Down with it

This tattoo is making my arm awfully itchy.  Karen reminds me that it’s a sign of healing – cuz getting it is like having a skin irritation or bad sunburn; it first stings and then peels – though it feels right now like having mild poison ivy.


Speaking of which, in the lore of spending my summers at Point O’ Woods on Fire Island was one day when I was biking with my buddy Dave along this rail-less wood walk elevated 3-feet over swamp and which ran between the main path and the path that ended at the yacht club.  It was an arc of about 90 degrees and 100 yards long, with only two walkways jutting off to the right leading to houses, so it was a fairly safe place to bomb along, if you were feeling particularly risky and if you were feeling particularly 14.


What made the path even more risky to the Rapidly Moving Teenager was that the swamp over which the path raced along was covered in reeds and poison ivy.  Mainly poison ivy, and where there wasn’t poison ivy, lots of reeds.


I was bombing along behind Dave and of course when you bomb as a teenager, you usually stand up to get Extra Pumping Power.  He was equally committed to making our way along the path in about seven seconds, yet all of a sudden his chain caught and his back wheel went into an uncontrollable skid.  I, being 14 and committed to racing, was about three feet behind him, pumping while standing up and thinking probably more about either the Pop Tarts we just ate or the bikinis that our female friends were wearing that day, and did not have time to react to this skid.  My bike glanced off his back wheel, careened left and I went over the side into the swamp…and reeds…and poison ivy.  Lots of poison ivy.  With my bike landing on top.  I looked up, and Dave was examining his calf, which I must have hit on my way into the swamp.


I sought help.


He offered none.


I sought some kind of acknowledgement that I was lying in a pile of vegetation that God must have created just to remind us that we are depraved sinners and need to be humbled at times.  At the very least, He must have created it when He was in a bad mood.


Either hours later or maybe after twenty seconds, he reached down and pulled me up to the path.  I biked home, not bruised but interested to know whether showering with soap and water would actually stave off the impending poison ivy the way “they say” it does.


Perhaps this is what the medical textbooks tell you that you must do to neutralize the rash-inducing urushiol that poison ivy contains.  Perhaps I thought that – surely – just because I had fallen in the swamp with my arms and neck and backs of my legs soaking up that urushiol like water to a dry sponge didn’t condemn me to two weeks-plus of scratching and Calamine Lotion-ing and at times lying in bed wishing that my legs – covered practically from thigh to ankle with the rash – would simply fall off even if it meant that I would never surf again or walk or be able to kiss a girl who was over two feet tall.


But heal I did.  And my wife is 5’2”.  And she is down with my tattoo.



photo:  loupiote


Thin, like a vegetarian

“You’re thinking too much with your rational mind,” he said, very mellow and uncritical, as if we were sitting together over a cup of espresso at The Grey Dog on University Place in the Village.


I had come in to get a consultation on the tattoo, which is scheduled for Tuesday, and had explained that I wanted the Hebrew word “chesed” on my right bicep, a ring of thorns to encircle above it around my arm, and the seghol vowels of the word, which look like inverted triangular clusters of grapes, to be not circles but rather tear-drops.


Lalo, or Lahlo, for that was his name, was an attractive 20- or 30-something white guy who had the ageless quality of an artist.  He could have been a Benetton model at one time.  He wore a cocoa brown ribbed tank-top, baggy army pants, and his brown hair was in dreads.  He was thin, like a vegetarian.


“You need to think about…” and he went on to explain why I needed to consider this artwork in graphic and aesthetic terms, rather than just its meaning to me, in an engaging monologue that, for some reason, I am not able to re-create in linear words here.  Perhaps what he said created more of a mood and a picture and not a complete paragraph of thought.  In other words, he said, don’t just think about what it means.  Get something that looks cool.


Lahlo convinced me – while assuring me all along that it was my decision – that it would look better if I integrated the two elements, thorns and word.  I was the one who used the word “integrate” at the time.  He did not use such a precise word.  I am sure he used ten or more.  (When I arrived home and described to the Lovely K what we had decided, she sighed with relief and said that it would have been awful if we had stuck with my original design, of which she was unaware.)


After agreeing on the look, Lahlo left our sketch in the folder of the artist I had chosen, Matt, for him to see when he got in the next day.  I went to the front and left a deposit with a kind, blonde woman whose mathematics skill and receipting prowess showed me that she was less of an artist – though heavily inked – and, thankfully, someone who could be counted on to make sure administrative matters were well in hand.


The shop is clean, well-lit, and decorated in a way that reminded me of a funky coffeehouse I once visited on Smith Street in the Boerum Hill section of Brooklyn.  Assorted couches of crushed velvet material, earth tones, 60s-throwback end tables of chartreuse laminate, exposed building elements (heating/cooling vents, beams, plumbing), and wide pine wood flooring.



photo:  berka


For the past six years, at least, I’ve wanted to get a tattoo.


Seriously.  A tattoo.


Those of you who know me should be laughing.  But it would be on the upper part of my right arm, though I had considered my left arm until I got this blackhead a few years ago that somehow got irritated or ingrown and now looks like a 1/8-inch cigarette burn and might compete with a design.  I have a word I want emblazoned on me:  the Hebrew “chesed,” which you have to pronounce by saying the “ch” like you’re clearing your throat of a milk loogie and which is translated variously as God’s loving-kindness, his unmerited favor…his…grace.  (Older Jewish writings claim “commitment” or “devotion” are better renderings.)  And yet the blackhead gone bad might mess with the seghol vowels underneath the first two letters.  But this is not the problem with having a tattoo.


The problem – which is also not necessarily or primarily a question of religion for me (Leviticus 19:28 notwithstanding, which I thoroughly acknowledge and respect) nor is it a problem of having a muscular enough arm (for it’s ripped when you look at it at a certain angle after it’s been working out for an hour…when wet…and if you squint) – the problem is that a tattoo on this person of mine is like putting a racing stripe on a Ford Escort station wagon.


I am decidedly uncool.


This state of Uncoolness may ultimately force me to blame my eventual decision on religion or an atrophying, dry, arm in the harsh light of unsquinting eyes.  And it will mask the truth:  that as hip as I try to be, I am still a preppie-looking guy with glasses who is way too uptight to have body art.  The Lovely K hasn’t expressed a firm opinion one way or the other.  I have a feeling she’s enjoying me wrestle with this mid-life quandary – I turned 45 last month.


Of course I wonder what the boys would think.  If Dad gets a tattoo doesn’t that mean I get to have Spongebob Squarepants inked across my hairless chest at age 9, or 7, or 5…?


Shalisa, the receptionist at the gym I go to, has Chinese characters running down the right side of her neck.  I asked her today what they meant.  “Tranquility.”  Sure enough, she’s pretty laid back.   She also has “Faith” written inside a heart on the underneath of her left wrist.  But she also has a stud through her tongue – something which has not grabbed me yet and probably will elude me until I am a good deal north of 60.  Samchee, also at the gym, got her body art somewhere in Mount Vernon near the Bronx but told me about Sacred Tattoo down in Chinatown.


I don’t know.


My father-in-law bought a yellow VW bug in his 70s and then a Benz coupe.


Sometimes your ride changes as the years wear on.


Sometimes you drive more for the fun than the utility of it.




photo:  Phoenix Photography