Tattoo You!

Tats, anyone? I’m a fan. I’m in my 50’s now and haven’t gotten any lately but I don’t regret any of the half dozen I got in years gone by. Every one of them has a story of some sort, don’t they?

When I was in my early 20’s I had a friend named Amy. Amy was planning to relocate from Connecticut to the coast of Oregon. She bought a 20+ year old VW camper – you know, the kind with the pop up top and the hammock and the rear seat that’s a bed? Anyway, she bought this rusted up ol’ thing and got herself a couple gallons of Bond-o and pretty soon she was packing up to go. I didn’t think it was a great idea for her to make that trip by herself because the thing had a top of speed of 45 and it was going to take like two weeks for her to get out there. So, of course I offered to use my two weeks of vacation time from work and go with her. That’s a great plan. We only got as far as Pennsylvania the first day and we camped out on the edge of an Amish farm the first night. We listened to the crickets as it got dark and we got ready to go to sleep. I was on the bed and she was in the hammock. For about ten minutes she was in the hammock, and then the 20+ year old canvas gave way and down she came. We slept in rest areas and truck stops where we also showered. Every night we’d get off the road when it started getting dark and looked for whatever local watering hole we could find where we’d sit and drink with the townies for a few hours, then we’d find a place to park the van and sleep. One night a guy in a bar offered to let us sleep on the pull-out couch in his office. We went. We left an hour later when he came back to check on us after we went to sleep. We figured we were safer in the van. We did spend one night under someone’s roof when we got to Omaha, Nebraska. Omaha is exactly half way across the country. We saw a Jehovah’s Witness Kingdom Hall, and we’d both been to those a couple of times so we went in and talked to some people and a really nice family took us in for the night. Since we were at the halfway mark we decided to get tattoos to commemorate the occasion. I picked out a small black dragon against a red sun. Amy was still looking through the books when they started on me. I was getting it on my left shoulder blade. She saw the blood and chickened out. But I had mine.

A couple of years later I was a member of a Yahoo writers’ group and got to be good friends with a bunch of the other writers. One lived in Des Moines. One of her other hobbies was bellydancing and she was in a troupe that was going to perform at the Iowa State Fair. I thought that sounded really cool and decided that I would drive out there and see her perform. Now, this was in the 1990’s and while I’m sure GPS existed I didn’t have one. I had Mapquest on the computer, though, and saw that if I could find Route 80 I could just head west until I ran into Iowa. How hard could that be? I was pretty sure if I headed south west from CT I could find Route 80 in like New Jersey or something. So I packed up and left at like 3 in the morning to be far away from NY when rush hour hit. It seemed like I was in PA for about nine hundred days. I wasn’t exactly sure how far Iowa was from Connecticut but after about ten or eleven hours on the road I figured I had to be almost there. I was wrong. I stopped at a rest area and checked one of those “You are here” maps and saw I was only about HALFway there and just about cried. It was far too late to scream, “Abort! Abort!” and turn around. So onward I went. The one thing my friend had advised was, “They’re doing construction in Gary, Indiana so don’t be there during rush hour.” I only half listened to her at that point because what were the chances or me being in Gary during rush hour? So, 5:00 rolls around and I am at a dead stop on the highway, worst traffic I’d ever seen. I look up at the exit sign I was crawling by and what do I see? Yeah. Gary friggin’ Indiana. At rush hour. It took almost 22 hours to get to Des Moines but I finally made it, having driven right through, stopping only to pee and get gas. We went to the State Fair two days later and there was this trailer at the fair and these bikers from Ottumwa, Iowa there doing tattoos. Well, Radar O’Reilly from MASH was from Ottumwa, so these guys must be okay! Right? Sure! I’m amazed sometimes that I lived to be this old. So, we decide that we’re going to get tats. I find my design right away; this really cool dragon and it’s gonna go on my chest, on the right side. My friend was still looking at the Celtic knot designs when they started on me. And she saw the blood. Yeah, it bleeds when they’re sticking a needle into your skin. Apparently some people think that tats are licked on by kittens or something. So, once more there I am with a nifty new tat and my friend without.

About a year later some friends and I were going to meet up in Toronto, Canada for a few days. This time I took a plane instead of a car. We all met up in the late afternoon, checked into the hotel and got together for dinner. There was about a dozen of us total and we were booked two and three into a room. The first full day we were there we all stuck together and saw some popular sites. That night I looked in the phone book and found a tattoo parlor not far away from where we were staying and decided I was going to go there the next day. By myself. My friends all thought it was a great idea and wanted to come get some done, too but I knew better by that time and told them to just do their own thing and I’d meet up with them later. So, I go and get this big tiger head on my right hip and it’s awesome. But it’s big. And colorful. And it hurts. I could only comfortably wear this pair of black satin boxer shorts – they had Winnie the Pooh characters on them but I was cool with that. I went back to the hotel, we had some dinner and started drinking. We got tired and went upstairs to our rooms and my roommates were both snoring so loud I couldn’t sleep. So, I put my boxers back on and went back down to the hotel bar. David Carradine (Kung Fu, the Grasshopper, yes) was there playing the piano. He was shooting a series in Toronto and we were there for a convention. I hung around the piano for a while, having more cocktails, and in between songs I chatted with him. I showed him my shorts and told him, “I have Pooh on my ass!”

When I was living in East Haven, CT, right after Marty moved in with me we talked about maybe getting tattoos. I was quite certain that he was the one person who wouldn’t chicken out on me. But we weren’t sure where to go. My friend, Mary called me and said that she knew a great tattoo artist but he’d just become homeless and was sleeping in his car in a cemetery. So, we invited him over, spent the evening with him and offered him our guest room for a few months – in return for some tats. I got the Baptism of Jesus on one arm and a beautiful crown of thorns and heart on the other arm, all in the comfort of my own living room. I think that was the best of all.

If I’m going to get any more I’d probably better get them soon before the wrinkles and sags set in!!

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