4x4 Knuckle Tattoos

some joke

some joke

These are the hands of my friend and former band member Dwayne. I’ve always wondered about the story behind his knuckle tattoos. Since he was a friend of mine, I asked him if he would mind sharing his story and knuckles as my 100th set of knuckle tattoos on the site. Like every part of this project I got back a lot more than I bargained for.

His story after the jump:

This was tattoo #8 for me, the work was done by Carson Buster. Last I knew he was working at Hot Stuff Deluxe in Houston, TX, but he did this when he worked at Perfection Tattoo in Austin.

It was done in March of 1994.

Here’s the story:
I was working for the Texas State Historical Association as a mail runner from 1-5 pm M-F and booking / managing the Blue Flamingo, a punks, drunks, and gay bar at 7th and Red River (in the space that is now Plush) at night. By March of ’94 the Bosnian conflict was in its third year and the world still hadn’t acted to stop what had become a modern day holocaust. I had two sources of news on the conflict. the first was listening to NPR news twice a day. The second was a sober alcoholic gay man who lived in Beaumont, but came to Austin regularly to be in an environment of acceptance. I don’t remember his name right off, but he was an older gentleman and ex-military if I recall correctly. H was clean and sober so he’d come to the bar to drink N/A beer and just be among people being themselves. He never picked anyone up because he was terrified of getting aids. So this brilliant man filled his time alone in Beaumont reading 20 – 30 news sources a day! About 2 weeks after we had a discussion about my frustration with the world and especially America for standing by and letting the “ethnic cleansing” via displacement, slaughter, and concentration camps continue I received a 9×12 manila envelope in the mail stuffed full of articles on the conflict from sources like the NY, LA, and London Times, and other various newspapers and magazines from around the world. I kept seeing the same thing: images like I’ve seen all my life of the Jews in Nazi camps, only in color and happening right fucking now.

I was born in 1967 and raised in ABQ, NM. There are lots of things I remember from childhood that were unremarkable at the time, but blow my mind today: The USSR had no intention of breaking up, was a communist country and our blackest fear. It was said and accepted without question that the USSR (in contrast to the US) there was no freedom of the press, the country was ruled by propaganda and death squads. Soviet people were prisoners living in fear who either hated us because they believed the government, or dreamed only of escaping to western Europe or America. The Berlin Wall not only hadn’t fallen but never would and Levi’s jeans were illegal so you could get thousands for them on the black market. At home in America, pick up trucks routinely drove around the city with 2 or 3 rifles on a rack in the window. “Kill A Commie For Mommy” “Fuck Russia” and “Better Dead than Red” bumper stickers and t-shirts were a daily sight. Japanese motorcycles were “Jap Crap,” Polish people were unintelligent, and the French “Frogs” were cowards. I’ve seen archives of American war posters of Lady France clinging to the legs of a strong, tall Uncle Sam. The French rolled over in WWII, we saved the day (as we do) and that was that.

And that’s what brought all those fucked up “realities” of American life in the 70’s into my consciousness 20 years later: After WWII, America and the world promised never to allow another holocaust. Yet in 2001 the French “Cowards” were the only country demanding we follow through with that promise, and by 2004 they were threatening to take action alone if necessary.

I was becoming very aware that the America I love and am aligned with is essentially lip service, that all my life I’d blindly accepted the propaganda we’ve been fed by our own government. Much like the Iraq war we’ve botched, coverage of the conflict became more obscure and less detailed. People started shifting their reaction from, “That’s horrible, we’ve got to do something!” to, “I’m SO SICK of hearing about this.”

More and more I was becoming angry and disillusioned. Looking back I can see I was in a state of mourning. I was mourning the murder, torture rape, and suffering of those in the former Yugoslavia. I was mourning for the deaths I had consciously dismissed as an “unfortunate part of undeveloped societies” when I heard of whole tribes being butchered by machetes in Africa, South America, etc. (tribes hacking other tribes apart was normal, RIGHT?) But personally, I was mourning the loss of America the beautiful: home of the proud, strong, and brave.

I decided it was time for knuckle tattoos and started brain storming for what to put on my hands forever. I used pens to ink on some ideas & see how they looked / felt to me. “Revolution” came to mind but including the thumbs was awkward. Anyway I wanted something that said it all, and while “Revolution” sounded great it didn’t really sum it up.

This is the state of mind I was in when a 40-year-old woman named “Marguerite” landed on the street in front of my car at 8th and Lavaca.

I was on my afternoon bank run. I was listening to NPR and waiting at the light to make the turn into the drive-through. Above the drive-through is a parking garage where Marguerite spent her last conscious minutes committing to her jump. She landed just on the other side of the crosswalk, her coat had blown over her head. I drove straight through the light, parked to block traffic and jumped out of my car. I pulled her coat away from her face, held her head gently in my hands and spoke to her while she died. “Hold on, help’s on the way, hold on…”

But she didn’t want to hold on and she didn’t want to be taken away and repaired. She was done with this place and that was that. Though she never opened her eyes she seemed to appreciate that I was with her.

When the ambulance arrived and took over I stood back and watched. “Some Joke” I thought to myself. “We don’t even take care of our own, why do we pretend we can take care of the world?”

At the police station I was given a card and offered support through APD’s “Victim’s Services” department. I thought but didn’t say, “Can they take the sight and sound of a person falling to their death out of my head?” It’s something you can adjust to, but not something you can forget.

I went from the station to work, dropped off the bank, and clocked out. I drove from work to Perfection Tattoo. No appointments were available until the following Friday however, which gave me a week to pick the font. I chose the font from the cover of a Charles Bukowski reader titled, “Run With the Hunted.” I photocopied it, figured out what letters I’d have to find somewhere else, cut-and-pasted it together, and a week later had my knuckles tattooed.

It took me a year or two to get my love of America back. But now it’s not blind pride in what we say we are, but an intense desire to actualize it. America doesn’t have to be a callous, money worshiping, propaganda-driven empire with a fucking plastic McDonald’s play land facade. Every day my hands remind me to do my part every time I can.