My Fifth Tattoo at the Darkstar Ink Parlor
It takes a long time to get a tattoo
of a decent size; I’m not talking about
some name that runs along your spine
as that one woman got. “I want Loretta
in handwriting script,” she told the artist,
as if it were unique. The artist, being
a good salesman, praised her creativity.
I was there for a lion on a shield on
my shoulder, to complete my three-
quarter sleeve, which consisted of
an owl, a compass, some filler roses,
and a toad. Why a toad? Everyone
asks me that. And that’s why a toad.
Getting a tattoo at first is all business.
I think that’s on purpose to dissuade
those that might panic once the artist
begins to scratch out the design on
virgin skin. And it is a scratching—
and wiping, and scratching and wiping
for three hours to etch and shade
a lion on a shield. You have to sign
a waiver. The waiver says a tattoo
is permanent, are you okay with that?
Don’t be a ninny. And don’t sue us
if you don’t like it. You sign it,
digitally. Then, you wait an hour.
Paul comes out an hour later after
having tattooed a morose Latino.
I greet him artist to artist, a mix
of humility and genuine affection
for Paul is a master. He’s a quiet man.
He doesn’t like noise in the parlor,
but there’s always noise. He tattoos
you and stops, and breathes, and turns
his head sideways to look at nothing
and continues. The buzz of the pen
is a wicked sound, but in Paul’s hand
it hums and whirrs like angelic wings.
His work is his testament. But first
he has to draw the goddamn thing.
And Paul does this on an iPad.
He asks for a picture approximate
and then adds or subtracts; he tells
you that’s not my thing if you want
some design he won’t approve of.
He tells you where your tat should
go, even if you’ve chosen a space.
You do what he says because of
the seriousness in his doctor-like
eyes. You do what he says because
a tattoo is artwork, an act of love
between the artist and customer.
On the armrest, right side dangling,
every fifteen I shake out my hand
from the strangeness of its sleep.
Paul rolls back his seat and lets me.
Over an hour into it, it feels like
a combination of penance and prayer.
The shoulder stings. It is a wound.
Paul tells me he used to be a substitute
at a middle school in New York.
I picture him in a classroom dreaming
of the clouds and dragons, pinup girls,
and ferocious eagles that now live
on his arms and legs. Then, when
the stomach snarls, almost eight
in the evening, the parlor’s name
in red neon blurs in the beach fog,
Darkstar Ink, quickly moving in.
You should tip. I’ll do twenty percent
at least. Especially because I know
I may never see Paul again, my sleeve
complete, something of an epiphany
sitting there waiting for him to begin:
I’m an older man now, and this is it.
My arm, its eternal decor and pain
tells me so. I request a photo with him
and I raise my phone. Paul makes
a few grunts but stays at the counter
as I pay. He lifted my shirt sleeve
before I left, wiped me with green soap
to sanitize my lion, enchanting the beast
to life. Then he cut a clear bandage,
called SecondSkin, and applied it
to my shoulder, a coolness I take onto
the congested boulevard, red lights,
smell of exhaust, and the closing
trance brings forth the healing.