Earlier this month was the eighteenth birthday of my first tattoo.
I don’t think it can vote now, but I’ll use this opportunity to create some legislation.
I called it “my tattoo,” as in, “my only tattoo.” However, in the case of anyone who had the slightest clue about skin art:
Friends and family who had tattoos,
Randomly inked passersby,
They all called it my “First Tattoo.”
And they were right.
Tattoos were nowhere near as common as they are now…or maybe as they were a while ago. Seriously, I have absolutely no idea when it comes to groovy trends and gnarly choices among the in crowd.
This should be staggeringly obvious due to my use of “groovy,” “gnarly,” and “in crowd.”
In any case, tattoos were not on the acceptable list for a little nerdling like myself. However, considering throughout my life, I have had almost no shirts, shoes, or sections of wall space greater than three square inches that didn’t’ have some image or another on it, my eventually getting ink was inevitable.
There was a great deal of planning and thought, and many years before the first needle edge broke my skin.
Jeff’s Tattoo Rule #1:
Only get a tattoo after you can look at the body part, visualize it there, and be happy with it.
Temporary ones as a trial don’t count; you have to picture it clearly in your mind’s eye.
From as far back as freshman year in college, there were two frequent note margin doodles that I considered worthy tattoo material. One was a heart with a blue lightning bolt through it that I would associate with the name “Crimson Thunder.” This started as the name of my car, spelled incorrectly and with random umlauts in it, because I was a eighty’s metal head. While it kept that association, it was more directly the superhero name and symbol I’d use once I obtained my inevitable powers. This ended up being my first tattoo. I still consider it original as it sprang out of my head before I noticed the one on AED’s. I think the blue lightning is all me, anyway.
The other doodle I did not get permanently drawn onto my person was a green and yellow snake coiled around a double bladed battle axe with a red gem on top of it.
This leads nicely to:
Jeff’s Tattoo Rule #2:
Choose a tattoo that will allow you to satisfactorily, and without embarrassment answer the question, “What’s that?” when asked by your grandchildren.
Considering how many times I made that doodle in my statistics notebook alone, one would figure I was really good at. One would, yet again around me, be wrong. Even now, about twenty five years since I first sketched it, I still constantly screw up the lightning bolt. Therefore the weekend before I undertook my fateful decision, I spent an evening Up the Lake with a couple of pens and a box of crayons until I drew the Crimson Thunder “logo” exactly how I wanted it.
Thanks to working for a medical device company, I had the background and knowledge to do some pretty extensive research into safety, cleanliness, and single use devices before deciding on an inking location.
I had put so much thought and planning into this idea, that when I informed my parents, they ended up being relieved. This probably had to do with how gravely and seriously I approached the subject, detailing that I had been considering it a long time, was an adult with a stable career, and knew they didn’t approve. God only knows what they thought I was going to say that made a small shoulder tattoo the preferable option.
The stable career thing is a large part of:
Jeff’s Tattoo Rule #3:
Wait until you’re twenty-five before getting a tattoo.
By that point, you should have a fairly decent idea about where your life is going and which parts of your body it would be acceptable to have pictures on, not to mention what kind of picture you’d want for the rest of time. (See Rule #2.) I knew my shoulders were always covered at work, but always uncovered when I rolled up my sleeves just about everywhere else.
There I was, Joe Geekly, providing the owner of a tattoo parlor personally hand drawn flash art, colored in crayon. Surprisingly, he did the tattoo as drawn, instead of etching a rude word on my arm and tossing me out the door.
As the owner, he was frequently interrupted, but it made for interesting sights and sounds. At one point he answered a call with:
Yes, yes we do…
No, you don’t have to bring anything, just your tongue.”
Then, this man with full sleeve art and pictures popping out of every visible bare patch of skin looked at me and stated, “They say it doesn’t hurt, but I ain’t trying it.”
He also mentioned the many local strippers that get their ink applied in his shop. As I never saw any evidence of this, on that or any subsequent visit, I believe he was using it an advertising ploy.
I was truly impressed by all the real flash art hanging on the walls, but would still not refer to my personal image as a “First Tattoo” for quite a while.
I showed my folks, and they were fine with it, but decreed my punishment was I had to tell my Grandmother (declared by a licensed medical professional to be a “tough old broad from the Bronx”) myself.
At first, of course, she thought her previously believed to be level headed grandchild was putting her on, and said, “Its fake,” over and over again. I knew I had finally convinced her when she yelled, “YOU STUPID BASTARD!” and punched me directly on the tattoo with enough force to kill a medium sized antelope.
I have the honor of being the bravest of her grandchildren with tattoos, as the other two didn’t get one until after she had passed away. (Her fourth grandchild has the honor of being the smartest of all of us, for not getting one at all.)
I was the youngest engineer in our medical device R&D group which led to some strange reactions. Since tattoos involved:
B) Sterilization techniques
C) Decisions light years out of their comfort zones
My tiny skin art suddenly made me a celebrity. One guy even inspected it over lunch break with an eye loop, which he happened to carry with him all the time…for just such an occasion. They also asked about the post procedure care, something I followed to the letter. I protected it from sunlight, avoided scratching the near insanity causing levels of itch that came with scab formation, and applied the proper ointment. At the time, it was Neosporin. However, sometime between my first and second trip to Tattoo 46, the recommendation changed to Vitamin A&D ointment. I believe this was due to the high rate of people with bad side effects to the antibiotic cream. The only side effect to the A&D stuff was more weird than bad. When my life moved into the baby changing years, I kept thinking, “Hey! My kid’s butt smells like a new tattoo.”
Outside of the engineering crowd, it was less of an event. One woman said the design I had carefully hand crafted over years, “Looked like a strawberry.” That coupled with the next rule, had me thinking more and more like the people congratulating me on my “First Tattoo.”
Jeff’s Tattoo Rule #4:
Tattoo shop flash is gorgeous, diverse and severely tempting.
A person would be hard pressed to not find something up their alley in a well stocked location. The images I saw kept following me around in my head, and by November, I was fully determined that “my tattoo” did, in fact, turn out to be, “my First Tattoo.”
Since I have had at least one picture of a tiger hanging up in every location I’ve lived in, worked in, or stopped at for more than five minutes, the choice for the second art was pretty simple. The hard part (as Rule #4 is an understatement) was picking the best tiger face out of the menagerie of them covering a large section of wall. The choice ended up being one that was part of a larger piece showing much of the cat’s body. Luckily, those guys ARE artists and an easy adjustment was made.
It can be noticed that, even though subsequent work was done a scant two weeks later, the left shoulder tiger is substantially lighter than the right shoulder artwork. This is because that arm is up against the window when I drive, and more importantly, I am guilty of forgetting about my own rule.
Jeff’s Tattoo Rule #5:
If you have unhidden tattoos, ALWAYS have sunscreen in the car.
Learn from my errors people.
The tiger was substantially larger and more detailed than my little crayon colored initial foray into that world. This drove home something important to remember.
For anyone curious:
YES! Tattoos do hurt.
They’re poking clusters of dye dipped needles into your skin with a hand held device that functions like a miniature jack hammer. If you bumped into something on the street which hurt that much, you’d jump away. However, when prepared for it, the pain is tolerable and manageable, removing most requirements for leaping out of the seat. The colors do hurt more than the lines when done in one sitting, however, because there are bigger needle clusters jack hammering into areas that are already sore. The soreness itself lingers for several days, but ink is forever, pain is temporary.
Not counting Grandma punching pain…
Also See Rule #7 for clarification…
Click here (right here, in fact) next week to learn about Rule #7, and the other missing numbers.