Johnny wanted a tat tonight. I myself was deep into the task of murdering a nest of wasps when he called. The insects had built their home in the window where my air conditioner fits, and were therefore scheduled for slaughter.
“I want to get another tattoo,” he told me, as I hosed the nests down with a virulent poison unknown to the EPA.
“Of what?” I delighted as I sprayed the wasps’ nests from afar with my hornet blaster aerosol (“Shoots 27 feet!” the can promised).
“The Mandalorian skull from their battle armor.”
If you don’t know what a Mandalorian is, Boba Fett is kind of the Last of the Mandalorians, as in the Mohicans. He already had the U.S.M.C. letters across one arm, so I knew he wouldn’t faint or wimp out. When someone asks you if you want to watch them get a tattoo, I recommend you always say yes. It is always entertaining, especially if it’s their first. I should know, I have 3. Tattoo parlors are unique places. Now that the tribal tattoo fad is over, they’ve returned to that slightly seedy kind of place you expect to meet bounty hunters, hell’s angels, and graphic designers who hate photoshop in.
We went to Jinx Proof Tattoo in Montclair. Iron Maiden was playing in the background; flash, what tattoo art is called, covered the walls in poster flippers like booklets of wallpaper, except when you choose the skull & crossbones or big boobie babe motif, if goes on your bicep and not the bathroom wall. Tattoo flash hasn’t changed too much- you can still get Sailor Jerry‘s old designs at most places, or stuff that comes from 70’s album covers, and the famous stuff like a melange of booze, boobs and blackjack cards labeled “Man’s Ruin,” my personal favorite.
The place was busy with hairy tattooed dudes buzzing behind their needles. I found a little Italy boot I wanted to get next to my shamrock, but they were full up! Maybe next time. I also don’t want to nurse even a tiny tat in Hawaii. Though that might be a good place to get one, since Sailor Jerry’s last studio was in Honolulu’s Chinatown.
After a few minutes a friendly long-haired tattoo-covered fellow copied the image Johnny brought in, brought him back to the clean area, and began to stab him repeatedly in the arm with a needle. As his good friend, it was my duty to sit and listen for any cries of pain and make fun of him. I listened to Johnny talk about Rob Zombie’s directorial prowess and blogged from my phone. Nerdy, but when your buddy is getting obscure Star Wars symbols tattooed on him, you have already been painted with the nerd brush.
They also have some cool Irish themed flash, like a beer mug surrounded by shamrocks and stuff.I asked the owner about the little boot and unfortunately seawater and sun are not the best idea when its healing, so I’ll have to come back after Hawaii. If I don’t go native and pass as a Samoan, and get some of their tattoos. I wish I brought my copy of Hunter S. Thompson’s The Curse of Lono to re-read. This Boba Fett tat is taking forever. I can only listen to “Flight of Icarus” so many times, despite Piece of Mind being the soundtrack to my sophomore year in high school.
I’ve always liked tattoo flash, though. Something about the encapsulated art with its stylized brush stroke outlines has always appealed to me. It’s a language all its own, from the bitter cynicism of the “born loser” stuff to the sentimentality of the Mom heart, a crying Jesus, or a cute widdle devil. The darker stuff, like a 13 signifying the judge & jury who screwed you, the Iron Cross and the hooded skeletons with double-barreled shotguns hinting at the nightriders of the Klan. Back in the 80’s when I got mine at the Tattoo Factory in Butler, the Klan tats were right there alongside the faeries and butterflies.
Tattoo parlor etiquette is civil. Everyone might be a badass; look at all the pain they endured. You go out of the way to show ýour tats if they’re hidden, so you fit in. I’m a piker, I only have 3. Signs say stuff like “No Whiners!” “Yes, it hurts!” And “you can’t have just five!” Nowadays girls outnumber guys; they come in gaggles to get them, the sisterhood of the traveling tats. There’s nothing daring about it anymore, in enlightened areas; some places still find them immoral somehow. Mine only mean something to me, and are all vaguely ridiculous.
My first one was a fox. I’ve only seen another one on girls, which means I alone am manly enough to bear it with pride. My buddy at the time was a complete idiot obsessed with Navy SEALs and he got their insignia; I still wonder if he got the snot pounded out of him by real SEALs, since the closest he ever got to the Navy was the Charlie Sheen movie. I just looked over the flash, saw a cool fox, and got it.
Later I got something even lamer, Pepe le Pew and Penelope- she’s the hapless cat he chases. So I’ve got cartoon date rape on my left arm. I love it though- Pepe has that oblivious confidence and assured sense of romance I think I have. Firecracker keeps me modest, thankfully. I got that in Minneapolis at Tattooing by Yurkew, whose founder passed away last year. My last one was done at Atomic in L.A., with friends I no longer consider such. It was a whim, and I like it. A shamrock to mark my grandfather’s ancestry. I need to mark my 3/4 Italianity, maybe I ought to put a pizza behind the bit of green.
Tattoos are one of the last rituals we have- in the old days we marked important changes in life with painful rites. It burns them in the memory. Usually the pain commemorates the headstrong decision to have a strange man jab you with needles for an hour. I sure as hell remember all the dumb things I did when I was getting my tattoos. Maybe that’s why its been ten years since the last one, I haven’t done anything dumb enough yet. I’ll let you know when I do.