My nag screen
All the time I was growing up as a kid, my dad was in the Army - it was his career, his chosen profession. So, amongst his overseas postings, we spent three years living out in Hong Kong. I remember (albeit it distantly now) the military lifestyle there, the times that ships from the US Pacific Fleet would visit town .. and the way the wily Chinese shopkeepers would cannily jack up their prices in anticipation! I 'd read the comics in the barbers' shops (we didn't have TV in those days!) and I guess it's all that, as much as anything else buried in my childhood subconscious, that has always made me associate tattoos with a sort of 'Popeye the Sailor' image. Remember.... I was only eight years old at the time!
As I grew up, that mental association stayed with me, I think. From time to time I'd see someone other than a 'Popeye' with a tattoo, and my first reaction used to be to wonder whether they'd regretted it; I'm not sure I can explain why I automatically assumed they might have done - and it was really none of my business anyway. And although I gradually became aware of seeing attractive tattoos which somehow started to counteract my stereotyped mental images, it wasn't until, decades later, I became a regular visitor to BME that I started to appreciate some of the significance, the logic, the reasoning behind it all.
It's one thing to admire a mod of any sort on someone....it's something entirely different to aspire to the same thing on yourself. In my case it was a tattoo design that I saw - and that somehow planted itself in my mind - it was a perfect match to the way I was thinking. My only reservation.... I'd never had a tattoo before: and they are permanent. Would I feel the same way next week, next month, next year, for the rest of my life? I concluded that yes, I would, and I made my way one lunchtime up to the local tattoo studio. It was my afternoon off, so I had plenty of time. I handed in a print-out with a "Can you do something like this for me?" Sure- was the answer. I looked through the lettering style-sheets and found the Gothic/Old Englishe style that I wanted. And I waited my turn. I can't really say I was particularly nervous. Three lads (about ten or eleven years old) were playing on the pool table. I also noticed three teenage girls, whom I vaguely recog nized. After a few minutes one of them came over to me."This is a really stupid question..but do we know you from somewhere?""The library?""Oh, yeah! You getting something done?""I certainly am!"I waited while she got hers done - a rose-design shoulder piece. It looked lovely, but it also looked very red and sore.Then it was my turn. My tattoist appeared - I had to check out the lettering I'd chosen (this is definitely no time for typos!) ; the cost was usually £20 per letter, but since they figured I wouldn't be keen on shelling out £200, how about £100? Go for it!! "Have you ever had a tattoo before?""No - first time""And you want this on your stomach?"He put on his best 'The customer is always right' expression as I walked through and took off my T-Shirt. First, my stomach was shaved, then cleaned, and finally we were ready. I sat down on the little reclining chair and laid back."Comfortable?"I wriggled sl ightly, and replied "Yes. I'll try not to doze off"He laughed - "O
oh, you won't do that!"I relaxed and settled down for what was to come."I'll just do a few strokes so you can get the feel.." It was quite bearable. Someone I think said it's not dis-similar to being sratched by a cat, and I'd go along with that. The one thing that I hadn't anticipated was the amount of ink that sprayed everywhere...messy. I soon got used to the buzzing sound of the machine as it worked its way from right to left across my stomach. The only time I felt any real discomfort was around the middle, where I suppose my stomach was at its most tender - it soon passed, though, as the machine moved across to the far side.
All the while, we chatted away. I commented on how much fat I'd got and was told that most tattooists charge extra for doing a belly tattoo. He asked amongst other things what I did for a living - "I'm a librarian". He paused as he looked at my nipple rings, my navel ring and at the lettering I'd asked him to do - "What is it they say? Don't judge a book by the cover." We both laughed. One of the young pool players wandered in to watch. "It may not be the most suitable of places to hang around, but at least I know where he is and keep a bit of an eye on him." Fair comment.
We were soon done."Well, I have to say it - you've handled it really well for your first time." He sounded impressed; I was really pleased."Shall we carry on and do the colouring in now?" What colouring, I thought, I only want black lettering. It turned out to be the blocking - all I'd had so far was just the letter outlines. How naive of me! He changed needles and started up. It was a slightly different sensation... a little more intense, but not so prolonged."And now this is the best bit - the relief" I felt the cold of a liquid antiseptic being applied to my superheated skin. Aaaah.....I then got to take a look in the mirror at the finished result. Perfect - I was delighted. I asked about aftercare:"Should I wash it / let it get wet?""Yes, but don't soak it in water."I was, apparently getting it done at the right time of year (October). One of the commonest sources of problems, I was told, is gettin a tattoo during the summer, and showing it o ff to everyone in the bright sunshine.....eek - does it no end of damage! I had a proctective dressing applied for the journey home, which was fine - I experienced no soreness or irritation.
Once home, I soon changed into a loose T-Shirt, peeled off the dressing, which by then had a reverse outline in blood, and took the dog for a walk. As it got dark, I couldn't resist the opportunity of taking a peep at my new addition at regular intervals. The next morning in the bath I had the water considerably cooler than usual, so I I felt only a mild stinging sensation - a little like the after-effects of sunburn. I followed a pretty basic after-care regime; apply a little Savlon antiseptic cream in between the letters and don't pick at the scabs - it started itching and scabbing after about five days.
And now, finally, the punch-line: what was it I had done?DISCIPLINE - in an arc above my navel. It's there to serve as a little reminder to me to get myself and my life in order - it's a personal thing with a constant significance for me, and that's why I've nicknamed it my own little 'nag screen'.
submitted by: Don
on: 04 Dec. 2001