You never forget your first tattoo
Marked ManStep inside. Hear the buzz. Grit the teeth.
By Chuck Beard
I felt that something was missing in my life, but what?
Financial security? Fulfilling career? Health? Religion? Love?
It was a Wednesday morning, about 10:15 a.m., when it finally dawned on me.
Gosh, I forgot to get a tattoo!
I slapped my forehead and cursed my oversight. Damn my busy social life! I’ve just been so busy lately, I simply forgot to get inked.
I called my friendgirl Connie, sporter of four tattoos, for advice.
“What do I do? Where do I go? How much will it cost? How high will I scream?”
Can’t imagine why getting a tattoo had never occurred to me. Guys love things that make us look tough. Shave my head, shove a cigarette in my mouth, sit me on a Harley and tattoo “BAD ASS” on my forehead, and see who messes with me then.
But we do look at tattooed people with a leery eye.
“He won’t be able to hide that in an interview.”
“That’s gonna be drooping when she’s 75.”
But as I sat in a crowded airport recently and observed a sea of tattoos swimming before my eyes, I wondered what I had been missing out on.
Connie suggests I buy a pack of temporary tattoos, just so I can try one out and see if it’s me. I go to Spencer’s (where else?) and discover with glee that I can buy whole sets of temporary tattoos – the Muscle set, the Biker set, the Naughty set.
(I do notice, with a bit of alarm, that the Hello Kitty set is sold out. Hello Kitty is not tough.)
I buy all three available sets and ask for a plain brown bag.
In the privacy of my own home, I stand before the mirror and swab my arm with alcohol. I’ve chosen a big, bold, barb-wire armband from the Muscle set, smugly discovering that it’s not big enough to go all the way around my bicep. Like any other guy would naturally do, I flex in the mirror for a minute or two and then commence with the tattoo application.
Uh oh …
I LOVE IT.
More flexing. I turn to see the tattoo from every possible angle. I check it in other mirrors in the house.
Damn. I look tough.
It’s a dark and stormy night – almost as dark as the dead-end alley I find myself in, almost as stormy as the look in her bitter blue eyes when we last parted. But that’s another story. Suddenly, my cat-like night vision detects a gang of thugs before me, stinking of cheap beer and menace. They advance and I stand tall, realizing I’ve left my Colt .45 in the car but putting my faith in a superior line of defense – sheer intimidation. “Mess with ME, will you?” In one motion I rip off my shirt and laugh madly. “You obviously haven’t noticed my HUGE, BAD-ASS TATTOO!” The thugs gasp and scatter. I strike a match, light a coffin nail and think again of those bitter blue eyes . . . .
Where was I? Oh yeah. Flexing.
I scoffed when Connie said that tattoos are addictive, but now I know she’s right. What should I try next? I eye the Biker set and settle on the “Born To Be Bad” bleeding heart. Yeah, baby. I glance at the Naughty set and wonder if I can pull off “Porn Star.” Yeah, baby.
I get an inkling of what it’s all about. A tattoo is almost like making a silent introduction to those around you. A visual personal profile. This is what I do, how I think, what I love, who I am.
My mind made up, I call friendgirl for more advice.
“It’s kinda like a cigarette burn,” Connie says. Ouch. But OK.
“Depends on how big it is, but probably about a hundred bucks.” OK.
“They’ll have designs for you to choose, or you can bring in your own.” OK.
Other friends have strange reactions.
“You are kidding.”
“I’ve always wanted a tattoo. Can I go with you?”
“You do realize they’re permanent, don’t you?” (What? I had no idea! Why wasn’t I told this before?)
Connie recommends the Euphoria shop. “Ask for Alain. He’s the bomb.”
She begs to tag along – “just to see your face when he starts!” – but I refuse. If any tears fall, I prefer them to fall without an audience.
I make my appointment and show up early and prepared. I’ve drawn my own design and chosen my left bicep for the canvas. I’ve made a “tattoo” playlist on my iPod. I’ve even shaved my own underarm.
Alain asks if I’m nervous.
“About 15 percent,” I say, and trip over a chair.
Stunning tattoos flow out of Alain’s tank top and down his arms, and I wonder which one hurt the most.
He points to what looks like a black dentist’s chair that folds flat or sits upright. A strip of white paper is stretched across, and I sit down.
He outlines my design on a special paper to transfer it to the skin, much like the temporary tattoo. We agree on the placement in a mirror.
He places tiny cups of black ink in a neat row on his work table and picks up his instrument.
For two weeks I’ve dreaded that first instant of contact, not knowing what to expect. He says he’ll be outlining first. I can’t watch.
Connie’s description of a cigarette burn is quite accurate, but it’s more like a tiny cigarette burn that doesn’t stop. There’s a bit of heat and pressure to it, but it’s really more annoying than painful.
Thirty seconds later I exhale. “That’s it?” I ask.
Hmm. “Does the filling in hurt worse?”
“No, it’s about the same.”
(I’ve read that where on your body you get the tattoo makes a huge difference. On a scale of 1-7, with 7 being the most painful, the upper arm was listed as a 2, and I agree with that. The parts listed as 7 are parts I’d never even dream of getting tattooed.)
I start my “tattoos” playlist and sit back. It’s so not a big deal. Heck, shaving my underarm was worse than getting the tattoo.
Less than an hour later, Alain is done. I stand up and the strip of white paper on the chair clings to my back, soaked with my sweat.
I pull it off and, for the first time, see my new tattoo in the mirror.