Not the Best Evening of My Life

Ahh… 1993, the beginning of the tattoo craze, and I was there. Tattoo Ted and his wife, originally from Batavia, Iowa, tattoo parlor on Rosecrans Street in San Diego, near the Naval Training Base and the bay. Samples on the wall, not actual SKIN samples, but photos. We’d been planning it for a weeks. My friend was very afraid of needles because of HIV. He was from Zürich where, at the time, heroin was such a problem that public toilets had blue lights so people who went into them to shoot up couldn’t find their veins, so, in parts of Zürich there were used needles everywhere. Because of this he systematically, with the hysterical thoroughness driven by paranoia, researched every tattoo parlor, studying their sterilization processes. We ended up at Tattoo Ted’s because of his autoclave, not because of his skill.

After looking at the wall for a while, I picked out a Celtic Knot — an absurd choice given my appearance, like it needed to reinforced? Everywhere I’ve traveled people have immediately said, “You must be Irish” except China where the consensus was that I was Swiss. I’m both those things and the official name of Switzerland is Celtic Confederation (Confederation Helvetica). My friend got a tribal to go around his ankle, not because he was from a tribe but because he thought it was cool.

I wasn’t young; 41, and my skin had already lost some elasticity, so as I sat there with my back exposed — the tat is on my left shoulder — Tattoo Ted found it a challenge to do well on the loose canvas. “Stretch her skin, buddy,” he said to my friend, who tried with a mixture of horror and hilarity. It’s one of the worst tattoos anyone ever had that wasn’t done by the other kids in high school history or something. It’s like and not like those in the featured photos. And no, you can’t see it.

It’s black. Just an outline. I was supposed to go back and have it filled in with color, but I never did. Why not? Well, there are a lot of things in life more fun than getting a tattoo. There’s even PAIN that’s more fun than that, like falling off your bike and landing on a broken Coke bottle or playing tennis barefoot on an asphalt court on a 95 degree day or being sideswiped by a pick-up truck that tosses your head against a curb.

The boys on bikes were all jonesing for tattoos but no one had that kind of money. NOW a couple of them (in their late forties) sport complete sleeves, from wrist to shoulder. Their first tattoos were done by their friends using a needle and ballpoint pen. When they turned 18, and got jobs, they got tattoos as dumb as mine. One of them got the name of his hometown across his back in Gothic letters — that made me laugh because I figured if he got lost, all anyone had to do was put a few stamps on his back and send him home.

Anyway, that’s $100 I wish I had back.

37 thoughts on “Not the Best Evening of My Life

  1. We know a fellow who, in his teens, had both arms thoroughly tattooed. Now more mature, he’s bought himself a laser and is slowly removing all those ugly illustrations–a painful process.

  2. I have tattoos on various parts of my body, and when I was having my cancer surgeries several years back, my surgeon always joked to me, “I got near the tattoo but didn’t touch it.” The nurses always smiled and nodded as if to confirm. They almost made surgery fun.

  3. some of the art is lovely, and then there’s the issue of aging skin. But the primary issue is the pain–just can’t imagine putting up with it for decorative purposes, and I guess that tells the truth–doesn’t mean enough to me to suffer for it. I like the idea of the post op zipper–that’s just quirky enough to be worth it!

    • I saw that zipper online and thought, “OK, if have to do that, I’m getting that tattoo because GRRRRr.” As for the pain, it’s like being burned with a cigarette for — in my case — 45 minutes. As I said, there’s a lot of pain that’s more fun.

      • Yes, I appreciated your examples. And as I still have rocks in my arm from one of my big bike crashes, I figure I’ve done my time. I wonder if one could have the tattooing done while under for surgery. Share the OR. Wouldn’t work for decorating an incision, but could do the other side.

  4. After my mastectomy (my second, and a double this time) I decided to get a chest tattoo so I could see something pretty and meaningful instead of scars (made even more ugly by radiation and adhesions). Four hours of that burning – yes, would do it again!

  5. I had a patient who’d had an amputation between elbow and wrist. The skin was stitched together in three flaps. She had a ribbon tattooed along the incisions so it looked like it was laced through the holes. There was a bow at the end to hold it all together. The ribbon was two-toned to look three dimensional. It was beautiful and clever. If people were going to stare at her arm anyway, now she could show it off. (The burn patients who were upset about their tattoos being damaged are another story all together.)

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