I got my first tattoo from a guy named Salt Rock. He spelled his name with a dollar sign.
I'd been a bit obsessed with tattoos for a while and when I finally made the decision to go under the needle myself, for my thirty-fifth birthday, it was a kind of walk in off the street thing. Saw a place, went in, made an appointment for the next day. The place was called Evil Mind, and it was the luck of the draw whether I got $alt Rock or Tortilla Ted.
$alt Rock had a dollar sign the size of a jujube on his forehead and the letters of his tattoo nickname spelled out all Night of the Hunter on the backs of his fingers. And one of those big shaded tattoo hearts or roses - something red - along with the name of his wife or girlfriend (ex-girlfriend? one-night-stand?) on the back of his hand. When he said he'd done that one himself, I felt very at ease about my little lettering design.
When I look back on it now, the thing that sticks in my mind is the moment I could have let it all go wrong. That's the thing about the person I was then - and try not to be now. The first time he positioned the design on my ankle (he took a xerox of it, got it damp and pressed a transfer against my skin) - OK, I spoke up, I said he'd put it too high. Fine. He took a wet cloth and wiped my leg off and started over. But the second time, he had it on there crooked. The lettering, instead of slanting down, went straight across.
I couldn't believe I was going to have to tell him a second time that I wanted him to redo it. And this was not some sort of crusty bulldog tattoo guy - he had a big red heart (rose?) and the name of a beloved (once-beloved? once-be-lusted? imaginary?) woman (shih tzu?) on the back of his hand - there was no reason for me to be afraid to say something.
I stared at myself in the full length mirror - intrepid Amazon warrior woman out to get her boss tattoo - but it took $alt Rock being pulled away to the counter to schedule some piercings for two probably twenty year old girls - for me to work myself up to saying, uh, yeah, see, if you didn't mind...
And he didn't. And he said, sure, hey, no problem. And then without wiping the crooked stencil off and repositioning it again, he turned and started the tattoo machine into whirring.
Oh my god, what the hell. I do not want to have to say something again.
For one idiot moment, my brain actually decided that maybe he could straighten it out freehand. It was that important to me to not have to speak up.
He brought that buzzing electric needle over and pointed it at my skin and I finally said
Apparently when I'd said to him, see, the tail of that N should be pointing straight down, he figured he could just leave the rest of it the way it was and adjust the tail. When I think of all the time I schemed and mulled and reveled over (in?) that design, and then I got so close to letting it sit wrong on my skin