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That Wild Guy Thing

tattooing
Robert Scheer

Stop the Cryin'--You Know the Drill: Santa Cruz tattoo artist Cheri Lovedog flexes her artistic muscles on the newly divorced, 30ish author, a non-hipster seeking a dose of hip sexiness in his suddenly "pasty" life.

The big three-oh already can be seen in the rearview mirror, the divorce papers are finally final and pasty appears to be the color of the moment--hey, it looks like the perfect time to go out and get a really cool tattoo

By Richard Camp


He found that tattoos were attractive to the kind of girls he liked but had never liked him before. He began to drink beer and get into fights. His mother wept over what was becoming of him.
Flannery O'Connor

THE LIGHT IS DIM in the studio, and Jo's face is screwed tight in concentration as she works on my tattoo. The sound of the tattoo gun is nervously similar to that of a dentist's drill, but the pain is nothing compared to what a skilled and bitter dentist in a dark mood can inflict on some black Monday morning at the beginning of the month around the time, say, when the alimony is due.

Jo looks up for a moment and her face is normal again (quite lovely), and I am glad (once again) that she's doing my tattoo instead of some bearded and burly ex-biker in a sweat-stained undershirt. (I'm afraid the biker would have eventually taken offense at my muffled yet persistent weeping.)

Packs of high schoolers have wandered over to gawk at the piercing studs and rings in the front case by the cash register and the open door, trying to imagine the largest and most medieval-looking of the batch poked through various parts of their bodies. A teenage boy looks over at my tattoo-in-progress and asks, "What is that, a cartoon character or something?"

Initially, it was my sincere intention to get the hippest of designs. I had one all picked out--a rather tasteful rendering of a naked buxom woman sitting daintily in a giant martini glass, a motif I first encountered etched in frosted glass on the front window of a great little bar in Boulder Creek.

But, in the end, I chickened out on hip.

When you are just-turned-30 and freshly divorced, people will come up to you and tell you that you are lucky. Lucky, because you get a second chance, a fresh beginning, a new life. What they neglect to mention is that you are starting out at a tremendous and frightening disadvantage.

The Martini Woman

ONE DAY, SOON AFTER the final divorce papers arrive in the mail, you are standing naked in the bathroom and wipe the mirror steam away to discover that somehow you've become a flabby, pale, shockingly unhip adult with grave personal problems. You find yourself growing goofy facial hair and pledging to tan and train. You find yourself wondering just where you saw that 800 number for that "Abs of Steel" video.

And you suddenly decide to go out and get a really cool tattoo.

I did.

But while reveling in the notion that my martini-glass woman tattoo and new dorky goatee would undoubtedly make me unbelievably attractive ("unbelievable" being the operative word here) to 20-year-old college girls, I had a revelation and the revelation was this: I was a dork in high school and a dork in college, and it was all much, much too late for all this now. (This occurred right in the middle of Cindy Crawford's workout tape.)

The evidence was overwhelming. The tan just wasn't taking. My abs workout machine still hadn't arrived, despite several impatient looks and rude gestures aimed at my postman.

My beard was crooked.

I was seated on the couch in my underwear eating chips when Cindy abruptly stopped her aerobics and glared at me.

"I give up!" she screamed.

And that was that.

Hip was a planet I knew I couldn't visit.

The martini woman tattoo was out of the question.

The Forever Gesture

AN OLD FRIEND of mine, now a cattle rancher in southern Oregon, told me just after the birth of his first child, his adorable daughter Annie, that our society has run out of meaningful ways to mark life's milestones (like the birth of a child). Just cake, presents, a pat on the back, maybe a couple of cheap cigars.

He rolled up his sleeve to show me the fresh tattoo on his forearm: a little purple teddy bear. "Something forever, so that she'll always know she's important," he explained.

He has since had another kid, a son named Reno, and I often wonder what that tattoo looks like.

"Is that like a Power Ranger or something?" The teen is hanging over the half-wall, straining for a closer look.

"It's from a children's book," Jo says, holding up the classic Where the Wild Things Are. I remember wondering whether parents still read to their children.

"Why?" he asks with an awful lot of sincerity.

Alissa, a dear friend of mine, just had a baby. She is the most genuine person that I have ever met, with a sharp mind and an honest heart. She deserves everything in the world but is happy with whatever she has. And she just had a baby, little Nicholas.

"Because I'm too old for a hip tattoo," I explain. "I have to think of my grandchildren."

Puzzled, the boy just stares at me vacantly.

"Think of it as a birthday card," I suggest, but he just shrugs and walks away.

Happy Birthday, Nick. Welcome to the world.

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From the May 8-14, 1997 issue of Metro Santa Cruz

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