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BEST OF | 2012 >>
How not to get a tattoo
In which the coffee table became suitable metaphor for mortality, and this reporter's quarter-life crisis turned out better than expected
By Jason Crider
Where to get a tattoo
• Blue Line Tattoo, 523 Main St., 784-1290
• Mind Altering Tattoos, 327 Main St.,782-8287
• Paradigm Tattoo, 2344 State Road 16, 791-0123
• Proper Pokes, 318 Main St.,, 782-7879
• 3rd Street Ink, 1206 3rd St., 519-2465
• Twisted Skull Tattoo, 204 4th St., 785-8200
• Inkubator, 719 State St., 359-9679
I guess you could say this all started out because I was in a rut. Maybe I’m wrong, but it seems to me that almost everyone has those moments of harrowing clarity, those moments when you become hyperaware of your existence and suddenly everything seems a little bit more concrete than normal. Eventually this leads to palpably real feelings of your looming mortality, and you put everything in your life into a newly aligned perspective that is eclipsed by a sense of impermanence and profound insignificance. The problem with this moment was that it was less of a moment and more of a stretch of several months. Let me clarify by saying this wasn’t a fog of depression, but more of willed inability to experience joy due to the understanding that nothing mattered. No matter what, everything is eventually erased.
I have a really nice coffee table in my apartment. Well, I had a really nice coffee table in my apartment. My best friend George came to visit me a few weeks ago, and after a few beers we were carving all sorts of doodles into it with a pocketknife. It may not have been the most fun I’d had in a long time, but it was without a doubt the happiest I’d felt. He looked up at me between etching the final strokes into the beard of a gnome and said, as if reading my mind, “We should get some more tattoos.”
Neither of us had gotten any work in years, although we were always bouncing ideas off of each other, planning half-sleeves or back pieces, but in that moment I was accosted by a screaming clarity that what I really needed was a tattoo with no planning attached to it. I needed to live in the moment instead of bemoaning the future. It worked for my coffee table, why shouldn’t it work for me?
A few moments later my friend was carving an elaborate phantom-eyed, squid-tentacled doodle monster next to his finished gnome. I had seen him draw these in his notebooks all through high school, a sort of dark, floating character that drifted from the recesses of his brain and onto the page. I thought that the form of it, particularly the tentacles, would look great on my thigh. But the whole point of this spur of the moment tattoo was to dance around the meaningful and just do something spontaneous, and this dark creature clearly had too much significance glued to it. So I decided on a jellyfish and we walked to the nearest tattoo shop, Blue Line Tattoo, and made an appointment.
The guy that greeted us at the door was nothing short of completely intimidating: tall, huge frame, slicked back black hair, smoking a cigarette and, of course, covered in tattoos — the kind of timeless look that could put him as easily in a 1950s biker gang as it could in front of the doorstep of a tattoo shop in 2013. He told me he went by E-Rock. He looked at me intently as I explained what I wanted, never betraying the slightest emotion. I gave him full authority to do essentially whatever he wanted, with one stipulation: I had seen other jellyfish tattoos online that looked a little too phallic, like Salvador Dali-inspired penises, and, obviously, wanted to try and avoid that. We booked an appointment for the following Saturday, and as I was leaving he told me that he was sincerely excited to work on it, and I was immediately relieved of an abstract tension that I hadn’t even been aware I had.
I had a week to reflect on my impulsiveness, and, strangely, became more and more in love with the idea day by day. What better representation of my fleeting existence than those totally bizarre and ephemeral electric spirits of the sea? A perfect visual metaphor for mortality. Or so I thought. I ran into Adam Bissen, Second Supper’s editor-in-chief, in a bar the night before getting my tattoo. We’d been meaning to do a tattoo cover story for a while, so I explained everything and pitched him the piece. “You know what though, man?” he said, “Some jellyfish can actually live forever.” I looked it up later and he was right, mostly. This probably should have suffocated everything I had convinced myself I was excited for, but strangely, the fact that my impending tattoo had lost what small semblance of meaning I had thrust upon it made it mean even more to me. As if this thigh-dwelling jellyfish simulacrum had any real denotation to begin with.
I walked up to the shop the day of my appointment and was greeted with a cold “hello” from E-Rock and a (much warmer) introduction to Nick, one of the other tattoo artists at Blue Line. We went inside and E-Rock stared at me for a moment, intimidating as ever, and eventually asked, “Well, do you want to see what I drew?” I nodded and he slapped a stencil down on the table. The tentacles were gorgeous, and I could immediately imagine them looking incredible on my leg, but as I looked farther up I noticed that what was supposed to be the jellyfish’s cap looked unmistakably like a stout penis, complete with bulging veins. I tried not to betray my horror as I looked up, but it must have shown because everyone in the shop immediately erupted into laughter.
“Here man I’ll show you the real one,” E-Rock said between laughs, finally peeling away his scary façade and slapping down a beautiful outline of a much less Freudian jellyfish. Within 10 minutes I was reclined in a leather chair getting prepped for my tattoo. He gave me a rough estimation of how long it would take, what he would start with first, as well as making sure I was comfortable and knew I could ask him to stop at any time. He was so calming and friendly once I was in the chair that it completely caught me off guard when he asked, “So, you said you did want the penis-y one, right?” and covered it up with his hand when I instinctively freaked out and tried to peek.
The tattoo took between two and three hours, but the time flew by. The process hardly even hurt; as E-Rock told me with a joking smile, “I’ve been told I’m very gentle.” He periodically made sure I was comfortable and OK overall, alternating between that and the completely unavoidable penis jokes. He gave me thorough instructions on how to take care of the tattoo, and after five or six days it was almost completely healed. I’m still very happy with the tattoo.
My coffee table has since been completely covered by friends with carvings of everything from Shakespeare sonnets to a caricature of Rick Moranis, and it’s expanding every weekend. It’s a healthy reminder, much like my tattoo, not to take things so seriously, and that although tattoos are most often discussed in terms of their permanence, nothing is forever, and that’s a notion I’m slowly becoming OK with. My tattoo is far from an eternal gesture, and, to give things some real perspective, my coffee table will probably be around long after I’m not.
How to get a tattoo
Some tips from the gentlemen at Blue Line
Although I would absolutely recommend not making a series of decisions like mine (impulsive body modification with zero planning as a means of coping with existential despair), in the end it turned out exceptionally well for me. I was very fortunate to walk into a shop that was very professional and down to earth. Your results may vary. I talked with E-Rock and Nick a few weeks after getting my tattoo, and they gave me some pretty good advice on things you should do and consider before getting any work done.
“Just in terms of being physically prepared,” said E-Rock, “you should get a good night’s rest and eat a good balanced meal a few hours before. And, you know, don’t go out and get really drunk the night of.”
When it came to planning, they were decidedly more vague. I tried to pry some of the juicy “mistake” tattoo stories they were sure to have. But they didn’t really. “We’re never going to tell someone ‘No, that’s dumb, don’t get that,’” said E-Rock, then, laughing a bit, “We may make a professional suggestion or two.” Overall, though, E-Rock and Nick explained that there aren’t a lot of people coming in looking to get ridiculous or outlandishly foolish tattoos. Maybe that’s in the past, something reserved for television sitcoms and bad movies. “In the end I think every tattoo has some meaning to it deep down, you know, whether it’s a memorial tattoo or just something laid back. Everyone’s tastes are different. We’re just about making it look good.”
In terms of the design, E-Rock was a little more concrete. “You don’t have to have a picture or sketch or whatever, but it is cool to have a reference point with you just so we have some direction.”
Ultimately, Nick explained, the design is up to you and the artist, but the meaning is completely up to you. “It’s not our job to dictate what you get; it’s our job to make it look as good as it can.”
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