Staff lead a young man into a brightly lit room.
He is barefoot and shirtless.
HIS HANDLERS wear latex surgical gloves.
But what really gets your attention in the bright light are two stainless steel hooks - big enough for deep-sea fishing - pierced into his upper back.HORRIBLE, HORRIBLE THINGS happened to Iraqi detainees at the hands of their American interrogators at Iraq's Abu Ghraib prison. But this, from the pages of the Sunday World-Herald, is not a story of that. Nor is it a tale of some of the more horrific violations of the Geneva Conventions at the U.S. detainee camp at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.
A heavy-duty cord connects to the eyelet on each hook. With a mountaineering rope and four pulleys, a man hoists Dalton off the floor, his hooked skin stretching as he rises.
The actual scene: A recent Sunday at an Omaha tattoo parlor:
The practice is called suspension, and several dozen people have tried it at a Bellevue tattoo shop, Dr. Jack's Ink Emporium.DEVOTEES OF SUSPENSION pay
Despite potential health risks, including infection, suspension is becoming more common across the country. But it's far from mainstream, and remains a fringe activity.
Suspension is not entirely new; some Native American tribes practiced a form of it in the 1800s and earlier as a rite of passage for young men.
Dalton and others do it to prove they can withstand the pain, giving them a sense of control over body and mind. They like the feel-good kick when their bodies release endorphins - narcotic-like hormones - in response to the pain, as well as the relaxed feeling when they are done.
And some like "performing" for the dozen or more people watching at the tattoo studio.
In an era when soccer moms have tattoos and teens have steel studs in their tongues, suspension is a way to stand out.
On a recent Sunday evening, more than 30 people watched Dalton and three others suspend at Dr. Jack's.
Dalton, 34, lay on his stomach on a padded table. Monte Vogel, general manager of the four Omaha-area Dr. Jack's shops, holds one hook. Mike Coons, a Dr. Jack's manager, holds the other.
The hooks gleam.
The sharp end of each hook is inserted into a hollow needle about 2 inches long. Vogel and Coons, wearing black latex gloves, pull up handfuls of Dalton's skin and, with a smooth motion, slip in a needle and hook, one on the right side of his upper back, the other on the left.
He doesn't flinch.
"Like a champ," Coons says.
"Always," says Dalton, who has suspended four times in the past nine months, each time hooked in his upper back.
Dalton had it rough as a kid. He says he was physically abused and spent several years in foster homes. The abuse, he says, gave him a tolerance for pain.WHY IS IT that any "enhanced interrogation" Bush, Cheney & Co. performs on Arab wretches in the name of "freedom" and "security" comes as shock to us at all, here in the American heartland? It's no more than what we do to ourselves . . . for our own "tortured" reasons and to overwhelm a gnawing pain that's worse than any giant fish hook protruding from our flesh.
He said that after a stint in the Army, he became an electrician and mechanic. He has always loved art and took pottery and painting classes in high school. One of his favorite pieces: a dragon perched atop a mountain.
Dalton tapped that background when he became a Dr. Jack's tattooer about a year ago.
With the wood floors, off-white walls and bright lights, the room where Dalton suspends looks like a small dance studio.
The shop's owners designed it solely for suspension. A wall of glass allows people to watch from padded benches in the shop's main room.
Dalton, wearing long plaid shorts and a black cap, leans slightly forward when it's time.
Vogel attaches parachute cords to the hooks' eyelets, then connects the other end of the cords to a steel bar rigged to the rope and pulleys.
A Dr. Jack's employee pulls the rope slightly, and Dalton's hooked skin stretches. As Dalton is gradually pulled up, only the balls of his feet touch the floor; then, only his toe tips.
The employee pulls the rope a little more and Dalton is suspended, his feet dangling a few inches above the floor.
Dalton doesn't scream or moan.
The crowd quietly watches through the window.
Dalton feels the pressure of the hooks pulling his skin and a slight numbness in his upper back. He's feeling high, like a distance runner who is in good stride and past the point of pain.
He's looking forward, his arms dangling. Music from Clutch, a heavy blues-rock band, pumps into his head through earphones.
Dalton pushes off the glass wall with his legs, causing his body to swing. With each push, the arc of his swing increases.
His heart beats faster. He doesn't feel any pain.
He looks like a skateboarder as he zips from one side of the room to the other. He knows the crowd wants to see more than just someone hanging. They want action.
"Getting close to 15 (minutes)," a Dr. Jack's employee calls out.
Dalton swings a while longer before the crew lets him down, to the applause of the crowd. He had suspended about 20 minutes.
Or was that a meat hook?
Ryan Schoultz, a 20-year-old cook, is tan and polite and talks with a Southern accent. His wife is there to take pictures.THE BARBARIANS are no longer at the gate. If there's a fundamental difference between us and tattooed Amazon headhunters with bones sticking through their lips and noses, I fail to apprehend what that might be any longer.
He has hung once before, from his back. This time, it's from the chest. More of a challenge.
As he's lifted, his skin tears slightly. He doesn't feel pain but he hears his skin rip. The crew lets him down so the skin won't tear more.
Schoultz vows to try it again -- but not this night.
On the other hand, I readily grasp the difference between Saddam Hussein and ourselves. Saddam had the good sense never to torture himself. Or at least never pay $100 for the "privilege."
One question: How long before some Bush Administration official dredges up this little story from Omaha, Neb., as a defense exhibit at a war-crimes trial? Is what I'm asking.