The first time I saw my beautiful twenty-something niece’s tattoo on her leg my lips curled. It was a big fat rat. A rat! On her leg right where everybody could see it. It was crawling up the outside of her calf. Eeeewwww! Tattoos – not just for tough guys anymore.
Why?! How could she?
And then we started visiting and laughing just like we always do. She was the same sweet, smart, gorgeous young lady she always has been – just with a tattoo. Well, several tattoos. I didn’t ask about them that day. I was too appalled. And then I started noticing other people’s tattoos and they were everywhere. There were intricate colorful ones as well as plain monochromatic ones. There were hearts and flowers, tributes to loved ones and bold Chinese characters signifying people’s names and such.
Tattoos have been around for centuries dating back to the ancient Egyptians. There is a fascinating summary at the Smithsonian.com site:
To commemorate my upcoming big birthday, I decided to get a new tattoo. No, it’s not my first. I put out the word to friends looking for a recommendation for a tattoo parlor. I was surprised when one of my more conservative friends replied, “There’s a good place called “F U Tattoo” on Capitola Road. My sister and I are going there next week to get matching tattoos for our birthday.”
Huh? Well if it’s good enough for them it’s good enough for me.
I trotted myself over there after checking their website. They open at noon. At 12:01 I walked through the front door.
After being pleasantly greeted by a young man covered with tattoos, multiple piercings and a shaved head I explained my request.
“Oh, Hi,” I chirped trying not to stare at his stuff. I zeroed in on his eyes and told him I wanted a small flamingo tattooed behind my ear…or should I get a unicorn? Or maybe one of each. After all, I do have two ears.
He patiently explained that it would have to be very small or else extend down my neck. Hmmmm. No neck tattoos for me. I wanted the option to show or not to show my tattoos. Yup, plural.
I went quiet and started thinking about what and where I wanted my new body art. He must have taken my silence for apprehension. He leaned in and gently asked, “Is this your first?”
I stood up a bit straighter, grinned, and said loud enough for the others to hear, “Oh no. I have one done by Lyle Tuttle!” It occurred to me that he might be too young to know who that is, but he surprised me. His face lit up and he said, “Lyle Tuttle! Whoa, the man himself. Can I see it?”
“Ummmm, not right now.” I wasn’t about to drop my drawers for some twenty-something kid. I have my standards!
I got the idea for my butt tattoo after sitting on a spider, getting bitten and needing a two-inch incision to pack the infected area. The ugly purple scar was visible in my bikini and I simply could not have that. I remembered my good friend, Geni, got a tattoo around her waist after a horrible car accident on Saint Patrick’s Day in 1972. She was ahead of the curve. She had the extensive scar camouflaged with a vine of the most beautiful red roses that wound around her entire body. This was no sissy tatt. If Geni could do that, I certainly could endure the pain of a mere two inches.
I found Lyle Tuttle on Columbus Street in San Francisco. As I entered his walk-up studio, I saw photos of celebrities on the wall. If he was good enough for the likes of Cher and Janis Joplin, he was plenty fine in my book. He opened his first studio in 1954. He is now eighty-five years old and still does the occasional tattoo according to Wikipedia:
Years later, I moved to South Florida and met an enchanting young woman named Sheila. She had a large, stunning tattoo covering the back of her shoulder. It was a happy, vividly colored butterfly. Or was it a bird? Or a spray of flowers? Memory plays tricks. I just remember it was a happy tattoo and it made me smile.
One Sunday night I was sitting alone in my apartment bored. I dialed my friend, “Sheila, what’s the name of your tattoo artist? Do you have his number?”
Off I went at 11:00 at night racing to get to his shop before the midnight closing hour. I told him I wanted him to tattoo a big, bright butterfly over my fading sprig of flowers. It seemed a simple enough task to me. He examined the spot and asked, “Who did this tattoo?”
I answered, “A guy named Lyle Tuttle in San Francisco.”
He jumped back and exclaimed, “Lyle Tuttle?! I’m not touching this. I cannot mar the work of the master.”
I never knew I had such a sacred bottom.
I thought for a moment. “Okay, leave it intact and just tattoo around it. Can you do that?”
He pressed his lips together and nodded. “Sure, hop up on the table.” And so, a beautiful butterfly surrounded by vibrant flowers was born. I’m told it’s pretty, although I never get to see it and mostly I forget it’s even there.
I don’t know what triggered the idea. I woke up one morning and just had to have a flamingo tattoo. Was Felicia, my balcony mascot, sending me subliminal messages while I slept?
After the initial interview at F U Tattoo (really – that’s the name) we set the appointment for Saturday. I met my artist, Aiden. We discussed the options – placement, colors, and general demeanor which was to be happy. Size? Whoops! We forgot to discuss that.
After the brief discussion, Aiden donned a woolen beanie, rubbed his hands together, smiled (or should I say leered), raised his eyebrows over his black horn-rims and said with his British accent, “Let’s get to work.” Although I tried not to stare at his face tattoo to see if it was a teardrop – you know, the gang symbol that signifies you’ve killed somebody – I couldn’t help myself. Once I determined that it was a cross I breathed easier. I mean, who knows what could happen if he didn’t like the way it came out?
I hopped up on the table and laid face down while Aiden did his magic. I took my mind to the turquoise waters of the Caribbean, gripped the side of the work table and gritted my teeth. No way was I going to admit how much it hurt. Anybody who says it doesn’t hurt is lying!
As promised, my friend Christina showed up to give me moral support. She’s a millennial whose peers are covered in ink of all types, so she was well-versed in the subject. Her face lit up when she walked over to the table and saw my almost completed work of art. “It’s adorable!” she gushed. “Its really big, but good.”
Big?! How big? I wouldn’t get to see it until the job was done. Well, I thought, I might as well like it. It’s already there..
A few minutes later, a beaming Aiden said, “Thats it! All done. Go look in the mirror.”
I skedaddeled over to the wall mirror, grabbed the hand mirror off the hook and looked over my shoulder. Boing! went my eyes. “Big? It’s HUGE!” Objects on your should may appear larger than they actually are. After a few seconds of silence with both Christina and Aiden standing with eyes riveted on me, I broke out into a big smile, “I love it!” They both breathed out and their shoulders relaxed.
As I lay plans for my Big Birthday celebration in Las Vegas, I’m wonderng if I can get a discount if I show the hotel people my tattoo. The party is booked at…”The Flamingo!”
And if you’re ever in town and simply must get a tattoo go see Aiden at F U Tattoo – Tattoo For You!