An American Werewolf in Bali
I twisted the scooter’s throttle hard and wove through the busy streets of Canggu, struggling to keep up with the local pseudo-celebrity leading the way. The late afternoon sun was dying behind us, but Bali’s thick, hot air intensified with the knowledge that I wore a dead girl’s jacket.
She’d died in a car crash with my new friend only weeks before. Blood still stained the inner sleeve lining and, according to Blaze, my eccentric host, this would probably increase the chances of my body becoming possessed by the spirits of Bali. “After all,” he said, “she was a princess of Bali, with a powerful presence. And I like you, so the spirits will like you.”
Earlier, Blaze had insisted that my plain grey t-shirt was absolutely “not ‘G’ enough” for where we were going, and had dressed me accordingly G-like in a colourful, blood-stained girl’s jacket and a pair of his black Cons. He knew I was a writer, and had unexpectedly burst into my hostel that afternoon to take me to the “ghetto”, show me the criminal underbelly of Bali and explain how the gangs operate. I was intrigued and figured I should go along.
It was a dubious offer, but I’d have time to observe this erratic creature who seemed to be the talk of the town. In my first week in Bali, I’d already overheard countless conversations about him, his wide Instagram following and his reputation for being an arsehole. I was intrigued, and wanted to better understand why a sponsored surfer, locally iconic barefoot skater and model seemed to be so hated. His outward I-don’t-give-a-shit attitude, unpredictable temperament, and bulk arrogance probably didn’t help.
Arriving at his homestay, he had greeted his housekeeper by barking and growling like a dog, his face contorted into a snarl. Her reaction was what impacted me though. She smiled, laughed and teased that he was an animal – a werewolf: half man, half beast. Without hesitation, Blaze gave another howl and ripped his shirt off, striking a wolverine pose and staring her down with glowering eyes. She obviously knew this act though, and with loving familiarity, the old Balinese lady whipped him on the foot with her thatch broom, cackled and floated away.
The young man danced from topic to topic, seemingly without taking breath, jabbering about random fictional “facts” of how life really is in Bali: everyone is somehow affiliated with one gang or another. He spoke of reincarnation, karma, being possessed, losing his religion and Bali’s black magic. And now, just two hours later, by some strange twist in conversation, I was on my way to get my first tattoo.
His eyes grew wild. He removed his cap so as to get his face right in close to mine, glaring at me, without blinking – sending inaudible messages through crazy eyes. Then he threw his cap down yelling, “Apakah!”, and calmly proceeded to explain that this is how he mind controls other “gangsters” with black magic.
The act was actually pretty convincing.
Another minute, another topic: “Why should I be comfortable while the Balinese are uncomfortable?” he muttered to himself.
Seated on the step below me, a look of sorrow drowned out the animal for a minute, “I live uncomfortably on purpose, because they do. I draw tourists to Bali because I’m an alcoholic sick-cunt who gets away with crazy shit, so tourists think they can, too… They don’t want to lock me up, they need me… Sometimes, I start a fight in front of police, so the police get paid. I get street cred. My boy, Kadek the policeman, gets paid and I look like a gangster. Kadek’s happy. It’s all good.”
And just maybe, he baits writers with stories, only so that they’ll feel obliged to buy a local tattoo as part of the ensuing saga.
His skinny but ripped frame flails around as he shows me his tatts, explaining that the 6 becomes a 9 if he turns his hand this way or that. He’s particularly proud of a lightning bolt under his eye and I show him the lightning-bolt-shaped scar on my finger.
“Let’s go to the ghetto now, but we’ll stop into my friend’s shop first, get you a fucking tight lightning bolt on that scar! You’re a wizard, you’re already possessed, I can see it!”
With the tantalising promise of an investigative, ghetto-crazy story, I’m too intrigued to decline.
“Nyoman, my man Baz will have a tattoo,” he says to the tattoo artist matter of factly. “And I bring in a customer, so I get a tattoo as well right?”
Blaze reveals his affiliation and seamlessly pushes the envelope even further, asking “Can you spot me a sandwich and a Bintang, bro?” and adding, “Thanks. You want anything?” before I can respond.
Everywhere this guy goes, he makes an entrance: loud, brash, friendly and obnoxious all at once, as though he owns the place. Over tattoos, food and Bintangs he laments that he hates fake people online, then explains how he constructs and manipulates his online presence to make him seem like a “druggo deadbeat who doesn’t give a shit”, because that’s what people respond to with ‘likes’. This admission, I feel, speaks volumes about human behaviour. Roll your eyes over to Justin Bieber, Lil Wayne, or Miley Cyrus for classic exhibits. There is no such thing as bad publicity.
As a teacher, I’ve seen my fair share of tantrum-throwing teens craving attention. I’ve taught in Pupil Referral Unit schools in London, where kids constantly swore at me – stoned, and on medication – who by many accounts would be stamped as lost causes. But in my experience, and many others more practiced than I, there is no such thing as a bad kid. There are only bad environments, experiences, and human relationships – of which we’re all products.
Blaze seems to be the product of a negative feedback mechanism. If the negative side of somebody is concentrated on, even by constant condemnation, it often becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. The more someone hears that they are no good, the more chance they will become no good. We are often too quick to write somebody off as a lost cause on the sole basis of something they’ve done at their worst – without questioning why this person is acting like this. In this way, we feed the negativity with scathing reviews, spiteful gossip and social media assaults. And so the monster grows.
But there is good in every person, and I liken him to a disruptive student in class calling out and throwing shit around for attention. If you respond, even by tearing them apart for it, they won’t stop. Only by praising the shred of good work they do will the kid start making positive changes.
Though his absurd claims and erratic style of conversing are very easy to criticise, it seems to me that he simply needs his humility to be nurtured. Some role-model needs to impact on this human being – by finding the good and watering it.
After I pay for my tattoo, and our beers and food, he decides to reschedule for 3am because “It’s safer to go to the ghetto at night.” Somehow he makes this sound believable and I agree to rendezvous later.
I assume he’ll come to collect me from my villa, but at 3am it is only moonlight and the distant howl of a street dog that cuts through the enduring humidity.
I guess I won’t get a guided tour of the ghetto, but I’m happy with my tattoo.