A Sentimental Journey

Posted in On Tthe Road, Tattoos on June 16th, 2011 by MadDog
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I think that somewhere between Buffalo, New York and Phoenix, Arizona I must have hit the bottom. The thing about the bottom is that only in retrospect can one tell if one has been there or not. It might not be recognized upon arrival. Asking one’s self, “Is this the bottom?” is of no use. One  never knows if it might be possible to slip lower still.

Indeed, I did not understand that I had hit the bottom and was on the way back up until I looked through the motley collage of images stored on my camera. I had forgotten about this one. If you have a few minutes, I’ll tell you the story.

When I left Canada, I had no rational excuses for complaining. I had worked some things out. My immediate future was assured, insofar as one’s future can ever be guaranteed. I had settled family obligations as well as a life-long black sheep absentee can ever do. I had visited, conversed with, made the right noises, put on the appropriate clothes and been effusively grateful for all of the kindnesses which seemed to spring from some bottomless well of good will. In short, I was ready for What Comes Next.

The problem was that I could not find reason for expectations. Hope is sometimes a cruel mistress. One becomes timid of the lashes meted out by life. To hope is to expose the stripped back once again to the vagaries of the universe. Where there is hope there is also the risk of pain and disappointment. It is feels safer to be seduced by feigned indifference and passivity, to allow oneself to be dragged along with the flow of happenstance. It is easier to sit there in a nameless airport lounge eating plastic food from a plastic bag and say that I don’t really care any more. If I just keep telling myself that, it will be true. To sit and wait, not knowing for what.

At some convenience store on the way to the airport, Hans and I stopped for a last chance for cheap sustenance. Frugality prevents me from purchasing anything non-essential at an airport. In line with my mood I decided to discover how inexpensively I could fill my growling belly with sufficient bulk to tide me over until the next watering hole. As I perused the offerings my eye was caught by a familiar label from my impoverished youth:

Yes, for $1.86 I could tank up on calories and pump enough sugar into my blood to keep me from getting dizzy. My plan was to eat it in the departure lounge. What I failed to consider was the Spanish Inquisition of our day, the universally dreaded TSA.

Nobody interfered with my right to consume degrading food in a public place until I came to the station where one’s most intimate body parts are displayed as if they were party favors on a giant x-ray screen. I dutifully removed my shoes, my $8.00 suit coat, my black fedora and unpacked my innocent Toshiba computer from its hidey-hole and placed them all in the plastic trays for their trip through the place of exposure.  My ravioli caught the attention of the protectors of our security.

You know the drill. The TSA man stepped in front of me and asked, rather too sternly, I think, “Is this your back pack?” I freely admitted so. He proceeded to tell me that my can of Chef Boyardee Ravioli was contraband and could not be allowed to accompany me to the departure lounge. I told him that I was planning to eat it before I boarded the plane, where it might be considered genuinely dangerous to something other than my digestive system. As he walked away with the potential weapon I dedcided to live very dangerously and spoke the hazardous words, “It’s sad when you’re forced to take away an old man’s breakfast.” He seemed to stumble a little. When he returned a minute or so later, he said, “You can keep it.”

At that point one of those crazy metaphors entered my head unannounced. I pictured a harmless forest animal cowering against a tree as a hunter pointed a gun at its head. When the trigger is pulled all that is heard is “CLICK”. Picture a cartoon of it. That’s what I saw in my head. Maybe that was the bottom. I don’t know. I said, “That’s very kind of you. Thank you.”

And then there was Sedona. Have you seen the beautiful performance of Peter Sellers playing out his best roll in the movie, Being There?  This kind of surreal unexpected turn is what I’m talking about. Things start getting replaced by other things willy-nilly. Fear gives way to confidence, puzzlement to certainty. Laughter pushes sadness aside and depression is savaged by a soaring spirit. Doom and gloom begone! In the movie simple-mindedness was suddenly seen as profound. But Chance could not be transformed until he was released from the prison of pity in which he lived. His transformation was one of appearances and interpretation. Mine is real.

I heard about this old trunk and Grace’s hope for its future when we first pulled into her garage where it has lived for some years in the quiet company of garden tools and old school records:

Grace’s plan for the old trunk was to give it a purpose in life. She pictured it in a place where it could shine and be useful as an humble table for cool drinks in the toasty Arizona afternoons. I saw its beauty and its message under layers of rust and dust. As Grace insisted, paint was not the answer. It would only hide the story of the trunk. I began to formulate a title for my first Sedona art. It would be called Just Returned from a Sentimental Journey.  At this point is is only half finished. My plan is to find two pairs of boots, one pair of men’s boots and one pair for a lady. I will fill them full of concrete and place bolts in the tops. I will then bolt the boots underneath the trunk, the woman’s boots facing to the right on the right end of the trunk and the man’s boots following on the left side walking in the same direction. This will make an amusing table for the patio. Sedona is a place where artistic inclinations can be allowed to run rampant. Nothing is too outrageous.

All around me is beauty. An otherwise mundane trip to the grocery store is made magical by God’s Own Art:

Even ant hills pretend to be something they are not:

Lowly desert grasses speak of hidden resources of strength in the hard red soil that gives them life:

And I have not yet scratched the surface of the wealth of hard-living flora which speckle the deceptively barren landscape:

I have but a while to appreciate the austere beauty of this desert nearly a mile high in the thin atmosphere. No wonder I feel breathless most of the time.

Three years ago I was here visiting Grace with Eunie. I remember the holiday very well. We were consolidating our lives and planning for a sweet future of growing old together. We saw the Grand Canyon. I got my final tattoo, one I had been planning for a year. Many things have changed in my life since then. The loss of Eunie devastated me. I am still surprised that I survived it. It was a very close call. Along the worrisome way my new tattoo faded, the victim of my impatience to get it done quickly. I lost much ink when my arm swelled from the trauma of a too-quick job. I had in mind to return to the same shop to get it repaired:

The delightfully decorated young lady is a skin artist at Avatar Tat2 in Cottonwood, Arizona. Mery Bear is very skilled and has a deft touch. I would recommend her to anyone wishing to improve on God’s handiwork. Mery did an excellent job of renewing the colours on my arm. It is now bright and cheery.

I am, in total, being renewed. In the process I am happy to find that the best of the past is coming along with me. Eunie is as fresh in my mind as if I had had breakfast with her this morning.

Is this real or am I going to wake up? Time will tell.

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Canada Day

Posted in Mixed Nuts, Tattoos on July 2nd, 2009 by MadDog
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Canada Day here in Madang got off to a blistering start. Oddly, today is actually the 2nd of July (this morning), so while the rest of the world is settling down to enjoy the remains of the national celebration, the day has already passed for us. It’s that weird International Date Line thing; makes my head hurt to think about it.

Anyway, all of our wonderful Canadian friends, including my son and his family living in Hamilton, Ontario, are enjoying a day off to celebrate their great nation.

Sunrise on Canada Day 2009

The colours in the sunrise this morning were a little odd, but I don’t think that has any connection to the celebration unless it’s alcohol fumes wafting in from the north. I’m celebrating Canada Day this afternoon out on Faded Glory.

About a year ago I was overcome by a wave of Canadaphilia and made my homage in skin to the great friendly neighbour to the North:

Congratulations, Canada. You got under my skin.

It’s called O Canada.

Go figure.

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The Ultimate Masochist – Videoing Your Own Tattoo

Posted in Humor, Tattoos on June 8th, 2009 by MadDog
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Sitting here in “The Friendliest Airport in the World” in Phoenix, Arizona with eleven hours to kill and a free broadband connection, It occurs to me that I have time enough to torture my readers, since I have nothing better to do at the moment than to eat potato chips and wish I could afford a beer.

As you may have noticed, I recently acquired a spanking new tattoo. Click the “Tattoos” category, in case you missed it.

To amuse myself while spending about fourteen hours in the torture chair, I took about a hundred photos and several short video clips. I’ll show you two of my favourite vids.

This one shows Chip beginning the outlining:

I like the pouty little lips he is doing on Nemo. Moody little Nemo; he has a dark side too.

By the way, Chip is not spitting on my arm. That is alcohol that he is squirting out of a little horror bottle. In fact, it is alcohol brewed in a special still in a very hot corner of Hell by Satan himself. Chip rubs it in nicely to achieve the proper effect. It feels a little like a thousand demon rattlesnakes earnestly desiring to gnaw on your soul. Ah, but first they have to get through your skin.

Hmmm . . . I’m thinking some of you might be musing, “What’s the big deal? So the idiot is now videoing himself being punctured.” Well, you are right in one respect. I am an idiot. However, I challenge you to hold the camera as steadily as I while squirming under the needle. Idiots can do amazing stuff. Just watch American TV.

It this short clip, Chip is cutting loose in wild abandon doing the shading. He’s beyond control. Just listen to the pathetic tone in my voice as I tell him how much I trust him.

There was little point in interfering; he was Locomotive Breath. You wouldn’t want to get in his way. Chip was a man on a mission. You don’t want to mess with a former Drill Sergeant.

Getting a tattoo is fun in a kinky sort of way. For one this size I don’t recommend trying it in one sitting. The pain gets steadily worse as the trauma to your precious skin mounts mercilessly. For the last couple of hours I was still putting on the brave face, but inside I was homogenised. Frankly, uncontrollable flatulence was the primary menace.

It must have been the Mexican lunch.


Reef Scene Tattoo – First Peek

Posted in Tattoos on June 4th, 2009 by MadDog
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I’m still wasted from fourteen hours in the torture chair over two days – nine of them only yesterday. This will be brief. I still have to finish an article for Niugini Blue  in the next 48 hours.

It was fun in a Zen-like way, dealing with the pain. I can’t say that I enjoyed that bit, but there’s something about getting through it that leaves a mild feeling of smug satisfaction. I’m lucky; I have an extremely high pain threshold. I sometimes find myself bleeding profusely, looking around, asking, “How did THAT happen?” A little Codeine (legally acquired in PNG) and plenty of soft rock music dull the worst of it.

My artist, Chip (more later about the shop and the nice, über-cool people there), said that he’d never encountered anybody who could endure so long in the chair without wincing. I think I said something like, “It’s only pain, man; it’s not taxes.” I’ll take pain over taxes any day. Pain usually ceases at some point. Taxes just go on forever. If I could pay my taxes by being tortured, I think I’d consider it, depending on the torture.

Let me state that I’m not belittling pain here. The pain of a tattoo, no matter how many hours it takes, is akin to a mosquito bite compared to the pain of some diseases. I don’t want to compare myself to those who suffer disabling, intractable pain. I’d be an absolute wuss and beg for horse tranquillisers. Tattoos are mere bee stings; a nasty sunburn.

Anyway, on the the pointy-pointy business.  Here’s the artist’s pallette:

The Reef Scene Tattoo - the Artist's Pallette

By the way, I’m being soothed by a continuous shuffle of Dire Straits as I write. I highly recommend it. Softly, softly, make me mellow . . .

And, here’s the artist:

The Reef Scene Tattoo - Chip torturing meChip is a very nice, calm, deep thinking family man. Avatar Tat2 is billed as an “Adult Tattoo Studio.” There’s no ugly connotation there, either. Stay tuned for more about this unique skin art boutique.

And now, please remember that one would normally never show a new tattoo for at least a week. The skin is severely traumatised and leaking ink and plasma all over the place. The colours look mottled, splotchy and off-hue. That said, here’s a couple of different angles:

The Reef Scene TattooAs you can probably tell, the Banded Sea Krait is in the background and wraps completely around my arm. When my arm hangs at my side, the body of the snake is about all you can see. For the curious, I flip my arm and . . . voila!

The style is exactly what I was looking for. Photo-realism just doesn’t do it for me for reef scenes, I’ve seen some and was not impressed. I wanted a gaudy, well-shaded and detailed effect that stoped short of a cartoon. Chip took my original ideas, kept the core concepts and used his keen artistic eye and vast exeprience to give me something that exceeds my dream. Believe me, you have to go a way to top my dreams. Great work, Chip!

More tat fun to come as soon as I get my Patterns of the Sea  article finished and get some sleep.

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Planning a New Tattoo – Danger and Beauty

Posted in Tattoos, Under the Sea on May 7th, 2009 by MadDog
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This will probably be my last tattoo. I’m 65 years old. My skin is reptilian from decades in the tropical sun. With eight tattoos already, I’m running out of prime space. However, I’ve been dreaming for years of a very special page that I’d like to add to my bodily journal. I want to proclaim in vivid colour my gratitude for the thousands of hours that I’ve enjoyed with hedonistic ecstasy  in the blessedly warm tropical waters savouring the beauty and excitement of a world that few are ever lucky enough to see. Danger and beauty are the intermingled themes. I have in mind three specific creatures to represent these paradoxically parallel pleasures.

This is (arguably) the most poisonous snake on the planet. It is the Banded Sea Krait (I’m not going to bother with the taxonomic names in this post. You can use the search box if you want to find them elsewhere on Madang – Ples Bilong Mi):Banded Sea Krait for new tattooStrangely enough, of all deadly snakes, this one is probably the least likely to bite you, unless you are very foolish indeed. I have hovered only a few metres away countless times while watching them feed. All you have to remember is to watch it from the side, not from directly above. When it has to breathe, you do not want to be in its way as it swims to the surface.

This is getting rather too close, but I wanted to capture the stunning colouration of its head:

Banded Sea Krait for new tattoo - head detail
The next creature holds the middle ground. It is simultaneously dangerous — though hardly deadly — and supremely beautiful. This is the  Spotfin Lionfish:

Spotfin Lionfish for new tattooIt has extremely poisonous spines along its back. One would have to be either ignorant or stupid to play with it.

Occupying the opposite end of the hazard spectrum is . . . yes, Nemo, the Clown Anemonefish:

Clown Anemonefish possibility #1 for new tattoo

I have not yet decided which of these poses I prefer:

Clown Anemonefish possibility #2 for new tattoo
The general plan is to have the Banded Sea Krait wrapping twice around my left forearm so that only its body, the repetitive scaly banding, appears when my arm is hanging at my side, provoking the question, “What is hidden?” If I choose to do so, I can reveal a scene of transcendent beauty by simply lifting my arm to reveal the Yin which balances the Yang. The deadly head of the Krait and its paddle-like tail will rest at peace with the Spotfin and Nemo in the panorama of peace and harmony on my inner forearm.

Now all I have to do is find a Hamiltonian tattoo artist good enough to punch the dream into my wrinkly old skin.

The search is on tomorrow.

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A Feast for My Camera

Posted in Tattoos, Under the Sea on February 1st, 2009 by MadDog
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Yesterday, for our regular Saturday morning dive, we motored out to Pig Island  to check out the Eel Garden, one of our favourites.

Along with some ordinary, but nevertheless spectacular critters, we enjoyed some rare treats.

On the long wall that marks the outer side of the Eel Garden, I visited one of my favourite anemones. Its residents are Spinecheek Anemonefish (Premnas biaculeatus).  One of the pleasures of doing many dives in a small area over many years is that you get to know the fish as your neighbours. This is Mary Jane and her young cohabitant, Mike:
Spinecheek Anemonefish (Premnas biaculeatus)Over on the other side of the wall at the old catamaran wreck, a double cluster of Bubble Coral (Plerogyra sinuosa)  was lit very nicely. I took a shot with the light available, eschewing my flash, as is my wont. It’s nicely balanced, not too bright, and the colours are somewhat muted – just exactly the way my eyes saw it:

Bubble Coral (Plerogyra sinuosa)

As I’ve mentioned many times before, I prefer shots that I’m able to capture with the light that is presented to me by nature. Sometimes flash is necessary (as in the Spinecheek shot at the top), but I prefer to show you the images that I saw with my naked eyeballs.

To illustrate the difference once again, here is the same shot with the flash turned on:

Bubble Coral (with flash)  - (Plerogyra sinuosa)

It’s more colourful, but it is not  what I saw.

Once in a while, maybe every hundred dives, we get to see something that blows us away. Here’s Albert, one of our Spanish divers, getting a shot of a giant flatworm. He had just gotten this new camera and this was his first dive with it:

Albert shooting the giant flatworm with his new camera

In case you don’t know much about flatworms (planaria), let me tell you that this one is huge. I can’t find it in my identification book, so it must be fairly rare. On the odd chance that anybody out there recognizes it or has a better book than I do, please let me know the species name:

Giant flatworm - Do you know the species?

On the other hand, new species are being discovered at the rate of dozens a year, so we may have  found something that has not yet been described.

Finally, Anna, another of our Spanish divers, has herself a brand-new tattoo:

Anna's new tattoo

And, a lovely one it is. I’m more into the pictorial designs rather than the abstract. However, this one, based on the henna hand designs, is certainly beautiful and very feminine.

Good job, Anna, for choosing wisely. It’s there for life, so I’m happy for you that it’s a good one.

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Grandpa’s Treasures

Posted in Mixed Nuts, Tattoos on January 21st, 2009 by MadDog
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Yesterday we received from our son and his family thank you notes for Christmas presents. I’m writing this post to my granddaughters and sharing it with you.

I took photos of the family when I was in Canada in 2008. Here’s a shot of Pippa at 14:


Both girls are very artistic. They get that from their mother, Tamara. As you may remember, Tamara is the creator of the designs for most of my skin art, though she loathes the idea of tattoos. I’m not sure how Pippa produced this beautiful and very avant-garde composition Cherry Trees, but I like it very much:

Pippa's thank you card

Thanks, Pippa, for making your grandpa very happy.

Here is Audrey Rose at 11:

Audrey Rose

My maternal grandmother was an Audrey. I always liked the name because I was close to my grandmother. I discovered only after Audrey was born that Hans and Tamara did not know that they were bestowing the great-great grandmother’s name on their second daughter.

Audrey sent me this nice thank you note:

Audrey's thank you card

Thank you Audrey for bringing a big smile to my craggy old face.

At the end, she asks me about the kind of fish that is on the sticker that she added to the bottom of her note.

Audrey, the fish is a Blue Tang (Paracanthurus hepatus). I wish that I had my own photo to show to you, but we have only recently seen them in the area and I haven’t had an opportunity to get a good shot at one. They are very clever at staying just beyond the range of my camera. So, I’ll show you this photo of a Blue Tang (the Pacific Ocean variety) from Wikipedia:

The Pacific Blue Tang (Paracanthurus hepatus)

I have little sadness or regret in my life. One of the areas over which I have little control is money. At the mercy of donors (who are growing more fatigued by the year), our income from our work for the mission has dropped by nearly two-thirds. This makes it impossible for me to go to Canada more often than every four years.

It’s sad and regretful for me that I cannot enjoy my granddaughters during what is probably the time of their lives during which we could enjoy each other the most.

My darlings, you are always in my heart and thoughts, if not in my arms.

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