time I end up in jail my tattoo saves me. I guess I should say every time
Iíve ended up in jail since I got this particular tattoo, this particular
tattoo has been the thing that kept me safe. Iím not saying it made it
O.K., that it made it better in even some small wayÖ no, it sucked, it
was awful every time. Shit smeared on the walls, packed into a triangular
cell for two with five other people, a mat thrown on the floor by the
toilet in case I wanted to sleep; I have never, ever, slept in jail.  Iíve slept in court after jail, Iíve slept
on the ground outside the jail while I waited for a cab to come pick me
up and drop me somewhere near my life after hitting a bank so I can pay
the guyóand by hitting, I mean stopping by the ATM, letís just be clear
about that, all right?óIíve slept in those cabs, Iíve slept on the floors
of my friendsí bathrooms after using their showers, washing as much of
that very specific stench from my body as I can before I go home, even
though it continues to seep from my pores for days afterward. My crimes
arenít worth listing here, the various reasons I periodically end up in
jail far too pedestrian and boring to mention; what weíre talking about
is this one tattoo, on my left arm, just inside and below my elbow. What
it is, this tattoo, is a simple equation, from a book I wrote back when
we still didnít know how to follow through on our grand schemes. The tattooís
simple enough,  nothing
too terribly complex. I do like the little joke on the right side, saying
exponentially no different, but oh my god did we ever have to go through
all kinds of shit to effect no change whatsoeverÖ Those of you who
have asked me what it means have all received the same answer, the same
words in the same order with the same inflection every time: Itís from
a book I wrote (and pause for appropriate wonderÖ ďYou wrote a book?
Wow! Golly!Ē or whatever else people say): Each letter represents a
person and their value at a specific point in time. The combination of
the influences on this side (making a circle with my finger around
the left side of the equation) produces this result (pointing now
to the right side of the equation) in another character. And sometimes
the person will recognize the joke on the right side, and weíll chuckle
about it and go on about our individual nonparallel, nonintersecting courses,
having made our Geek Connection for the week. Much of the time itís just
the blank stare, maybe another Wow or something like that, but
Iím really only ever answering the question just because it was asked,
not because I particularly wanted to talk about it. I understand that
Iím obligated to discuss it, and to be polite every time, since I did
put it in a very visible spot on my body. You are not allowed to not discuss
your tattoos when theyíre exposed. Iím O.K. with that. I put the tattoo
where it is so I could see it, so it would remind me constantly of all
the things itís supposed to mean to me, but I donít mind when people ask.
(eight pages of Batman digression excised from this area)
††††††††††††††††††††††† |† that opinions differ on whether or not he
actually ever killed anyone (Frank Miller, in The Dark Knight Returns,
says yes, others say no) has nothing to do with it. What we should take
from him is that we all need to step up and wear a goofy costume and fight
evil in all its forms,  wherever we encounter it, never stepping back, never stepping
down, never entering anything with even the tiniest shred of self-consciousness
(and I mean consciousness of self) or any sense of the danger to ourselves
that our actions may or may not present. We exist: we are responsible.
Thatís pretty much all there is to it. No amount of thinking or clever
phrasing or discussion or arguments with your friends where your superior
vocabulary and education occludes reality to such a point where they suspect
you might be right will ever change it. ďPhilosophizing is just another
way of being afraid. A cowardly pretense that doesnít get you anywhere.Ē
(Louis-Ferdinand Cťline, Journey to the End of the Night).
 Itís never been more than a couple of days. Iím sure I would have slept eventually had it gone on any longer than that. The first time I was in jail was in Memphis, where I was arrested for murder. I didnít do it, and after a couple of hours the cops got their shit together and realized it wasnít me in this cell what done all the murderiní, but this other fella in this other cell what killed that nice family in California and done stoled their car, then stabbed that guy in Nevada to death, leaving him on the side of the road; then they done lost trackía him somewheres in Arizona, ďand hereís the funny part, son. See when you done stoled that car, you done stoled the same kindía car he done stoled, and so when yíall stopped in Amarillo at that motel, and he did too, well we just thought when we saw yíall that you was him and started follaíin yíall, and it just so happens that yíall and him and his ladyfriend who looks a whole lot like your ladyfriend went the same way.Ē So what happened was that Só and I stole this car and a bunch of credit cards and hit the road. Iíve written a book about it. Another completely unreadable book, yes, but this was the first of my continuing series of unreadable books. This one was called Lowroad. Originally it was called Lowroad to Elvis, since our destination, unknown to me, was Memphis, and Graceland. Só didnít tell me where we were going, she just called one Sunday night, after our not having spoken for nearly a year, and said ďWe have to go,Ē and I, of course, said: O.K. Not to try to sound innocent, but she was the one that stole the car, showing up the next morning after Iíd left for school and circled round until everyone left for work and school and everything. I got in and she asked me to drive, and so I did. Vegas then Memphis, with a quick sunrise stop at the Grand Canyon where a bunch of families pulled up to the rim as I was standing pretty much naked by the car, not actually standing, but leaning through the window and sorting through the clothes weíd bought in Vegas with our stolen credit cards, a skinny white ass photo-op, trying to find something suitably felonious to wear for the duration of our trip. Another stop in Amarillo, where I pulled off my braces with a screwdriver, used a nail file to scrape the cement off my teeth, then dyed my hair black. I could go on, but Iíve wasted too much space with this alreadyÖ so Iíll just say I was seventeen then and didnít yet have the tattoo, so it didnít play any part in that story.
 So youíre there with your brown paper bag that some fucked-up asshole has fallen on, crushing your food, the only food theyíre going to give you, and they bring out this monitor and show you a video that people outside the jail see. Itís about our jail system, and it shows a bunch of happy inmates all working together, all coexisting, all clean and joyous and studying or working or whatever the hell it is theyíre doing. I donít care about that. Then the scene changes to the cafeteriaóthe cafeteria at the jailóand they show the inmates all passively and happily lined up with their trays, being given big, beautiful steaming portions of all kinds of beautiful food. Shows them happily eating these big, beautiful steaming portions of all kinds of beautiful food. Nowhere in the video does it show a crushed paper bag with two slices of stale white bread and one greening slice of baloney, a piece of rotten fruit and 6 ounces of curdling milk. When you get out of jail you want to go hurt someone. When you get out you want to go destroy things. You are not contrite when you leave, you are murderous, you are vengeful. You expect the dehumanization, you expect the cops and guards and clerks to treat you like shit. You are in jail after all, but you donít expect that theyíre lying to people about you. You know why youíre there, itís all really simple and sure it sucks, but itís pretty cut and dry. That they feel like they have to lie about the fact that they donít feed you, or more accurately, that they donít feed you and then lie about it, changes everything. Makes your pedestrian little crime into the first little seed of a dangerous and pointless revolution.
 To them, I mean. It means something to them. It does not give the act meaning, does not infuse my work with meaning.
 Iím driving a Volvo now, totally stealth. Even when it hits 90 it still looks like itís going about 35Ö I pass someone and the cops think the other personís stopped, instead of thinking Iím going really fast. And in a purely perceptual sense, if your speedometer only reads up to 80, then no matter what your actual speed, youíre only ever going something less than or equal to 80. I never really had my big, devastating loss of faith in all things around me, no crushing realizations that things just arenít what they seemed; I donít know that I was much into the idea of faith, ever. But lately, as I get old and my children grow up I feel now and then that maybe I should believe in something, have a tenet or two I can pass along to my progeny, and so Iím starting with this. Itís been pretty constant in my life, through all the Datsuns and old Hondas and Bugs and Buses, the Peugeot and every last Volvo thatís crossed my path, theyíve all supported this idea. I have never been pulled over for perceptually speeding in any of those cars. It wasnít until I got the Acura that boasted 160óand yes, I did test that on the 10, between Tucson and Phoenix, and though I didnít get to 160, the car told me it had what it took to get me there, should I need to get to Phoenix in 45 minutes; nobody needs to get to Phoenix that quicklyóthat I got pulled over. And then it was always for 50 in the 40 or 40 in the 25. Itís perceptual, is what Iím saying. The Acura displayed an ability and propensity for speed and thus drew attention. Come to think of it, when the cop was using me as cover, he was trailing an Acura not too different from the one that used to get me in so much trouble.
 Not really the effect Iím shooting for, but I take whatever I can get, wherever I can get it. I donít really want to have a life that puts me in a position to affect inmates, but if thatís how it is, then thatís what it is.
And maybe my daughters. Definitely my daughters. But thatís still
about me. Since theyíre mine.
 This is not to be interpreted as my aligning myself with any current anti-evil factions out there saying kind of the same thing. Iím talking about bad poetry, awful fiction, manufactured Southwestern Art Product. You know, evil.
 What I have said is go ahead and make potholders if thatís what you want to do, and Iím still sticking by that. Just last Sunday I grabbed a sautť pan that had been sitting on a flame for a hell of a long time, one of those all-metal affairs, no wood, no rubber, nothing but metal. Iíve had a culinary reference to Raiders of the Lost Ark in my right palm all week. Some of you out there may want to consider abandoning current directions in favor of potholders; I think I may have written to a few of you and suggested as muchÖ hopefully this helps to bring you to a more complete understanding of the divine nobility of such a course of action. Sure, you might think me cruel, but letís just see you try to pick up a freaking hot pan with a book. Itís inadvisable, at the very least. I mean, think about it. Your panís too hot to touch, you reach with your book and Chapter Eighty-three or your slamminí epic poem dips beneath the pan and ignites. Youíre a poet, youíre a wacky artist, you donít know how to deal with household fires. Youíre not trained in that. You scream, you drop the pan and the book and run out of your apartment. Meanwhile, the Guatemalan throw rug you senselessly placed in front of the stove, saturated with grease, makes one wicked hellfire on the floor, which then crawls up the cabinet by the fridge and in like ten minutes the entire buildingís gone Towering Inferno and youíve just murdered one hundred and eighty three people. All because you had to write your damn book. Think of the children, for Godís sake, think of the children.
 Iím proud to say that weíve gotten past that, and people now see us as a viable and desirable venue for their work, but it wasnít always like that.
 Iím not talking about some independent-publishing world syndication thing, and Iím certainly not saying I think we should all band together or stop trying to show each other up, that we should stop competing, stop eyeing each otherís products with envy or disdain or whatever we eye things with when we see them. Iím saying letís just do this, keep competing and deriding and envying and everything we do, but do this too. You donít want to work with me, and I donít want to work with you either. We wonít have to work together much at all to make this happen, just agree to do it. Thatís all.
 Wow, that was almost spiritual. I had a conversation last night where I was told that everything is spiritual, and not in one way or another, but just is, everything is spiritual. I donít like that idea. I draw a big, fat line between behavioral and spiritual, and Iím talking behavioral. Jesus said we should do our praying in private. Letís keep that there. Our spiritual life may influence our behavioral life, but that still does not inextricably link them. Hey, I said Jesus in spork. I just think itís funny that I just said, ďJesus saidÖĒ
 I mean, you only need so many stairways to nowhere.
 Iíve really got to stop doing this last-minute just get it all out at once thing. Here, hereís a little Notes on the Notes: I get paralyzed in rewrites, never finishing something if I go back and think about what Iíve said. Thereís always an infinitude of uncertainty, especially with this, with spork, where I present my ramblings alongside work that we (and I mean the other editors when I say Ďweí, I mean the people with the schooling, training, experience, talentÖ everything necessary to recognize qualityóor lack thereofóin a piece, everything to take something thatís almost shining and transform it into a thing of brillianceÖ and they know people and those people know peopleÖ) decide to publish here. They let me have my say, and they donít make a fuss when I get stupid, since nobody wants to make the boy angry until after heís made all the booksÖ and if thereís going to be a next issue, then they donít really want to make him angry then eitherÖ So I know, I know, I knowÖ but I canít go back, I canít edit or rephrase, Iíve just sat myself down and written it each time. If I tried for coherence or readability Iíd never finish it. So thatís it. Itís not me having style or a quirky method. Itís just I get distracted while writing, have too many things to say, and want to say it all at once. Thatís pretty much it. Sometimes I just go on and on because Iíve done what Iíve just done here and rambled so much Iíve got just a few lines on an otherwise empty page (which, strangely enough, wasnít there anymore when this got put into the master document, and these words here between the parentheses contradict the idea that I wrote this all at once, since Iím writing this later, writing this nowóI was going to take out the talk about the few lines on the otherwise empty page, but I really liked it, liked how it got me to thinking about minimalism and otherwise empty spaces, and now Iíve added enough words that Iíve got the otherwise action going again). I will accept this and just hit Ďsaveí and then Iím going to e-mail it to Richard, who will probably start swearing and wish for another binder to materialize, all magic and complete, compliant and without the need to explain anything.