The Tattoo

The Tattoo

by Chris Mckinney


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“A book about ‘the sins of the fathers.’ . . . A gritty, troubling book.”—The Honolulu Advertiser

“The other Hawai’i, the one tourists never get to see.”—Ian MacMillan

Ken Hideyoshi is the new guy in Halawa Correctional Institute. He’s tough looking, a hard case, observes his cellmate Cal—the mute tattoo artist of the prison, a wife murderer. SYN, a gang symbol, is tattooed on his hand, and he has a Japanese emblem inscribed on his left shoulder. He asks Cal for a tattoo on his back, in kanji script, of Musashi’s Book of the Void.

While he is being worked on, he tells Cal his life story, a tale of hardship and abuse. Motherless, he was raised by a distant father, a Vietnam War veteran, in the impoverished hinterlands. In his teen years he hung out with the native Hawaiian gangs and was drawn into the Hawaiian-Korean underworld of strip bars and massage parlors. His ambition and proud samurai spirit seem, inevitably, to lead to his downfall.

Chris McKinney is of Korean, Japanese, and Scottish descent. He was born in Honolulu and grew up in Kahaluu. He portrays the native Hawaiian experience from the inside, where children of mixed ethnicity grow up far from the clear water and pristine beaches of the rich visitors’ resorts.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781569474501
Publisher: Soho Press, Incorporated
Publication date: 04/01/2007
Pages: 256
Sales rank: 1,144,866
Product dimensions: 5.50(w) x 8.25(h) x 0.50(d)
Age Range: 14 - 18 Years

About the Author

Chris McKinney is the author of The Tattoo and Bolohead Row. He is of Korean, Japanese, and Scottish descent. Born in Honolulu and raised in Kahaluu, he portrays the native Hawaiian experience from the inside, where children of mixed ethnicity grow up far from the clear water and pristine beaches of the rich visitors' resorts. He received both his BA and MA in English from the University of Hawaii and currently teaches at Honolulu Community College.

Read an Excerpt


"I'm nobody's child, I'm nobody's child, Just like a flower, I'm growing wild. No mama's kisses, and no daddy's smiles, nobody wants me, I'm nobody's child."

Nobody's Child



My father told me I was a C-section baby cut out during the summer of sixty-nine. Tripler Hospital. The Year of the Rooster. Like Macduff, I was from my mother's womb untimely ripp'd. I imagine my birth differently. I was not born in some pristine-pink military hospital alongside white and black G.I. babies. The only gook-looking baby in the germ-free nursery. I was delivered in purgatory. A soul not going up or down. Only me. It was a room with walls covered in aged blood. My mother lay unconscious, stirruped in the middle of the room, while my father and the doctor worriedly gazed above her. As the doctor readied himself to make an incision, beads of sweat dripped from his head and fell upon my mother's ripe stomach. As the droplets rolled off my mother's round abdomen, I surprised everyone. Nobody had to cut me out of her peach belly. I am samurai. Momotaro. Not baby out of stomach, but rooster out of egg. I see it now ...

I slice my way out of my mother's womb armed with the Hideyoshi family katana. Aiahhh! There's actually a moment when I fence with the doctor's scalpel. Don't cut Ma. Blood gushes out of her. It doesn't stop. A flood. Soon my father and the doctor are waist-deep in her blood. I am armed with my father's sword and armored by my mother's blood. I am not naked. I see my father. He's wearing one of those doctor masks, the cheap elastic arms hug the back of his head. He doesn't like what he sees, and he knows the mask will not protect him from my infection. He fears the sword which he once wielded. He takes a step back. There is anger on my child-face, deadness in my ancient eyes. My father gains his composure. He picks me up and throws me into the pool, which was once a room. I sink. The ripples I leave subside. The surface is like crimson glass, unbroken, unshattered. My father wonders whether I can survive, whether I am worth keeping.

Suddenly I float up, face first. My body is like a single drop disturbing the entire pool. My new presence catalyzes waves, breakers. I stare at my father. After the first set washes over my infant body, he sees that the sword is imbedded in my belly. My father and the doctor step back in horror. My mother is still asleep. This is where the vision of my birth ends.

I know it couldn't have possibly gone this way. I remember being a scared child, the kind that has to be dragged kicking and screaming onto an amusement park roller coaster ride. Not a rooster, but a chicken. I wasn't born with a warrior's spirit. I don't really know when it was, but at some point in my life the fear began to seep out of my pores, like a rigorous flow of sweat, and I rehydrated my dried flesh with the salty concoction of hate and pride. What is a warrior, after all, without these weapons? Unarmed, naked. A warrior must hate his enemy. He must feel that his enemy is not only trying to strip him of his life, but his honor as well. This is the only way that one can destroy without remorse, instead to destroy with pleasure. The volatile potion is the only thing that can neutralize the disease of fear. Damn fear.

Did you know my name isn't really Ken? It's Kenji. Supposedly I was named after my father's grandfather, the first Hideyoshi who came to Hawai'i. I think it's a crock. My father probably named me Kenji just to make sure the kids in school kicked my ass every other day. Fucking Dad. I remember the first day of kindergarten. Roll call. "Kenji Hideyoshi?" The other kids stopped picking their noses and looked up. "Kenji?" they all said in unison. Fucking Hawaiians. It took the samurai in me years to beat the name "Ken" into their goddamn heads. Like I said, I was a scared kid, weak, I'd throw up in airplanes, I was afraid of the ocean. My house in Ka'a'awa was right across the street from the beach.

My father, I think, pulled most of the fear out of me. In fact, he transplanted the hate. Armed with the scalpel-katana, he cut my cranium open and removed the malignant tumor of fear. Lobotomy. Exorcism. He spit on the hole and sewed me right up. The fertile saliva blossomed red.

Or sometimes I'd see him like a man with syringes for arms. With his left syringe-arm, he would jab me in the head and suck out the fluids of fear. With the other syringe-arm, he would puncture my chest and in would flow the antidote. My father was no southpaw. Straight up, classical boxer. Jab, jab, overhand right. Jab, double left hook, K.O. right hook. He was a good boxer. He taught me what I had to know. I learned how to take and throw a man-sized punch. I was never the surgeon that he was, though, never as calculating and controlled. But at the end I was better, stronger, faster, younger, crazier. There comes a point in combat when you realize you are willing to give up your life to win. Nothing else matters. You see death for a better fate than defeat.

I suppose an example of a jab from my father was when he threw me into the ocean when I was about three. I didn't know how to swim, hated the water, and he threw me right in. "Eh, you betta learn fo' swim arready. We live by da beach, what if you drown?"

I refused to go in. How the fuck could I drown when I wouldn't even go near the water? In the tub? Why wasn't he concerned about my drowning as he forced me into the waves? I learned at an early age to keep my questions to myself. He wouldn't have it, a scaredy-cat kid afraid of the water. For him, my death would be better. He picked me up, lifted me over his head, and threw me about seven feet in. He hadn't checked the tide. The water was about two feet deep. I fell softly on the hard, rock surface, like only kids can, no torn ligaments from the landing, no sprained ankles. It was the closest to cat-like I ever got. My father was furious. I don't really know why, but I was no longer afraid of the water. Now it was just deep water that petrified me.

This was one of his jabs. It sucked a little fear out, and I don't think I hated him for it. Shit, I can imagine some of the haoles on the mainland. "Oh, it was so traumatic! I'm scarred for the rest of my life! Oh, I won't go near the water!" Fucking haoles. Spoiled-rotten, easy living, sick suburbia, white- picket fence mother-fuckers. I can't believe these are the same people we worship in the movies. The heroes! Gibson, Costner, Ford, Cruise. White men who can outrun explosions and fire, the Devil himself:"Oh, I do most of my own stunts, until it gets a little too dangerous."

Fuck you! My whole life has been one stunt after another, fight sequences, car chases, run-for-your-life action. They should cast someone like me in their high-budget action movies. A crazy Japanee who doesn't give a fuck. A guy ready to stop running, turn around, and face the red. A guy that's his own man, his own shrink.

* * *

My second bout with the ocean happened a year later. When I was about four, my family went camping at Kualoa Beach Park. This was before there was that huge parking lot, before you needed a permit to pitch your tents. This stretch of yellow sand, the left cheek of the mouth of Kaneohe Bay, was open to all. My father and uncles, with their sons, captained their little flat- bottom boats from Kahaluu, which was a few miles away, while my mother, the daughters, and the aunties made the short drive from Ka'a'awa with most of the camping supplies. I was a son, and despite my mother's arguments with my father, her saying,"He's too young," my father still demanded that I go on the boat.

I stood in front of the boat ramp. The concrete slab inclining into the water was cracked and broken. There was moss on the lower part of the ramp, and I was afraid I'd slip and fall. My father held on to the bow of the fiberglass boat and waved me toward him. My father's friend from the army, Sonny Fernandez, and his son, Junior Boy, were already onboard. Uncle Sonny was showing Junior Boy how to pull the cord to start the outboard engine. I walked toward the brown water. When I took my first step off the ramp, my foot sank into a thick patch of mud. When I managed to pull my foot out, everyone laughed because I had lost a slipper. My father shook his head, picked me up by the shirt, and lifted me into the boat.

It amazes me now that I think about it that I was never afraid of being on the boat. Yes, the thought of being in the water petrified me, but somehow the small fiberglass craft always seemed like land to me. My father, controlling the twenty-five horsepower Johnson outboard engine, fearlessly charged the small waves of Kaneohe Bay. The bow rose above the surface and when it descended and slapped a wave, the salty water sprayed up and showered our hot faces. It was refreshing and it felt safe. It was strange that I didn't feel fear.

By the time we got to the campsite, the women and their daughters had much of the gear set up. The thin stretch of sand turned into a sparse forest of pine trees and dirt. Thousands of little poky acorns about the size of marbles were spread across the ground. Not knowing any better, I jumped out of the boat and charged the campsite to look for my mother. I stepped on one of the acorns and my knee buckled. I cried out. The older kids, the daughters included, laughed and said I had "haole feet." As the older kids and adults pitched the tents, the younger children held in their pain and trained their feet to endure the acorns like the older kids and parents did. After the tents were up and the blue tarp was roofing the make-shift kitchen and dining area, the men, along with an older son or two, prepared to take the two boats out and lay their monofilament fish nets. Before they went to wall off a section of the Bay, they said they'd return for dinner.

Junior Boy was depressed because his father didn't let him go with them. He was about a year older than me, chubbier, but Uncle Sonny just told him he'd get in the way. Both of us were left on the beach watching the boats get smaller. "Was that your first time on a boat?" I asked.

He laughed. "No way, I was on boats choke times. Shit, I went help my fadda pull up da nets jus' last week."

"Yeah," I said, "I think my dad took me plenty times before when I was real young. Even before he taught me how to swim."

"Me too, me too."

Just then a sand crab scurried in front of us. It ran to the edge of the water. It was smaller than a marble. Junior Boy ran after it. He slapped his hand over the crab and grabbed a handful of sand. He walked back to me with his dark fist clenched and I watched as he sifted out the crab. It was hard to find because the color of its tiny shell was the same color as the sand. Finally its two eyes protruded. Junior Boy grinned. "Hey Kenji, go get one cup from your madda so we can keep 'um."

I ran to my mother. She was squatting in front of the shore, rinsing off cooking utensils. I told her I needed a cup so that I could catch crabs with Junior Boy. She grabbed my hand and we walked back toward the campsite. Uncle Sonny's wife, Aunty Jana, said, "Hey no bodda your madda too much." My mother told Aunty Jana not to worry and when the sand ended and the acorns began, she lifted me into her arms. Her bare feet squashed down on the poky acorns. Aunty Jana shook her head.

Instead of giving me a cup, my mother gave me an empty glass gallon jar. She patted me on the butt and said, "Don't wander too far." I smiled and ran towards the beach. When I reached the acorns, I slowed down and looked back. My mother smiled and waved me forward. My face flinched with each step, but I made it through.

Junior Boy and I caught about ten crabs that day. When our fathers returned, Junior Boy proudly presented the gallon bottle to Uncle Sonny. Uncle Sonny rubbed Junior Boy's curly brown hair. "Ken helped, too," Junior Boy said. My father looked at me and said, "Right on." I walked back to the campsite to see what my mother was doing.

When I found her, she was sitting on a lawn chair reading a book. She had a blanket wrapped around her. It was getting dark, so she had a lantern by her. She looked up from her book and called me over. She pulled me toward her and sat me on her lap. She wrapped the blanket around us. "What are you doing?" I asked.

"I'm reading a play by a man named William Shakespeare."

"What is it called?"

"It's titled, Macbeth."

"What is it about?"

"Oh, nothing. I'm reading it for school. My students are going to have to read it, so I have to brush up."

I crinkled my brow. "But you're the teacher."

She laughed. "Even high school teachers have to study."

"But you're smart."

My father came and stood in front of us. His face was turning red from the mixture of sunlight and Miller Lite. "How you feeling, Shar?"

"Better than yesterday, hopefully better tomorrow," she answered.

He bent down and kissed her on the cheek. "Don't baby da kid too much. He gotta be tough. You know dat. Right, Ken? You goin' be tough."

I nodded. My mother smiled. "He's right," she said, "you gotta be tough."

I flexed my arm at them and they both laughed. "I goin' pick up da net," he said. "So what, you goin' let me take da kid too?"

My mother's arms wrapped tighter around me. "Hell no."

* * *

My father shook his head and sighed. He and Uncle Sonny picked up a cooler filled with beer and walked toward the boat.

Through the hours they were gone, I spent half the time listening to my mother read me parts of Treasure Island, and when I got restless, I spent the other half looking for crabs with Junior Boy. We got flashlights from our mothers and scoured the beach. The crabs were harder to catch at night. Whenever they saw our lights, they charged into the small shore break. The white water washed over them and most of the time, when the water washed back out, the crabs were gone. Junior Boy and I were at it for hours, though. We weren't satisfied until we had twenty crabs.

After we'd caught our twentieth crab, Junior Boy and I saw the lanterns on the bows of the boat get closer. We shined our flashlights toward the water and waited. As the hum of the outboard engines grew louder, Junior Boy said, "I hope dey caught sharks." I shivered. I hated sharks.

My father and uncles brought the boat into shore. It was very late, early morning in fact, when we heard the boat buzzing in from the darkness. A couple of seconds after the engine was killed, the boat's nose slid up the sand. My father and two uncles jumped out of the craft and pushed the boat further up the beach. I heard the grains of sand rub against the fiberglass hull. I waited farther back on shore than Junior Boy, afraid of the water, especially at night. Gone was the transparency of the ocean surface, it was now black where the lantern light didn't touch it.

After the boat was secured, the men began to throw their catch out onto the sand, showing the children their trophies, showing their children what men they were. All sorts of fish were caught in the net. Mullet, weke, awa'awa, omaka, papio and lai were thrown into a pile. A separate pile was made for the biggest rubbish fish in the ocean — sharks.

When my father began throwing the baby hammerheads out of the boat, I took a step back. They weren't big, ranging maybe from one foot to two, but I hated their mutated heads and I associated them with their much larger parents. The last thing my father threw out of the fiberglass boat was a tiger shark, about three feet long and still alive, flapping as soon as it landed on the sand. Though it wasn't as ugly as the hammerheads, it looked more dangerous, with its large mouth and its hydrodynamic body. There was a lot of kick to it and, with each jump, its entire body cleared the ground. My father stepped out of the boat with a small bat in his hand. I looked back toward the tents and was comforted when I saw my mother walking toward us.

The next thing I knew, my father scooped me in one of his arms and was walking toward the baby tiger, which, after its first several leaps, had stopped moving. My father put me down a couple of feet away from the shark. "Touch it," he said.

I shook my head violently and took a step back.

"Touch it," he repeated, beer fumes shooting toward my face.

Again I looked back for my mother. She was still far away, and I looked up at my father. I felt like one of those sand crabs Junior Boy and I had caught. I felt like I was scurrying in the palm of my father's hand. "It's still alive," I said. "It might bite me."

My father shook his head. He took a step toward the shark. He leaned over and hit the shark on the head twice with the bat. It lay still. He stepped toward me. "Now touch it."

I refused again and again looked back. Mom was getting really close.

Then I felt my father's thick fingers wrap around my forearm. He squeezed hard and it hurt. He stepped me up to the tiger and forced my hand on its back, right above the dorsal. It felt cold. It felt like a flexible layer of rubber, like a slightly flattened basketball. I began to cry. The shark jumped and my father pulled me back. I was hyperventilating. I heard the laughter of my uncles and cousins in the background. Junior Boy's chubby face was scrunched up in laughter. My father began to howl loudly, too.


Excerpted from "The Tattoo"
by .
Copyright © 1999 Mutual Publishing Company.
Excerpted by permission of Soho Press, Inc..
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents

Chapter Two KOA,
Chapter Four SUPERNOVA,

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4.8 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 13 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Sir_Schmidt More than 1 year ago
This is a must-read book, especially if you're living in Hawaii. The fictional character, Hideyoshi, is real, as are his associates (one whom I knew). His story is realal and provides not only an inside look at life from a "sins of our fathers" perspective, but also a very real and dangerous look at life of vice in paradise, a vice still prevalent today in the seedy and sordid world of human trafficking, drugs, gangs, gambling and the inter-relationships.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
bj81187 More than 1 year ago
I first read this book while in highschool in hawaii. I was born on the mainland, and from an outsider's point of view this read was eye opening. It shows that living in "paradise" isn't what so many people think it would be. I have reread this in the last few years , and it never gets old. A great read for anyone.
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Guest More than 1 year ago
This book was the greatest book iv'e read so far.It talks about what certain people don't usually see when they come to Hawai'i and how they think it's different then living in the mainland. Talks about what we go through and how we feel.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I have just finished this book and I am so very glad there is someone out there with the writing skills to take me back to the old days of growing up in Hawaii. The story line made me laugh out loud, shed a tear, and most of all made me remember how Hawaii and the residence are and will be for a very long time. The moral of the story was so true for alot of locals growing up and being limited to the outside world. I understood and felt the "trapness" of being a child raised in Hawaii.U Have to read this book!
Guest More than 1 year ago
Chris Mckinney's book is a story about real life Hawaii. The story is great that leads up to a suprising end! I could not put the book down from start to finish.
Guest More than 1 year ago
If you grew up in Hawaii, this is a great book to read, written by a local. It totally captures the way local people act/think/feel. Not for tourists.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Chris Mckinney has done a wonderful job in showing a different side of Hawaii. He shows there's more to Hawaii then just paradise. Great book!!!
Guest More than 1 year ago
This is not a book for those that envision Hawaii as the romantic no care type of world. This is real life and living of Hawaii. Too many times the characters took me back to a childhood of memories that I still remember as one being full of love, laughter and sorrow. Locals you gotta read!!! Even the Pidgin English looks and sounds real---READ IT!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
Guest More than 1 year ago
Set in contemporary Hawaii, The Tattoo reveals a side of paradise not usually seen as it traces the life of Ken Hideyoshi, a young man with a troubled past. Far from the sunny beaches and crystal blue ocean, Ken's world is one of mud shores and polluted waters. Drawn into Hawaii's underworld, with its hostess bars and strip clubs, Ken falls in love with the daughter of a powerful Korean woman, who is a crime boss and flesh peddler. His struggle to control his 'samurai spirit' and find truth is a gripping tale.