The day started off like any other. The shop was waiting as usual. My partner was in the back room drawing for his first appointment. A slight hint of sulphur funk from the drain downstairs in the basement accompanied the usual satisfying green soap, blood and adrenaline odor that is the signature smell of tattoo shops around the world. The warmth of the shop is a welcome treat after the biting chill of early January.
My first appointment, another shading session, looks to be a no-show. Probably a miscommunication on my part. I have him marked down next week as well and probably just forgot to erase this date form my book. My next appointment isn’t until 5:00 and I haven’t worked much at all because of the holiday season. Hungry is the term. Short on liquid funds and feeling a little like we’ve tattooed everybody in the world and the business as we know it, is done, the party is over, the fad has run it’s course and there is nothing left to do but find another way to make a living. Of course it’s the same every year and shortly after the holidays are over, the business returns, but today I’m feeling a bit low on funds and so am happy when someone walks in the door. Actually, to be more precise, I am a bit uneasy. It’s the same whenever the door opens, a twinge in the pit of your stomach, the suggestion or mere hint of adrenalin pumped from a gland somewhere deep within that instantly awakens receptors throughout your body. What walks through the door could be the greatest thing you have ever done, or the the end of a long career, the best experience of your life or the beginning of the most prolonged hell on earth imaginable, sweat dripping from your forehead into eyes that would rather not see, but are needed to help dig yourself out of the hole that is a tattoo in progress. It is a bridge that has been jumped off of, a door that has been irreversibly passed through. It’s a gambler’s sensation and a gambler’s life. Day to day not knowing whether you’ll walk with hundreds of dollars or nothing at all. But I digress.
In through the door comes a young lady with a toddler and a small infant in a carrier in tow.
“How much for a name?” she asks.
Well our shop minimum is fifty dollars and I tell her so as she squirms and makes a face as if I just farted. One part of me is not willing to compromise on this and during any normal, even remotely busy season, I wouldn’t, but it’s the holidays and as I mentioned earlier, I’m a bit “hungry”, with not a lot of hope for the early part of my day. I tell her if she chooses our standard nice cursive lettering, Diana Light, that I could possible do it for forty, which is what the style sheet says anyway, having been made when our minimum was forty, and not that long ago I’m thinking.
“You do them anywhere?” she asks.
Now this was my second warning sign, the first being her reaction to our shop minimum. When someone asks if you do tattoos anywhere, what they usually mean is “do you do tattoos in uncomfortable, dark, impossibly difficult, smelly areas that no one in their right mind would want to see, let alone touch or be in any way intimate with?” as I said I was “hungry” but I was starting to lose my appetite.
“Well, anywhere that is tattoo-able. I won’t tattoo the bottom of your foot or the palm of your hand.” I say, not even mentioning her face, fingers, toes, etc. She says okay and leaves only to show up again in a few minutes, presumably having checked in with the other tattoo shop right down the street.
“Okay I’ll do it.” she says.
At this point I use my get out of jail free card because I’ve already wasted more time on her than any forty dollar tattoo is worth, especially considering that I’m feeling she’s probably gonna want it on her bikini line, which is under an unhealthy fold of belly flesh from the aforementioned children and a probable lifetime of Cheetos and Mountain Dew, a prospect that is not very appealing to say the least and horrifying to say the most.
“I can’t tattoo you with your kids here.”
She actually asks me why not. So I mention the fact that there are all kinds of troubles a toddler could get into while I’m holding her down trying to tattoo her. I don’t even mention the implications of her dropping her drawers in front a complete stranger in front of impressionable children, considering that this argument would probably be lost her. I told her she would need to either drop the kids with a sitter or have a friend watch them in the front room while I tattoo her. She calls a friend. Damn!
“Okay, I’ll need to get a copy of your ID and we’ll get you signed in.”
She looks up, kind of dumbfounded, as if I’m SS asking for “ze papers”. I explain that the health department requires that we make a copy of every client’s ID and keep it for a few years. She says she lives right around the corner and needs to go get her ID. She’ll be right back. I’m practically giddy with the prospect of her leaving at this point. Most people in this situation leave and never come back, regardless of what they say. I’m thinking hungry is not so bad compared to the bullet I just dodged. Buh bye! My partner today also leaves the building to run an errand. Like I said, it’s slow.
I go back to what I was doing, or not doing as the case may be, confident in the knowledge that my five o’clock is reliable and will provide me with some income as well as a pleasant evening of tattooing. But as usual, just in case, I draw the name up as “momma two babies with no ID” wanted it, in the event that she actually returns. Just as I’m beginning to relax, the front door opens again and in comes my girl, her two kids and her friend, the sitter. I’m thinking to myself that I just need to get this done. I’m a professional tattooist and it’s time to work. Okay.
“Come on back and we’ll get you tattooed.”
I get her signed in, bring her into the back room and motion to the chair where I will eventually have her sit. I’m running through the pre-recorded brain spew that is my normal pre-tattoo banter while I reach into my cabinet for a tube and liner set up. I turn around and there she is, standing with her pants around her ankles, no underwear unless you count the tampon string that is curling it’s way out from among the other black curlies as if it too is trying to escape this nightmare. At this point you must understand that as a tattooist, I’ve seen more weirdness, grossness and thankfully beauty than the average person. You learn to take it in stride and as the 70’s admen said “Never let them see you sweat.”, but I’m sure I looked startled. I sure felt startled. It’s not too often, especially in the Midwest, that you get a client that is so unabashedly immodest. So I tell myself to keep it together and get this over with. Arguably it’s not the best attitude for a tattooist to have but fuck it. This is not a normal scenario. I can do a nice name with my eyes closed, which is a very appealing prospect at the moment. She’s indicating to me where she wants the tattoo. Pretty much on her thigh as high as it can be without crossing the crease onto her pubic mound. She indicates this by spreading her legs and lifting the belly flesh out of the way. If she saw me react as if I’d been struck across the face with a moldy, putrid piece of sirloin, she didn’t show it. All right, keep it together. I print my stencil after she takes a trip to the bathroom to shave a clean spot. She travels all the way there and all the way back with her pants around her ankles and her goods, if that is what I should call them, bads?, hanging out. Yes, I sent her there to do it herself. There is only so far I’ll go in the pursuit of my cut of a forty dollar tattoo but like a gambler that is down and just trying to recoup some losses I stay at the table and persevere. I’ve spent too much time and emotional currency to give up now.
So I print the stencil and she looks in the mirror and says it looks a bit small. I tell her that for forty dollars it’s as big as it’s going to get. She decides it’s okay and starts to sit her naked ass on the chair. Whoa there! I put down a paper barrier sheet like you see at the doctor’s office, wondering if two might be better, and get her laid back and comfortable. I get to work trying to ignore the string and the sickly sweet thickness that is the odor seeping into all of the dark, moist, hidden corners of the shop at this point. The tattoo goes well. She holds reasonably still. I’m doing my best to see how well my reading lenses work at arm’s length and in a few minutes it’s over. She walks over to the mirror, once again with her pants around her ankles and has a look. She’s concerned that it’s a bit small. A bit late at this point but her friend assures her that it looks okay and I’m not going to disagree. I’m just glad it’s almost over. I put a bandage on and give her instructions for aftercare. My partner re-enters the shop with a look like “what the fuck is that smell” on his face. Baby momma pays and thanks me, tells me she’ll definitely be back for a lot more tattoos and exits with her friend and two children. My buddy asks me if the smell in the shop is dirty diapers and I tell him it’s not dirty diapers, it’s pussy. I thinks he threw up a little bit in his mouth at that point. We opened the doors at either end of the shop even though it was about twenty degrees outside to cross-ventilate and looked up drugs on the Internet that induce memory loss. I douched the whole area down with Madacide and practically showered in one of the shop sinks. The rest of the day was fairly uneventful.