tobias crabtree

defining lines; drawing and writing

Tag: brian foster


From where I sit, I can see through the black, metal railing to the pool. Beyond the pool the Gulf of Mexico spills out on the horizon as far as I can see. The fella I’ve been watching is probably 35 years old. He’s got a couple of kids, a boy and a girl, and they’re playing in the pool with their mama. The woman is a blonde with a build that reminds me of a mom from the midwest– a form that is simple and strong but not affected by beauty magazines. But it’s the father I’m watching. He’s watching from his wheelchair. He’s watching his son who is dressed in his little swimming outfit, a superman one-sy. The man is broken, it looks like paralysis from the chest down. He has a little blue tattoo of a surfboard in the middle of his back, between his shoulder blades. I am wondering. I can’t help it.

Three black hooded sea-gulls are heckling from the sign above the cheesy beach bar that is attempting some Carribean theme that is failing in every possible way. The little boy is asking his mama about how a television works. He wants to know if someone draws pictures that move and then puts them in the T.V. She is answering with words like “pixels” and “HD” and “plasma”. The little boy pushes on with more questions about how the things that seem real get inside the television and who puts them there and whether they are real or not. I am listening and loving these questions. I can’t answer them. I love things I cannot answer. Finally the lady says, “maybe ask dad, dad’s smart.” I am watching. The father speaks of how things used to be and how there were pictures that flashed in front of a light real fast and that made things that were still seem alive. He said this as he sat still in his wheelchair, and he was looking out at the Gulf. He said that now things are more digital, the still pictures are gone and have been replaced by small dots of color that are controlled by codes, that the dots imitate what is real. He is thin and white, he is in the shade of a palm tree. He is in board shorts and his slouch is one that cannot be straightened. It makes my back hurt to see him sitting like that.

I’m here with a bundle of athletes. They are all fighters. Dan Henderson is an old buddy, someone I would like even if he had never stepped into a cage. He’s an olympian that came from older blood. His toughness outruns his health in a lot of ways. His ears are wadded up and his profile looks like some cartoon exaggeration of a person who has been punched in the nose many, many times. Brian Foster is a fighter himself. He has come to prepare Dan for the fight. The fight, we found out last night, will not happen because of some kind of substance taken by his opponent. Things are not like the old days. My allegiance lies easily with the friend that is staying in the next room over — Dan is a good ol’ dude. But right now, while the fighters eat sushi, I am wondering about the heart of the man in the wheelchair by the pool. Car wreck? Surfing accident? A 3 martini trip down a flight of stairs? I dunno. He’s wiping his face with the towel his wife just gave him. She is sweet. She scruffs his chin with her hand and allows her fingers to linger on his collar. His eyes follow her as she walks off into the bar for a drink.

This morning I swam down the coast with the water flat and smooth, as if it were made of something heavier, like milk or blood. I swam strong and easy. I walked back on two serviceable feet (yeah, they click and clack and give off tiny pains, but they’re certainly good enough) and made coffee. Henderson’s fans were fluttering to and fro when he checked to see what we were up to. Poncho, the big, good natured Brazilian, was joking and laughing. Gonzo, the lean and wily cuss from Aspen, was already scheming some kind of plan that will be one part fun and two parts trouble. Heath was smirking at me. Foster had his coffee and his blue eyes were looking at me, and I understood the look, deeper than most, and that our existence here on this planet, together,  is not lost on him.

When I think about fortune, it is not in a usual form. It’s tough to say this without it sounding trite, but I do know I’m lucky. I am so privileged. I have a free and beating heart. I can buy a brick of cheese whenever I want. My Ma calls me and tells me she loves me. My body is strong enough to dance under the stars and run down long stretches of dirt road. And my mind is fishing for awareness. That in all this, there are lessons that matter.

And two of the seagulls have flown. The last is silent.

And the little boy in the superman swimsuit is sitting on his father’s lap.

And the father is still looking out at the Gulf. I wonder if he is looking forward or back. I hope the former.

Life Metaphorically

There’s this life. My buddy Jason Arbetter could tell you how life is like a river. Each submerged rock is a possible problem or a moment of play. Jason floats a kayak like I walk on two feet, and I walk like a boss. My buddy Hunter Dahlberg might tell you how life is like hot metal. How it takes work and attention and muscle and heart to make an elemental chunk of Iron (Fe) to become a wonderful tool or a handrail in a friend’s house to protect against a fall. My pal Gary Begley might tell you that life is like a wind current. It can’t be predicted and cannot be discouraged. It will continue on it’s own until it has curled out in even temps under the bows of the pines where the titmouse sings. If you fly, you must understand that you are a passenger and the wind is the conductor. The train rambles, you ride. My friend Tim Easton might say that life is a song. That the ideas exist before the words put them to use. That there is nothing which hasn’t been felt since hearts began beating and so songs are simply an homage to everything that has ever been felt. And sweet life is a song. My friend Paul Turecki might tell you that life is a stone, because stones are always waiting and they are basic and they hum with the sound of the beginning. Paul’s face is a stone. Old Brian Foster might say that life is a fight. That punches being thrown at your face are simply an offering. The fight is easy because you are living. The end is sad because it is over. Everything in the midst is life in wondrous animation full of blood and sweat and spit. Katherine Fontaine might say that life is a building. A structure with hallways and arches and doors. Pay attention to stress points and defects and old weather wearings. And there are views and lights in the distance and moss on the bricks and grains in the wood. My kid brother Josh sees life as endeavor. It’s what’s in front of you with nothing left out. It’s Mom’s broken washer, it’s Dad’s love of God, it’s the kids’ inner workings, it’s his wife’s love of dogs and his older brother long wanderings through the extra thick fog. I think Dave Kenneally sees life as a breath or a laugh, but really, what’s the difference? Kenneally laughs with his breath and breathes in his laughs.  Dave Muller sees life as a line. It might be the line from the crest of a wave on the very outer sunset (the outer outer sunset where civilization gives way to wilderness and voices drop off and dolphins braid lines in the waves underneath) and it might be the line in a drawing or the line at the door of his restaurant or the line of a song that he’s singing. He might say that life is a line…non-linearly. Elizabeth Luma sees life as a shape. Whether clay or the flowers or the clouds or the food on your plate, it’s a thing you can see…it’s right there in front of you, you might as well get to know it!

I am in awe of of the hearts of the ones that I love. (And I have left out a good many…this time around) The folks that see through all the metaphors and pay attention to life as it is. Life.

I’m with these folks. I believe what they believe. I am walking behind them all, making sure they make it. These kinds of folks make a difference. We are all just children of the universe. Remember to believe.

A Tattoo Parlor

The Inland Empire is a place all it’s own. When I first heard someone say it, I thought they were making it up and that it was some kind of inside joke. It sounds to me like some kind of place from a fantasy novel. Come to find out, it’s a term that’s used by the general inhabitants of the land. No fantasy involved. I’m not sure the extent of the Empire but it includes Riverside, Moreno Valley and San Bernardino as well as several other Socal cities. It’s generally defined as a place that is distinctly not LA. It has a tough personality. For years I’ve tattooed out of Moreno Valley and Riverside and I have a place in my heart for the average Inland Empire denizen. I’m a Colorado boy, born and raised at the foot of the Rockies. I did not grow up on the mean streets. I did not have to fight to survive in my private christian school. I learned about street justice and gang lingo by watching movies like Warriors and Colors and felt a little frightened when I thought about how I would fit in if I were to be suddenly tossed into the streets of Oakland. In other words, I grew up sheltered from the places like the Inland Empire.

Being a tattoo artist in an area certainly helps a person understand it’s demographics a little better. I worked at Inkaholics when I first started. Brian Foster was co-owner with an old cat named Tattoo Don. There was flash on the walls, floor to ceiling. Tough guys and hookers and gangsters and servicemen and other eclectics were among the clientele. It was an eye-opening time for me.

Now I visit Foster on a regular basis. He’s opened a new shop in Riverside and the evolution is incredible. He and I have changed. Our intentions are more deliberate. The bookshelves are filled with the words of philosophers, visionaries and mystics. The Elizabeth Street crew is kind and generous, the kind of people you are excited to see. There’s a contagious feeling among fervent artists who practice and share. I plug in and recharge and learn. It’s cool.

I tend to see the things I write in picture form. The world, to me, begs to be drawn. And so I draw. I like to take it in, let it filter, and then turn it loose again. Among the things I observe, there are way more things that are hidden. These hidden things are telling stories that affect the more obvious stuff. When I draw, I am trying to tell the story and hint that there is more to the world than what is directly observable. To allow the wonder to be. And when I write, my intent is to draw pictures with words and give your mind a chance to walk down between the trees and turn over a rock or two just to see what might be living there. I don’t want to use $50 words that cause anyone to stumble, I’d rather use the language that is the easiest to latch onto, so that we can feel something together.

Simply, when I write, I’m trying to draw pictures with my words. And when I draw, I’m trying to tell stories with my pictures. If there could be a final product it would put us in the same place either way — in the middle of being human. Being human and humanly being. We are Beings. We are action verbs. We are wonderers and wanderers; explorers inside and out. Be kind to the mysteries, they need us just like we need them!

I hope this wasn’t too far out there. I don’t want you to think I’m weird…I want you to know it for sure.

Thanks for reading my junk.

Post script :

Elizabeth Street Tattoo is located in Riverside, California. It is a grand collective of artist from diverse backgrounds. Should you ever want a tattoo, or visit with cool people, I’d suggest you go there. They are not normal, they are extra-ordinary. If you know how to look for things on the world wide web, you’ll find them. If not, contact me, I still answer to smoke signals and morse code.  


feats of strength. i grew up around them. my dad is an old school strong man. he hung out with some of the original strong men. dudes like paul anderson, who looked like a human bowling ball, were pretty commonplace around my neck of the woods. i saw paul blow a hot water bottle up with his mouth and pick up a table with 8 men sitting on it. my dad did stuff too, like, he did a handstand on a plank that was anchored to the top of a 15 foot ladder. and once he walked down the entire flight of 20-some stairs on his hands, all the while talking to a chuckling congregation about the strength of samson, the nazarite, one of god’s judges. i wouldn’t have said it, but i was bored during most church services as a kid. i just wasn’t cut out to sit through a shit ton of messages all talking about how much i was gonna pay for sinning. but you mention some strong guy (a tarzan of the bible) and i was all ears. that one story about samson getting all worked up and snatching up the jawbone of an ass and laying waste to hundreds of men was awesome. i mean, that was my fix, i didn’t even need to use my imagination for that.

time. time is the measurement we use to tell how long we’ve been kickin’ and how much longer we’ll go for.  time has passed since those days in church with my old man yucking it up. i always couldn’t wait to grow up and be strong like my dad. i was really gonna go to the gym and crank off some reps with several hundred pounds over my head.

never happened. my body is lean. my dad’s a barrel. i must’a caught some of them older genes way back in the choctaw strain. i’m a small dude and i don’t fool myself about pushing heavy weights anymore. i run and move through the upper branches of trees and don’t leave much of a mark in the wet sand even on my heavy days. in some ways, though, i’m still affiliated with them strong men of that other age.

today is january 17.  strong man, brian foster, was born on this day about 38 years ago.  i doubt i’ll ever meet someone tougher than foster. i’ve had a chance to add him up through the years. we’ve done miles of swimming together. we’ve walked hundreds of miles for sure. when he started his mixed martial arts career, i sat in the basement of some building and watched him exchange fisticuffs with big angry men that made me wonder about things like brain damage. foster didn’t fight so he could carry around a trophy, he would say that he was just curious. i’m not joking. i always worried some, but then he’d look at me and smirk right as he stepped in the cage and he’d say something like, “life is so good, ain’t it tobe?” damn, that just amazed me. and through the years i’ve seen him mark his face up. when the injuries from all the wars began to wear on him, he stopped. no big deal. nothing to prove. his jaw is about as thick as a brick and his forehead makes me believe that neanderthal’s probably did inter-breed with homo sapiens. his blonde hair is cropped close to his skull and his skull holds the mind that causes his squinty, blue eyes to shine. and man, they shine. we laugh at one another when we are hurting. our lives have run pretty damn parallel with equal amounts of crashing and burning. neither of us hear well anymore, probably from lying next to one another, crackin’ off shots, as we sited in our m40’s. we learned to count on one another in sniper school and it has lasted a lifetime. sure wasn’t like the movies though, more like real life, i’d say. not a lot of folks have tested their friendships by lying still in a cold mud hole for 24 hours, but we did more than once. we also laughed a good bit, which is cool because the other stuff sucked.

i was running under the big ol’ cypress trees in golden gate park today. i was running to the sea. now and then my body feels like i haven’t aged a day since i was in my 20’s, of course, it’s not a true report. i have aged. but today was one of the good ones. i tacked on a couple more miles and pitched my body up another of the winding paths. in a little clearing i saw the wag of a redtail hawk in the top of a big ol’ ponderosa. i slowed a bit and watched the big bird drop from it’s perch, wings folded, and down and down. i even saw him turn his wondrous head and thread between branches and then wings open and then go into a long, low swing. he was just overhead as he passed me, so easy. i saw his feathers and the white and the speckling grey, the burnt orange to red. i saw the auburn glint from those eyes. for just that second i saw the black center of his hawking eye turn onto me. and he looked at my eyes and i looked into his. and i know that he could see like i can’t even imagine so i wonder how far into me he looked and maybe he looked clean through today and saw the moments that hang suspended in tomorrow. maybe he saw far enough to see the suns that will shine on the last of me. and he eased on past, all feathered and taloned and beaked, then up into the top of another of those awesome trees. so i ran on down. and i felt my heart clunking with the rhythm of my feet. and this old heart of mine is amazingly fine, with all it’s brokenness and all it’s wastedness.

i don’t want to dread what’s left of this life. i don’t want to fear the things to come. i see the ones that fight the passage of time. the men who don’t accept the loss of strength. the women who try to buy back the vigor of youth. all that bullshit  face stretching and pulling. the plumping of lips. all sexes at odds with the implacability of time. we are vain little creatures, us humans. our vanity cries out wickedly. to me it sounds like dragging brush from the back of a pickup truck. the sadness lies in the fact that while we scratch and claw to stay young, the wonder of life is rolling past. the answer lies in the living. the grandest of all is available to us throughout life, not just in our weird little pretty youth.

and so, i run. i run with time. and there is a slowing in the movements that are not so unlike a floating hawk or a cruising shark; neither fast nor slow, but perfect in the midst. and i clench my old jawbone and i lengthen my stride. bring on the rest…let’s run.