My Trip To A Tattoo Parlor


No.  That was in case you started to wonder from the title of this piece whether I am sporting some ink.  I did, however, once aid and abet someone else.

I have written before about my friend Dan.  As hardwired as I might be to resist popular trends and fads, Dan’s inborn circuits in this area were of much higher amperage than mine ever were.  For example, both of our musical tastes eschewed modern rock of the late 70’s.   But where I took refuge in big band and jazz music from before the rock era, Dan dove headfirst into the music of John Phillip Sousa and the other practitioners of the march and operetta genre from the years on either side of 1900.  Perhaps you didn’t even know that was a musical genre.  Well that was Dan.

There was something else that was very out of current fashion in 1979 – tattoos.  Me?  I just never saw the reason or felt the need.  I still don’t, which puts me squarely into the anti-trendy camp.  And believe you me, I will feel pret-ty smug and self-satisfied when tattoos have jumped the shark and become the fashion equivilent of the spiky bleached hair and extra big cargo shorts everyone was wearing while listening to the Backstreet Boys.  And no, I didn’t follow any of those fads either.  Though I will admit to owning some cargo shorts now that they are wildly out of fashion.

In 1979 I did not feel the urge to go all anti-establishment by getting a tattoo.  I was content to smoke the occasional cheap cigar while reading Life Magazines from the 50’s and listening to Stan Kenton on the stereo.  Dan, however, decided to go for it.

Tattoo parlors were illegal in Indiana at the time.  We had spent some time working with a guy who was from Toledo and it somehow came up in conversation that there was a tattoo parlor there.  I think the tattoo-guy (we did not think of him as an artist then) was named Dave.  Toledo was close to two hundred miles away from us but Dan began to make plans to go there.

Dan’s brother and I were enlisted as driving helpers as he was told that driving home was not something he might feel like doing.  And thus began our testosterone-fueled road trip.

The car we took was kind of its own anti-trendy thing – a bright red 1974 Dodge Charger.  First, by then anything built by Chrysler Corporation in the 70s was seen as something suitable only for trailer parks.  Add the fact that it was a totally strippo car with a six cylinder engine, a three speed column shift and rubber floors.  There was not even an AM radio.  No self-respecting late-70’s kind of guy would ever drive anything like it.  We, of course, loved it.  And for what it’s worth, I have never seen another like it.

We eventually found the place and went inside.  Let’s just say that I felt out of my element.  There was an entire wall papered with photos of the proprietor’s work, and some of it was, let’s just say, Wow.  The tattoo of the devil’s face on some nameless’ woman’s – well let’s not even go there – is a picture that I have never been able to erase from my mind.  That must have really hurt.

Dan had no need to go to The Wall for inspiration (thank goodness) because he had designed a small patriotic design that involved an eagle over a shield of stars and stripes.  There was not much call for that sort of thing among college students of the late 70’s but it was vintage Dan.

We were offered the chance to wait, but my co-driver and I elected to find a nearby bar to get a burger and a beer to pass the time.  I recall the neighborhood being seedy enough that we had no trouble finding a bar open before 11 am but not so seedy that we were afraid to go into it.

When we returned Dan was sporting a white dressing over his upper arm just below the shoulder.  I believe it was his left, but am unsure all these years later.  His brother and I took turns finding our way back home and several hours later the adventure was over.

Dan was all into rebellion against the culture, but rebellion against his mother was something else entirely and thus we were sworn to secrecy.  I can say that I kept my part of the bargain while both of them were alive, but she (as all good mothers would) found out anyway during one of his times back home.  From what I was told, the reaction had something of a seismic character.

That single vicarious experience with a tattoo has proved to be quite enough for me.  And now that tats have become popular, well no thanks.  And once they have become uncool again?  From the looks of things the crowd of uncool people will be way too big for me to want to join.  Perhaps I will just buy a box of cheap cigars and play some Sousa marches instead.

Photo Credit:  Tattooed Sailor Aboard USS New Jersey, 1944.  In the public domain as part of the holdings of the National Archives And Records Administration (NAID 520883).


16 thoughts on “My Trip To A Tattoo Parlor

  1. Is there any current fashion trend that generates as much extreme emotion (either way) as a tattoo? The middle ground is a place that is occupied by only a few of us it seems.

    My closest experience with a tattoo is with my younger sister. For whatever reason, she opted to get a tattoo of a dragon on her leg – it goes from her ankle to her knee. When she showed me, I burst out laughing, telling her when she gets old and wrinkled (or lost weight) that thing would look like a star-pei dog. When our mother (an otherwise calm, non-dramatic woman who rarely curses) saw it, she burst out crying and asked her what the $#&% entered her mind.

    One positive I can throw at the trend is how tattoo parlors appear to be a bit more sanitary than what is seen in your lead picture – and also likely what Dan experienced.


  2. I thoroughly enjoyed the details of this nostalgia trip.

    I share your personal feelings about tattoos and am grateful that my daughters were never so inclined. On two occasions, i have written about plastic surgeons who removed tattoos—one voluntarily helped ex-gang members banish the physical manifestations of their ill-spent youth as they tried to better themselves; the other helped people who simply regretted making bad choices about their self-adornment as the years went by. Both noted that scars remain.

    When I see people in my gym who have nary an inch of untatted skin, I wonder about their pain thresholds.

    But each to his/her own…


    • Yes, how did we get from aging ex-sailors with an anchor or a mermaid on a forearm to . . . Adam Levine?
      And I scratch my head at the many who would never think of drinking milk with traces of hormones or antibiotics but who have no problem with injecting surely toxic (if mildly so) inks into themselves. A puzzler.

      Liked by 2 people

  3. I was just visiting Toledo a week ago and describing the neighborhood as “seedy but not too seedy” doesn’t narrow it down a lot. 🙂


  4. I have never driven someone on a mission so dubious, you certainly did have an interesting young life JP!

    As with cars, I prefer a stock appearance to my body. I’ve also told my kids “if you have something to tell the world get a T-shirt, that way if your message changes you just change the shirt.”

    Anyway I have always, ALWAYS been hopelessly uncool, which is actually rather liberating since you don’t have to worry too much about what others think..


    • Yes, changing T-shirts is much cheaper and easier than removing a tattoo. It occurs to me that a tattoo is a lot like a bad city-hall marriage in that it is cheap and easy to get in but expensive and painful to get out of.


  5. Like father, like son. And like mother, like ex-mother-in-law too, I suppose. When I got my first tattoo at age 18 -a minuteman on the side of my calf- the first person I called was dad, who vowed me to silence and vowed himself to immediately forget the contents of our phone call. I hid it from my mom for a year until the guilt built up to an intolerable degree and revealed it during Christmas. I was met with a similarly-ballistic reaction from my mom. It’s almost as if he knew what to expect.

    The following Easter my t-shirt sleeve rose up a little too high, revealing a second tattoo, a character from Super Mario Brothers called a Shi-Guy. Get it? Shi Guy? Shideler? My mom didn’t appreciate it either and Easter was the second major holiday in a row I ruined by her discovery.

    I always asked dad why he never got his tattoo -by that point, a blueish, faded pigeon in front of something resembling a postage stamp. He said it hurt too much the first time. At least I have that to look forward to, several times over.


    • What is it about tattoos that can make lovely, mild-mannered mothers launch like a Polaris missile?

      Your father’s experience taught me about the pain involved. I wonder if the modern popularity of tattoos and opioids is somehow related? Do tattoos demand opioids? Or do opioids lead to more tattoos? I don’t plan to test either theory.


      • My tattoos have all been painful. There’s no question about it. Part of it has to do with where in the body the tattoo is being deposited. Getting a tattoo feels like a sustained pinch by someone with medium-length fingernails. Afterwards for a few weeks it feels much like a sunburn.

        I’ve not noticed the correlation between tattoos and opioids in my own life but could certainly see it as a viable theory.

        Liked by 1 person

  6. I have never had any interest in getting a tattoo. Several of our children have them, though. Our 27-y-o is heavily covered in them. I think it’s just a prejudice in me that I have a negative reaction to it.

    When I was 19 I got my ear pierced. That was at a time when it was still a little out there to do that. I came home and Dad saw it and was most displeased. I pointed at the big Navy tattoo on his right arm and said, “My earring can come out anytime I want.” That was the end of that.


    • I can only imagine the chemical reaction between your father and an earring in his son. 🙂

      That is an interesting combination a guy with an earring who is prejudiced against tattoos. I wonder if part of it is that the earring decision was made by a young kid where the tattoo opinion is from an older and wiser parent.


  7. My dad would have slapped me across the room if I brought home a girl with a tattoo. (Or one on myself) My grandpa had a Masonic tattoo on his forearm, and told me he regretted getting it.

    (I was uncool before uncool was cool…)


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