The Art of Compulsion.
Washington, DC. Mid July. Humid. Gloomy.
I didn’t know anything important about the capital city.
I knew it had a little punk history. I could identify a monument or two. And I knew, most importantly, that there were good record stores. You never know what you can dig up in a university town. Every summer, those piles of relics dumped during the student purges. A potential gold mine at every stop. We were enveloped by music, and somehow, it was the only facet of tour that kept us motivated. Each night a venue. Sometimes three bands. Sometimes eight. You wake up, drive, wait, play a show, drive, go to sleep, repeat. The monotony was miserable. And our saving grace? A pile of mix tapes on the console. Driving all day, circumnavigating the continental US with the stereo cranked.
But collecting new music served as a placebo for only so long. Four weeks in, you start to lose it. We were in eight, and I was lost.
On tour, I thought about Betty quite often. She was at the bingo hall mostly. I didn’t blame her. It gave her something to do to not think about her impending ailments. Arthritis. Emphysema. And the newly discovered aneurism floating somewhere in her shriveled cavity.
I would try to call that smoke-filled, geriatric gambling factory, but it was impossible to talk. The caller at the podium, pulling the ball, and announcing that miserably magical number over the intercom. Bingo sheets, a dozen each, spread in front of retirees while their blotters dab at light speed. To their sides; fuzzy dice, crosses made of fool’s gold, and plastic, miniature trolls with flourescent pink hair. Each table, an obsessive compulsive arrangement of lucky charms. Players yakking, spreading local drama. Their piercingly loud voices creating a fog of passive aggression.
“Bingo!” someone would call as one hundred heads full of white hair, belched a synchronized sigh.
Betty would get home at 11pm. By then, we were playing another show, in another city, somewhere else in the US.
By 1am, our set was over. We’d load, steer our van onto the nearest interstate, and be well on our way to another destination.
Our schedules never matched for a nightly re-cap: A mutual “I’m doing just fine” that would ease the anxiety of a dying loved one.
Washington, DC. Gloomy. The rain and humidity maintaining a layer of sweat on every bit of exposed skin. We walked out to the famous “Exorcist” stairs. In front of us, above the staircase, was a tiny arch suspended with no real utilitarian purpose. Slowly we descended, admiring the colonial block work. There was really nothing like this in Tampa. Nothing man-made that witnessed hundreds of years of sights and sounds. I dragged my hand along the brick and empathized with that possessed girl: head spinning, cursing life.
Turning the corner we were dumped onto the main drag. Here, strips of cheap restaurants, junk shops and rows of tourist dives filled the city-scape. Speckled throughout were our coveted record shops. I was caught by the neon sign of a tattoo parlour. As our group walked on, I walked inside.
It was a stereotypical atmosphere. At the threshold, the smell of rubbing alcohol burned the throat of every potential customer. Generic, ancient Chinese frescoes adorned the walls. To the left, a catalogue of stock, flash art. Art harnessing the power to decide for those sterile, drunk, or simply impulsive connoisseurs of masochism. On that day, I was ripe for the taking. With little thought, I chose lettering across my arm in Old English. Betty’s last name was of English decent: perfect rationale for a careless decision.
“Dawson,” right? The artist asked.
“Yes, thanks. About an inch high on each letter,” I reminded him.
“Your last name?” He inquired.
His gun switched on. The rubber band hammering steel, showering an over spray of ink on my fresh, white shirt.
“You’re kidding me? This is the second girlfriend’s last name I’ve tattooed today. You sure about this?”
I was, feeling no need to clarify.
He leaned over the chair, his left hand pulling taught the skin on my arm.
With his right hand he dove in, his clean needle dug deep into skin and vibrated bone.