So, I went on vacation to Texas about a month and a half ago and came back with a couple of small tattoos on my left thumb and forefinger. They've been quite the sensation.
One of the two most common reactions has been: "Are those real?" I guess it's a fair question. Most old geezers are not first-time tattoo customers. Getting tatted is something most people do when they're young and stupid, not into old-and-should- know-better territory. On the other hand, old farts don't usually get hennaed, either. The answer is, yes, they are real.
And the other one is, "Was alcohol involved?" Also a fair question. When I was in the Army (when the adult male usually succumbs to tattooness), I was often drunk enough to get a tattoo. I was also frequently near enough to a tattoo parlor to get the deed done. But I was never drunk enough and near enough a parlor at the same time. So I cam out of service with my skin as unblemished as when I went in.
But the answer is, no, alcohol was not involved. I have my niece Melissa to thank for my new ink and, peripherally, my sister Judy.
I'd thought about a tattoo for a long time but held off for various reasons. One is that I'm a notorious mind-changer. What if I got a tattoo and realized the minute it was done that it was a horrible mistake that I would have to live with for the rest of my life? Like jumping off a building and realizing halfway down that perhaps you had been a little hasty.
Another is I could never quite bring myself to trust a complete stranger to do something so intimate with my body.
The first reason disappeared over time. The longer you wait to do something questionable, the less "for the rest of your life" is effective as a proscriptive warning. The second reason was taken care of when Melissa became a tattoo artist. She is family, and if you can't trust family to puncture little holes in your flesh, who can you trust?
(I need to pause here and note with avuncular pride that my niece is not just a tattoo artist but a great tattoo artist. She was already an artist before she fell in love with ink, at which point she just added another kind of canvas to her repertoire. She is serious not only about her art but also the craft of tattooing. She has taken classes on blood-borne pathogens and first aid, and I'd bet she knows more about skin than most dermatologists. She told me that a tattoo artist has maybe 10 seconds after she starts a new project to figure out what is unique about that person's skin and how to adjust her tattooing techniques accordingly. I won't tell you how much an hour she charges (and she works by appointment only these days) but unless you're a doctor or a lawyer, she's probably got you beat.)
Anyway, when we knew we were going to visit my brother in Texas, and that his youngest Melissa would also be around, my sister decided she wanted to get a tattoo, something discreet on one of her ankles. But once we got there, she chickened out (or had second thoughts and wanted to reflect on it some more, I'm guessing she would say). So there I was and there my niece was, all ready to do a tattoo for the family discount (free, basically), so I said, "What the hell, do me instead," and she did.
She asked me more than once during the process, "That's not hurting, is it?" and I kept saying, "No, it's just a little irritating, like a pin prick, nothing I can't handle," and she marveled that her uncle was not a wuss. (I am paraphrasing here to preserve our family dignity.) In less than an hour, she was done, and I was the proud owner of tattoos of the yin-yang and infinity symbols. I knew what I wanted, so my niece wasn't able to tap into her creativity, and the tattoos are rather simple, so she wasn't able to show off her complex skills. I felt a little like I was asking a master chef to make me a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. But, hey, family.
If anything freaked me out about the whole process, it was all the warnings Melissa was compelled to give me along the way: Be aware that this could get infected, so take precautions for a few weeks. Keep it cleaned with organic, non-perfumed soap. Rub it with anti-bacterial ointment periodically. Don't take any baths. Wouldn't want your fingers to turn black and fall off, would you? It's one thing to hear those kind of warnings at the ends of TV commercials — we've gotten good at not really listening to them. It's another hearing them from the sweet little niece you remember as a drooling toddler.
The thing about tattoos is that when you have one done it's basically an open wound, and it has to be treated as such. I've had enough of those in my life to not worry so much about it, but it's still a little daunting to realize you have volunteered for one.
If I had seen this story, I might have been like my sister and had second thoughts: "This Man's Death Proves Why You Should Never Go Swimming With a New Tattoo."
Five days after getting a new tattoo on high right calf, a 31-year-old man went for a swim in the Gulf of Mexico.
Two days later, he developed a fever and chills, and swelling began to spread over the tattoo site, as well as throughout both his legs.
He went to the emergency room one day later. His lesions began to change, developing central purple patches with black borders. Fluid-filled blisters called bullae began erupting over his lesions at an alarming rate, as doctors described in BMJ Case Reports.
I won't go into any more of the gruesome details, but, basically, he died a horrible death. Of course he had chronic liver disease, which was a huge risk factor that left him susceptible to developing a severe infection. Still, it gives one pause.
If you've been considering a tattoo and this scared you to death, I apologize. Just keep your head, take precautions, follow the tattoo artist's advice, and consider these "Seven things you should know before getting anew tattoo," and you'll be just fine.
Of course, it would help to have a talented niece, but I can't help you with that.