Needles, a constant small stabbing, like one spot in your body being pierced over and over again. That is what I was expecting and that is NOT what I felt. It burned, a lot. The lettering was not too bad, with short and quick strokes, it allotted for many mini breaks to allow me to catch my breath and prepare for the next one. However, it was time for the G-Clef. One long painful stroke. As fire shot through my back I could feel vomit entering my throat. “Swallow, swallow, please god swallow,” I pleaded to myself as he continued.
I sat in a large room, four bright red walls surrounding me. “A Touch of Color” is your typical tattoo parlor. Eight cubicles, four on each side, a desk in the front and a comfortable couch to sit on while a customer waits his or her turn. I felt comfortable here, which was a relief after the long day of high prices and bad attitudes I just experienced in New Haven.
I had been thinking about getting a tattoo for years. I designed it myself five years ago and have just been too nervous and too broke to ever get one. Now, I’m still broke but the nerves have finally subsided, so I began to do my research.
It was a hot Saturday morning, Sept. 1 was the date. I woke up, got my list of places to check out and at about noon I arrived in New Haven with high hopes that I would be back at the pool, permanently inked by 1:30 p.m. I very quickly realized how wrong I was. At 12:05 p.m. I walked into a parlor, the name I cannot recall. The cold central air gave me a chill from head to toe. No one even looked up. The walls, a deep purple, the furniture and floor all black, gave an unpleasant aura. I stepped up to the front desk. It took five minutes before someone realized I was even there.
A woman with a horseshoe ring through her nose, a hoop through her eyebrow and black lace clothing came to the front. “Hello, my name is Annie Patch, I called earlier about setting up an appointment, I believe you said there was an opening at 6:00 p.m.?” I kindly asked her. “Yah we have no opening,” she said without even looking up at me. I went on to explain to her I had just gotten off the phone with someone and they told me there was an opening for 6:00 p.m. tonight. She asked for the design, I gave her a piece of paper with a design, all black and one inch in size, and she turned and brought it to one of the artists.
12:30 p.m. rolled along. “Where did this woman go?” suddenly she reappeared put the paper in front of me and said “$150.00, we have an opening for next week.” She never looked at me, the only thing I knew of her was her black eye makeup. I took the paper, thanked her and left. The next three places I stopped at were no different. At 3:00 p.m. I gave up and drove back to my apartment completely distraught. I drove down Dixwell Avenue and I saw it. Next to a small pizza parlor, was “A Touch of Color”‘s tacky neon “Tattoo & Piercing” sign.
I spotted the number and called. “You have an opening for 5:00 p.m.? Thank you so much I will see you then.” I hung up the phone and I felt there was hope. Then I felt scared. I called my friend Jenn and she told me she would be happy to come along for moral support.
Tattoos, a form of body art, have become a big fad in America. Of the people I know, more have a tattoo than not. A tattoo is a way for a person to permanently put an emotion or expression “on their sleeve” as one would say. The idea of a tattoo and the experience of one are two very different things, so it is key to make sure it is something you really want and know what you are getting yourself into from the beginning.
I arrive at “A Touch of Color” at 1212 Dixwell Ave at 5:00 p.m. A man with short dirty blond hair, wearing a white long sleeve shirt, khaki pants and seemingly new black and white running shoes, greets me with a big smile and I immediately feel welcomed. I am directed to the front desk where I receive a pricing. “A Touch of Color” has a $50.00 minimum. They price my tattoo at $85.00 including tax. Perfect!
Twenty four year old tattoo artist, Jon Mauze, takes me to his cubicle and step two of the tattoo process begins. Step one is picking what you want. This can happen in three different ways. “A person can come in and just pick something from the wall or it can be something the customer designed themselves or a customer will come in with an idea and we sketch it for them,” Mauze said.
Step two is the stenciling. I was surprised at this part. When Mauze brought me to his cubicle he took out a stick of deodorant.
“Do I smell that bad?” I thought to myself and he then rubbed the area with the deodorant where I would be tattooed.
“The ink we use to stencil is like the ink that prints out when you get a receipt. The deodorant, or green soap, which is also used, is what makes the ink stick to your skin,” Mauze said.
Mauze knew I was nervous. He humored me with small talk and answered all my questions. I was surprised at how comfortable I became while I was there. Feeling my back tense up the artist placed his soft glove-covered hands on me. His right on my lower back, his left on my bare left shoulder. He asked me questions about my life and made me laugh.
“So let me guess, you are from Quinnipiac?” Mauze asked. “Is it that obvious?” I asked. “Well it was that or Yale,” he said with a laugh. “Oh yes and I am no where near preppy enough to be a Yalee.”
We both laughed and my nerves subsided. It was a comforting feeling. “Is this your first tattoo?” he asked. I told him it was. He asked me what it meant.
Since I was 13 years old, music has been a huge passion in my life. Throughout high school I was in festivals annually, I sang in three choirs in high school and my church choir as well. I have been playing the piano since I was eight years old and I spent $250.00 on impulse, on a beautiful red guitar while attending Berklee College of Music’s 5 Week Performance Program. My dream is to live my life on stage, but my annoying case of stage fright has prevented me from doing so.
On the stage is where I feel most like myself. Singing and writing music is how I best express myself, how I let my emotions out. In between my left shoulder blade and spine a G-clef was burnt into my skin to represent the person I want to be. The base of the G-clef (that long painful stroke I mentioned earlier) divides the number 14. This number represents what is no longer in my life. My father, a Marshfield fireman and EMT, passed away from esophageal cancer when I was 8 years old.
My mother decided piano lessons would be my therapy. The number 14 was my fathers badge number and from that day on, mine, my sisters and my cousin’s number in every sport we played. The number on my back is in my father’s memory, permanently scarred onto my back, the way his memory is burnt into my brain.
The last part of my tattoo was not part of the original design. It was added this past May when I came home from a semester in Italy. The day I learned my aunt was diagnosed with Leukemia exactly one week after her 50th birthday. Embrace, located above the G-clef and Life located below it is the Leukemia slogan. It is a phrase I will never read the same way again, “Embrace Life.”
Fortunately, my aunt is in the process of a cure. However, I put this phrase on my back because she is my second mother and every time I see it I think of her and the courage she had to fight this horrific disease.
After the stenciling is done, I turn into the mirror to check to make sure everything is in the right place. I designed it myself so every detail was crucial, he knew that. I give him an approving smile and suddenly remember why I am here. To create a memory I know will never fade.
Then I heard it, that dreadful sound that has scared me away from getting a tattoo for the past five years, the machine. It makes that awful buzzing sound you hear when walking by a tattoo/piercing parlor. Mauze showed me the machine and described to me what it consisted of. The machine is basically two magnets and the tube and needle are on the front. It is hooked up to a foot pedal and every time the pedal is pushed down a small metal bar hits the magnets at a very high speed. When this happens the needle is pushed down, it is put on your skin and the ink comes out from there.
There are different speeds for machines. For shading a tattoo, a slower machine is used. Usually how fast of a machine the artist uses is based mainly on his or her preference, what they work best with. Tattoos, some people have told me, are addicting. Joe, Mauzes boss at “A Touch of Color” has a saying about tattoos, “One is too many, 10 is not enough.”
I asked why that was.
Mauze told me people generally come in, get their first one, realize it doesn’t hurt as much as originally thought and now need one on their other shoulder or other arm or leg to even it out. Since he has an estimated 24 tattoos on his body, has been a tattoo expert since he was 19 years old, (he is now 24), I would say he knows what he is talking about.
Mauze began tattooing on his friends for practice when he was 19.
“The first tattoo I did was a three inch biohazard sign on my friend’s leg. It took me three hours to do because I had no idea what I was doing. Now something like that would take me 20 minutes,” Mauze said. “When you are a tattoo artist you still learn things years after you start, like different techniques. You learn along the way.”
Quinnipiac University senior Hollis Skrainski got her first tattoo when she was 17. “I doodled a lot in school, and one day I just created a design I really loved. I started working on it, giving it different aspects and designs. I waited and thought it over for about a year and a half before I actually got the tattoo,” she said. “It was something I created out of my mind, and now it is something permanent that I can share with whomever I want.”
Skrainski said she is thinking of getting another tattoo, but she doesn’t know what she wants yet. It is something that requires a lot of thought. After all, it is permanent. Yes there are ways to remove tattoos now, but they are much more painful than getting a tattoo and the procedure is much more expensive. Mauze’s advice: “Just think about it. It’s going to be on you forever. Make sure it’s what you really want.”
The buzzing stopped. It was all over, doubt enveloped me. “My mother is going to kill me,” I thought. I panicked. “Did it come out ok? What if the number is wrong? Or the G-clef is backwards? Shit! What did I do?” Trembling, I forced myself to the mirror. I got about an inch away and opened my eyes. My smile was from ear to ear.
“I have never felt more beautiful in my whole life.”