“I was thinking about getting a tattoo! I’m nervous! What do you think?” —Tina Wants a Tattoo
I have a few tattoos. I got them a while ago, and do not think of them very often. They’re both on my left arm, between the shoulder and the elbow. One I got because I was curious what it was like to get a tattoo. The other I got because a friend was getting a tattoo and I thought “Why not?” They exist now as tips-of-the-cap to my youthful not very wild youth. Ancient hieroglyphs to a forgotten world seemingly a lifetime ago. But I would definitely get a tattoo if you don’t have one and think you’d like to get one. It is definitely an experience worth allegedly having.
And it’s good to be nervous. When you get a tattoo, someone is literally attacking your arm with a bunch of needles. You are being stabbed over and over again. Blood is coming up to the surface. It’s kind of hard to sit still for it. It’s like OK OK pain OK OK pain. Every 3rd poke or so feels bad. I’ve built my entire existence around avoiding being stabbed or bleeding at all. I am definitely a flight man in the fight or flight scenario. But sitting still is pretty key during the entire tattooing process. And having to put up with all the bleeding is a big part of it.
I fainted a little during my first tattoo. The guy who was tattooing me said I should have warned him I was going to faint. But you don’t really know that you’re going to faint until you do actually faint. So instead, I just fainted, without warning. Luckily he did not tattoo a long line down my arm on the way down.
It’s nice to change up your look every once in a while. Grow a mustache. Get a mohawk. Don’t worry about the permanence of your tattoo. The image itself is possibly beside the point. You could get tattoos that say TATTOO #1 and TATTOO #2. Sometimes the journey is the destination, especially with tattoos. I have a giant 8 ball with the symbol for infinity inside it. It came from a dream I had in which I was covered in pool balls. Who knows why I thought this was something I should encase in skin forever. But I did. The 8 ball is kind of oblong looking, but still pretty solid. I also got a little birdy that flies around the 8 ball. This was someone else’s idea for a tattoo and I think I got a discount for punking her idea. It’s a cheerful little bird.
I had planned to get many more tattoos but having the first two kind of answered whatever questions I had about having tattoos. I admire the people that get a ton of them. When I went in to get the 8 ball one the guy in front of me had a massive, complicated Jesus on the cross chest tattoo they were just doing some rays of light on. I admired his vision, his financial commitment, his hidden piety. I think it’s great that some people want to cover every part of themselves with ink. I was never that committed to anything, I’ve just kind of flitted through life waiting for things to happen to me. And I still would like to get both my ears pierced like Richard Greico on “21 Jump Street.” So that maybe can still happen.
It’s nice to think that somehow we’re not finished growing or changing. And that, on a whim, we can make strange alterations to ourselves that can last a lifetime. Or shackle ourselves to the dream symbology of our youth. But it’s also kind of fun in a carthic way. You’re bleeding. You cover it with plastic. You rub it with balm. It heals. And you have a wonderful tramp stamp or whatever. I wouldn’t get a tattoo you couldn’t see. That seems kind of less fun. I look down frequently and think “oh yeah, I got some tattoos.” I would like to get someone’s face tattooed to my butt. But who? Very few people have ever seen my naked butt. Should it be one of them? Or should it be a famous person who will never see it? Unless I tweet it at them some night. If it’s someone I really like tattooed to my butt, how do you have that conversation with them. “Hey, Jonathan Safran Foer, sorry to bother you, I have tattooed your face to my butt and I just thought I’d let you know.” That would probably safran freak him out.
I’d avoid getting neck and hand tattoos first. Those are for the more advanced. Pick something small, pay less than 100 bucks for it. Pick a spot you can always cover up if you need to hide it from your mom or something. And, yes, always do the dumb things you gotta do. The world is a place in which we should celebrate our mistakes. We should revel in our bad taste. And we should follow all journeys into circles of spiralling-out.
Jim Behrle lives in Jersey City, NJ and works at a bookstore.