To the Finish Line

Debra Solomon Baker’s Reflections

On (Not) Getting a Tattoo

Posted by Debra Solomon Baker on July 13, 2013

The first assignment for the fiction writing course that I’m taking this summer is to think of something you would never do.  Then write a passage about a character similar to yourself who does do that thing you would never do. Reach for that person who is like you, but not exactly you. Keep it short, preferably under 500 words.

So, yesterday afternoon, I sat for about an hour inside the tattoo place in The Loop, taking notes, doing research for this piece.  I loved doing that: browsing, observing, listening.   And, I learned more than I expected.   Who knows?  Maybe one day, I’ll even get surprise myself and get some art, but for now…here is my draft.

My 116-year-old grandmother, in the ground since 1984, (may her memory be a blessing, as they say at synagogue), hobbles next to me, toward Iron Age Tattoo Studio.

“You know, my shaynamadela,” Grandma begins, her Polish accent still strong.  I squint to decipher the words, noticing, too, that Grandma has just stuffed a wet tissue deep into her it-must-be-at-least-a-D bra (the genes for well-endowedhood skipped right over yours truly).  Anyway, I wonder what else she has stored in there, dear god, a condominium? She continues, “It’s against Jewish rules to get a…you can never be buried in a Jewish cemetery if you get a…”

Well, I’m not gonna ever die, Grandma, I bark.  And even if I do, I’m not gonna get buried.  I’m.  I’m.  I am masterful at comebacks.  A real genius.

I glue shut my eyes, deliver the old knee-to-the-belly kickboxing move to poor Grandma and bolt ahead to the door.

Silence.   Finally.

To the left of the entrance, I spot a flyer for the Sixth Annual World Naked Bike Ride being held in just three weeks.  I stand there, imagining my bare patootie aboard some Schwinn with a bell, trying to avoid crashing into Mr. Butt Crack sailing in front of me, imagining this world where women’s boobs flap in the wind while they pedal, this world where people wander inside a tattoo joint on some Thursday afternoon in July to decorate their bellies.

I am the most boring woman in the galaxy.   I set an alarm.  I teach writing to kids who’d rather be playing on their X-box.  I cook pasta with some Barilla sauce straight from the jar.  I run the dishwasher.  I read my novel.   Repeat.

The too-loud reggae tunes assault me as I step inside and pretend to be all cozy-cozy in Iron Age Tattoo Parlor, pretend I am browsing the clearance racks at Marshall’s, pretend I have not just strode off the ship, clutching my suitcase, entering a dark city.  I rifle through the photo albums of images, yawning for effect.  The miss behind the counter, the miss whose right arm is smeared with tattoos and whose left is plain old au naturale (I wonder why), says, we are accepting walk-ins.  Magical.

“What’s the most unlikely place that, you know, a forty-five-year-old woman would, umm, get a tattoo,” I ask.  But she gazes at me like I’m from Planet Whatthefuck and tells me to just flip through the books.

I flip and flip, a good girl, an honors student.

A cupcake in the left armpit?  An engagement ring with the words, “Back off”?   A martini glass with an olive?   To Thine Own Self Be True – complete with cursive letters?

Across the room, a blondie, with her teenage daughter in tow, announces that they want matching swallow birds on their right shoulders.   Teenage Daughter seems sour, like she’s lost some bet and, thus, landed here, in the tattoo shop with her fifty-year-old mom.

I’ll have what they’re having, I want to bellow, drowning in indecision.   But, then, fifteen, twenty, twenty-five minutes pass and, flip, flip, flip, I spot perfection on page 13 of Tattoos and Paintings a book by some guy named Chappy.

There it is.

The one that will make me alive and young and rebellious.

I will sport a denim jacket with cut-off sleeves, wear above-the-knee black boots decked with silver studs, strap on a helmet as I straddle the back of a Harley in a mini-skirt.  I will have flawless skin, wrinkle-free, even on my forehead.  And, there, bedecking my skinny left upper arm, will be the Chappy masterpiece.

And I will sing and dance in tattoo nirvana.

Forgive me, Grandma, I shout.  Please.  Forgive.  Me.

Here I go.


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