Chris Andersen, the illustrated man


"And this tattooing had been the work of a departed prophet and seer of his island, who, by those hieroglyphic marks, had written out on his body a complete theory of the heavens and the earth, and a mystical treatise on the art of attaining truth; so that Queequeg in his own proper person was a riddle to unfold; a wondrous work in one volume; but whose mysteries not even himself could read, though his own live heart beat against them; and these mysteries were therefore destined in the end to moulder away with the living parchment whereon they were inscribed, and so be unsolved to the last."  -- "Moby Dick," Chapter 110 

* * *

MIAMI -- Even in the half-light of the tent, the ink tells his story. But tells it only to him. The player at the rim, in the clouds. The great crowned skull. The chains and the ideograms. The Celtic cross. Pit bull and bulldog. Real Rock N Roll. Good ol boyz. Dead End. Honky-tonk. Country. Screw you. Punk ass. Dollar sign behind the right ear; 11 behind the left. The Viking. The bat. Stars on his earlobes. Swifts and swallows flying up out of his shoes. Phoenix rising at his throat. That Free Bird turtleneck, neon green and acid yellow on a field of purple flames. All of it under skin so pale it's luminous. And the wings. Those wings.

His arms and legs and back and chest are stitched with ink, with story, but in a secret language. He commemorates adversity and what didn't kill him. He records his happiness. He just doesn't say how. Which image stands for what? Which for abandonment or a broken heart? Which for anger or loneliness or joy? Which is the picture of his sadness, his ambition, his regret? Which defines him? Even in this unknown language, he's no hero, and every story is true and not true, because everything is complicated and because the ink hides as much as it reveals. All the success and every failure, crowded now with line and color, has been made beautiful. "It is what it is," says Chris Andersen. He is half a mystery, even to himself.

* * *

The Birdman is sitting in the tent with the others. It's cooler here. Out front it's all hot grit under a cannibal sun. Fans pass, stop, squint into the darkness. Blind at first, then smiling. There's LeBron and Bosh and Wade. Allen and a couple more, Haslem and Oden and Beasley. The whole championship sideshow all knees and elbows, shorts and tees; everyone too tall for his little folding chair. This is behind the stage, where they're waiting to go back out. The Miami Heat Family Festival happens every year in the big vacant lot between the arena and Biscayne Bay. Food, rides, music, photo ops. Door prizes, high hopes, giant checks to charity, the roll call of players and coaches and owners and fans. Everyone here, everyone loose, everyone having fun.

Join the Discussion
blog comments powered by Disqus
You Might Also Like...