I last met Uncle Charlie seven years ago, so it was understandable that I didn’t realize it was him when we met again last night. Seven years ago it was in College Park, and this was Alexandria, and back then he had more of a beard. I _did_ think it was a little strange that the Virginia branch of the Great Southern Tattoo Company was presided over by a jocular older guy with a warm, no-nonsense wife, just like the Maryland branch had been seven years before. Turns out they were the exact same people.
Back then, it had been Suanna’s and my fifth wedding anniversary, and we got tattoos to celebrate. It was Suanna who had lobbied for the tattoos in the first place, but afterward it was me who lobbied to make it an occasion _every_ five years — successfully, as it turns out. We were two years late this time because she was pregnant at the ten-year mark, and breastfeeding after that. For the past few months, though, the delay was my fault — I couldn’t decide what I wanted for my second tattoo.
But anyway, back to Uncle Charlie. Since the last time I had seen him he had fought (and beaten) cancer and broken his neck. There was no apparent sign of the latter, but it did apparently keep him from practicing his art any longer, so instead he now presides over the parlor, answering the phone, welcoming people as they enter, and keeping the conversation in the place lively. It wasn’t until I’d been sitting in the chair for half an hour that I realized that his constant stream of stories and jokes serves a practical function — it distracts the customers from the fact that their flesh is getting poked and seared, which does, in fact, hurt.
Charlie did my tattoo #1, and his wife Sandy did Suanna’s. This time it was a younger guy named Adam Jeffrey — highly recommended, if you’re ever in the mood for some skin art. I can’t imagine all tattoo parlors are like this — friendly, laid-back, generous, clean, and yet, far from being some whitewashed gentrified version of a tattoo parlor, still authentic and utterly devoid of pretense. But probably more of them are than most people suspect.
So what did I end up getting? A tree, on my right upper arm. The White Tree of Gondor, to be precise — or at least an iconic representation thereof. I wanted something Tolkienian but that would look all right independent of any context, too. Special thanks to our friend Julia for suggesting the tree last week. It’s totally cool. And while I was looking around there I got ideas for Year Fifteen and Year Twenty, so I’m good to go for the next decade or so.
Ella enjoyed her evening spent hanging out at a tattoo parlor, too. Needless to say, she was a big hit with everyone who was there. Charlie was especially taken with her. “Man,” he said at one point, “You got a kid like that and you can put up with any shit job in the world ’cause you know you’ll come home and see her smile.” And then I thought, with my job, I get to see her smile all day. I’m a lucky, lucky man.
But if Ella starts drawing flaming skulls and naked women with demon wings on her Magna Doodle, we’ll have only ourselves to blame.