Saturday, September 24, 2005

We Can Make It If We Run

“Okay, lie back,” the big man said. I marveled at his belly, his massive arms, his rockabilly sideburns. My knuckles brushed against his nipples through the fabric of his shirt. His name was Kelly and he smiled a bit as he pulled on rubber gloves and pinned my arm down. “This is gonna hurt. If it doesn’t hurt, I’m not doing it right.”

I lay back, trying to relax. From the doorway, Shawn grinned and readied the camera.

“You ready?” Kelly asked. I nodded.

This is how I got tattoo number four.

For a very long time, I’d been trying to figure out how to represent Bruce Springsteen in iconic form. I couldn’t do a “celebrity face” tattoo, because those are invariably creepy. None of the albums really has a simple sketch-design, with the possible exception of The Ghost of Tom Joad, and that image didn’t really lend itself to the tattoo process. Eventually, though, I started paying attention to that little symbol that the Springsteen fanzine Backstreets puts at the end of all its articles, the little pictogram of the sneakers. That seemed iconic, a little bit, plus it would tie in (ha) with my whole love of Chuck Taylors. I began to do research.

The image was originally taken from a promotional one-sheet advertising the upcoming album Born to Run. I found it on the Internet here:

And here’s a close-up of the sneakers dangling from his guitar:

At work, I printed out both the photograph and the pictogram, and early this morning, Shawn and I headed down the street to Mongo’s Tattoo Madness, where I’d made an appointment for noon.

I got there at 11:58. One of the artists was sitting out on the bench outside, a pale, gaunt-looking man with faded tats running up and down his arms. “I’m just waiting for someone to come by with the keys,” he said. I shrugged. Five minutes passed by. He asked to look at my papers and I showed him. He kept insisting that I make the tat bigger, then he was quiet again. Another artist – also without keys – showed up and they began to smoke. Five more minutes passed by. I don’t think I’ve heard the word “fuckin’” more times in my life than in the five minutes these two gents shared a conversation. Shawn arrived with the camera and his sketchbook. Five more minutes passed by, and now it was 12:20, and I was already supposed to have my tattoo by now. I muttered to Shawn, “You wanna just go?” He nodded vigorously. The skeeve factor had reached its peak.

“What do you want to do?” he asked as we climbed back into our borrowed car. “Do you still want your tattoo?”

“Yeah,” I said. “I really do. Maybe at the house we could call Chameleon. They might have an opening.”

I called the instant I got in the door, and the jovial girl on the other end cheered me up immensely. “Sure, Saturdays are walk-ins. Come on down!” Thrilled, Shawn and I packed ourselves into the car and hurried over to Harvard Square. On our way to Chameleon from the parking space we finagled, a woman was giving out free cans of Diet Cherry Vanilla Dr. Pepper. I saw this as the best possible omen.

Inside, I spoke to the jovial girl again, and she indicated that, while there may be a bit of a wait, I could totally go in with Kelly today. I looked around. Kelly’s door was open, and he was hunched over a beefy guy with a goatee. Kelly himself was hefty, with thick black hair standing up in a point. Tattoos covered his bare arms. Yes. Kelly would do.

Kelly took one look at the printout and explained that there was no way it was going to work. “The lines are too thin,” he said. “The detail work might look great today, but in a year or two, it’ll be all eaten up by the flesh. Let me see what I can work with.”

He took both the photo and my printout into the studio-room and did some work. Fifteen minutes later, he called for me.

It looked fantastic. He’d made the laces wider and more visible, and the circle around them thinner. It wasn’t an exact replica of the pictogram ... but I daresay it was far superior for the use it was being put to. This was going to be my tattoo. Wow.

I lay my arm down on the slab and looked at it. It was the last time ever my arm was going to be bare:

He started by applying the sketch to my forearm:

Shawn, who has apparently never used a camera before, decided that cinema verite was the way to go today. Ah well.

Kelly asked me if I was ready, and I said yeah. Then, all at once, the excruciating agony of ink being needled into my skin set my arm afire. Why do I enjoy this again?

Midway through, Shawn went to go fill the parking meter, and when he came back, the pain had either subsided or I had just gotten used to it being my whole world.

We listened to the Stray Cats as the filling-in began, which is strangely not as painful as the outline. Kelly explained that it’s because the needles are spread out over a wider area. Even so, lesser pain is relative. The closer it got to the soft, fleshy bend of my arm, the glassier and more electric the agony was.

Seriously, why do I like this?

He gave us the care instructions, and bade us well. Shawn indicated that he’d be back the next weekend with his new tattoo idea, and that he’d ask for Kelly. Kelly’s our new best friend.

When we got home, I took a painfully hot shower and used castile soap on my new tat (The Castiles were one of Springsteen’s first bands. Oh yeah. It’s symbolism day in tattoo land.) When I stepped out, I let it air dry and took one more picture. The finished product looked far better than anyone had anticipated:

And that is how I got my fourth tattoo. Yey fun happy times!

Now, where can I fit Spider-Man...?