May 14: “Tattooizm” by Kevin Moffett

Happy Saturday, Story366! Another beautiful day in Missouri, a day in which I received a big shipment of books, a day that I visited the Barnes & Noble and found five newly released story collection to read for Story366; I didn’t actually buy any of those today—new hardcover books are twenty-six bucks apiece—but I have put all of these books on my radar and will get them, get to them, eventually. On top of that, the call for books I put out on FB the other day seems to have yielded a large number of hits, several books on the way. A few days ago, I was almost out of books. Now, I am once again story collection-rich.

For whatever reason, I grabbed one of those books that came today, Kevin Moffett’s Permanent Visitors, winner of a John Simmons Short Fiction Award from the University of Iowa Press—it literally was the top book on the pile (after the pile settled). I know Moffett’s work a little bit—I think I’d read a story or two—and after reading a few stories, I’m glad I ordered the book and get to write about it today.

Scanning the table of contents in Permanent Visitors, I was drawn to some interesting-sounding titles, and without a title story—which I almost always read—I went by titles alone, choosing “Tattooizm,” “Ursa, On Zoo Property and Off,” and “The Fortune Teller.” I like all of these stories a lot, but have chosen to write about “Tattooizm,” the longest of the three, the one that’s stuck with me, the one I imagined writing about as I was reading it.

“Tattooizm” is the story of Andrea, a nineteen-year-old Florida woman who lives with her mom and her brother, has taken a year off of school but is ready for the JC in the fall. Andrea is dating Dixon, a twenty-four-year-old aspiring (but not inspiring) tattoo artist. Dixon has big plans, the first of which is to become a tattoo artist, a profession for which he practices—on his own upper thighs. Dixon is a ginger from head to toe but has shaven himself from belt to knee and adorns himself with this and that—generic stars and flowers and shit—so he can get good. When he gets good enough, he wants to own his own shop, complete with the big chairs and a big dog to lumber around, as well as an apartment above where he can live with Andrea.

Dixon also wants to practice his wares on Andrea, but she’ll have none of it. The reason? She’s planning on breaking up with him. Note, though, she’s not breaking up with him, just planning to, as she doesn’t have the heart. Dixon has life plans for them both, so, at this impasse, she also strings him along. So, until she can do the deed, she and Dixon hang around his crappy apartment, having sex, at least three or four times a day. When they’re not having sex? They sit around naked and watch TV and Dixon plays with himself, priming it, I guess, for the next sex. The only thing that stops the nudity and the TV and the sex is the fact Andrea does still live at home, has to watch her brother while her mom’s at work, and eventually, will have to go to classes again. The entire story, however, Andrea goes through this routine, listens to Dixon’s dreams, but has the exact date of their breakup planned out: August 25, the day before classes start, a week before their one-year anniversary, an occasion Andrea has promised Dixon can be her first tattoo, a Roman numeral I to commemorate their time together.

In some ways, Dixon isn’t a bad guy, as he’s pretty serious about his dream and is working hard to make it come true. Tattooing himself, like he does in the story, takes dedication, and without question, Dixon has dedicated himself to his craft. He wants sex all the time, yeah, but Andrea never says no, so he assumes that’s just how it’s going to be—again, he’s dedicated his body to a cause.

Andrea just doesn’t want him, however, and that’s the story. She has this guy who adores her, who has all these ambitions, who will do anything for her, but she just doesn’t want him. It’s nothing in particular—she went out with him, let it get this far—but she wants to move on. What Moffett does with this story is prolong her agony, making it worse and worse as summer creeps along. Will August 25 come before Dixon does something crazy? Well, to find that out, you’ll have to read the story. But it’s hysterical and sad and perfect, making it truly fantastic.

I also think “Tattooizm” strikes me so much because I relate to Dixon more than I’d like to admit (but am admitting to it, anyway, right here, for your reading pleasure). I think I’ve been Dixon before, moving through a relationship, thinking everything is great, making plans for the future, thinking we instead of I, knowing I could conquer the world because I had this great gal by my side. Then the punch to the gut, the rug pulled out from under me. I have even been told something to the tune of “I’ve been wanting to do this for months, but just didn’t know how.” Sure, Dixon is no prize (and neither was I), but his only crimes are that he’s kind of weird, kind of eccentric, and kind of naïve. Another someone is going to come along, see his desire to open his own business, see a way to score free tats, and most of all, appreciate his unkillable libido, and that woman will think she’s the luckiest person in the world. This protagonist, though, just isn’t that person. That’s the difference between love and not love. Moffett illustrates it pretty damn well here.

All the stories I’ve read in Permanent Visitors are great, and now I have a new author to read up on in Kevin Moffett. I’ve got the rest of this book and some others—he’s another great Story366 success story, another find. Not sure how I feel about relating to the antagonist of a story, but hey, I do got a great gal by my side. I can conquer the world.