Our friend Marty was with us, and with his car, we would make a speedy retreat to Harvard Square, at which we would gorge ourselves on IHOP pancakes and snausages and then tromp upstairs at The Garage, where Kelly the Wonder Tattooist was doing his brief Boston furlough to get all his regulars inked before blasting back to Texas to get married and, um, curse urban sprawl or whatever else you do in Texas. We’d been in contact with Kelly for at least a month, shooting our ideas and getting his refinements back. I know it’s almost absurd by now to point this out, but Jesus, isn’t the internet awesome?
Shawn had had a lengthy internal debate about what to get. He knew he wanted one, and I think he was pretty sure he wanted something comics related, but the most obvious choice – Scarlet Witch, his favorite comic book character – wasn’t as obvious as one might think. “I don’t want red on my body,” he told us all later. “If I’m going to have a color, I don’t want it to be red.” This is foreshadowing! Watch as a theme emerges!
He finally settled on a character I wasn’t familiar with, another witch named Clea. Apparently she’s Dr. Strange’s girlfriend. I wasn’t even aware that Dr. Strange had a girlfriend. (If she was in the DC universe, she’d be his “girl-friend”, and she would turn into an African American lady in a completely earnest yet totally racist plot development that later generations will find uncomfortable.) All I knew is that she had white hair like Abby’s from Swamp Thing and that was reason enough for me to dig her. Shawn actually went a step further and, knowing Kelly’s repertoire, wanted her done in the style of a pin-up girl. I could carefully explain why my feminist partner wanted a pin-up girl on his arm, but I have a friend who’s a vegetarian leather-bear; we all have complexities.
My own idea was much more simple: “There’s this eagle in a circle with a star on my Bob Seger concert T-shirt! That concert sure was bitchin’! I want an eagle tattoo!” Some of my ink requires a lot of intense thought and personal experience. Some just happens. The design was really nifty, I went through an intense Seger phase when I was working at the college, and I’m basing a book on after one of his songs. That’s all I really needed. I did have my own internal debate late in the game; after seeing Winnie-the-Pooh this weekend with Marty, my desire to have a Pooh tattoo strengthened … but the eagle was what I really wanted, and I knew Kelly would do it right.
We got to the shop and almost at once, Kelly pointed out his weight loss. I am of two minds about hot guys losing weight. One, if it’s a health thing, I am on board. I want them to be around longer. Two, but all the yum! I miss the yum! “I’m less ‘beefy and resplendent’,” Kelly said, pointing to his gut. Kelly never misses an opportunity to make fun of this line, which I used to describe him in my first Kelly tattoo entry. Apparently it cracks his girl-friend up. (BTW, Kelly’s still way hot. I don’t want to leave anyone on tenterhooks!)
Still beefy and resplendent! See!?
Kelly was unused to the chair, which looked a bit like a torture device my vegetarian leather-bear friend might have bought online. “This isn’t my usual equipment,” Kelly apologized. “You’re going to have to turn your body in a weird way. Just let me know if you need a break, okay?”
Shawn told me later he expected a panicked, frantic reaction to this. I don’t know why. My lunatic mood swings don’t come until after thousands of needles jam foreign substances into my flesh. I also want to point out that I had switched out my Bob Seger shirt for this red sleeveless getup that looked like the top half of a 1920s bathing suit that
"The seashore! Why, that's a FINE place for a picnic!"
It always starts with one word: “Ready?”
It ends with one word, too: “Yes.”
The pain … look, if you’ve gotten tattooed a lot, you know there’s pain. A lot of pain. You’re never used to it, because it’s abnormal pain, but it’s not agony. Part of the reason I’ve never gotten into hardcore S&M is because I never get those endorphins that people always talk about. It’s always just, you know, ouchy. But I get it when I get tattooed. It doesn’t kick in until about twenty minutes in, but when it does, man, I ride that thing like a luck dragon. I go at it with a force, because I’m going to lose it somewhere down the line, and I never get it back.
But oh: oh, there is agony this time. It comes at the back of my arm, where the baby-flesh is closest to my armpit. That part of me doesn’t even like to be scratched, let alone seared. There was no endorphin rush. There was no riding the wave. There was just gritting my teeth and squeezing my eyes closed and getting through this together. Have mercy.
No mercy here.
While Marty was TAKING pictures, Shawn took the opportunity to MAKE one. He sat in the little vestibule outside Kelly's studio, sketching. Later, he said, "There was such an intensity on your face I needed to capture. You don't have any eyes." Comforting?
About thirty minutes in, I noticed that my hands had been replaced with dead marble slabs wearing fingernails, and we all took a three-minute break for stretchies. As usual, Kelly had added his own awesome embellishments. The eagle on my Seger shirt was just a plain Americana outline. But Kelly doesn’t do outlines. If there’s one thing Kelly’s amazing at – you know, besides the whole beefy and resplendent thing – it’s shading. And boy howdy was that eagle shaded.
This isn't shaded. I thought I had a shaded picture. Oops.
I got back in the chair for the finishing touches, and there commenced the discussion of color. Which seems sort of funny if you know me, and my unique and not hilarious affliction. I am colorblind. No, this doesn’t mean I can’t see colors. That’s one of those misnomers! It does mean that I have trouble with some colors, especially if they’re the same tone. The colors I have most trouble with are reds and greens … which was exactly what was up for discussion.
“I don’t know, I think a red circle would work,” Shawn said. Kelly concurred.
“Yeah, the red circle and the star? They’d match the Dr Pepper one nicely.”
Even Marty was on their side. “Plus, it would tie in your Barenaked Ladies and Daredevil one.”
For whatever reason, I was adamant. “No. I want it to be green.”
Kelly sighed. “Well, which green?” I could almost taste them all thinking it (because when you’re colorblind, your other senses are heightened): Oh, the colorblind guy is going to tell me the gradations of the color he has most trouble with. Why are we even here? Somebody could just fingerpaint Kev and he’d never know the difference. Aha, but! Though I can’t necessarily discern color, I know if I like a color. Does that make sense? Even if I’m all, “I really like that shade of blue,” and someone says “It’s purple,” I still know I like that shade. I had Marty get my Seger shirt and everyone looked at it. “Oh,” Kelly finally said. “Olive drab green. Hmmm. You know, that might work.”
“Like the whole Americana thing?” Shawn asked.
“Especially with the star,” Marty concurred. “Sort of military, if that’s what you’re going for.”
“It is what I’m going for, vaguely! It would be the kind of tattoo a hipster would get, except I’m sincere!”
Shawn looked at me. “Dude, you’re a hipster.”
“I am not!”
I'm WAY too nerdy.
Kelly procured a vial of olive drab ink and circled my eagle, shading it so that it looked a little rough and worn. Until that moment, I’m not sure I knew that was exactly what I wanted; when it comes to tattoos, Kelly has a way of reading my mind.
(Interjection: at this point, another tattoo artist wandered in. “I’ve just tattooed my first Peep!”
We all looked around. “A Peep? Like a marshmallow Peep?” I kind of shrugged. A Peep was sort of weird, but considering some of the designs I’ve seen up around the shop, a Peep wasn’t all that nutty.
“No, you don’t understand. The client didn’t want me to tattoo the design of a Peep. She wanted me to tattoo a Peep.”
And then he showed us this.
There was a whole backstory, but I’ll skip it because this picture is awesome.)
Kelly finished me up, I looked at myself, and was again amazed at how much better it turned out than I’d expected. This is why we keep going back to him. He bandaged me and we all went down to Starbucks for a break. My tattoo-day mood swings hadn’t set in yet, so thanks, brain! I had a coffee cake and a white chocolate mocha, because I’m worth it.
Upstairs, Shawn was allowed to recline in the chair, because (a) his tattoo was in an easier place to reach, or (b) Kelly has about had it with my Disney obsession, my understated sexual harassment, and my mainstream music choices, and it was time to pay up. Probably it’s A, but I am aggressively mainstream. Well, mostly. We’ll get to that in a sec.
He laid into Shawn with a fervor that only comic-book fans can share, and at once I held Shawn’s hand. “I’m fine!” he said. “Totally fine!” He wasn’t fine. But he bore it well! Oh, my sweetie!
At one point, Marty asked something about the tattoo gun Kelly was using. At once, I said, “Machine.”
Kelly looked up. Everyone looked up. “It’s not a gun, it’s a machine.”
Kelly smiled. “Well, look at you with the knowledge.” When I get into something, I don’t go half-assed. Another thing to know: it’s never a parlor; it’s always a shop.
Kelly’s neat rockabilly music ended and he told me to pick something. “It’s my iPod, so I’ll like whatever you put on.” Fervently, I looked for some Springsteen … and then stopped. “Oh wow. You have Gaslight Anthem?” I looked back at Kelly and he looked up at me. Every once in a little while, I like cool music no one’s heard of. Law of averages, I suppose.
Clea ensorcels the sun!
I hoped it would be American Slang, their newest album I loved all the way through, and not Sink or Swim, their first album I only liked intermittently. What a surprise, then, that it was their heretofore unsuspected second album, called The ’59 Sound. I spun it up and we all got lost in the music for awhile. I don’t think people do that much anymore. We’re here in a tattoo shop, my arm hurting, Shawn getting his ink done, Kelly hunched over, Marty in the corner observing it all, and we’re all listening to fine new music none of us are all that familiar with.
Before Shawn was done, I bought the album on my phone and I’ve been listening to it constantly. Because I’m a slave to pop culture, I am often desperate to find songs that describe a particular occasion, some life event I can recall whenever I hear the song on random. Sometimes it doesn’t happen, because you can’t force it to happen. And sometimes, you get a whole record that makes you remember the end of July, and the way you finished off your birthday, and the sound and the smell and the feel of new ink, and the fact that you’re there with your buddy and the man you love and it’s one of those awesome suspended moments that never really fade away.