Mastodon Self-Portrait as Dennis Hopper’s Frank Booth from Blue Velvet

Self-Portrait as Dennis Hopper’s Frank Booth from Blue Velvet














After turning on the television one sleepless early

summer night, I realized that many of the sounds

I make, as a result of having Tourette Syndrome,

are insane from-the-gut grunts and hollers, like

the sounds Dennis Hopper’s Frank Booth character

makes in Blue Velvet. It’s not endearing. Like

Frank Booth himself, it’s strange, disturbing,

what Tourette’s on its casual days persuades me,

and on its ruthless business days requires me to do:

the sudden motions that look like dance moves

from a ballet about senseless violence, the occasional

unprompted obscene advice I give to strangers,

my tendency (a symptom that often goes along

with Tourette’s like a best friend for life) to obsess.

Obsess on the remote possibility that the most ghastly

accident, heretofore asymptomatic sociopathic killer,

or natural disaster may be steps, moments,

or a simple opening of the bathroom door

at a fast food restaurant away. Luckily, I don’t

scream random obscenities on the street,

another symptom that occurs, but not that often,

though I will at times say or do what’s mildly

inappropriate. Like stare at a beautiful woman’s

nose hairs, a stare that’s interpreted by the woman

as an act of chauvinistic aggression,

an indication that I might be about to say

the sort of thing Frank Booth says in the movie, like

What’s your name, neighbor? or Baby wants to fuck,

ha ha ha. Though I am actually a rather kind and

considerate man who doesn’t like to complain, I often

do. Still, as far as diseases go, Tourette’s is both

a good and bad thing to have, with the bad being

the things I’ve just mentioned and the good being

that Tourette’s is never going to kill me. But

because of that, people tend not to take it seriously,

because if a disease doesn’t kill, it must be

a weak, ineffectual disease that a person

of greater inner resources would shrug off

or swat away like a gnat. Or it’s something akin

to a fifty dollar ticket for speeding, whereas

a real disease would be a death sentence so

shouldn’t I stop all this fucking complaining,

fucker? I am not a violent, sadistic, brute

like Frank Booth, just a person who regularly

makes ridiculous noises and moves in ridiculous

ways. Someone who could never build a house—

I’d just end up screaming at the nails, the two

by fours, and every fucking thing that isn’t

fucking going right in building that fucking house.

Someone who on occasion will call a horrible person

a horrible name, though horrible people aren’t

the only people I call horrible names—whether

a person is good or bad, I have a terrible name

for that person, and an image, like from a funhouse

mirror that indicates my essential lack of respect.

But in dreams I walk the way other people walk,

straight and steadily, my arms swinging without effort

by my side, talking to strangers about sports or

about the weather or about the house I’m building

with my own hands. And I see feathered wings,

a calming sea green light, a bright red stripe painted

upon the side of an old wooden boat—but not all

the time. To me, a mind that always thinks

of proper actions and is prepared to think

only peaceful thoughts is a mind that will one day

explode. When I contort my face, or suddenly

shrug my right shoulder, I am neither winking

self-consciously, nor nudging someone

in an attempt to help them understand

a clown’s joke. And through tense afternoons

in open spaces, long waits in line at the store,

I cannot put my disease in you, and I am

bloated then thin through all this, my hands

like bricks pounding my sides until late, because

the clown is candy-colored, and it is night.

-Jose Padua


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