Never Done: Got a henna tattoo of a friend's face by a man dressed up as a creek
I went to see Taylor Mac's new play, A Walk Across America for Mother Earth, and during the intermission, he had three participatory activities, and in the hopes that something would be something I'd never done, and I could write about it, and also in the general spirit of community building that Taylor works so hard to create in his theater, I did all three. 1) I got my photo taken with me holding a protest sign (We're here! We're queer! And we're not going shopping!") which someone is going to Photoshop onto a background and email to me, and 2) I ate popcorn with nutritional yeast on it (which I have done many, many times, but never as a recreational activity in a theater intermission,) and 3) I got a henna tattoo on my arm. By a man dressed up as a creek. His name was Alex Franz Zehetbauer, and he played a creek in the play, in a gorgeous costume made by Machine Dazzle. And when he asked me what I would like as a tattoo, I said I'd like him to make his depiction of Taylor Mac. He started, and then got called to sing an intermission song, so he wiped it off, and jumped on a makeshift stage, sang his song, and came back to me with renewed focus and creativity. He drew two glamour eyes with big long lashes, and a full mouth with a sweet smile. It was (is) a wonderful, wonderful portrait of Taylor, and whats more, while he drew it, we were drawn together under the paper, balloon, and fabric canopy of his creek costume, in an intimate moment while he drew our friend on my arm. Which is precisely what Taylor does best. He gives people opportunities to connect in safe little zany ways. And when we do, we're forever changed, and connected. Which is what happened for him when he went on the walk that inspired this play, although I'm not sure all the opportunities were safe, but they did connect him with people, and they did teach him to tell himself the truth, and they did change him forever.
That was a natural end to the post, but it's not the real end. Because Taylor's play made me remember (tshuve) a time in my life when I was also walking across America. Only I was hitchhiking across Britain, going from music festival to music festival with the Green Roadshow, which was the traveling contingent of the Green Party. We set up an environmental bookstore, and a steam sauna, and someone had a wind energy display, and my friends Loppy and Sheena and I had a little alternative tea house, where we served all sorts of herbal teas, and our motto was "We don't serve proper tea, 'cause proper tea is theft." It was a thrilling and heady time for me. It was 1985, and I was 22, and I was far from home, and I was started to define myself by what I didn't want to be (as were many of the characters in Taylor's play) and by what I did want to be, and I was falling in love with a woman for the first time, but it was unrequited (she was in love with a man) and I was smoking too much hash, and I was playing chess with the Pogues, and I was playing a lot of music, and I was busking (playing music for money) on the streets in between festivals, and doing anti-apartheid street theater, and I was on the inside, and that mattered to me -- not a paying customer, not a consumer of the festival, but providing something, a service to the people, camping and caravanning and muddy and at Glastonbury, Glastonbury! And also, I wasn't on the inside at all, because the people I was with were not taking me with them from festival to festival, but letting me hitchhike on my own, which was not safe, and which ... was not safe. Men I hitched rides with tried to hurt me. More than once. Even when I finally told my friends I needed help, and couldn't hitch alone any more, and someone found me a ride with a family, the guy in the family brought his wife and kid home, and then was taking me to the train, and stopped the car and tried to hurt me. I got away from him, but ended up on the road again, alone, and when the next car came by, I was too scared to get in, but I took the next ride, and that guy drove to a bar, got drinks, and drove me in the wrong direction and also tried to hurt me, but his pants were literally down at his ankles, and mine were on properly, which made it much easier for me to run, so I grabbed my bag and I ran, but I left my wonderful musical instrument from Greece that I had so loved playing, and I left some other stuff that I used to miss, but can't any more remember, and I got away safely, and walked a very long way in the dark, and finally came to a place where I used a pay phone and called my friend in London and said I was done. I had been on the road for about two months, living this alternative, radical, environmental, "community" life, and I wanted it to be right for me. I wanted it to be everything I believed in. But I was unsafe, and I finally admitted it, and I left -- first the Green Roadshow, and then the country. The only thing I remember doing when I got to London was going to a tea house and having "proper tea" -- black tea with milk and sugar. I remember that I savored it.
I was quite taken with the deep parallels between my 1985 journey and Taylor's play about his 1992 journey. The character Taylor plays admits toward the end of the march that he ate meat -- something I wouldn't do for another 2 years -- but for ideological little me, drinking tea was just as transgressive. It wasn't always safe for his characters, just like it wasn't always safe for me, but it taught me to tell myself the truth, and it did change me forever. A part of me is still the ideologue I was back then, so when Taylor creates a lobby full of radical love and connection, I say yes to his invitations, and I stand inches away from the glitter on Alex the creek's cheeks while he imagines Taylor on my arm, and now we'll always have those moments together, even after the henna fades.