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Tattoo You

When I was a child, there was an annual festival in town called Conejo Valley Days. It included a rodeo,  parade and my favorite, a carnival. I loved carnivals! Rides, music, lots of colored sparkly lights (the latter was particularly appealing during my teenage druggie years). I couldn’t get enough of them. Whenever we passed a carnival in the car I would curse my parents under my breath because my pleas to stop, just for a little while, were always met with a resounding “no”.  Such cruelty.

I was always taken by the carnies who operated the rides. Who were these people? Where did they come from? A lot of them were adorned with tattoos. They were mysterious and edgy. I wanted to be a tattooed carny! I wanted so much to be mysterious and edgy, traveling to strange exotic places, staying up all night operating rides like the Tilt-A-Whirl, Toboggan and my all-time favorite The Zipper. Of course this fantasy quickly faded upon the realization that I kinda liked having a roof over my head, regular hot meals and the option to bathe any time I wanted. I also came to terms with the fact that I’m pretty much “Bob the white guy”. I’m not mysterious nor am I edgy. I’m milquetoast.

However, the tattoo fantasy never diminished. I was fascinated by them. As a young adult, I noticed a lot of gay men had tattoos. I was attracted to that. There was something about a tattooed hunk that was appealing to me. I have this thing for men and masculinity.

You can have androgynous David Bowie any day. I’ll take Henry Rollins.

I was never into boys my own age. I liked men and when I say men I mean manly men. (Joey, do you like movies about gladiators?)

The young blond skinny twink who worked at Hanover Shoes in the Oaks Mall (Yes, I just described myself.) never did it for me but the beefy, stubbly-faced UPS driver with thick furry legs and strong tattooed arms caught my eye every single time. How I wished I could be like that. I loathed being a twink.

I became obsessed with getting inked. There were only two problems. One, I wasn’t the type of cool person who could pull it off. Two, I had no idea what to get. I didn’t want some off-the-shelf thing branded on my person. I wanted something that was truly unique. Something that was an absolute expression of me.

This kept me from getting a tattoo for years. By the time I was ready to actually get one, something had changed. Everyone had a tattoo! They were ubiquitous and for me that was a deal breaker. Tattoos were no longer edgy and mysterious. Having a tattoo didn’t set you apart from the rest of the world, it assimilated you into the Borg.

Resistance is futile.

I decided to forget about it…until I moved to the Arizona desert, grew a stache, turned forty, got a motorcycle and started being addressed as “Sir” or “Daddy” by young gay beard boys (so glad that shaved-body-bleach-blond-Ken-doll phase is over). I have to admit I’m kinda digging the Sir/Daddy thing. Even though I’m at the zenith of my mid-life crisis re-evaluation, there are a few perks to getting older.

So once again, getting a tattoo became an obsession for me. I started thinking about designs. I’m a left-handed Sagittarius. Something on my left arm with a centaur would be cool. I came up with a unique idea along those lines but could not think of a way to make it happen. Still working on it — have been for a while now but I’m not in a rush because a couple of weeks ago, I was suddenly inspired for a new idea by a hummingbird.

Ray and I have noticed this summer that we have a hummingbird that appears to have chosen our place for its home. It likes to rest on a little branch high up on the olive tree in our front yard as well as another little tall branch on one of the mesquite trees in our backyard. It’s very territorial. Whenever other hummingbirds come into the yard, it buzzes around making all sorts of noises and chases them away. Contrary to popular belief, hummingbirds are kinda bad-ass.

I have an appreciation for 78 RPM records. I have always been a music fan and have a small collection of 78s that I occasionally play on my old Pathe Brothers phonograph. One evening I was having a cocktail in the pool. I was thinking about tabletop phonographs and how they have the big horn that looks like a flower. Suddenly the hummingbird buzzed past and this totally random image hit me; a hummingbird drinking the music/nectar from the phonograph horn/flower. That would be a cool tattoo.

That would be a cool tattoo!

I went online and started searching for images of tattoo hummingbirds and phonographs. Then I went to work in Photoshop.

Here are the three images I found.

This was my creation (before I added the wraparound banner).

My tattoo artist (Zach) sketched it out and made a transfer. This marks my skin so he has an outline to follow.

The ink caps. Lots of colors!

Two hours into it. Outline is done. Touching up on the shadowing.

Does it hurt? What do you think?

All done!

I decided to get this one on my right arm. It took four and a half hours. It really didn’t hurt much…at first. The last hour was, well, needles jabbing into an open wound repeatedly at a high rate of speed. What the fuck do you think?

I’m very happy with it. It’s mine. I made it. It’s very, very me. By the way, Lopaka is Hawaiian for Robert (my first name). Lopaka Lounge is not only the name of my website (which wasn’t always a blog), it’s the name of my studio where I create music, photography and other multimedia projects. I still plan to have my other arm tattooed with my other design. It’s in the works. I’m not in a hurry. Hell, I waited forty-something years for this one. In my opinion, the key thing about getting a tattoo is to take your time. Make the right design choice. Try to come up with something original. At one point during my tattoo, we overheard some woman come in the shop and say, “Oh my God! Tinkerbell! I want Tinkerbell!” I looked down at Zach and said, “I bet you fucking hate that.” He stopped, looked down shaking his head and said, “Yeah”.

Many people warned me about getting a tattoo. “You’re going to regret it when you get old!” These were all people who don’t have one. The only regret I have ever heard about a tattoo was the style or design not the tattoo itself.

I went to Zach at Sacred Art Tattoo in Tucson. He was awesome. I plan to have him do my next tattoo. Oh yeah, one other thing: Tip your tattoo artist. This is how they make a living.

10 Comments

  1. Jess Hartley

    It’s amazing and unique and wonderful, just like you. 🙂

  2. Jim

    Well, there they are. Your tattoo…and your first new blog entry in so many weeks, lol.

    I love your tattoo. What a cool design. And I like the story behind it.

    I really need to get going on my long delayed plan to get another tattoo. I keep thinking of an ancient Egyptian-inspired design. I still haven’t quite found the right style though. So you are right when you say to take your time with getting a tattoo. One needs to be 110% sure of the design and feel absolutely comfortable about it. It will adorn your body for the rest of your life.

    I’m happy for you that you finally found yours.

  3. Kate Pearson

    Love this description a lot! And I also love love love HENRY ROLLINS, I actually saw BLACK FLAG live one time long ago. I enjoy Henry’s poetry and acting abilities also. I got my first tattoo when I was 40 in St. Louis, MO and have since acquired three more. I am happy with what I have, and have NEVER ever regretted getting them, they are a part of me and make me complete. I enjoy your descriptions, I think you should write a book if you could ever find the time, your life is really interesting and you describe it so well! xoKATE

  4. Rose

    My mother waited until her 40s to get her first tattoo, as well – did you see it? She has a beautiful Celtic knotwork cross that she got both to cover a scar and to celebrate going to Ireland for the first time. I think she would absolutely agree; take your time and find something that has meaning for *you*.

    I totally dig your design and can’t wait to see it in person. I have a couple of ideas for tattoos that I’d like, but I’m waiting for the right time. I’m not in a hurry. 🙂

  5. Erik Rubright

    I love it! And the fact that you designed it yourself. I can’t tell you how much—as a tattooist—we LOVE when someone comes in with an entire idea like that.

    Enjoy your new addiction. 😉

  6. TERRY

    It’s very cool! I certainly hope that you have earrings to match!

  7. TERRY

    I hate these words at the bottom!

  8. Mike in PHX

    I waited until 50 to get a tattoo that I wanted on my leg. I designed an image of Apollo pulling the sun into the sky to remind me that no matter what happens, the sun will always shine. Nice tattoo.

  9. schmetterling

    There is no collective noun for hummingbirds:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_collective_nouns_for_birds

    I can only imagine that it must be a “blog” of hummingbirds.

    What do you think?

  10. Will

    I was 47 when I got my first tattoo. I now have both biceps, some work on my chest, a major piece on each thigh, ankle bands and a back piece. I did all the art myself and brought it in scaled to the exact size it was to be on my body. As Erik says, my two artists were delighted that they got to work with very original and challenging designs. It was all part of a life transformation for me and I have loved being inked.

    Your design is very good, a delightful idea. In terms of the appropriateness of the bird and the gramophone horn, the official name of it is the morning glory horn. Perfect!

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