I’d get home from the bookstore late, late, late. The buses from the mall to my house were on a schedule staggered just so that I would usually get out of work forty-five minutes before the next bus was due. We had to wear dress shoes and ties at the bookstore, which I’d always found absurd, so when I shut the door to my little room (checking to make sure that the cardboard around the door jamb were still taped in place, so that the old men’s and junkies’ cigarette smoke didn’t seep in and play hell with my asthma while I slept), my feet hurt and my neck ached and I was exhausted. Too exhausted to sleep, usually, so I’d flip on the little 12” TV set up on the dresser that came with the room … and I’d laugh my goddamned ass off. My salvation in those early days of living on my own was Mystery Science Theater 3000, the show about the guy on the spaceship with his little robot buddies – Crow and Tom Servo and Gypsy and Cambot, for whom I would eventually be nicknamed – who are forced to watch bad movies and survive only my making fun of them. I watched Attack of the Eye Creatures. I watched Crash of the Moons. I watched, dear God, Manos: The Hands of Fate. And I fell in love.
Sometimes Tracey would come over to my rooming house with her then-boyfriend Pete to watch with me. My friend Jim would sometimes come by and fall asleep watching it, because he was a chauffeur and started work at 3:00 in the morning. Eventually, Tracey moved out of Quincy and I moved out of the rooming house, and I’d go to Brookline to watch it with her and her boyfriend Jerry. Yep. It stinks!
Things mutated. I lived in a studio apartment now, at least three times the size of my room at the rooming house. I had a kitchen. In which to put my generic Stop & Shop sodapop. Dave (also from the bookstore, and who introduced me to not only Bruce Springsteen but also Daredevil, making him one of the most important touchstones in my cultural development) and Tracey would come over and watch with me. Eventually, we invented the Geek Sleepover. Dave would pick us up at the train station in Quincy (Town of Presidents, don’t you know) and drive us back to his place in Fall River (conveniently located to New York City, only three hours away!) We’d load up on KFC and Utz and soda and get in our jammies and put puddles of water outside the bathroom every time Tracey went in so she’d step in the puddle and get her feet wet, because we’re grownups. And we’d watch MST3K together. Rowsdower!
We’d listen to the songs. We’d make in-jokes about the show. We’d circulate the tapes. I bought the Amazing Colossal Episode Guide and read it to literal tatters. When I met Shawn, I discovered that he and his former roommate Kenna used to watch the show (Shawn disconcertingly called it Mystie), and it was True Love Always. Soon, Shawn was joining us for Geek Sleepover, and you ever get those moments where your life actually seems like a narrative rather than a series of random stuff that happens? Yeah. That. Eventually, I met my buddy Kenny in Texas, and he was a die-hard MST3K fan. Whenever I would visit Texas, we’d watch the show. When he moved to Boston, I’d go over and we’d watch reruns. For a brief, burning time, Kenny was one of the best friends I’d ever had, and we’d nerd out completely to old episodes. I’ll blame Rocky and get away scot free!
Geek Sleepover ended, because everything ends. But, I’m discovering, things rarely end forever. Much like I’m rediscovering Rocky Horror now with Vickie and Duncan and Marty, MST3K as a thing rose up again in my life. Dennis, the funniest man I’ve ever known, decided to start organizing MST3K afternoons. Now, I’ve never really been a gamer, but I did Dungeons & Dragons in high school and I know how the experience is. This was like that, only in my specific area of nerddom. We’d head over our friend Emmy’s house or Dennis’s house and we’d order pizza and drink soda and eat chips, and lose our minds watching MST3K. Lose. Our. Minds.
When I found out my tattoo guy, Kelly, was coming back into town for a few weeks, I booked an appointment with him immediately. I contacted him on Facebook.
“What are you thinking of getting?” he asked.
“I was thinking Tom Servo,” I wrote.
“Are you fucking serious?” Kelly’s a badass who rides motorcycles and listens to psychobilly and tattoos people for a living … and is also a giant goddamn nerd. His huge chest tattoo in progress is the cover of an X-Men comic. He was ecstatic with the idea of doing a Tom Servo on me, and came back with a drawing almost immediately. I loved it, and though I had a brief lapse where I thought I might want a Hitchhiker’s Guide tattoo more, I stuck with Servo. It was the right choice.
Kelly placed the drawing on my bicep and I approved it. I said, “This is going to hurt a lot, isn’t it?”
“Well, only near the elbow and on the side of your arm. Not the guns themselves.”
“Oh. Well that sounds just swell, then!” It wasn’t.
Shawn arrived at Chameleon just as Kelly was setting up his table. His official job was to take pictures of the process. His real job was to let me crush his fingers later, when the needles jabbed into the tender flesh near my inner elbow and I was willing to punch kittens to make it stop.
I got my most recent tattoo done by John, also at Chameleon. His technique is light and long. Kelly goes at it had, but he gets the job done a lot faster. Both valid, both great artists, but you learn how to fool yourself about the pain. My Drive-By Truckers tattoo was (1) in an easier spot on my outer arm and (2) done light and long. So I’m thinking, “Oh, Kelly said it won’t really hurt, and though I know it will hurt some, this will probably be the same deal as before.” Nope.
It’s worth it, though, and here’s why: Kelly’s a goddamn genius at this stuff. Once the outline was in, Shawn – who had been skeptical of me getting Servo – was fully on board. While Kelly has a lot of selling points, dear God is he good at shading. You almost can’t believe a piece of 2-D art on a person’s skin can have depth, but Kelly crosshatched and shadowed until it did. Even before the color went in, Servo’s head looked like a sphere, not a circle. In between bouts of ow, I raised my head to look at the work in progress and said aloud, “Whoa.” At one point, Kelly even impressed himself. “Yeah, whoa.”
Then there’s the collateral awesome. Kelly said, “Since the last time I’ve seen you, you’ve really bulked up.” That was kind of the best compliment ever. (BUCK PLANKCHEST! FLINT IRONSTAG!) Then there were the moments of tattoo euphoria, where there’s pain, sure, but somehow it feels awesome, and you ride that until that more jagged, red, blinding pain rises up again. And the not-inconsiderable fact that Kelly? Is crazy hot.
You know how in the 80s, a stand-up coming knew he or she had done well when Johnny Carson called them over to talk after their set? Well, I know when a tattoo has exceeded Kelly’s expectations when he takes a picture of it when it’s done. He’s only done it three times now: Baloo, Steampunk Dr Pepper, and now Tom Servo. And it deserved it.
I'm the wind, baby.