A tattoo is a wound, right? Needles, dragging through flesh, depositing ink in the incisions it leaves behind, which scar over. So I guess it makes sense that I get tattoos when I feel wounded. Or maybe I just like tattoos. That is an alternate suggestion, which is slightly less dramatic, if a little less narratively satisfying. But I got my first tattoo (a pirate flag on the nape of my neck) around my 30th birthday, when I was feeling a little injured about being 30–not that I was old, but that I wasn’t mature enough to be something adult like 30. And then, my second tattoo (an anchor and a yellow rose), for my parents right around the anniversary of my father’s death. However, my foo dog, the half sleeve, I got because it was time for a new tattoo. And the distelfink on my calf, that was because it was time again. This time, it was also time again for a new tattoo. And also, I’ve been feeling kind of wounded. What better way to celebrate than with some fresh bleeding?
I have been thinking about getting a sparrow–something traditional and lovely and emblematic of all the things that bird tattoos can be emblematic of–for a long time now. And I have been itching for a new tattoo for a long time, too. It’s been over a year, maybe a year and a half, since my foo dog was finished. One morning on the train, with my chin on my crossed knee, looking at my foot and wishing I weren’t on my way to work, I thought, "What I need is entertainment. A tattoo on my foot, that would be something to enjoy right this second." And the next time I saw Iggy, I said, "Hey! I want a tattoo!" And he said, "Call me!" And I did, and the appointment was set.
A sparrow, on my foot, on Saturday night. By Iggy at Idle Hand. If you are in the neighborhood, you need to please give him all your money. He is a fine artist and a fine man and something that hurts as much as a foot tattoo is something you want to put in the hands of a man who will take care of you but brook no nonsense and also be just genuinely fucking talented, all the way around. That’s Iggy.
I showed up for my appointment at 5:30, but he was not ready yet, as I needed to approve the drawing. I approved so much–it was so beautiful. Not the traditional sparrow I was thinking of, with the swirly eyes and the flash-looking style, but exactly perfect anyway. "You specified a sparrow," he said. "So I wanted to make it a sparrow." I got a little sniffly, because it was a perfect, delicate sparrow, and he measured it against my foot, and we agreed that it was awesome. "Go get a drink," he said. "I’ll be a half hour."
A. and I went across the street and made friends with people at the bar. "A tattoo!" a guy named Lou said. "A sparrow! What does it symbolize?" "Well," I said. "Freedom? And–" "WRONG!" he said. "A sparrow is what sailors get when they have traveled 5,000 nautical miles!" He sure showed me. He said, "Give me your e-mail address, and I’ll send you a citation." Which was pretty slick, because what girl in her right mind is going to turn down a citation? I am a nerd. I know. (He emailed me that night, and invited me to breakfast. I have not responded. Was that rude?) After a half hour, we wandered back, and things were not ready. We went back to the bar. That went on until about 8:00. And by then, I’d had a lot of drinks and made many friends. I was scared of the pain, because the top of my foot? Ow. But I think probably all the whiskey in the world and then a full-sugar soda, that was going to make everything okey-dokey.
A. left, and I climbed onto the table, and I did so well. "You’re doing really well!" Iggy said. "You’ve come a long way." And that is true. He did my first tattoo, through which I whined. I barely winced through this one, and I was so proud. My foot shimmied and shook, every time he struck a nerve, and I apologized each time. "That’s right," he said. "I can’t work with this, with your nervous system. Get it under control and then come back to me!" and that was funny. My toe did this awesome thing where it vibrated. I was kicking ass. He was playing the Pogues.
And then, suddenly I wanted to die. Please oh my god, let me die. But let me throw up in your garbage can, first, and why am I sweating and everything is all swimmy? He got me off the table and into a chair and there was a soda and a candy bar in my hands and the garbage can in front of me and a cold compress on my neck and forehead. "No. Don’t apologize," he said. "It happens. It’s nothing you can help." He guided me outside once I could see again and I breathed in and out and I was still trembling and the tattoo was almost finished. The last 20 minutes hurt more than anything in the world, and I tried so hard not to squeak. In through my mouth, out through my nose. We were finished, and I hugged him, because it is so beautiful.
It feels like making a mark on my body, finally. This is my first post-surgery tattoo, and there are so many things I hate about this new body, that make me feel uncomfortable and strange and like a stranger, things being foisted upon me without my consent–not what I signed up for, hello! Except wait, I did. Shit. But here is something I picked out myself, chose deliberately and with much thought. It was something I gritted my teeth through, but knew exactly what the outcome would be. Though the outcome exceeded my hopes, and I am lucky to have such a terrific artist, who is a dab hand with both the tattoo machine and the cold compresses. Now I just have to go sail 5,000 nautical miles and I’m set.