Saturday, November 11, 2017


I was getting a tattoo.

My twenty-four year-old daughter had gotten one, an owl, the symbol of Athena.  She suggested I get one, too.  She was visiting me in New Orleans.  I decided I would.

You may wonder: why?  Why did I want to get a tattoo at all?  
Good question. I’m tempted to say, “Why not?”  The answer is, simply, for the adventure.  For the sense of solidarity with my daughter.  For the—badass-ness of it.  One of my friends here, a man about my age, said, when I told him that I was thinking about getting a tattoo,

“But you’ll have that on your body for the rest of your life!!!”

“I’m seventy-three.  Rest-of-your-life is not particularly worrisome at this point.”

Anyway, it wouldn't be anything unusual in New Orleans, a heavily tatted city.  (I’ve picked up some jargon along the way.) I'd chosen the likeness of a bicycle for my tattoo, an old Raleigh three-speed that I owned when I first came to New York and that I'd loved.  My daughter had pulled a photo from the Internet for the tattoo artist to work from.
The hour arrived, and my daughter and I drove to Pigment, the tattoo parlor on Magazine Street in New Orleans we'd chosen.  On the way up, I asked her if the actual tattooing hurt.  She'd gotten hers in New York where she lives.

“Not really,” she said.  “I was nervous when I went in, but when he started, it just felt like he was putting pressure on my skin with the needle.”

We arrived at Pigment.  I had just one moment of hesitation, at the door.
“Dad?” my daughter said, a slight bit of tone in her voice.

“Yes! Yes! I’m doing it.”
In we walked.

A heavily tattooed—surprise!—young man in a t-shirt was behind the counter.  The place looked surprisingly orderly and, well, normal.  I could see some cubicles in back where the tattoo artists were performing their magic.  No screams.  I explained to the man what I wanted, showed him the image of a bicycle on my daughter’s phone.  He examined it.
“Yeah, we can do that.  Where do you want it?”

I had decided my upper left arm.
“Ok, wait just a minute.”

He went to the back and a few minutes later a young man, slightly disheveled with clearly unwashed dark hair and, somewhat alarmingly, shaky hands, stood before me.  His name was Sean.  I explained what I wanted, gave him the phone with the image.
He then said something. I couldn’t make it out, because he mumbled.

“Yeah, ok. I can do this.”                                    

“How much will that be?”
“Uh, I can do this for one-fifty.”

That didn’t seem unreasonable.  I said yes.  He made a Xerox of the image on the phone and took it back to where he worked to make a sketch of it.
“Do you think he might be a heroin addict?” I asked my daughter.  “I mean, look at how his hands shake.  I’m a little concerned—you know, the needle.  I don’t want to end up with some sort of insane zig-zag thing that looks like a toddler did it.”

“Yeah,” she said, “he is a little shaky.”

“It’ll be fine.”
About ten minutes later, he came back with the sketch.  He showed it to me.  It looked all right, nothing spectacular.

“Sure.  Looks good,” I said.
He nodded.  Then he went back to make a stencil of the drawing from which he would make the actual tattoo. He finished and beckoned me back to his cubicle.

So it came to pass that I was lying in a semi-twisted position on the kind of plastic cushioned couch you find in a doctor’s office, turned away from Sean so as to better afford him a good vantage to work.  And then he began to tattoo me. 

The first thing I realized was that it hurt.  It fucking hurt.  It felt like a constant stream of flu shots.  Daughter!  What the hell?  You told me….but of course I couldn’t say this because I’d seem too much a wimp.  You can’t be a wimp in a tattoo parlor.  It just won’t do.  That would be like saying you don’t like loud noise at a Hell’s Angel’s rally. ("Hey, you guys, be quiet!") So I just took it.  And took it.  I remember lying there, about twenty or thirty minutes in, tired of the puncturing needle and suddenly becoming conscious of the music that was playing all around me.  Of course, it was going to be tattoo parlor music.  And it was going to be loud.  This is the lyric that I kept hearing:

You think your great big husband will protect you, you are wrong!
            You think your little wife will protect you, you are wrong!
            You think your children will protect you, you are wrong!
            You think your government will protect you, you are wrong!

It was sung with ferocious vehemence, in that monotonal, punishing pulse that punk rock does so expertly.  Lying there, in pain, that music assaulting me, made me think, as I winced—what the fuck am I doing here?   I found the song later.  It’s titled “Heathen Child” by Grinderman.  Play it when you’re getting a root canal.  You’ll see what I mean.

I calmed down. I had not spoken to Sean while he was doing his work.  I didn’t want to break his concentration.  After one particularly painful jab, I did ask, “Has anyone stopped you in the middle of a tattoo and just gotten up and left.”

“Hasn't happened so far,” he said in his mumbly voice.  He paused.  “Why—you thinking of that?”

“Me?  Ha ha!  No, no!  Of course not!  Just curious.”

Finally, after what I suppose was about an hour, Sean was done.

My daughter moved in to have a look.

“Oh, that looks great!” she said.

I got up and, slightly dazed, shirtless, looked in the mirror.

There it was, on my arm, a bicycle.

And, I have to say, it looked pretty damn cool.  It really did look like my old Raleigh three-speed.  The detail was amazing—all the spokes, radiating from the center of each wheel, faithfully rendered.  I could even sense the heft of the bike, its presence.  There it was, memorialized on my upper left arm.  My daughter was beaming.  I thanked Sean.  Sincerely.  Because he really had done a marvelous job.  I was, well, in awe.  He looked pleased.  He took a shaky photo of his art.  Then he streaked some salve on the still-aching arm and covered it with Saran Wrap.  My daughter later told me that was customary.

“Just wash it with some mild soap three times a day and put some AV cream on it.  After a few days, it should be fine.”

I put my shirt back on.  I shook Sean’s hand.  Then, with my daughter, I walked outside.  I was suddenly feeling very cocky.  Very baddass.  Seventy-three, and look at me.




  1. Badass indeed, Mr. Goodman��

    1. Judith D, do those question marks at the end of your comment denote a touch of...doubt?

  2. You are badass. I have two now... Small ones. And yes, it hurt like hell. A cross between being cut and burned. A friend, the same age as me, asked me why I did it... wouldn't I regret it? I told her that's the great thing about getting one in my 50's-- probably not enough time left for regrets! No regrets. Go you!

    1. Dear Sab,

      One of my friends here, a man about my age, said, when I told him that I was thinking about getting a tattoo,

      “But you’ll have that on your body for the rest of your life!”

      “I’m seventy-two," I said. "Rest-of-your-life has a less ominous meaning now, don't you think? Rest-of-your life could be tomorrow at this point.”


  3. This is fantastic. Please read it when you come to the Argenta Reading Series. Also, it's worth remembering now the time I sat with you at Community Coffee in the Quarter and a beautiful woman walked in. You looked at her, then noticed her tattoos and said, "Where are the normal women in this town? The ones without tattoos?"

  4. Guy Choate,
    I'm happy to read this. And in terms of tattooed women, well, I think I was wrong.

  5. Hey Brother Richard! Badass for sure. I don't have enough arm (or guts) for a unicycle. But send cheers and many best wishes from CLEVELAND! Brother Eric.

    1. Thanks, Eric. I do appreciate best wishes from the great town of Cleveland. Brother Richard

  6. This comment has been removed by the author.

  7. Looks great! Makes me want another!