Cat Tattoo, Addison.
11:17 am . . .
This guy with no hair, and metal horns is drawing on my chest and arms and back with a pen. His name is Chuck, and supposedly he is wicked, with sick ink skills. His arms have so much ink on them he looks like he’s wearing a long-sleeved shirt. And did I mention the horns. Not just one or two of them, no . . . six. Like one of those mean guys on Star Wars: Episode 3.
Did those hurt? I ask him, taking note of how clean and sanitary this place actually is. Not at all what I had expected.
“No, man. I mean, I guess, yeah . . . a little. Especially at first. Because they have to make the incisions and set all the grommets. See, they’re actually threaded into my head, with titanium.”
I want to ask him why a guy would want to put permanent horns on his head, but I think better of it. I don’t want him tattooing me angry. Somehow though, he senses my curiosity.
He smiles as he’s making his final touches with the pen, “It’s about expression, man. It’s like . . . imagine you could say things to the whole world without having to actually say anything. It’s like, once you see me, all those bullshit questions have already been answered. Enough said, you know. Expression.”
Geez. That’s a lot of expression.
“Well, I have a lot to get off my chest. And besides, we live in one of those societies where it’s only now beginning to be socially accepted to express yourself. Everybody is a closet something, hiding behind their clothes, and their clever words, and their jobs and shit. You know . . . just peeping out, judging everyone else, while secretly being the same. You, you’re taking a huge step with this art. You’re making a profound statement.”
“Oh, no,” I tell him. “This is not a statement. It’s work related.”
He snorts, “What, you work at a carnival?”
“No, not like that. I’m not an exhibitionist or anything. I’m doing it for . . . ” and then I realize that any explanation will compromise his perception of my sanity.
“It’s religious in nature,” Ricky says, yelling from across the tattoo parlor, where he and a bunch of other twenty-somethings with way too many piercings are playing X-Box 360.
Chuck nods a few times, squinting at something on my stomach, “That’s cool. Hey, you know you got a little scar there. What’s that from?”
I pin my chin to my chest looking down at my stomach. There is a small circular scar, about the size of a penny. I look at it, then up at him, my shoulders lifting, “Don’t remember.”
“I’d remember that, man.” And then he went back to putting on his finishing touches. A minute later he seems satisfied. “I think we’re ready to ink these puppies.”
And I don’t know why, maybe to quell my nervousness. but I ask him, “So what’s the history of tattooing?”
As he’s preparing the tattoo gun, the ink, and a second set of surgical gloves, he says, “Glad you asked.” Then he pushed my head forward a bit, steadying himself behind me as I partially swiveled on a black vinyl stool. “This may hurt a bit.”
As he began to chop my skin into hamburger meat he told me how humans, since about 3,300 BC have been using tattoos to mark a person’s rank or status among groups. People believed that the wearer of a tattoo had some magical protection against sickness or misfortune.
It feels like a bee is stinging me a thousand times a second.
“Tattoos have been found on Egyptian and Nubian mummies dating from about 2000 BC. Their use mentioned by classical authors in relation to the Thracians, Gauls, Germans, Britons, and Romans.”
“In fact,” he said as he glided across my shoulder blades, “the Romans tattooed criminals and slaves.”
My whole body is vibrating, and I feel like he’s just using a hot knife, or a soldering iron to make the outlines.
“After the advent of Christianity, tattooing was forbidden in Europe, but it persisted in the Middle East as well as other parts of the world. In America, Indian tribes customarily tattooed their bodies and faces. The technique was simple pricking, but some other tribes, like in California, introduced color into scratches.”
Every time he moves to a different area, I can feel blood and pain burning where he was. Like hot little footprints I’ll never be able to see directly.
“This is going to be intense,” he said as he continued my history lesson. “Arctic and Subarctic Eskimos, and some people of eastern Siberia made needle punctures through which a thread, coated with pigment—usually soot—was drawn underneath the skin.”
Just when my body starts to get numb to the pain, he up and starts somewhere else. He’s getting my shoulders and arms. My back and chest. Ink mixed with blood is beading up, starting to run down my back. I can feel sweat intermingling with my blood.
This is unpleasant.
I hope my Cerebral Arteriosclerosis wipes these memories out, too.
“ . . . in Polynesia, Micronesia, and parts of Malaysia, pigment was pricked into the skin by tapping on an implement shaped like a miniature rake.”
My head hurts from my teeth chattering.
Ricky barks, “Your pass coverage is uglier than your girlfriend.” The crowd around him is in a near state of frenzy.
“ . . . in New Zealand, shallow colored grooves in complex curving designs were produced on the face by striking a small bone adze into the skin. That probably hurts something aweful.”
My lower back is aching due to me having to stay still, and try not to flinch.
Some guy playing beside Ricky chides, “Three and out!”
Ricky laughs to himself, “You fags don’t even know what you’re looking at. My game far exceeds your ability to comprehend it. Bring me your finest meats and cheeses.”
Chuck giggles as he continues, “ . . . in Japan, needles set in a wooden handle are used to tattoo very elaborate multicolored designs that cover much of the body.”
I don’t think it would be too much to say, searing pain. I’m holding my breath most of the time, gritting my teeth to fight back the discomfort. I’m glad that the other people here are consumed with playing Madden ’09, so they don’t watch me nearly whimpering.
Ricky screams out, “Eat my ass, bitches! You come down to Pittsburgh and we’ll sort your ass out.” He stands, his arms extended outwards, a controller cord dangling from his left hand. “You dicks are sitting in the shadow of greatness. Pay homage to your lord and savior.”
Ricky can be a bit outrageous at times. And he loves to win, and let you know he won.
Chuck has come around to my chest, now, doing some touch-ups.
“ . . . in Burma tattooing is done with a brass pen-like tool that has a slit point and a weight on the upper end. Sometimes pigment is rubbed into knife slashes, like in Tunisia, and among the Ainu of Japan, or the Igbo of Nigeria.”
He takes stock of his work. “Outlines are done. The coloring goes much quicker.”
Now he has to go back and fill in all of the symbols and markings that are supposed to ward off evil. Truth be told, I don’t know how much these things are going to help me, other than to guarantee that everyone thinks I’m some kind of psycho Indian, or aggravated felon.
Chuck fixes his gun, changing needles from an outline needle, to one that is a bundle of needles. More holes is more surface area colored. That means more needles. More pain. More sweating.
1:55 pm . . .
An hour later, or two hours later, I’ve lost track of time. My entire body is numb and aching at the same time. Ricky has laid the smack down on just about everybody over the age of 12, and called them all kinds of bitches and hoes and queers and sallies. His mouth rivals his driving skills in the dirty department.
I don’t really like to curse too much because I read that intelligent people don’t rely on such vulgarities. I’d like to think of myself as intelligent. I tell Ricky this.
“Where’d you read that, The Ambiguously Gay Times?” he says as a few guys laugh. “Dude, profanity is as American as apple pie. Besides, I’ve got a hundred sixty-seven I.Q, and I cuss like a sailor.”
He has a point.
It’s a personal choice, I tell him.
Chuck giggles, “Man, being a vegetarian, that’s a personal choice. Dating strippers, that’s a personal choice. Not cursing . . . that’s just being anal.”
He goes back to work coloring in my pain. And about fifteen minutes later he is giving me the final touches, moving the gun in little circles where he sees inconsistencies.
“ . . . the Pima Indians of Arizona puncture the skin with thorns and add ink to the wounds.” And then he stands back, Ricky beside him. They both seem pleased with the work.
Ricky is looking at several pages of sketches of the symbols that Ms. Josephine did for him. Apparently, it isn’t just the markings, but the order and placement as well.
“Spin him,” Ricky says to Darth Chuck as I’m twisted around on my stool.
“Nice, very nice.”
And then I feel this cool mist covering my back and arms. Chuck is spraying disinfectant, giving me the safety instructions, “Don’t expose the work to sunlight for at least two days. Try and keep lotion or Bacitracin on your skin. And under no circumstances should you scratch. Because it will itch, man. Give it a little slap. But no scratching.”
“What do I owe you, Chuck?” Ricky asked.
Chuck crossed his arms, “Nothin’ Ricky. You helped my brother out, man. I still owe you.”
They shook hands and gave each other a kind of tough-guy hug, and I wondered what they were talking about; how guys like this knew each other. Again, some things are better unasked.
“Jack,” Chuck said, “you ever need anything, man, you just find me. Any brother of Ricky’s is a brother of mine.”
Thanks, I said. And good luck fighting against the Jedi knights.
“What?” he said, and then seemed to get it, grinning, “ . . . ooh, yeah. Right. Thanks, man.”
“Let’s get something to eat, Jack,” Ricky said. “I’m feeling like a Somali hooker.”