Part of The Tao Tattoo Series
I decided to get my Tao tattoo about a month before I actually had it done. Choosing an artist wasn’t hard. Tiana, who’s awesome broken argyle tattoo reminds me of insouciant kites against a sky, had hers done by Jay at New Moon. After seeing some more of his work, which features finely detailed lines similar to what I had in mind, I decided to go with him as well.
The appointment was short. A quick check to make sure the positioning close to the wrist joint was acceptable, and to leave a deposit.
The receptionist asked me, “What does the kanji mean?”.
“Kanji?”. I questioned her assumption, and she quickly corrected herself. “Sorry, is it Chinese or Japanese or Korean…?”. I explained the character, and how it’s written the same way in Chinese and Japanese, the calligraphy being in a Chinese style.
Pat was with me when the day came. We sat down, and he asked Jay, “How long have you been tattooing?”. Jay squinted at the analog on the wall, and said, “Ohhh…since twelve”, and his humour put me at ease.
He shaved my wrist (which I found funny, cause I’m a typical hairless Asian), put on his smart-looking frames, and tried to align the carbon transfer about fifteen times before I was satisfied with the positioning and rotation. The area was already raw from the place stencil > remove stencil > repeat process before the inking started.
He pulled packs of needles out of his drawer, poured out black ink into an ink cup, turned on the machine, and went to work.
I didn’t watch. When I was young, I once watched my pediatrician take vials of blood from my arm and soon felt queasy. For years I thought it was the sight of blood, but it turns out that it was the draining of blood from my system because I’d still get extremely light-headed when looking away during blood tests. I didn’t watch Jay work anyway because I didn’t want to take the chance.
We talked. About how he sort of fell into the business. About what the character said1. About the genius of Trailer Park Boys. About his band, whose sound is influenced most by early Pixies2. I wanted to talk more about them: how Cobain thought he was meant to be in the band and based Nirvana off their sound, what he thought of Frank Black’s solo career, but didn’t want to distract him.
There were two framed posters of paintings of Mary and Jesus on the wall. Above Mary on the left was a cartoon bubble added on top that said, “Hey Pendejo!” and above Jesus was, “Nobody fucks with da Jesus!”, a reference I guessed to The Big Lebowski.
Before going, I asked a couple people if their tattoos hurt. The most common thing they told me was that it felt like a cat scratch or a sunburn. They describe the pain as more annoying than intolerable. I didn’t know what to expect since I have a very low tolerance for pain, but it felt exactly like what it was: being stabbed in the wrist a million times with a needle.
Even though I didn’t look, I could tell where he was on the character. It only really hurt when going across the tendon.
Pat said he saw my eyes roll back in my head from the pain a couple times. I focused on not tensing up, and kept telling myself to breathe.
Halfway through, I stopped. I was getting hot so I took off my hoodie, and I could feel beads of sweat forming of my forehead. Jay told me to lie down for a couple minutes; his normal procedure when someone starts to get warm.
In all, it was an hour from entering to leaving. Jay was a super nice guy. He had a very steady hand (so Pat told me) and did justice to all the subtle details of the strokes. Unfortunately, he stepped outside before I could tip him personally, so I left the tip with the receptionist3.
Afterward, on the way back to his place for dinner, Pat told me he was proud of me. It was strange to hear anyone say that. The only other person who’s ever said that was my mom, but only about things she was proud of — my marks, my awards — and nothing that ever mattered to me. My dad was probably proud of me, but he would never admit it. It was heartening to hear Pat say it, like I wasn’t alone in the world, and someone else cared about how I turned out.
Even Rockstar Jeff congratulated me at work when he saw it, which I found odd, like congratulating someone for eating breakfast.
Pat said, “If I told you in second year4 that you were going to get a tattoo, you probably wouldn’t have believed me”.