I grew up in Elko, Nevada.
You may have passed through Elko with your head down on your way to someplace else. A good friend of mine once said that “everyone I see here looks scared and rundown, like they’ve just survived the beating of a lifetime.” Another person remarked: “Remember that story in the Bible where those angels said they’d spare the city if they could just find one righteous person? That’s how I feel right now–except I just want to see someone with their hair combed.”
For the record, I loved growing up there and I know lots of Elkoans that comb their hair. I had (and have) great friends there and that was (and is) enough. I do, however, have to admit that most of my top-tier sagas of weirdness do come from Elko.
For instance, the first gym I ever joined was in Elko. My dad talked me into going with him when I was about 20. I was reeling from an explosion of Tourette’s symptoms and didn’t have any productive outlets. He suggested that some “small victories” might get me back on track, so we started hitting the gym five or six times every week. I loved it.
Or…I loved most of it. Most of the people there were nice, helpful, and full of advice. Not the guy in the Daisy Dukes. He was about 30 years old and about 5’6″ tall. Nothing wrong with either of those demographics. He wore a bandanna drenched in skulls and flames. He had a red goatee and a bald head–nothing wrong with that, either. He wore mirror sunglasses at the gym, long after the sun had set…hmmm…and did I mention that he wore Daisy Dukes?
But the weirdest thing was this tattoo on his calf. More on that later.
None of these things would have mattered if he’d been the slightest bit cool. But he wasn’t. He spent most of his time pulling up his shorts and looking at his quads in the mirror. Then he would would stalk around growling. “Where are all the damn 45s?” he asked me once while I was doing a bench press set. “These are 35s.” “I said. “Where are all the 45s?” he repeated more loudly. I watched my 20-year-old lip quivering in his mirrored shades. He decided to spare my life and went over to the leg press machine.
He was wild for the leg press. It was literally the only lift I ever saw him do. He’d load up all the plates in the gym, roar like Cerberus for a few reps, then it was back over to the mirror to scowl at his thighs. A better man than most, possibly. He was…quite confident.
I can’t remember which of us first noticed his tattoo, but he had something big on his left calf. We were never able to get close enough for a good look without him noticing us and flexing his neck in our direction.
One glorious day, I saw it. Not a day in my life has passed since when I haven’t told somebody about it.
11 years x 365 days = a minimum of 3,015 times that I’ve told someone about it.
Now it’s your turn. The tattoo spilled out of his sock and ended just below his knee. It was a tattoo of himself. Here were the features of the angry, bald, goateed man in the tattoo:
I’m thinking back to my literary theory 101 class. We spent some time talking about Lacan, a psychoanalyst who spent a lot of time thinking about mirrors. If memory serves, there is a period in an infant’s life called the “mirror stage.” For a while, the infant doesn’t recognize its reflection as having anything to do with itself. When the child finally understands, “Hey, that’s me,” it is a key stage in its mental development. Mirrors figured into lots of Lacan’s other ideas, but I passed that class years ago and refuse to revisit those concepts, even via wikipedia.
In the gym that fateful day, I watched a man scowl into a mirror, admiring a tattoo of himself, on himself. It seemed the universe might all begin to unravel and I wondered what Monsieur Lacan might have made of it all.
I suppose we’ll never know. And I repeat, none of what this guy did, even the tattoo, would have mattered in the slightest if he could have found a way to be decent to everyone.
But that’s not what happened. 3,016 and counting…
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