My first tattoo was a prison tattoo. Not delivered inside a prison. But it was delivered non-professionally, with a prison-made tattoo gun, by an ex-con, for the price of a 6-pack of beer. About as close as one can get to a prison tattoo without actually being in prison.
It was 1998, I was 18 years old. I was living in my first apartment, I was regularly spending time with Terratism at our practice studio, and I was still identifying as a Satanist. That last part might sound like some kind of regret, but really it’s more that I fell out of love with labels after I incorporated much of the initial philosophy in Satanism that I’d agree with into my way of life. I still mostly live a Satanic life, I just don’t care for the label nor do I care (largely) for the mysticism.
I did, and do, however still love symbolism and the power of protest messages. Having grown up in Phoenix, AZ amongst (what seemed like, if not the reality) a wide majority of white god-fearing folks most of my life, my rebellion was against that system. Symbols that riled those folks up got me excited. Initially, my first tattoo was going to be a baphomet sigil on my shoulder, but I was talked out of it by the tattoo artist1 which wouldn’t be the last time I was talked out of a tattoo by a tattoo artist, and I feel like that’s them pulling the emergency brake ...continue and ultimately it might’ve been a dumb first tattoo to have. It was far more of a religious affiliation than I’d ultimately have liked, and it was a bit large to tell myself “I was just poking fun at religious folks”, or to later decide on a cover up (given that it’s mostly a large black circle).
Our practice studio was shared with two other local goth-industrial bands, one of which was becoming one of the hottest local acts in town. It was an honor to even share a space with them, and we had joint parties with them at the studio that made me, well… us, as close to Proper Rockstars as you could get in the goth-industrial scene in Phoenix in the late-90s. Because of this shared space, any friends of the other 2 bands who shared our studios would just swing on by whenever they felt like it. I didn’t much mind, but I also never bothered to learn names or figure out why they were there. It was like every practice session was a band open-mic for ne’er-do-wells and miscreants who had could’ve at least faked a level of comfort with the bands in and around our space. That was kind of fun for me, cause I liked having not just my band members to perform for while I was screaming and yelling lyrics no one could discern.
One day, two fellas showed up and sat on one of our speaker racks. I think our drummer, Travis, at the time greeted them as if he knew them. He was 30 years old, and I – being the oldest – was barely 19. So, he was far more involved in the scene and went drinking regularly with other bands and their hangers-on. I still have no idea if Travis knew these dudes.
In between songs, I asked the sketchiest looking dude what his deal was. He said “oh, I’m just out of prison and just hangin’ out, y’know? You guys are awesome. Anyone want a tattoo?”.
You, a reasonable person : “Nah, I’m good”
Me, a lunatic who loves a story : “Yeah, put three 6’s on the back of my head”
He perked up “shit yeah, man. I’ll grab my kit I made in prison, but someone’s gotta buy me some beer”. I looked at Travis and said “hey, mind buying this dude a 6-pack?”, and he laughed, thinking he was calling my bluff “fuck yeah, if it means you’re gonna let him tattoo your head!”.
Fast forward about an hour, this dude’s 2 beers in, Travis took the 3rd beer for himself, and while I’d normally shaved my hair underneath the long hair on top, it needed to be shaved to the skin, so I was sitting down while ex-con was taking a BIC razor to the back of my head to clear it out.
A few minutes later, I heard the gun fire up and I sat and smoked a cigarette while he finished.
It looked like garbage, of course, like 3 little teardrops about a week later. But, whatever, it was always hidden. Right around 2005, I decided to shave my whole head bald and one night got the idea to have a proper tattoo artist redo it, which looked fucking awesome at the time …
…but now, 13 years later, with hair having grown and re-grown and the years of age wearing away at 3 tiny numbers, when I shaved my head last week, it looked like this…
It’s less than ideal. I would get it re-done, again, but I have no desire to walk around (especially in 2018) as a white dude a shorn head just to lightly razz a few eagle-eyed religious folks. It was a moment of geographic rebellion and it was hilarious to me at the time, and it still kinda is. Recently, a Jewish woman I was dating told me that seeing a photo of it “gotta say, really turns me on right now”, which was the best (and one of the very few) compliments I’ve ever gotten on it. I think that’s a signal the tattoo has run its course and it’s not like it’s gettin’ any better.
They say tattoos are forever. I say : depends where you get ’em, and how much you care.
Footnotes [ + ]
|1.||↩||which wouldn’t be the last time I was talked out of a tattoo by a tattoo artist, and I feel like that’s them pulling the emergency brake and you’re a bit of an idiot if you don’t heed their advice|