I met Dante Smith around 1994.
He was a disgruntled waiter in an Italian Restaurant I cooked at in Ames. It was a greasy little outfit; not in the sense that the food was slimy but for the fact it was run like a Marxist commune. The bar (which was never busy) was on the ground floor, and then to get to the dining area one had to climb three flights of stairs. Usually by the time the public got to the food service level they were so beat down and tired that they required several minutes of rest to catch their breath before continuing on into the dining room. The owners knew this, and they posted the daily specials on a dainty little chalkboard for the weary public to read while they let their lungs catch up with them.
Now, the owners... I mentioned that they ran the place like a Marxist commune, and that is not an exaggeration. They based their menu from ideas they got during their world travels, which consisted mostly of gay cruises and twice-monthly trips to France. They used menu phrases like: A bouquet of fried cheese nuggets saddled next to a luscious ranch dipping sauce... Which sounds great if you are reading a poetry book, but doesn't fit tie in so well when you are bringing mom and dad out for supper. Dad is already looking around the room surreptitiously wondering about the menu's spelling of Poo Poo Platter (not Pu Pu Platter as it is traditionally spelled). Of course you reap what you sow, and you can imagine the pretentious customer base that frequented this restaurant. Pretentious, yes. And by the time they got to their seat, they were very tired, and therefore cranky.
|Pu Pu Platter|
Which brings us back to Dante.
Dante was the greatest waiter in the world. He served the tables with such elegance and precision that one would have thought he had gone to college to learn his finely crafted art. He was extremely polite with his guests, and handled each customer with a delicate grace never seen since, nor before by my eyes. He was the quiescential professional, seemingly never phased no matter how outlandish the customer's demands... Until he got out of earshot of the customer in the sanctuary of the kitchen. Once there he would mutter off a trail of obscenities that would make Yosemite Sam blush, usually to the delight of us who who working the line.
Imagine the scenario if you can...
Dante serving the table: "Why yes of course ma'am. I'd be happy to bring you some ketchup for your fried Calamari."
A few seconds later out of customer earshot in the kitchen: "These fucking assholes! Who puts ketchup on squid?!"
Back at the table: "Here you go Ma'am. Your choice of ketchup as your dipping sauce is most excellent."
From a cooks standpoint, we loved Dante. He was one of us... A regular blue collar Joe working to please the white collar supremacy. He and I became great friends and outside of work we shared many interests, mainly music. He was into the heavy scene; loved bands like W.A.S.P. and Iron Maiden, and had a pretty decent collection of punk rock records. He played a wicked bass guitar (still does) and when he would get rolling he could do this thing where he'd whip his long black hair into a frenzied circle as he beat his bass strings. Ironically it was Dante' who turned me on to the great Junior Brown. He opened many musical doors for me.
|Dante and myself in Chicago, 1998|
He was well read too... His book collection was way beyond my mental capacity, with writings by Marx, Alighieri, Dostoevsky, Tolstoy, and Poe to name a few.
One of the greatest lines ever used (I still use it on occasion) came from Dante when he was involved in an argument with a young waitress: "What... I read Nietzsche and I wouldn't understand your feeble mind?" She was essentially telling him that her "problems" were so vast that he "wouldn't understand."
Dante was a great guy to pal around with especially in college town filled with ego-centric twenty somethings who all honestly believed that they held a stake in the future of our world... We didn't take ourselves very seriously, and had a lot of fun usually at somebody else's expense. Together we were a force to be reckoned with... A two-man wrecking ball... And many times we brought a party to it's knees by our unpredictable shenanigans, only to walk away as the walls crumbled behind us.
Eventually Dante and I moved from Ames in different directions and for many years I never heard from him. Still though, the stories would still be told and the memories would be re-lived. I would honestly say that Ames has never been the same since we left... And I have friends who would testify to that.
Fast forward to the modern day...
Dante now lives in Temeculah, California and is a well established tattoo artist. He has always made incredible art work, and it seems natural that he is doing what he does. He has the personality for it for sure... Plus the know-how and he is smart enough to incorporate his work into a rigorous travel schedule which allows him to hone his craft as far away as Amsterdam and as close to us here in Iowa. When he sent me a message saying that he was returning to Des Moines for a couple of weeks, I knew I had to make some time to go see my old friend. I had never wanted to get a tattoo before, but I couldn't think of a better way to guarantee some time with Dante, especially with his and my own busy schedules.
So I called Pink Elephant Tattoo on Ingersoll Avenue and set up an appointment. Naturally I decided to get a tat of Bigfoot, and Dante was more than accommodating. Though several years had passed since our last meeting, seeing Dante again was as fresh an experience as one could imagine, with both of us picking up where we left off like no time had elapsed at all. I was amazed how effortlessly he did his job, and how fast he was able to accomplish art work that would have taken me a couple of days. I was finished in about 45 minutes, and I was completely unaware that he had gotten as far as he had... I was thinking he was still working on the outline.
"Go look in the mirror, and tell me what you think," he said.
I turned around to see my new ink that was boldly branded on my right shoulder. It was awesome... Just like I imagined it would be. It looks virtually like the Bigfoot images from the Patterson footage shot at Bluff Creek in 1967. Instantly I fell in love with tattoos... They say it's an addiction and I get that now. I already have plans for Dante to "finish" the tattoo the next time he comes around, perhaps with my Bigfoot walking on the lunar surface, or as he suggested, in a mall. Either way, it will be epic. I wasn't Dante's first tattoo by a long shot... But he did say I was his first tattoo of Bigfoot.
Seeing Dante again was great, even if it was only for a couple of hours. Some people come into your life and not only make a personal difference in how you see things, but sometimes they also help shape you into the person that you have become. As it turns out, several years after our exploits in the streets of Ames, I am seeing that Dante is one of these people. I am better for knowing him, and can't imagine the void that would be there had I not. We are growing old fast... And it's better to burn out than to fade a way.
|Dante and myself 2010|