Nico Ratoff at Epic Cafe

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I first met Nico Ratoff at an Odyssey Storytelling series meeting in founder/director Penelope Starr's living room where we all took turns practicing our stories. I loved Ratoff's heartbreaking story about how he lost custody of his young son. It was cinematic and beautiful.

I chastised myself at the end of the evening for not knowing Ratoff, or maybe not bothering to know him before that evening. Epic Cafe is in my neighborhood, and while working there, I've seen him come in on his roller skates, and I've seen him fly down University Boulevard on his bicycle in a bright pink dress.

When an opportunity to interview Nico for TQ&A came up because of a show he's doing at Epic, I couldn't wait to tell a little more of his story. At the end of the interview, Ratoff talks about being a muse—i.e., invisible. I understood what he meant. It wasn't until I sat with him in Starr's house, heard his story and gave him a ride home that night that I knew he was much more than roller skates, butterfly wings or pink dresses. I'm so glad that on most days in my neighborhood, I get to see Ratoff flying through my streets, being a muse—but now I really do see him.

For more info on Ratoff's show, look up Tiger Eyebrows on Facebook. Here's an extended version of the interview that's in this week's Tucson Weekly:

Nico Ratoff can often be seen around Fourth Avenue and University Boulevard on a bicycle wearing a bright-pink dress and heels, or perhaps roller-skating with hair in pigtails and butterfly wings on his back. The work of Ratoff, who has called Tucson home for 20 years, can be seen along with work by other artists in his collaborative puzzle-themed art show currently on display at Epic Café. In Out Through Tiger Eyebrows is named after the ink across Ratoff's forehead: a set of tiger tattoos for eyebrows, and a Celtic spiral as a third eye centered in between. On Monday, May 17, there will be a book-release party and puzzle-play event at Epic, 745 N. Fourth Ave., from 8 to 11 p.m.

You don’t like using pronouns to describe yourself, why?
Pronouns assume the illusion of true gender, a mostly modern invention which I do not embrace. True gender creates huge and often false assumptions about peoples' sexual preferences, their bodies, and their cultural roles, identities and abilities. Worst of all it, creates a static assumption. I think all people are more complex than this, and I know that I certainly am.

Where did you get the name for the show—or I guess I should ask: Why tiger eyebrows?
The tiger eyebrows were drawn from an image of a tiger, but I think of them as shamanic big cats—in North America, these are jaguars. I wrote a story called "Invisible Tiger Box" about a special breed of tiger that lives inside you. I used to be a professional juggler, and so these three shamanic big cats—the one inside and the two leaping "in out through" my third eye—are always being juggled, dancing.