Tuesday, August 11, 2009
Pay Is Pay
On the Honorable Path.
Saturday, August 22, 2009
Morgantown, West Virginia
Dennis Sherlock is an Illustrated Man, soft spoken and direct, polite and cordial once the psychic barriers come down. He follows two passions in life: fast Harleys and tattoos.
We met Dennis four days ago at the Shell gas station on Route 23, village of Franklin, county of Sussex, northern New Jersey. After several hours of negotiating the relentless frenzy of Jersey backroads traffic, Godzilla had worked up a powerful thirst. Mr. Sherlock was there to answer the call, as he must in New Jersey, where self-service is outlawed under threat of a ten thousand dollar fine. We struck up a conversation, Dennis and I, while Godzilla cooled her heels under the shade of the gas pump canopy.
The tattoos Dennis wears aren't the precious little ornaments or alternative fashion statements favored by the noobs and backseat driving Michaelangelos of body art parlors. This man is inked as a way of life.
"It's my life history, my story," Dennis said when I asked why. "It starts from when I was a wee pup, a grasshopper, to my present time. My tattoos are a reminder of my life."
He sat for his first tattoo at age 16. The most recent was needled a few years ago at age 51. How many? "There's over twenty-five thousand dollars worth," he said. "I'm on the third cover-up." Cover-up? "That's where you go for another one on top of whatever's there."
Two more layers of tattoos lie under the canvass of deep colors
on Dennis Sherlock's right shoulder.
As for his bike, Dennis currently pilots a Road King Harley. Like me 'n Godzilla, he likes the freedom of the open road.
Born a Jersey boy in Ogdensburg, Dennis knocked about his youth with no direction home until he found a path toward the United States Marine Corps. "You do it. Serve your time and move on." Why the Marines? "Either that or jail," he replied.
Knowing the look, the way a man's eyes draw inward when a certain seam of memory struggles willfully toward the surface, I said, You were in 'Nam, weren't you?
"A tunnel rat," he answered. "First Division. The Central Highlands." Standing in a gas station lobby with one set of eyes toward the pumps and another toward the highway, we didn't care to go any deeper. Most veterans of the Viet Nam war I've met along the way aren't eager to chat about it, even to another vet. It's something that happened, something that didn't go down pretty. We won the battles and lost the war. Much of USA society punished us for it.
Like a motorcycle rider, a tunnel rat was a travelin' man, sent from place to place in response to the discoveries of infantry units and long-range reconnaissance patrols during their operations in the hinterlands and remote villages of the Republic of South Vietnam.
The discoveries? Tunnels dug by the Viet Cong and North Vietnamese Army to shield themselves, their wounded, and their supplies from USA bombs, rockets, napalm, and machine guns. Some tunnels were shallow and short. Others were deep and intricate, housing sleeping quarters, hospital wards, and munitions dumps. The tunnel rat entered these tunnels with a pistol and a bag of plastic explosives. His job was to blow them up. Thin and wiry with a sharpness of eye and wariness of demeanor, Dennis fits the profile perfectly.
Dennis keeps an eye on the gas pumps.
I think he was admiring Godzilla — as much as a Harley man can.
You get older, you learn acceptance, or you shrivel up and die inside.
"I did my tour, got out of the service," he said. "Worked in pharmaceuticals for twenty years. Got a pension, but now they are trying to take it away. They probably will, too. But you can't sweat the small stuff. Money's money, comes and goes. Big brother knocked me down again. That's what it's all about."
Drawing deeply on his Camel Lite cigarette, Dennis said New Jersey's prohibition against people pumping their own gasoline "helps the economy because it does employ people. A job is a job, and any job is nothing beyond yourself. It's not the best pay, but it's pay."
He grabbed a newspaper, opened it, pointed to a page. "The classified ads here used to be three, four pages. Now it's one stinkin' page."
I looked outside. The hot sun was pouring bright rays down on the asphalt and metal. Her thirst slaked, Godzilla was bitin' at the bit, so to speak, and rarin' to go. Dennis and I talked about the ways we see one another, we humans on the crossroads. "The way I look worries a lot of people. But you've got to be honorable to people, and honorable about your work. Do that and you've got no big problems in life."
Do you have a favorite tattoo artist? Dennis thought about it for a while. "Nine Ball," he said at last. Where's Nine Ball based, I asked. "In jail right now," replied the Illustrated Man.
Two signs outside the Immoral Ink Tattoo Studio
on Maryland Route 7 near Joppatowne.
Saturday, August 23, 2009.
Godzilla gets ready to climb the hill onto Ebenezer Road
where it intersects Pocock Road, a mile south of Maryland Route 52
in the far northern edge of the state.
To read the previous dispatch in the narrative,
kindly click the crow!
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form the narrative "Travels with Godzilla."
The Journey Ends:
Bye, Buck Bowles.
Monday, August 31
By the Hand of Man.
Thursday, August 27
Shy and Wonderful:
Of the Wild Image.
Wednesday, August 26
It Wasn't the Flood.
Tuesday, August 25
So Many Mountains
Giving Some Up.
Monday, August 24
Pay Is Pay
Saturday, August 22
Counting the Lanes.
Friday, August 21
An Easy Puzzle:
Flat and Tidy.
Thursday, August 20
A Fine Old Motor Vessel
Makes a Smooth Crossing
from Jersey to Delaware.
Wednesday, August 19
Sandy Pine Barrens
On a Road to Heaven.
Tuesday, August 18
Sugar Hollow Road:
Not too Far
down the Way
Friday, August 14
Thursday, August 13
Off Balance, Agitated.
Tuesday, August 11
Success and Fear
On the Sly Peripheral.
Monday, August 10
You Want to Take Forever.
Sunday, August 9
Carry Me Home.
Saturday, August 8
Friday, August 7