A Portrait of Steve-O's Steve-O Tattoo as the Picture of Dorian Gray

The more I stare at his image on the TV screen, the less he looks like a forty-eight-year-old.

A Portrait of Steve-O's Steve-O Tattoo as the Picture of Dorian Gray

by Elia Karra

Steve-O looks at the camera with that same, boyish smile I saw for the first time twenty-two years ago. It’s strange. Unnerving, even. In that time, I have gained two feet, eighty pounds, and a few gray hairs. He has remained unchanged, as though he’s about to step into the set and tightrope over alligators with a piece of meat hanging from his ass. 

The more I stare at his image on the TV screen, the less he looks like a forty-eight-year-old. His cheeks are plump, youth-pink. His skin is taught and smooth despite the years of stunts. Despite the years, period. I don’t know how I never noticed before, how I saw him but never saw him. Has no one else noticed either? Has no one realized he is not an echo, but a snapshot of himself from 2002, perpetually frozen in time?

When the video ends, I scour the internet for more. I look at pictures of him for hours. I scrutinize the footage until the sun dips under the horizon and then rises once more, until my eyes burn and water, and my mother yells at me to get out of the house. There is no denying it. He hasn’t aged a day.

Or maybe I’m losing my mind. Maybe I’ve been looking at his face for so long that all the images have merged, creating a perfect idol of the Average Steve-O, neither young nor old. 

I must find out the truth, so I take a plane to Los Angeles the following day. On the way there, I dream of the smile I saw on TV, now complete with a set of sharp fangs. A bloodied mouth is nothing new for him, but the hunger in his eyes is, and I startle awake just as we land in LAX. The man at the passport control counter asks what the purpose of my visit is. I tell him I’ll know it when I see it.

In Los Angeles, I send Steve-O an email from the motel room. It goes unanswered, one day, then another. I eat candy from the vending machine and chew ice until my teeth hurt. I shower in rust and mildew, count my money to see how long it’ll last. A few more days, maybe. A week if I stop spending so much on rented copies of Jackass and Wildboyz.

I can’t wait for him to respond. It’s a good thing that there can’t be that many Stephen Gilchrist Glovers in the world, let alone in Los Angeles. Finding him is easier than I thought, and in a few hours, I have his number. It takes a few more hours of pondering what to say. I know your secret. I need to know the truth. In the end, I settle for why don’t you age? The response is almost instant. He wants to know who I am. He wants to see me.

We meet at a dive bar. The floors are coated in beer and sweat, and my soles stick to it like flies. When I get there, he has already ordered. One drink for him, one for me, a bowl of chips in the middle, but he’s not touching any of it. Only when I take a seat next to him does he reach for a handful of chips, shoves it all in his mythical mouth.

From up close, he looks even younger. His eyes sparkle with familiar mischief, and there are no fine lines around them, no creases on his forehead. An eternal boy outside of time.

“I know the truth,” I say, though it’s not the truth. His smile drips sympathy and Coors Light. 

“What do you think you know?” he says. 

I never thought it would be easy to get to the bottom of it, but I’m not prepared for the question. He has already dispelled my suspicion that he’s a vampire by deepthroating the chips, and that was the only way I could justify his youthful appearance. I have no good answer for either of us, and my silence settles heavy over our table. 

“You’re the first one who saw,” Steve-O says, a complaint stitched with relief. He wants people to know, I think. He wants to be seen. “How?”

“I don’t know,” I say. “I just noticed one day.”

Steve-O considers my words in silence, until they seem to satisfy him. He doesn’t press me for a better explanation, and I wouldn’t have one even if he did. I play with one of the wrappers, folding its corner between my fingers as he stares at me. It takes him a long time to speak, but I suppose he has nothing but time. 

“Do you want to know the truth?”

Yes, I want to say, yes, I want to know everything, but I can’t speak. I nod instead, slow and measured, and Steve-O stands, gesturing me towards the door. I follow him to the back alley through trashcans and puddles of muddy water and the buzz of old power lines. A rat scampers away from us, or maybe away from him. When he stops, he doesn’t turn to look at me. He only grabs the hem of his t-shirt, pulling it off to reveal his back.

At first, I don’t know what it is that I’m supposed to be looking at. There’s the scribble on his left shoulder, the Angelina Jolie copycat tattoo on his right. There’s the giant portrait of himself, as there has been for a long time. But the more I look at that portrait, the more it reveals itself to me. It’s still Steve-O, all grin, two thumbs up. It’s just that he looks older there, the markings of time etched with ink on his skin. Where his real face is spotless, this one is embellished with fine lines. The wrinkles on his forehead are a little deeper than I remember, the hair graying at the temples. He’s missing a tooth, too, front and center. 

“Do you see now?” Steve-O asks, and I see, but I don’t understand, not really. “Everything that’s supposed to happen to me happens to him.”

“How?” I say. “And how does no one else know?”

Steve-O laughs and finally looks at me over his shoulder. “I was hoping you’d have some theories.”

I have nothing for him. No theories, no ideas. I approach him, and he doesn’t move. He lets me trace the black lines with my finger, but there’s nothing strange about them. It’s like any other tattoo, only apparently it keeps him at twenty-eight and doesn’t let him get hurt. I wonder if that means he’s immortal. I wonder if he ever thinks about it.

“He looks good. You know, save for the tooth,” I tell him, for lack of anything better to say. It makes him laugh, bright and happy. Relieved. 

“He does? I haven’t looked at him in a long time.”

His surprise puzzles me. “Were you expecting something different?”

He turns around, shrugs a shoulder. His fingers curl around the t-shirt in his hands. “Each of us has heaven and hell in him.”

“Maybe you have more heaven than hell,” I say.

It’s his turn to be puzzled. He frowns as he spins away from me, pacing in a small circle. He ends up where he started and looks over his shoulder once more, as though he’s trying to look at the tattoo.

“Yeah,” he says. “Yeah. Maybe I do.”

Elia Karra fell in love with Steve-O at the tender age of 5. A quarter of a century later, not much has changed. Send Elia your stuntman dreams, goldfish gobbling goals, and Steve-O yearnings on Twitter at @eliakarra or visit eliakarra.com.