For the decades before the 1980's, when tattoos started their rise in popularity, they were more or less taboo for the middle and upper classes in America.
That was why I got one. Then, in the 1960's, no one even considered getting a tattoo. They were for sailors and criminals. Tattoos were so out of fashion, that tattooists were few, far between and hard to find.
My friend and I had mad an informal pact to get one, but the only place we knew where a tattoo parlor was, anywhere near us that is, was in Long Beach, California, at the Pike.
There pike tried to be a West Coast version, in a small way, of Coney Island. It had popular Cyclone Racer roller coaster, various rides and amusements. It was near the Navy and at one time had several tattoo parlors. But by the mid-1960s, the Pike had developed a seedy reputation with low-brow dives, girly shows and clip joints. By then, it had just one tattoo parlor that was still opened. It was operated by Owen and Lee Roy. They both had what looked like nearly full body tattoos.
We must have asked the same annoying questions most people ask. Do they hurt? Where can't you tattoo a person. Have you ever tattooed a prick?
The answer to the last question was yes, with an implication that he was about to tattoo two more.
It was a parlor out of the days before WWII. The stencils on the walls represented anti-Nazi and Japan, gruesome images of devils and sculls, overly sexy girls, cartoons, sentiments and patriotic stencils. The place had a strange smell and the smell stuck with you for days as as the tattoo festered and finally healed. Did I mention, getting the tattoo was quite painful. I guess some people are really into pain.
They were tough good old guys. They wouldn't give me a tattoo because I was drunk. I had to come back.
The morning after I did get my tattoo, I looked in the mirror. It wasn't me anymore. There was a permanent, psychological change in me. I almost felt as if my arm had been taken off. The sense that a permanent change had set in.
The friend, who got a tattoo with me, his father was a doctor. His father was not at all pleased.
"Do you have any idea of what you might catch from getting a tattoo? Blood poisoning, hepatitis, serious infectious reactions, there is even the possibility of catching leprosy!"
After all these years, I still have my tattoo. It is beginning to look more like an old bruise. It has lost its colors and sharp lines.
It has been interesting to see the reactions to it over the years. For may years, I was the only person of my generation, in my circle of acquaintances who had gotten one. But that changed about fifteen to twenty years later. Now it seems half the people I see have them, men and women.
But I don't get it. I wouldn't get another one. They are painful as hell and now they are expensive. They are still potentially dangerous to your health and even your life.
There was another sad note remotely related to my tattoo. Several years after I got my tattoo, Owen, the tattoo artist, was robbed and murdered one night as he was walking home from his shop. m/r
The shop gives you aftercare instructions for a reason
Two days later, he developed a fever and chills, and swelling began to spread over the tattoo site, as well as throughout both his legs.
He went to the emergency room one day later. His lesions began to change, developing central purple patches with black borders. Fluid-filled blisters called bullae began erupting over his lesions at an alarming rate, as doctors described in BMJ Case Reports.
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