The “I-novel” to the Japanese is called shishosetsu. And although the writing I post is FAR from being a novel, they are autobiographical. Confessional Literature, if you will. And I try to keep everything grounded in truth. Exaggerations of how I react, or when I confess a feeling are somewhat common, everything in my stories are true.

Take for instance this story about Mr. M__ M__. Mr. M__ ran a tattoo parlor on the West side of the city of Missoula. I went in for a tattoo, ironically, that was to be two bleeding M’s on the inside of my right arm.

When I went into the shop – before I knew the man’s name – I could tell something was off. He was sweating profusely, even though the air conditioning was blasting Northern, Artic spit-cicles – hence, VERY cold! So cold, I was shivering. It must have been 90 degrees that June day, & I was sweating from the walk from my apartment to his shop. My shirt was soaked through with sweat. And that cold air was not helping the condition if you know what I mean. I remember worrying I would not be able to hold still long enough for him to needle the ink into my skin without flaws.

Then I saw his hands.

And I understood.

They were trembling. Trembling in a way I was VERY familiar with. After a few moments of conversation (what kind of tattoo I wanted, what I was looking to spend,) I had to say to him:

“You need a beer or something, man?”

He looked confused.

“It’s alright, man, I get it. I drank more than a six-pack before I came in here. Now, do you need a beer? We can chill for a while till you feel better.”

He looked so relieved.

I offered to buy a case for us. And that is what I did. A case of Budweiser. We sat in the back. Me on the special client’s chair, Mr. M__ began to relax on his little work stool. After about three beers, he was calmed down. So calm, in fact, & confident enough to bring out a binder full of his original illustrations. They were done with pencils. And what struck me about them was in every one of the images was an object of something “safe” or “comfortable”. For example: one of the pictures was a couch – a couch with vines sporting deadly-looking thorns. Another one, the BEST one, was of a kitten, licking its paw. But the kitten’s tail looked like a medieval weapon. Spikes grew out of the tail. And the tail was wrapped around the kitten’s body.

I had to ask him what he started a drawing with.

“Oh,” he said, “Which one?”

“Any of them. All of them.”

“Well, I start off with something simple. They just kind of change the more I get into it.”

Fair enough, I thought.

But I was sure a psychologist would have something to say about my new friend’s distorting safe and cute subjects into things a nightmare would like to have in its inventory.

Anyway, we got comfortably drunk. He inked the two bleeding M’s into my arm. He laughed:

“You know those are my initials?”

No. I did not know. But it made the day – not to mention the tattoo – have more meaning.

Its meaning – the tattoo’s meaning, that is – changed dramatically two weeks after I got it.

One day, walking past the shop, I saw it was closed. There was a sign on the door.


What the hell?

I looked it up online. M__ M__ died in a car accident the previous night. He was drunk. Those are the only details I remember.

I do think about him & those nightmarish sketches. His initials are in my arm, for goodness sake. How could I not be reminded of him?

How can I not think about how he died. And all those nights I could have check-out the same way.


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