I walked into Body Marks Tattoo and Piercing on El Cajon Boulevard, a few blocks from the 805 and right next to a strip club. At night, hookers are walking the streets. A perfect setting for ink. This is how they did it back in the day, when only sailors and prisoners got tats.
My eyes spot the Von Dutch flying eyeball. How many people have that and don’t even know the history behind it? I ask the tattoo artist, Nes, if there are copyright laws prohibiting him from inking something that is trademarked. “No,” he says, “but we can’t display them or advertise that we do, or we’d get into trouble.”
I see some amazing works of art, many of which I think would look horrible on your skin, no matter how impressive the picture is.
I look through the poster rack at a variety of symbols, animals, and nude women. I assume that animals are more popular with women, and nudes more popular with guys, although singer Amy Winehouse and writer Diablo Cody (Juno) both have old-style pinup girls tattooed on their arms.
I see a woman with a butterfly tattoo on her back looking at piercings in the display case. And a guy behind me is talking about getting another tattoo on his already-covered body. He says to two other customers, “I have my kids’ names. And Norwegian ruins on my back. My wife doesn’t mind ’em, as long as I don’t get naked redheaded chicks.”
A guy sitting there says, “So, your wife wouldn’t mind brunettes, just not redheads?”
The guy behind me laughs and says, “She’s a little Italian gal. You don’t want to piss them off. She knows I have a thing for redheads. But she’s cool about the tattoos. Even if I want one on my head.”
I hear a woman say that all the buzzing from the tattoos being applied reminds her of airplanes during World War II. She doesn’t look old enough to recognize the sounds of any war but the current one. The buzzing reminds me more of killer bees finally landing in our county, but instead of stingers and venom piercing the skin, it’s tattoo ink.
I find out from talking to the artists that it’s not really ink. “Most tattoo inks aren’t technically inks,” says Nes. “They’re composed of pigments that are suspended in a carrier solution. Contrary to popular belief, pigments usually are not vegetable dyes. Today’s pigments primarily are metal salts. Some pigments are plastics. There are probably some vegetable dyes. The pigment provides the color of the tattoo. The purpose of the carrier is to disinfect the pigment suspension, keep it evenly mixed, and provide for ease of application.”
I watch as he works on someone. He dips his needle into different inks, much the way a painter mixes colors. This is done to make some things lighter, others darker. You can get any color you can want, other than metallic colors, or glitter — which probably only affects the few women that want a unicorn picture from their childhood.
Nes says, “I can even do tattoos that are only visible under black light.”
When I interviewed Judas Priest singer Rob Halford years ago, it was the first time I had seen tattoos on someone’s head.
A guy walks in, a friend of Nes’s. The entire left side of his head says “The Price is Right” with the dollar symbol. I ask why he’d do that and he says, “Nes is the one that does all my tattoos. I wanted The Price is Right, because of Bob Barker leaving, and it’s sort of my motto, my way of life.”
“You’d surely get on the show if you showed up,” I say. But he disagrees. “They’d never let me on the show looking like this.” He holds up his arms, with sleeves of tattoos. He’s probably right. Disneyland kicked out that postal worker who has his body covered in Disney tattoos (this after he refused to put his shirt on).
In one of the books on the counter, I see that some people use their bodies’ features to create part of the tattoo. There’s a guy whose nipples are the eyes for a face on his chest. The face is surrounded by skulls.
A sign on the wall says “Notice — No ID, No Tattoo.” Aside from the obvious over-18 law, I wonder what the reason might be. Nes says, “The health department likes to be able to keep track of everything. If something breaks out, it’s all documented.”
I glance around the shop and see a huge picture of a guy with the tattoo “UN Armed” on his knuckles. It reminds me of being backstage at an Ozzy show, seeing his name tattooed on his fingers.
There are skateboards on the wall, and I’m told that once in a while, someone has a sticker on their board that they want tattooed.
As we talk, Nes pauses. He asks me to sign a form, seeming reluctant. I remember when a morning radio show I once worked for had us skydive live on the air. The form for that said: “If you die, your family can’t sue us.” It freaked me out.
This form had all the things you’d expect regarding lawsuits, hepatitis, heart conditions, epilepsy, and bleeding disorders. The part about “use of photograph of the tattoo” makes sense. Some might be reluctant. A few years ago I read a story about Detroit Pistons forward Rasheed Wallace being sued. He has a tattoo on his right arm that was being displayed in Nike ads. The artist didn’t look at this as free advertisement for his work. He was just miffed he was paid less than $500 and that he didn’t benefit from the exposure.
The form also states that you can’t have any physical or mental impairments. But is someone who’s mentally impaired even aware that they are? Does agreeing to have my body tattooed, in my late 30s, with a woman’s initials, put me in that category? I signed it.