"My first tattoo–I was 19, I was a punk rock kid, and I had been thinking about getting a tattoo for some time. I had had a dream in which I had a tattoo of a skull and crossbones design in which the skull had peace symbols for eyes. When I was shaving the next morning, I was surprised I didn’t have the tattoo. So I called up my friend Melody, whose uncle was Tattoo Ray–one of the best tattooists on Staten Island. She made the appointment and came with me to her uncle’s house.
Photo by Joy Gaines-Friedler
In New York at the time (the mid 1980's), tattooing was still illegal: most tattoo artists worked out of their homes and their clientele was through word of mouth. Ray was pretty famous–and I have met a number of people over the years on Staten island who had work done by Ray. He was funny, sarcastic, and quick-tongued. I remember asking him about his needles (this was in the midst of the AIDS epidemic) after all and he asked me right back “How clean is your blood?”
I liked him immediately. He did the work. His niece and I talked. I just remember being surprised how much the tattoo gun sounded like a dentist drill. The little whine, the humming buzz.
My second tattoo: I got my senior year in college. We found somebody in Westchester who did the work in his suburban neighborhood house. I remember little of the experience. The tattoo was not the one I wanted: what I had hoped to get – Tigger with a microphone and a mohawk jumping on his tail – I ended up not being able to afford. Instead: I went with symmetry – and more pirate stuff: a rose with crossed swords above the left bicep. In hindsight, this tattoo has held up better than Tigger probably would have....
Photo by Joy Gaines-FriedlerWhat lasts though are the tattoos I wanted to get but didn’t: After the rose I wanted to get Charlie Chaplin tattooed on me. I asked several artist friends of mine to make me a design, and I got a few of them, but none of them “worked.” And for several years I wanted the logo for my old band tattooed somewhere. But neither happened.
So I went with two for a long time: but I often thought about getting new ink. I wrote. I taught. I created a program for young writers in northern Michigan called the Controlled Burn Seminar for Young Writers. I committed 13 years to that project, and after the tenth seminar, I thought I would get its logo – a lit cherry bomb – tattooed on my right forearm. The logo was important to me: I believe poetry and all art should be a lit cherry bomb. It should be a potential explosion. But it should be fun, too. I looked into it a few times, but I finally made the decision on a lark a few days after my birthday. I was walking on Carson Street in Pittsburgh – tattoo parlor row. I liked the name Flying Monkey Tattoo. So in I went.
Photo by Joy Gaines-Friedler
The tattooist was a kid, He could have been one of my students–he was finishing up his apprenticeship and mine was one of his first tattoos. The seminar after the ink ended up being the last one. It seemed fitting that the creative writing kids got to see it before the seminar ended.
And now, for one of Gerry's poems:And now I’m back to collecting designs: this time, though, I know who’s going to do the tattoos. The next one will be a Buddha carrying a tattered pirate flag on my back. These are the two strains of my life. And I want the MG logo somewhere. I’ve been driving an MGB for 15 years. The tattoo is a commitment and the things I am committed too, the things that define me, that continue to define me I want inked on me. I spend much of my life putting ink on paper. I think it’s only fitting to have some ink on me, too."
Thanks to Gerry for sharing his tattoos and poetry with us here on Tattoosday!
This entry is ©2011 Tattoosday. The poem is reprinted here with the permission of the author.