past week and a half, I have been a member of the hackneyed ranks of the tattooed. Getting a tattoo is something that was intriguing since I was a child. I was convinced as a fifth-going-on-sixth grader that I needed and would always love a Foo Fighters tattoo on my inner forearm. Yet as I got older, I always took heed of my dad’s advice on tattoos, a tidbit I had heard him tell my older siblings over the years:
“There are only three reasons to get a tattoo: power, passion or faith.” Going on 23, I had two out of three of those reasons, and we all know that ain’t bad. With nerves initially abounding, I headed to the Outer Limits Tattoo branch in Long Beach (a.k.a the oldest tattoo shop in America…the physical shop anyway, not the actual franchise). I received the perfect sign from the universe on the drive to there, too: Jack FM played The Cure’s “Friday I’m in Love.” It’s probably my favorite Cure song, it WAS Friday, and it is also the subject of another tattoo I’ve been planning for a while. Instantly calming. We parked around 7:30 (this is drilled into my brain because it was metered) and entered the shop. I talked to Billy Sarno, one of the artists I wanted after I had done some research
and, also, the only artist there at the time, about my tattoo idea and he was totally down for it. This enthusiasm, that my tattoo was approaching reality rapidly, the Bob Dylan playing on the shop sound system and the return of adrenaline supplied good vibes all around. “You wanna do this now?” he asked. “Yeah, okay,” I nonchalantly answered, trying to sound relaxed, mouth drying up as I spoke. After we looked at some images for specific ideas on the good ol’ Google machine, Billy prepared his station, finished the stencil and then complimented me on actually thinking to bring a pair of short shorts for a thigh tattoo: “People come in to get calf tattoos in their $200 skinny jeans…and I get to tear them up,” he said with a chuckle. Then we got down to business. My dear accompanying friend, Janelle, offered a hand to hold, but I turned it down. “Meh, how bad could it be?” Not too bad really, considering getting a tattoo is practically the equivalent of a hummingbird flapping needle-tipped wings straight into your dermis. Pain-wise, the black ink of the outlining felt as expected (but was more painful when the left-handed Billy rested his hand on parts that had already been inked). And fortunately, my tat is located on the front of my left thigh, so I got to see the entire process, which is umpteen times cooler in real life than vicariously through LA and/or Miami
Ink. I still don’t understand physics of how the artist can be so precise when ink is visibly and completely covering the immediate vicinity of the skin they’re working on (vi-skin-ity? I couldn’t resist. I know, I hate me too a little bit), but nonetheless, my yellow wilted rose started taking shape, and it was (is) beautiful. Billy asked me first thing after he was underway about my tattoo’s significance. I gave him my spiel, and he said approvingly, “Chyeah, everything’s temporary.” I retorted, obviously, with, “Except for this tattoo!” Now, I had been given fair warning by Janelle that colored ink hurts more (even though it didn’t make sense at the time), so I tried to keep that out of my mind so as not to psych myself out as we moved into the color portion of the sesh. Was this just a myth? No. I really thought going into this that I would kind of get used to the sensation/get numb or something. But in immediate hindsight, OF COURSE it hurt more: the skin was already a wound in shock due the preliminary black ink, and adding greater areas the ink more freely was a relatively brutal attack on a freshly delicate area. (Side note: Was there another myth I personally busted during this experience? Yes; you can definitely catch a cold after getting a tattoo). About two hours after we commenced, the tattoo was finished. I loved it. Billy seemed legitimately proud. Janelle and the other guy working in the shop were impressed. Billy took pictures for his portfolio, Janelle took pictures for Facebook, and before I knew I was sent on my way with aftercare instructions, a reasonable debt, and a noticeable limp (again, the front of my thigh had just been ink-assaulted and bandaged). Let it be known, however, that the single-most stressful milestone on the quotidian path of tattoos is the healing process. Thoughts like, “Will this ever not be sore?” “How different will the coloring look when it’s healed?” “Am I over- or under-moisturizing?” and “Why are dog paws and tails consistently at mid-thigh height? It’s like they know,” will plague
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your mind, and you will obsessive-compulsively consult Google and Yahoo Answers to counterproductively work yourself into a bigger tizzy. Thankfully for me—though I wish this for all people receiving tattoo—those ruminations in my noggin have also been juxtaposed with innumerable amounts of, “Damn, this looks cool,” “I’m really glad I did this” and “This is going to look so weird when I’m 80.” Will this be my first and last tattoo, my only foray on a well-traveled ink trail? Probably not.