So, I’m out with my friend, Sarah and my assistant, Sarah, in Ybor City. Ybor is pretty much entirely bars, clubs and tattoo shops, with a few really good restaurants. I’m a regular just about everywhere. Bartenders know me, waiters know me, the tattoo artists definitely know me.

We’re there on this particular evening for my seventeenth tattoo. It’s one word, “Downer,” etched into my left wrist. Lately, I get my tattoos from a fellow named, Colt, a tattoo artist like his father before him. His mom and dad are usually around the shop, or the bar next-door. It’s an odd little family business, but they’re happier than most nine-to-fivers, it’s obvious they don’t go home and hate each other.


“Downer, like Xanax and shit?” he asks.

I don’t have a computer when I go out, it’s just not practical. Whenever I’m out and about, I talk to people using the alphabet. I should explain, talking with the alphabet involves a person saying each letter of the alphabet and me signaling with my eyebrows when to stop at a particular letter. Then, each letter gets written down in a notebook.

I tell him, “no, it’s a Nirvana song.” I tell him, “but also, I do really like downers.” Morphine, Demerol, we’re old friends. They’re the upside of getting tubes pulled out of and shoved into the hole in my throat. I have this done every five weeks, one doesn’t want their trache getting stale. Still, it’s not a drug tattoo, I have two already. Been there. Done that.

Really, Downer is one of my favorite Nirvana songs. To me, it’s an indictment against insincerity. Downer mocks the fact that we do things and say things because we’re “supposed to,” and not because they’re right, or honest. People pray to God, whether they believe or not. People thank God out of habit or fear, whether He deserves it or not.

I don’t want to live my life pretending to be someone I’m not, simply to fit some arbitrary standard of “normal.” I try to show that in my writing, I try to show that in the words that are etched into my flesh.

Have you ever felt strongly enough about words to consider making them a part of your body?

15 comments on “Downer

  1. josh says:

    I designed a tattoo around lyrics from a dredg song, Sanzen.

    “Forgot the past, lost the future, only now remains”

    It’s in a golden spiral on my upper back with their various “change” symbols between each phrase.

    Just want to say that I’ve been reading your posts every day & I really love your perspective – both in your writing & on life in general. I’ll make your blog a regular read once Jeff comes back for sure.

    Also, thanks to Jeff for always finding quality guests to hold this place down while he’s off exploring the unknown!

  2. josh: Thanks! Your tattoo sounds awesome.

  3. My wife, son, and several friends all have tattoos and they think I should get one. I’ve decided that if and when I do, it has to be something I won’t mind having for the rest of my life. After much thought, I came up with the idea of a carbon atom with the symbols for alpha and omega on either side of it, or maybe above and below it.

    As you know, the carbon atom is present in all life forms, and it was supposedly blasted out of an exploding star, or supernova, with the “big bang,” which is why the song Woodstock by Joni Mitchell says “we are stardust.”

    I used to study the Bible quite a bit, and even though I don’t exactly believe in it the way I used to, it still fascinates me. I’m intrigued by that nexus where physical and mental come together to produce what some might call spiritual, or whatever. The book of Revelation speaks of alpha and omega, meaning “the beginning and the end.” While much of the Bible doesn’t really make sense, I try to keep a humble attitude toward the possibilty of a higher power.

    So anyway, I figured that the number of electrons, protons, and neutrons would identify the atom tattoo as carbon. But I’ve been looking at lots of diagrams, and it seems not everyone agrees on how atoms should be represented visually.

    Sometimes I think I should just go with my wife’s name on my shoulder. Quite a dilemma.

  4. Bill: Don’t ever get a woman’s name as a tattoo. Trust me.

  5. Ann VanderMeer says:

    My daughter has many tattoos on her body, most of them done herself. She has BRAP on her chest after a Skinny Puppy song. She’s also got her name in Hebrew on her left hand. Each one has a meaning to her (most were done on the road as she was train-hopping across the country). And if you ask her, it starts a conversation. She carries her stories around with her for all to see.

  6. Ann: That is fucking spectacular, that’s why I love tattoos.

  7. Michael, you’re not the first person that’s warned me about that. And if I use my son’s name, people will say, “Dude, you have a tattoo of a man’s name!”

    Better stick with my first idea.

  8. Ann, what about you and Jeff? Any butterflies, tribal art, Weird Tales logos, squids . . . ?

  9. Bill: It’s your son. :-p

  10. I have to say, the name ‘Ybor’ sounds like it came straight out of a Michael Moorcock ‘Elric’ story! “Majestic Ybor of the azure spires”. Sorry, got carried away…

    While I don’t think I’d tattoo song lyrics on my body, I like the idea of including them subtly in fiction, nice little references and so on. I like intertextuality to have as wide a scope as possible.

    The notebook/eyebrows procedure sounds a little laborious btw, although I guess you’ve got it down to a fine art by now. It’s a pity if nobody’s made a convenient, portable computerised system yet…

  11. Ann VanderMeer says:

    Nope, no tattoos on me. I don’t even have pierced ears! Maybe I can get Erin to let me post photos of her tattoos and then you can see them. She’s got a fantastic dog skeleton on her back that I think is also a Skinny Puppy reference.

  12. Jeff VanderMeer says:

    No tattoos for me, either. The various fungi that are rapidly converting me are not fond of tattoos.

  13. Alex: I really like your idea, I’m going to think about it for a tattoo. We’re actually pretty fast with the alphabet, fast enough for decent conversations.

    Jeff: That is really unfortunate.

  14. sinema says:

    At first I thought you told Google to call the library, and it did, and that blew my mind.
    Then I realized that you actually called the library, and my mind became unblown.
    I’ll get back to work…

    If you ask my opinion about this topic I really like. Thank you for sharing your friends. Hope to see you another day.

  15. downer says:

    Thanks for sharing

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