Sunday, October 02, 2011

Middle Aged Tattoos

I got my first tattoo yesterday. I am very excited since it's something I've been thinking about for a couple of years. I just recently decided what I wanted and it took me several weeks to get the design right.

I didn't want a tattoo just for the sake of having one. I'm 45 years old, I've pretty much outgrown that. However, I do feel like the soccer mom demographic is being grossly underserved by the tattoo industry and someone should start a movement to change that. Instead of sticking all those little Jesus fish on the backs of their SUVs, they could have them tramp stamped instead. Or when little Ashley makes head cheerleader the soccer moms could forget about the stickers for their car windows and have little Ashley's cheerleading status tattooed around their bicep instead. I may be on to something.

I knew that if I ever got a tattoo it would have to have a significant meaning for me and it would have to be something I drew myself. I just recently found out that I'm Jewish by birth, a fact my mother and her family have kept hidden for 3 generations. If you're wondering why they would do that, don't bother. They're just crazy that way.

My mother's mother was the Jewish one but her father was Lebanese and his parents immigrated here around the turn of the century. They eventually settled in West Texas and joined the local Methodist church. I asked Mom if my great grandparents were Muslim before they came here but she insists they were Methodist, they've always been Methodist. Maybe there actually was a strong Methodist presence in Lebanon in the late 1800s but that seems a little strange to me. My aunt remembers spending the night with my great grandmother and kneeling on the floor with her to say her prayers at night. I asked my aunt if they happened to be facing the East when they did that.

I was raised in a Christian home with Lebanese and Lithuanian grandparents then find out half way through my life that I'm actually Jewish. That doesn't change anything as far as my faith goes but I am open to exploring my Jewish roots and learning about Judaism.

Shortly after this new revelation I knew that I wanted a tattoo that would represent those two parts of myself and show them to be interlinked somehow. I also wanted there to be an organic element to represent how Christians have been grafted in with the Jews like an olive branch. But I didn't want an olive branch or a vine or anything cheesy like that. I finally came up with this flower design that has both a cross and a star of David in it. I like it.

After some extensive online research, I decided I wanted a white ink tattoo and I wanted to get it at Texas Body Art. It looked like a popular place with award winning artists and it's 3 blocks from my house. I took that as a divine sign.

Yesterday just felt like a good day for a tattoo. I decided that Jayson and I would go to the tattoo shop, talk to somebody about it, get a price, then if it felt right I'd do it.

I've been in several tattoo shops and this one is definitely the largest and nicest one I've ever been to. The staff was very friendly and their background music wasn't death metal which was a pleasant surprise. They were listening to Blockhead, which I've decided I like.

The artist who had the misfortune of asking if he could help us was AJ (Aaron Johnson). He's young but he looks just like Tom Petty so I figured he'd do. I asked if he did white ink tattoos and he said that as a general rule he did not. He said people usually don't understand that they end up looking more like a faint scar rather than a tattoo so they often aren't happy with them.

We talked about this for a while and discussed other options. I showed him my design and he reduced it to the size we'd need for my wrist. He said he normally has to redraw designs that are brought in but mine was good and he wouldn't have to do anything to it. That made me feel good.

After about 15 minutes of talking about white ink vs. black ink I had just about decided to go ahead and get it done in black. AJ went outside for a smoke break and by the time he came back I had undecided on the black and redecided on white ink. AJ was a little reluctant and asked if I had researched white ink tattoos. I told him I had and I'd learned that they will look like a scar, they don't show up well on people with dark skin, they should be done in an area that isn't exposed to sun since it will discolor, there are different kinds of white tattoo ink and most are titanium based, blah, blah, blah.

Don't I look excited and ready to go??
I think that once AJ saw that I had done my homework and knew what to expect, he was good with the white ink. We talked about how if I decided I didn't like it I could always come back in and go over it with black or another color. But if I get it in black first, I'm pretty much locked in. AJ felt good about it, I felt good about it so now we were ready to go.

Everything I read on the internet said DO NOT let anyone give you a white ink tattoo unless it's something they have a lot of experience with. Also make sure they have a portfolio of white ink tattoos for you to look at. I was about to do everything the internet said not to do but for some reason it felt right.

I had to sign a form stating that I'm aware of the potential dangers of tattooing and certifying that I am over 18 years old. Texas Body Art will not tattoo anyone under 18, even if the parent or guardian is present and consenting. The only exception is if there's a court order.  ???  A court order? I couldn't imagine a situation where someone under 18 would be court ordered to get a tattoo but apparently it's possible since it's on their paperwork.
AJ then began the tedious process of covering his work area and all of his equipment with clean little plastic cozies. Every touchable surface was protected. I watched him put a new needle in his little tattoo tool thingie and couldn't help but think it looked like he was preparing for surgery. I got a little nervous.

There was a Tom's shoes sign at AJ's work station and I looked down to see that he was wearing a pair of Tom's shoes. I took this as another divine sign so I relaxed a little. 

While we waited for AJ to finish his preparations, Jayson looked through all the artists' portfolios and tattoo flash on the walls in search of a design for himself. He was drawn to something that looked a lot like Pete's Dragon, which I guess is a step up from the tugboat he used to want. The man has no taste. He is forbidden from getting a tattoo unless I approve it ahead of time or draw it myself. It's for his own good.
Finally it was time. I have to say, AJ was awesome. He's not only a gifted artist but he was very patient with me. Before he got started I told him that I was nervous which makes me babble and he didn't even have to pay attention or reply, just let me babble. I told him if it bleeds too much I will faint. I told him that I'm concerned that when he first sets the needle down it will startle me and I'll jerk my hand back. He gently explained that any movement at all was out of the question unless I wanted something that looked like a big penis on my wrist. I got the point and willed myself to remain absolutely still no matter what.

I asked AJ about all his equipment and tools and he explained what everything was. He has a brand new rotary tattoo machine thing which he said would be good for me since the noise of the machine is often what causes some anxiety. Since they sound like a dentist's drill, how could they not?

He began by shaving the inside of my wrist and I told myself that it was just standard practice and had nothing to do with my genetic hairiness. Everyone has furry wrists, right? He then transferred my design to my wrist with some kind of fancy cool carbon paper thing. We both looked at it a dozen different ways to make sure the placement was exactly where I wanted it.

AJ fired up his rotary machine which barely made any noise at all, in fact it makes a pleasant whirring sound. When he set the needle down I didn't jump or move but I was surprised at how much it hurt. I don't consider myself to be a wimp especially since I sustain frequent accidentally self-induced injuries and manage to cope with them just fine as long as there's minimal blood. I even had a major orthopedic surgery, the Black & Decker kind where they saw through bones, and insisted it be done outpatient. I can take pain. This wasn't an unbearable pain but it hurt. After about five minutes I was tempted to say nevermind, grab my purse and go.

I asked AJ, "Shouldn't I be getting endorphins now? How long before they show up? Can we make them show up faster? Do you have any Lortab? Do you have to press down that hard? How many times do you need to go over the same area? Did you know you look just like Tom Petty? What if I don't have endorphins?  Are you done yet?" Then he found a half eaten bag of cookies on the counter and offered them to me.

I don't know if it was the chocolate chips or if my endorphins finally got with the program but after about 20 minutes the pain was considerably less than when he started. I think it might have also had something to do with the placement of the tattoo as well. The part nearest my wrist was pretty painful but as he worked down to the fleshier part of my arm it wasn't nearly as bad. It wasn't really a cutting sensation but more like a burn. Yeah. It felt like I was holding my wrist to sizzling hot frying pan.

Fortunately AJ is very friendly and didn't seem to mind my constant nervous chatter. We talked about his career, tattoo styles, conventions, family, art, Tom's shoes, and whatever other randomness spewed out of my mouth before I could stop it. At one point AJ was telling me about his girlfriend's parents and how they live in a 15,000 square foot home in the Woodlands. We marveled at that for a while and agreed that we didn't understand how 3 people could require so much space. I asked if her parents had people staying with them or if they entertained a lot which might justify them needing that kind of square footage. He said no, it was just the 3 of them and, "Her mom and dad are both like 58 so they're really old, ya know?" I just said, "Oh wow," and tried to suck in one of my chins.
When AJ finished his masterpiece, he wrapped it all up and gave me very thorough instructions on how to wash and treat it 3 times a day for the next 2-3 weeks. He also said I could come back in a month and he would do any needed touch-ups for free since the white ink is difficult to see when it's mixed in with the purple transfer ink and blood and stuff. Fortunately I didn't bleed very much.

Fresh Ink
Day 2
Day 1

Most of the purple transfer ink is gone now but my arm is still a little swollen and sore. AJ did a great job and I can only see one little area that needs to be touched up...after I score some Lortab.

I sent my mother a text with a picture of my new flesh art. She's not crazy about tattoos in general but she liked what I had drawn and said it was beautiful. Of course that was after the 110 questions she asked me about the process including, "Was it a reputable place? Was it clean? Did they sterilize their tools? Were the needles clean? Did the guy seem like he knew what he was doing? Does it hurt? What if it gets infected? Do you need me to send you some pain pills?"

Since Mom lives 350 miles away I couldn't hand her a bag of cookies to shut her up. All I could do was assure her that I knew what I was doing by letting AJ put his first tattoo on me using the heel of his shoe to bang in the ink with an old hypodermic needle he found in the parking lot.


Jo's This and That said...

Nice! Love the design,enjoyed reading your post. JoAnn

Shasta @ intheoldroad said...

I just read about your tattoo post and had to tell you how much I love it. I had one done when I was 30 years old (I'm 46 now). Its a vine with my son's name intertwined in it. I have it on my ankle. Mine is done with black ink but I LOVE yours in white. Makes me want to get another one.

Shannon Green said...

Thanks y'all! Shasta I would love to see a picture of yours, it sounds great!

Erin said...

Hi there--I'm a little older than you were when you wrote this, and loved hearing your story. Any chance you'd post a picture of what the tattoo looks like now? This is the first I've heard of that option and I like it.