Tit For Tat: Pain Is Only Temporary

My friend, Monica, and I had been discussing when and where we would be getting our next tattoos for some time now. Our first tattoos weren’t even planned. We had been roommates for a few months, and on one gloriously sunny day back in 1997, we decided to play “hookie” from work. In lieu of our vocational obligations, we decided to get tattooed. I chose a Thunderbird, from the mythology of the North American indigenous people. I braced myself for the pain, but was pleasantly surprised at the lack of it — at first. The experience became more uncomfortable as time wore on, and I winced once or twice. Nevertheless, I got my second tattoo, an Egyptian ankh, in 2002. I noticed the tattoo parlor across the street from the restaurant where I had suffered through a bad dating experience. As I had five years earlier, I decided to just “go for it”. I distinctly remember the endorphin rush after the job was finished.

Monica and I were determined that our next tattoo would be a shared experience.

Saturday, May 26th, 2018

I drove into San Francisco and picked up Monica around 11:00 AM. We tried to take a MUNI bus to the south of Market tattoo place that I had selected, but the bus broke down at the exact moment that Monica tried to board. The bus driver blamed her, loudly. Monica ushered me off the bus before things got ugly. Luckily, Monica was able to call a Lyft driver, and we arrived to find a small, rather depressing, hole-in-the-wall tattoo shop. They had no availability, so we gave them our names and numbers and left. We returned, via another Lyft ride, back to Yerba Buena Center. We had lunch and took some pictures. Finally, we headed to The Mint Karaoke Lounge, where I was reunited with several friends. I was feeling good and hosted my first live Instagram video (where I was slightly “naughty” on camera). My friend, Rich, turned 75 that day. We sang a duet by the Everly Brothers. Afterwards, Monica had dinner at an Italian restaurant down the street. All in all, it was a good day (despite the tattoo failure).

 

Saturday, June 16th, 2018

Monica and I regrouped and planned to go to Mom’s Body Shop to get our next tattoos. This was the very place we visited during that sunny day in 1997, and would have been a nice, sentimental touch. Monica, who spent considerable time planning our next tattoo “event”, informed me that we would be required to pay a deposit. I remembered that there was another shop down the street called Haight Ashbury Tattoo and Piercing. I suggested we make an appointment there. Monica spoke with the owner of the shop and relayed to me all of the details. We had a tentative 1:00 PM appointment.

I picked up Monica at 11:00 AM. We drove to The Mint Karaoke Lounge and parked nearby. After confirming that we had a non-restricted parking space, we exited the car and promptly begin arguing about the location of Haight street. Google Maps didn’t lie: it was north of us, as I had claimed. We laboriously climbed up Laguna street and took a MUNI bus westward on Haight. In short order, we arrived at our destination. It was Noon, and the shop wasn’t open yet. I hosted an Instagram live video in front of the shop, introducing Monica to my friends. Monica could tell I was anxious. Some of the anxiety was about the pain from the upcoming tattoo; some of it was from the sensory overload of the Haight street “scene”. The energy was all over the map. Monica offered me a 5mg THC mint, which I promptly chewed and swallowed. She was mortified, and informed me, with some exasperation, that I was supposed to suck on it. Oh well

We finally entered the shop and told them what kind of tattoos we wanted. Monica had emailed some images to the owner the night before. We both realized that it was a good thing we arrived when the shop opened (and not at 1:00 PM as planned). Customers were beginning to arrive, and they all wanted tattoos! After a consultation, which included signing a disclaimer, we paid for the tattoos up front. I watched as a stencil of my design was being lovingly created. This was the first time we had requested custom tattoos, and were delighted that they could accommodate us. I had thought a long time about my design, initially wanting a Capricorn glyph. But the more I thought about it, the more I was drawn to the imagery and mythology of butterflies. Monica sent me an image of a contemporary butterfly design, and I was almost settled on that design when I found one of my own. Almost as important as the design was the location I selected. I was going to have this tattoo on my belly, just above the navel. This is one of the most painful places you can have a tattoo. I knew it beforehand, but nothing was going to stop me. Nothing!

Suddenly, I was ushered into the back room by Nick, my tattoo artist for the day. He was a skinny man with a broad, ready smile, sporting more tattoos than I’ll ever have. Oh shit! This is really happening! Too late to back out now. Nick was very kind and explained everything that was about to happen. I told him I already had two tattoos, playing up my “bad-ass” image, and was well-aware of the process. With that, he began. I braced for the pain, which eventually came. At first, it was annoying, irritating. And then it got worse. I concentrated on the light directly above me in order to block out the unpleasant sensations on my belly. Periodically, he would give me progress reports to reassure me. About 20 minutes in, he went over a sensitive spot and my muscles cramped, convulsively. I let out the barest whimper. “It’s time for the numbing agent,” he said. After spraying on this mysterious substance, I felt only pressure, no pain.

Meanwhile, the owner of the shop had started work on Monica’s larger, more elaborate tattoo on her forearm. She claimed that she felt nothing, and chatted up a storm like it was nothing. It was difficult to block out the pain with all that going on, but I did my best. Periodically, she would ask how I was doing. I could only muster a half-hearted “fine” as the most dignified response. Nevertheless, we both agreed that we were bad-asses. We were going to see this to the end.

Thirty minutes later, I had a beautiful, black butterfly tattoo! I took a picture of it and shared it with my friends. Nick then covered it in a thin, transparent bandage. “Keep it on for four days,” I was advised. “On the fourth day, it will start to come off by itself. That’s when you can remove it,” he added. I waited for Monica’s tattoo to be completed. Eventually, her tattoo was completed, and wrapped up in a protective covering. We left the tattoo place with a feeling of accomplishment.

Eventually, we made our way back to The Mint, where we had a great time. That is, until a small, but spectacularly rowdy bunch of guys ruined the “vibe” for everyone. Nevertheless, I sang “I’ve Got You Under My Skin”, “Light My Fire”, “Goldfinger”, and “You Made Me So Very Happy”. In between my first two songs, I hosted another live Instagram video. As usual, Monica brought snacks. I regaled my friends at The Mint with the news of our latest tattoos, noticing that my belly was decidedly sore. The price you pay, I thought to myself.

Eventually, we decided to leave. The rowdy guys became too much for us (and I thought I had seen it all!) I dropped Monica off at her apartment, promising to text her once I arrived home.

I drove home, tired, but happy.

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