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**PRINT: FRIENDS FROM CINCINNATI: Installment 24 features this part coming-of-age short by Chicago's Patrick Somerville, author of the Trouble collection of shorts out in 2006. | PAST BROADSHEETS |

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Joe Deir

Nacho straddled a cream-colored kitchen chair cowboy-style while getting his needles and ink ready. He slapped stainless steel needles and plastic vials full of ink onto the wooden end-table, wobbly-legged at knee-level, all his tools at the ready to give me a tattoo in the living room of my parent's empty house. My first tattoo. He's Nacho to us, Ignacio to his folks, San Patrico Sanchez to other assholes -- half-Irish, half-Mexican, hence the nickname. He never liked it. At some point we're all just seventeen and stupid. This is my story, ripped from the headlines. Bold, blue-inked Chinese lettering tattooed across my forearm, ancient. Don't-fuck-with-me style. What it meant? That's top secret. Even now. Especially now. Midday, with sunlight full and bright slashing across brown shag carpeting. There's nothing you could do about it. The pull-down plastic blinds had a slasher-movie-type gash in them measuring a jagged foot in length, casting a sunlight-colored lightening bolt onto dirty carpet, reminding you of Metallica's Ride the Lightning album cover.

Mom was on vacation in Chernobyl, where she's from, visiting haggard relatives in layered rags. Dad was at work downtown, always downtown, CEO of a failing sticker company. They made the kind you get at supermarkets in foggy plastic bubbles that say, "AWESOME!" or "DON'T GO THERE!" in glittery script. People slapped the stickers onto their possessions in lieu of original thoughts. Sometimes he even slept at the office. The summer of getting high on seeds and stems, and watching Yakuza gangster flicks and Samurai sword classics. All the familiar revenge stories that you know before you're even born: someone fucks you or your family over; you fuck them back, and fuck them harder. Much harder. Limbs blown askew and awry, a haze of bullets and sword swings smashing against sword slings sounding, as they clanked, like ice cubes dropped into an empty glass. Bullets blasted through brick, wood, buildings and humans on TV, final death throes. A man jabbed a sword into the chest of a prone enemy in much the same way that Neil Armstrong jabbed the American flag into the moon's flesh. Theatrical. Like Shakespeare. Death but only after suffering the slings and arrows. Death with honor. Japanese hardasses in Armani. Would kill their first-born if honor were at stake. Bullets. Spasmodic flailing. Then stillness.

Nacho scratched his bowling-ball head, hair all but shaved; the flesh around his eyes might remind you of a pit bull's. He had three ink stripes on his cheek like the charbroil lines on a burger.

"I couldn't find my car this morning," he said, while inspecting his needles with a diamond appraiser's eye, needles held in the shaft of light, points glistening. Yakuza. See it. Say it. Sing it. One of those words that just sound wonderful to say. Like benediction, another nice word. Yakuza. Beautiful like Benediction, bashful bastards broken mittens. Yakuza. Next door you could hear the retarded man singing heavy-tongued along with the radio that he's just a soul whose intentions are good, while washing his Trans Am. But why? The sky darkened. Rain was coming. He was a very kind retarded man. But still. Oh Lord, please don't let me be misunderstood. Zoning out.

"Yeah? Huh?" I said.

"I hate driving drunk," Nacho said. "It's mainly because I don't remember where I parked and I always get lost." He held another needle to the light. "You ready?" he said. I nodded.

My Dad's Mick-Irish. Mom's Ukrainian. I learn too much about ancestors' suffering. Dad's hardcore, made me play bagpipes as a kid. Wouldn't let me near a guitar. Now and then he forces me to make loyalty oaths to Ireland. Teaches me about potato famines and dastardly Englishmen. Mom teaches me about food lines, Stalin, czars, communism, despair, and vodka.

Outside it started to rain -- just a mist. You could smell it: summer rain on sizzling cement, stench wafting in through rusted screens. The pain of the needle hit my whole body like sound through a tuning fork. Samurais. Yakuza. No more sunlight except for ultra-violet rays, dimmer, purplish, through the cut-open shade. Light plus lazy, leisurely dust motes swimming in the air. Nacho swabbed my forming tattoo with an alcohol-soaked Kleenex. My skin sighed. He lit a Newport. It dangled from his lips. He puffed on it as he worked. An hour lasts four cigarettes. Then I had my tattoo. I wore short sleeves until Mom came back from vacation. She wouldn't approve because she's half-Jewish.

...but that was then. I'm older now. Mentally, mainly. Months that felt like years, and years that felt like decades passed. Mom's dead. Dad has cancer. Even Nacho's dead, electrocuted accidently in his home's basement, his young fiancee upstairs, rocking their child in her arms when the lights flickered. No scream. But she knew. Electricity zapped through his three-hundred pound body with the force and pain of 12,000 tattoo needles in symphony. And now when I'm walking down 63rd street with its dive bars, dive restaurants, and dive hotels, looking like the last frontier, stench of jet fuel fresh in the air, the American Dream sans vaccinations -- or strolling through leafy city parks past dogs defecating on landmarks -- and old ladies ask me what my tattoo means, I say it means, "God in heaven." They smile. But when kids ask -- skateboarders with swaggers, cigarette-lipped taggers -- I say it means, "See me now, fuck me later." I leave them itching their heads, scratching their balls beneath skies of cumulus clouds and factory fumes enveloping their ankles, thighs, torsos then disappearing into the above.

One day Joe Deir hopes to write a story that crescendos like the song "November Rain," by Guns N' Roses (you know, the "You're not the only one" bit). He is the editor, with one other, of Inkstains, an online and printed digest for literary fiction that can be accessed at Inkstains.org.