Hemoglobin Goblins

How do people play with blood in public? Jack Boulware counts ze vays.

Somehow -- could it have been dead voters? -- the campaign for a bond issue to help build a new 49er football stadium -- a campaign run by Davis -- gains the narrow approval of S.F. voters.

Sitting in a Mission coffee shop, not far from the apartment he now shares with Clark, his mohawk still visible, but grown out around the sides, Leyba ruminates on his relation to blood rituals. One table to his right, a young woman sleeps with her mouth open, a full latte clasped in hand.

"The thought of being cut on, it terrified me for years and years. I didn't know until I actually started doing bloodletting that on a lot of levels it's sexual," he says. "I can't explain."

Does it matter that every time he's been cut, it has been by a woman? He smiles. "That helps."

Although his chest scar provides the back cover image for True Blood, Leyba feels little connection with others who participated in the book.

"Vampires? It's ridiculous. I find no attachment to that imagery. For me, bloodletting is a way to give back to the Earth. That might sound bizarre, but the native way is, when you receive something, you want to give something back, and the best thing you can give of yourself is your blood."

Leyba's childhood was spent in the Southern California suburb of Pomona, a life of skateboards and Hang Ten T-shirts. His parents divorced when he was 3, his father, Benny, preferring the lifestyle of a full-time eccentric. His mother remarried, and at 13 Johnson found himself living on a ranch 10 miles from Camden, Ark. He remembers being shy and introverted, surrounded by homophobic football jocks. "Nobody talked to me, except for other weird kids."

Studies at the California College of Arts and Crafts and the San Francisco Academy of Art led to a curiosity about his half-Mescalero Apache heritage, and a dislike of what usually passes for Native American art -- coffee-table books designed for tourists. He wanted more, and moved to New Mexico to learn his own culture. He watched a Fourth of July ceremony performed by Crown Dancers, and was taken with the character of a sacred clown named the Labeye, played by a small boy with a bag over his head, whose role was to imitate and mock the Crown Dancers. To him, the rituals felt stale; the clown's meaning had been lost. The clown, he felt, was supposed to shock people out of their complacency. Something inside him clicked, he adopted the Labeye clown name as his own surname, and constructed his own Crown Dancer mask and headdress, much to the anger of tribal elders.

In April of 1996, he decided to be cut. He had already been putting his blood into his paintings. His roommate had a friend who was visiting, and who was skilled in the art of cutting skin.

"It was kind of a challenge for myself, because I thought, 'This is silly, this whole modern primitive thing.' "

But the endorphin rush proved irresistible, and he discovered that preparing to be cut is, perhaps, a way to clear the mind.

"I always have to specifically tell myself why I'm cut again. To me, mentally, it's like, 'OK, I'm going up there, I'm doing the ritual, I have an intent. I'm being cut on, and I'm making an offering. I have to respect the ancestors, people who have come before me, and their intents when they did it.'

"There has to be a reason every time."
He says he's tried, but can't cut on himself. He needs someone else to assist him. Disposable scalpels are procured from dominatrix friends, who get them from their doctor clients.

The first Apache Whiskey Rite (back carving, urine, sodomy) was held at the 1996 Burning Man event in the Nevada desert, a ritual that the 31-year-old Leyba says was the best of the three he has performed. Unfortunately, he says, Burning Man officials wouldn't allow him onto the stage, so he hooked up with other like minds and did it at their campsite, illuminated by a pentagram burning in the dirt.

"A lot of people were tripping on acid," Leyba says. "A lot of them were like, 'He's been sodomized for six hours now!' "

Of course, it would be the Jack Davis party that forever changed his life. The media flurry -- local and national -- was so intense that he left for Los Angeles, where CNN reporters followed him around the city, calling for an exclusive interview.

"They wouldn't even give me gas money," he says. Invitations came in for the Jerry Springer and Geraldo Rivera talk shows.

And in a little-known repercussion, the Internet chat group alt.satanism grew noisy with complaints. Apparently the dominatrix who carved the pentagram on Leyba's back, Mistress Izabella Sol, had neglected to finish the bottom line of the design. And not only that, she peed on it! Debates raged. Did the Davis party make Satanism too mainstream? Is it still Satanism?

"Everyone was offended," chuckles Leyba, "even the Satanists!"
But every ritual has a silver lining. A young woman recently approached Leyba at a fetish party, saying she had read about him in SF Weekly. She said she was a sadist. Leyba immediately thought, "Uh oh, this woman wants to hook me up to a car battery." They kept talking, and a couple of months later the two were together onstage in New York City, naked, covered in each other's blood, simulating sex acts. She was rechristened Lady Hades, and now the two are inseparable.

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