro, and he flipped it high. A tiny gold spin up past the hanging lights and then back down into his hand.
"Call it," Charles said.
Which I figured meant tails, right?, or kind of the opposite of tails, if you think about it long enough. At least it seemed to at the time. Then I thought about what that word means and, wait a minute, wanker means the person doing the action, not the object the action is being done to. In fact, I just went and wikipediaed it to make sure, and they actually have a photo illustration in there of that hand gesture people make where they
... this I vow tonight - I will not - hear me, NOT - watch Metropolis a fourth time
in a row.
Sunday - the film Monday - the film with the commentary Tuesday - oh god, alone in the apartment, and I watched it a third time...
Tonight, no. I swear it.
There's something in me that says, since this is the Big Number One silent picture in film history, I should not like it. No, my sophistocated tastes should have me obsessing over some obscure piece of brilliance no one's ever heard of - not boring, popular old Metropolis.
But I love love love
The magnificent, futuristic cityscapes with little toy biplanes on strings flying through. And robot-Maria / Hel laughing as she burns at the stake is the loveliest bit of fiendish I've seen in a long time.
But I think my favorite moment is when Rotwang - evil scientist and builder of the robot-Maria - tells Joh Fredersen - the dude - the builder and ruler of Metropolis - that soon no one will be able to tell the difference between a "machine-man and a mortal" - and Fredersen runs his hand through his thinning hair. One little move that shows the weakness and the humanity of mankind.
Finally getting around to posting the pictures of the shipping window display I put in. It's actually 5 windows. The ones on the end are big posters to bookend these three. These are going left to right down Couch Street, the boxes getting progressively fuller, to advertise that Powell's will ship ten books or more for $12.98.
It was a fun one to put in. And frustrating as I decided to back each shelf with tissue paper for some color. To use lots of pieces of colored paper would have looked too second grade bulletin board, and wrapping paper would have crumpled irreversibly. Tissue paper is just a ball to tape together to fit in a window and then try to slide down inside without crushing or ripping. Especially when the air conditioning stream runs right across the windows, and customers want you to move so they can look at the paper dolls.
Actually, one of the biggest challenges - that I didn't anticipate - was actually fitting at least ten books in each box.
Notice how many times I slipped Portland Noir in there.
Dangerous Writing Thursday, and right off the bat, Tom told us he had something to read. Tom Spanbauer reading to you there in that basement is like you've died and gone to heaven but something happens so good there in heaven that you just die and go to heaven.
It was a piece he was asked to submit to NPR's This American Experience. So amazing. After Tom reads there's always a little block of quiet. A bit of awe, but for me, it's also about feeling like my puny brain can't possibly speak up to make comment on his writing. Sometimes, like Thursday night, for me, it's also about wanting to sit in that story for just a little longer.
I used to be the queen of the rewrite in that workshop. I'd go for weeks bringing in the same pages. Now that I'm further along in the process with this novel, I tend to start each reading by saying, this is what comes after the thing that came before. It's gotten so that sometimes readers, when they want to announce that they're bringing in what follows whatever they read last week, say, "that thing Gigi says." Last night, someone (Charles?) decided that anytime someone said this is what comes after the thing that came before, everyone would drink, and so we did. Even Tom. I'm talking about water and iced tea and the like - we're not perfecting our writing skills over shots of tequilla. Still, after the second round, someone (Colin?) said, hey, there was Dangerous Writing The Musical, and now there's Dangerous Writing The Drinking Game.
Am I getting the people right? Charles? Colin? It's probably all the drinking.
Apparently I'm moving up in the literary world - as proven by the exciting new book Gigi's Big Break. It's number seven in the series Gigi, God's Little Princess.
Yes! I should have known it would turn out that I'm a princess.
I looked on the Powell's website, and apparently there are even Gigi, God's Little Princess dolls! Ooh - if only I'd known that before my 40th birthday party.
Gigi's Big Break isn't on our website yet (maybe it's not yet out), but since this is such a big announcement for me, I'll include a link here to an earlier title, aptly called, Gigi's Hugest Announcement.
Granted, it's not the first time I've been in a book. Back in the nineties, I had a writer friend who wrote a kids' series called Misfits Inc. One of the characters was based on me. Here's the introduction, in the first book, to my biblioganger. You'll see she's a truly dynamic character:
"Although they'd been in class with her all year, hardly anyone spoke to the girl who sat in the very back of the class.
"She had long, stringy blond hair and rarely spoke. She often wore hightop sneakers with her dresses. Sometimes her thick-lensed granny glasses with gold wire frames slipped a bit, and she crinkled her nose in an odd way to shift them back up."
Nah, I was much different from her. My hair was brown.
This is the piece of Stephen's work chosen for one of the penthouses of Portland's Street of Dreams. The penthouse is in the Pearl District's Encore, and when we met with one of the designers for a sneak preview, he said they'd built the design of the whole penthouse around the painting.
We're looking at it from the corner of the bed, which the designer said he'd picked out because "she" (of the painting) would sleep in that bed.
The painting is called Au bord du precipice, and it will be a part of Stephen's November show at Froelick Gallery.
Quick peek around the corner and, yes! the coast is clear.
Long down the crowded Mezzanine at Powell's City of Books - elevator, water fountain, walls of journals and sale books - customers walking up and down, but the two small benches under the spot where I need to put up my display are free.
Both. Which means I have twice the chance.
Take the stairs fast, which is hard to do at Powell's, but you can't waste any time when the benches are free. The cart is waiting by my desk. I've got everything gathered and ready - the books, the graphics, the packing tape dispenser. I'm off, down past computers and desks full of books, past the lockers and out onto the floor. In the hero's journey, I've crossed the river. My first foe is the elevator. Every second I wait is one step closer for the customer who wants to stretch out on my bench with a book and a cell phone.
Now the doors open. Wait for the dad guiding his two-year-old out.
Wait for the old woman with the walker.
Oh god, finally, and I jam my cart, clatter, over the track and get myself in. Doors close.
Wait for the elevator to start moving.
Wait at the second floor for the family of five to step on. No, six. Little Brittany takes her time shoving a children's book into the atheism section and then joins us.
Of course, we all get out at the same place, so it takes probably another precious seven seconds - trust me, that's a lot of time - to wait for them to get off before I can exit.
Survey through the heads along the corridor, only fifteen feet down, and by some miracle both benches are free.
I try to get turned out onto the Mezzanine, but the people are coming and going so thick I can't move. Each one of those people is my enemy. Each one might be making eyes at one of my still amazingly vacant, gleaming -
And damn! There goes one. No, wait - the girl didn't sit down. No, she's stopped at the drinking fountain! Hallelujah! Yes, sweetie, you go right ahead and drink all you want of our lovely, cool -
OK, damn. Now, she sat down.
I've got to get the hell out there. I weave my cart in between the masses. One bench left, and it's the one directly under the wall where I need to be working.
People don't walk at Powell's, they mosey. The guy walking in front of my cart isn't even moseying, he is in a downright dilly-dally. Checking out the walls of books, and I can't get around him because of the steady stream of moseyers coming the other way.
Five pitiful feet from my bench, now, and the guy comes to a dead stop. But wait. He turns. He's going for the drinking fountain. Yes! I just might make it! Takes a bit of maneuvering to get around his butt stuck out into the aisle, but my god, I'm home free. The space in front of me is open, open. I slice my cart into the delicious expanse - OK, it's only a five-foot expanse but the freedom of it feels swimming pool lovely.
Then. Just up ahead, down past the bench, I see her.
She's got a book in one hand and a cell phone in the other.
Her eyes track from her book, to my bench, and then right up to lock with mine.
She's fast. I'm faster. I abandon the cart and take my packing tape dispenser in hand like a gun. I'm going to set that thing down on the bench, look up innocent and say, oh, were you looking for a place to sit? there should be another down in the Rose Room.
ah, so, if i write something and save it to my drafts folder and come back to finish it later, it will post under the day i started it. ok. then, for a blogpost on the meaning of the name of my blog, look down a day or two.
Hey, take a gander at Karen Karbo's new book blog through the Writers' Dojo: Stack of Books Beside My Bed. The blog gods are swallowing up my attempts at posting the link, so I'll at least give the address to you for a cut and paste. It's very cool - and for an opener: huzzah! Portland Noir.
This is the panel for the window display I just put up. Apparently there are a LOT of graphic novelists living in Portland. As writer Jamie S. Rich puts it, "Portland is lousy with comic book creators the way the ocean is lousy with salt." For August, I wanted to highlight some of those writers and illustrators and particularly Jamie and his just-out graphic novel You Have Killed Me.
One thing I particularly like about this book is this great narrative voice that threads through the story. Our hero, Mercer, just tossing out little reminiscences on things that seem completely unrelated to the plot, but they're beautiful metaphors for the way Mercer is feeling. A really unique way to add dimension to the tale and to the character.
It's a great graphic novel and one that I think gives you the feel of noir (and you know I love noir) yet totally does not come off as derivative or trying to be ironic about it.
I've always had a pretty hard crush on the ancient world. Reading about ancient history's nice because we know so much but we also know so little. So you can easily get inside those old stories and wear them like costumes, and it doesn't take long for them to fit you.
My favorite ancient Roman festival is the Floralia. It was a spring celebration in honor of Flora, goddess of flowers. The idea of a five day festival to ask for a blessing upon the flowers is lovely. Especially when the observance included eating, drinking, assorted merry-making, chucking garbanzo beans at people, and lots of theater where the actresses took their clothes off.
I guess it was a pretty bawdy holiday. Because, when it comes down to it, flowers are all about fertility. And there's just something extra cool about the combination of bawdy and sacred. Something so real.
One of the most intriguing aspects of Floralia to me was the incantation to the goddess.
ut omnia bene deflorescerent
I love those words. Especially the first three. Ut - in order that. Omnia - everything, all. Bene - good, well. I love how the elements of that phrase stand so far apart from each other. Like points of a triangle with room for air in between.
Deflorescerent is the word that snakes in and ties it all up together. And makes it about flowers. But leave that air in there, and anything could be as beautiful, as sensual, as real, as sacred.
Beginning of the month, and this is when I always put up the new window displays at Powell’s City of Books. In the end, I have to say, they look pretty good. Last month I had a customer ask if she could buy one of the graphic pieces.
[for hopeful proof that they look pretty good, see picture, which just so happens to be, wouldn't you know it, Portland Noir...]
But me putting these things together is like that scene in The Wizard of Oz where the flaming green head says don’t look behind the curtain. I’m on the floor in my socks with printouts from the color copier and a scotch tape dispenser. Trying to fit all the pages together into one perfect, cohesive piece, and it doesn’t matter if I cropped everything with exact measurements, something is not going to match up right. And when I do get a pair to match up right and tape it all up, I find I need to trim an edge that’s sticking out, and now I can’t fit it in the paper-slicer. I can either get to work with the scissors or take all the tape off the back, and I’m sure as hell not taking all the tape off the back.
I’m not great with scissors. On Saturday I had this big idea that I could line the two taped-up pages up on the edge of a table and guide the scissors in a straight line. That would have been great had the scissors been able to work themselves, but my hand kept getting in the way. I thought, if I slid the paper just a little over the edge of the table, my hand would fit. But then I couldn’t tell if it was straight. If only I could see the edge of the table. So I crawled under the table and tried to cut it upside down. That didn’t work but at least I now know where to start if I decide to build myself a fort in my workspace.
Last night we watched the movie Trog, with Joan Crawford and a man in a monkey suit - oh, strike that - he was a half-naked man with a monkey head and a tiny tuft of fur like a fake moustache on the back of each hand.
Crawford's last film, and all I can say after watching it is - you go, girl.
OK, that's a phrase I'm too nerdy to ever be able to pull off, but you've got to hand it to her. What dedication to her craft. She was Crawford to the end - even when the end was a movie so bad there's a scene where [spoiler, spoiler, spoi-diddly-oiler] the scientists insert some device into the caveman which immediately teaches him to talk. In English.
I couldn't help it. I spelled it out in sign language.
Seriously, were the writers making a reference to The Miracle Worker, or had they just not noticed they'd used the very same epiphany word?
Before we started the film, Stephen came in with two glasses of champagne. And made a toast to Ms. Crawford for doing her work and giving it her all no matter the circumstances.
I love being married to a man who would think to do that.