THIS EVENING’S LECTURE: An Explication of Last Week’s “Tattoo: Modify Body: Modify Mind.” With New Information and Illustrative Images Projected on White Space Using Modern and Silent Equipment.
Good evening. Thank you for coming and thank you for this opportunity. Last week I attempted to explain why I got a tattoo. People my age are rarely tattooed. Maybe never. Maybe they should reconsider. Anyway, last week I attempted to explain my action and did so by presenting a large graphic, a painting really, which I constructed as a celebration of my tattoo. I am told, however, that some people did not understand what I was attempting to convey with that explanatory art object. Yes, art object. Perhaps I should have used a different form. Perhaps my use of a more linear text would have allowed for a clearer explanation. But aren’t some ideas, how would you say…? Don’t some ideas exist only as a whole, a gestalt, not allowing analysis of their constituent parts? In other words, aren't some ideas best expressed as unitary images? That was my thinking.
I could say here that a tattoo is a gestalt and a painting is a gestalt and leave it at that, but I’ll continue.
Still, I want…yes, I think that it’s important that I am clear about two ideas, two concepts, I think. And perhaps these ideas lend themselves to textual explication. I don’t know; I’m not really sure. Oh, and regarding the tattoo, it’s healing nicely, thank you. Here’s…first slide, please..
See? And that’s Le Lapin, my spiritual advisor, My Rabbit Which Art In Junk, holding up my arm and there’s the tattoo on my forearm. It’s of my Medicare Card. As an emblem of old age. Isn’t it? See? Old age’s badge in the U.S. Or is the word stigma? But not for me. Not as a tattoo, and I will explain.
So, yes, tonight I will attempt to be clear about it all. Thank you for coming. For giving me a chance to clarify last week’s presentation. This evening I will present a slide show in an attempt to explain why I got the tattoo. Next slide, please..
Here I am on Venice Pier, an old man with large ears. The ears don’t stop growing, you know. But they should. My wife’s scarf is wrapped around my neck. She gave it to me. I had refused to wear my own, to bring my own. I thought that because we were going to the beach I wouldn’t need a scarf. "I’m not wearing a goddamn scarf to the goddamn beach," I said. My wife’s scarf can be seen around my neck. And sitting there, a large-eared old man, I am seemingly a man at peace, writing in a journal, an old philosopher. A content man, a contemplative man even, sitting at the end of Venice Pier. That’s not true of course. None of that content and contemplative hooey is true. Only a short time before I had been screaming at my wife. In a rage because she was not taking a familiar route to the freeway. Next slide, please.
I was angry, a silly anger, silliness, a silly rage at my wife. Next slide, please.. Do you see? You can see, I’m sure. That we look good together, that we are mates. Can you see that we are soul mates? And you would agree that I should treat her well. She treats me well and I should likewise treat her well. We love each other.
All right, about the tattoo and its history—and it does relate to what I just said about loving my wife and wanting to treat her well. But first I should tell you that when I first thought of having it done it was as a joke. I had broken my elbow, and at the hospital I was asked for my Medicare Card; and I said to the nurse as I handed her the card, "You know, it would be easier in this my late life if I were to simply have this thing tattooed on my arm. You know? So that when I’m asked for it in multitudinous medical establishments— my destiny, in this my late life—I can simply offer my arm, with its Medicare Card tattoo. Put my arm on the Xerox machine, my arm with its card. Don’t you think?" But of course the nurse had no idea of what I was talking about because she spoke only rudimentary English.
And I would mention my new zany idea to dinner companions, young dinner companions, when the conversation lagged because I did not understand why they would want to have children in these times and couldn’t join in with some opinion about decorating their anticipated child’s room. "Blue? Pink? How about yellow? Paint the child yellow. No, just joking. More wine? Say, you know what I’ve been thinking? I’ve been thinking of having my Medicare Card tattooed on my forearm. Whatcha think? Good idea?" But of course they did not respond because their sense of humor had lapsed, head full of decorating ideas, brains addled with plans for procreation. Not having looked around them at the other diners.
Anyway, my tattoo. My thinking about it changed. It became something other than a joke. With my continued rudeness to my wife and the failure of my resolve regarding anger—that business of screaming in the car on our way to the beach, other rudenesses—I thought, Why not pain? Why not blood? Why not a bit of color on my arm? Incised there. That might get my attention, force me to remember my good intentions and stop the rage. In my peripheral vision forever. I don’t want this to happen again. I love her. I’ve said it before; I keep saying it. But this would be different, there it would be, right there in my peripheral vision, on my arm. Red, white (my skin tone) and blue. Yes, right there in my peripheral vision, incised there. I must try. A tattoo.
So that's the first reason for getting it. But I said two, two ideas that I wanted to explain. So this second idea would be something like, yes, the tattoo would be an acknowledgment of my general condition, my age, and, yes, why not? a celebration of it. I mean a certain wisdom has accrued over sixty-eight years; and I have by god survived. And so I should have a ceremony, a celebration that I devise for myself, where I present my tattoo and celebrate my ancient self at the altar of a small rabbit; he’s wooden and cannot procreate, and he's my spiritual advisor, my god, by god. Yes, he is Le Lapin. Show Him again, please. Yes, so. That was the second idea. A ceremony, a celebration: my ancient self.
Wait. I just thought… Wait. It's three ideas that I want to explain…Three ideas. See what I mean about a gestalt, unitary image, the difficulty with analyzing constituent parts? OK, the third idea. What about other people? Yes. Beyond my resolve about Catherine and a celebration of my age, that ceremony I mentioned, what about others? I believe that before getting the tattoo that my general, my pervasive condition was one of anger. Out of fear? Mortality and all, you know? Walking down the street, snarling at traffic, the poor fools in SUVs, large German and Japanese cars, poor fools talking on their cell phone. Yammering away against their own fears, Botox poisoning. And I would walk around my little community all angry, snapping at the poor fools, making their day even more miserable, screaming in crosswalks. So the tattoo: Blood and pain. Like an initiation, vows to Le Lapin, The Rabbit, vows to be better, a better human with all those I encounter, sad people. I mean, come on; look around. Isn’t it obvious? The need? Yes, it's obvious, like my tattoo.
So, here’s the tattoo establishment. Art to the Bone. It’s in my neighborhood. Next slide, please.
And here's the work in progress. Next slide, please.
And here I am, having been tattooed, Grandpa Goony with Howard. Next slide, please. And even though the tattoo is bandaged and you can’t see it, it’s there; and I’m a changed man. Really, you would have to agree that I’m a changed man. I’ll tell you this. That as Howard was working on me—cutting me, coloring me, and as I was feeling it all—I was thinking of the things about my life that I want to change. True. Please believe me. Next slide, please. With Cathy and the other people in my life. And I was celebrating, acknowledging my survival.
All of this is true and now you know everything about me and the tattoo; I trust that everything is clear now. Except that I haven’t told you of Le Lapin’s secret and sacred name. Final slide, please.
Thanks for coming.###
16 March 2007
The original piece: "Modify Body: Modify Mind."