Friday, March 25, 2005

a surreal world

i had stepped into a dream. or a nightmare, maybe. i had received a call that my daughter, 21 year old summer, needed a ride home from the tattoo parlor, punktuer (pronounced puncture), in joplin, finally getting her much desired tattoo. i knew where she was going to have the tattoo done and she had checked them out for cleanliness and inspection status. while i might be willing to push the limits and rebel against society and the accepted norms, i'm not willing to tempt fate by exposing myself to disease.

the first problem was that the tattoo parlor itself, even though it was in good condition, was location in a part of town that i (we) didn't frequent. that part of town w/ bars on the windows, visible alarms systems, the homeless shelter for vagrants, bars of every kind, and huge locks on every possible entrance. this section of town was well-lit at night, but not a car or person in sight on the street except for a couple cars in front of punktuer. i parked, moved anything of obvious value into the back seat where it would be harder to see (steal) through the tinted windows. i also took everything out of the front seat or off of the dash that would identify me or where i worked. no reason to let anyone who didn't know me know where i worked and any other info about me.

when i walked in to punktuer, i was taken back to another place and time -- my childhood. the time when i first noticed the world of amusement parks, carnivals, and "carnies" as a different culture. the place was painted in wild, psychedelic colors and patterns, depicting clowns, jokers, demons, dragons, and designs w/ blurred images depicting ecstasy of some sort. also displayed on the walls was a huge collections of designs for possible tattoos and pictures of completed tattoos on previous customers; a couple of long, waist-high glass counters contained jewelry for purchase for those customers who were there for piercings.

i had just come from school, so i was dressed in a very conservative matching two piece outfit, w/ hair styled and makeup done. i was obviously out of my element and looked out of place. the man at the counter asked "may i help you?" as i walked up. i could tell from the look on his face that he thought i was in the wrong place or something. i said, "yeah, i'm summer's ride home. is she where i can see her?" he pointed me to the room where my daughter was, already in the process of being tattood.

i was rather surprised at the look of the man doing her tattoo, as he was clean cut w/ short hair, no strange piercings, and no visible tattoos except for his forearms. if he had a long-sleeved shirt on, he would look like any average joe walking down the street. certainly didn't fit the image of the other guys hanging out in this shop or the other customers walking in. i talked to summer a bit, looked at what he had done so far, asked some questions, and then moved a chair in so i could talk and keep summer's mind busy.

as i sat there, i was totally taking in my surroundings. it was like a funhouse that had been in a trainwreck. disjointed scenes in this style and then that style had been painted here and there on the walls. where the different scenes met up, someone had made crosshatches to make it look like they had been stitched together. the huge smiling face of a joker, the queen of hearts and alice and wonderland, a curving, swirling snake, clouded/misted spirals descending into nothingness, rainbows of dark colors, dragons of chinese heritage, animae, and more swirls and geometric designs.

the music was blaring, too. so loud it was hard to carry on a conversation and definitely made it hard to think. fitting the image of this establishment and the people within it, the music was also fringe music. not something listened to by the main stream. not even the main stream any sub-culture! groups like primus, marilyn manson, and worse things i had never heard of. and i like all kinds of music, but i was having a hard time identifying this as music instead of just noise. annie lennox' "sweet dreams" sung off-key by a man and slowed down after recording, like the batteries were running out of juice and fading away (but just not fading fast enough for my tastes!). when that cd of hellish noise was over, another one was put in -- a never-ending cacophany of audio distress.

then add to that the people (men) who were working in there -- long-haired, not well-dressed, tattood all over, pierced, just the overall grunge, dregs of society look. i didn't have a problem w/ them, as they were all very nice, kind, and polite in the one-on-one situation. but the lifestyle they chose to lead (or felt pressed into) was not one accepted by society. especially in the middle of the redneck bible belt of america. i'm always curious about people and what makes each one "tick." i covertly studied each human speciman there, watching his demeanor/personality/attitude displayed to help understand these individuals. none of these men were intimidating to me on a personal level, but if i were to meet several of them in a dark alley i would be leary. mainly because i knew that this sub-culture has a tendency to partake of activities that i don't believe in and don't condone. i realize that not all people in that subculture do those things, but that is the accepted belief. but in all honesty, i would be leary of meeting any group of men in a dark alley, so what makes a group of guys like this any different in that situation?

i'm not condemning any of those people, nor do i think poorly of them for being who they are. i try to not judge people and allow them to be who they are -- just like i want people to do for me. but as i sat there, i wondered . . . "if someone in 'my group' of society looks at someone like that and thinks 'freak,' then what does someone in that group of society think when he or she sees someone like me?" i'm well-groomed, well-dressed as a professional, no visible tattoos, obviously have money in what i wear and what i drive (meaning i'm not poor), speaks using correct grammar, well-educated, intelligent, doesn't use profanity in public, happy attitude, self-confident. do they look at me (or someone like me) and think "freak" or "stuck up bitch" or "normal" or "dull" or what? or do they even notice those people who are not a part of their society? do they view their group as "the norm" and the rest of society as the sub-culture? i wondered "what made you become what you are today?" as i considered some possible things that might have lead them to become who they were.

summer's growing tattoo was really a very small part of the overall experience for me. the final product was a beautiful depiction of 3 tiger lilies across the lower back. the artwork was amazing -- top notch. it was painful for her, especially after he had gone over several areas multiple times putting in the details. i kept up a running line of chatter to occupy her mind, but i was more interested in the people around us and what their motivation was for submitting themselves and their minds to this world. i wondered what kind of person was happy in this environment, or were they ever really happy but just less miserable? i wondered if they had to take drugs to deaden their senses to this numbing environment or if they had nothing left to feel numbed.

when summer reached the point of having the tattoo pictured and paying the tab, i headed on out to the car. i was fairly surprised that i still had hubcaps and that no one had spray-painted graffiti down the side of my car. i checked the back windows as i walked around the car, unlocked it and climbed in, shut the door again and locked it. i just sat there in the dark silence, still feeling numb from the 3-hour assault on my senses. i was exhausted and feeling fairly stressed from long-term societal discomfort. i thanked God for my world of unconditional love, security, and acceptance. i was reminded of just how blessed in life i am. my life may not be the perfect life, but it is the perfect life for me.

i've never been tempted to try drugs, but i realized as i sat there in the dark silence of my car in the wrong part of town -- if i was ever tempted to try acid or meth, all i needed to do was come back to punktuer and immerse myself in the environment there for the same effects. not an enjoyable experience overall, so not any more temptation than i've ever had to try that lifestyle.

as i am applying the experience to my outlook on life, i wonder if i have students who feel this out of place in the classroom. who in my classes is so distressed in the "normal" classroom, surrounded by kids of "normal" society. they may not have the strength to think about why they are stressed or what they can do to lessen the stress -- they only notice the stress and don't know how to combat these stressful feelings. how many kids have homes that are similar to the environment i was in last night that feel uncomfortable in the silence of the classroom? how many kids have such messy or cluttered lives at home that the organized and structure classroom makes them uneasy? i know i'll be watching for these signs now w/ more empathy. if i can find the right key, i can unlock the potential and ability for each student to learn. that's what drives me on in my career -- to be the teacher who made a difference in each student's life.

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