Now, look, I know I’m given to hyperbole. It’s my thing. But when I say my thirty-fifth birthday was the best in over a decade, I mean what I say. Friends from all corners of my life showed up for the revelry. There was steak and cupcakes; there was dancing and singing; there were gifts and high spirits and I didn’t want it to end. What I do kind of want to end is the goddamn pain in my arm.
The centerpiece of my whole birthday Kevstravaganza was Tattoo Day at Chameleon. Part of what made this so special was the appearance of one of my best friends I never get to see: Marty Marr of Jersey City, in for the weekend to celebrate in cake and ink.
Marty had no specific idea of what he wanted to get when we got to Chameleon early Sunday, but both Shawn and I were prepared. Shawn’s design – a black and white silhouette of the planet Saturn – seemed simple enough, even though it was crazy cool and totally fit with Shawn’s personality. Mine, however…
I’m not quite sure how to explain mine. I’ll preface by saying that my ink guy, Kelly the Wonder Tattooist (who discovered that I once called him “beefy and resplendent” online and now won’t let me forget it) is moving back to Dallas. I’m not quite sure why. Sometimes Boston seems to be a way stay station people breeze into and out of, which sort of plays hell with us lifers. Or maybe Kelly and his girlfriend are just fans of mugginess and urban sprawl. I mean, who isn’t?
Ah, but as a native Texan, Kelly also has a claim on that sweet, sweet nectar of the gods, Dr Pepper. When I told him I wanted something Dr Pepper-related, he got all excited. But we could never really settle on a workable design. My initial concept had been a bottle cap flying on a wave of Dr Pepper. Both Kelly and Shawn pointed out that brown liquid on my body would look … disquieting. Eventually, I sort of settled on an old-fashioned bottle, with the 10-2-4 design, but that didn’t seem quite right, either. “Maybe I should just go steampunk,” I told him. “I really want a steampunk design, I just don’t know what.”
Kelly looked at me. “Let me see what I can come up with.”
Two weeks later, he had this:
Now, look. I can’t tell you what this is, exactly. A pocketwatch seems most likely, but pocketwatches aren’t generally made of wood, are they? Even in the Victorian era? Besides, what sort of pocketwatch only displays 10, 2, and 4, the optimal times to “drink a bite to eat” in the old Dr Pepper ads? And thus we come to my confession: I’m not sure I entirely get steampunk. I love it. I love the look and feel of it. I love writing steampunk poetry. I dig the idea of robots and dirigibles and computers running on steam power. But there’s something fundamental in there I don’t grasp, in the same way I don’t grasp something about LEGO. It’s not the language per se; the term “new technology” when it’s combined with something steam-powered thrills me. I love stuff like that. But after eight or nine tries, I just don’t have a handle on steampunk fiction at all, which bothers me. Except … maybe I’m just allowed to like the stuff I like. It doesn’t all have to be this thing suffuses my whole existence, does it? I’ve already got a lot of that. Maybe it’s okay to just like what I like about steampunk and leave the rest.
Pepper Technology? SteamPepper? The Pepper Engine? The Pepper Engine Ooo. I like that.
Sunday morning. It was my birthday and I had the privilege of going first. It’s usually Kelly’s day off, too, but he made a special exception for me. He also made a steampunk laser gun for me, which he handed me first thing. It’s all copper and wire and lasery and this is what I love. I settled into his chair and before he put on the gloves, he flicked a button and “Born To Run” filled the studio. The entirety of Greatest Hits accompanied me on my tattoo journey this morning, and I mouthed along to all the songs as they distracted me from my pain. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: Kelly is the grapes, and no fooling. Holy cats.
Now, I’ve described the pain you feel in the chair before. Sometimes it’s a dull throb. Sometimes it’s high and sharp and glassy. It’s never not there, which is something I always seem to trick myself into forgetting. Usually, though, the pain dissolves into something like pleasure, once the endorphins rush in and the adrenaline takes over. This generally happens halfway to three-quarters of the way through, which makes the finish nicer than the start.
This time, though, Kelly had only been working on me for a half hour when it started to feel good. Which, of course, led to abject panic.
No! Not yet! Oh God, not yet! This is premature endorphulation! ONOZ!
Sure enough, an hour in, the endorphins wore off and the adrenaline dropped and oh, was that new pain a fresh trek through hell. Even given the nature of short-term pain memory, I still remember vividly the agony of my Barenaked Ladies tattoo, and how mind-blowingly ouchy the filling-in was. The last half hour on my Pepper Engine is the only thing that approached that sort of intensity. Kelly was detailing then, and at several points, I didn’t care how ugly it might have turned out; I just wanted it to end.
Of course I forgot all of that when I saw the thing. Holy cats.
“The brown looked awful before I added the lines to make it look like wood grain,” Kelly said, pointing it out. “And I decided to leave the actual Dr Pepper logo your skin tone, so it pops.” Boy howdy does it pop! The brass accents are just amazing, subtly metallic. The fine filigrees are just so perfect, and I love how he gave the lettering some shading so that it looks a little rusty, yet gleaming at the same time. At one point, I thought that the shading might have been enough, but I was not prepared for how much more fantastic the coloring made this piece. It is my most complex to date, and may overtake my DD as my favorite of my tattoos.
Shawn went in next with his Saturn, and Marty with his Chuck Taylor logo, respectively. I’d go more into detail, but sweet goddamn does my arm hurt.
But seriously whoa.