Tag Archives: tattoos

Where Do the Best Thoughts Go?

I seem to have all of my best thoughts when I’m not in a position to write them down.  Driving is a prime example.  Music blasting, the open road, surrounded on all sides by awesome cloud formations, and the ideas just come flooding in – but I’M DRIVING, so I can’t write them down.  I actually bought a mini tape recorder so that I could dictate my thoughts, but that turned out to be more trouble than it was worth.  First of all, it was a cheapo machine and didn’t have one-touch operation – I had to push one button this way and another two buttons that way, and then make sure that the reels were moving, which I couldn’t do if I was on a parkway, say, which is where the inspiration usually strikes.  Then the battery would die because I would keep the recorder poised and paused, ready for me to use as soon as an idea came upon me, and then forget to turn it off.  And then, of course, I have a whole drawer full of mini-cassettes that need to be transcribed, if there is even anything on there.  On a few occasions when I’ve tried to listen back, there was actually nothing on the tape at all, which completely defeats the purpose.

I also have great thoughts when I’m power-walking.  I’ve got the music playing on the headphones and a strong rhythm to my gait, my blood is pumping and the ideas are flowing profusely – but I’M WALKING, so I can’t write them down.  However, I do have my iPhone with me, because I use the timer and step-calculation function to keep track of my walking, and I think my iPhone does have a dictation feature.  Maybe I should try using that to record my thoughts while I’m pounding the pavement (or the boardwalk, as the case may be).

Some of my most ingenious thoughts, though, come when I’m in the dentist’s chair hooked up to the nitrous oxide, but in this circumstance, I’VE GOT SOMEONE’S HANDS IN MY MOUTH so I can’t write down the shimmering bits of perfection that ping-pong around in my brain when I’m breathing in the sweet air.  Just this past week, I had two brilliant notions:  (1) I wish I had a device like Stephen Hawking has, where a robotic voice that seems to dictate his thoughts as he’s thinking them.  Although , without doing more extensive research on the device in question, I am almost certain that what’s really happening isn’t that the machine is reading his thoughts, but rather that he’s using his optical system (actually, I think it’s his cheek muscle) to somehow type on a keyboard what he wants to say, rather than having a direct line to the thoughts from his brain.  (2) I realize there would probably have to be health code regulations in place, but why couldn’t tattooers offer nitrous to their clients who wanted it?  Used properly, it’s completely harmless and would relax the human canvas while he/she is having the painful work done, and the tattooer wouldn’t have to deal with so much movement and tapping out when the canvas can’t take the hurt.

[An aside:  A new season of “Ink Master” has begun.  This season features a competition between teams assembled by each of the tattoo artist judges, Oliver Peck and Chris Nuñez.  (Dave Navarro, host and the third judge, is merely an aficionado – his talents lie on the guitar side of art.)  I confess to having a huge crush on Oliver Peck, with his ponytail and Yosemite Sam mustache, only-top-button-done shirts and ever-present toothpick.  Every time I watch “Ink Master”, I want another tattoo.  My next piece is going to be a cover-up/modification of the laurel wreath encircling the yin-yang on my shoulder [see “Tattoo Me”, 6/10/15].  I might try a new artist this time, even though I love the pieces that Liana Joy of Empire State Tattoo in Oceanside has done for me.]

Underlying all of this lost genius, of course, is my memory (or, more accurately, the lack thereof).  If I could just REMEMBER my thoughts so I could write them down as soon as I got home, I wouldn’t have this problem.  But for whatever reason – age, prolonged marijuana use in my youth, early onset Alzheimer’s – once I’m out of the car, or across the threshold, or (unhappily) getting oxygen pumped through my nose piece – the great ideas are often gone.  Just GONE.  Poof.  Maybe they will be revived in some other context at some other time, but unless I quickly write them down at the earliest opportunity, or unless it’s a REALLY good thought and I literally can’t get it OUT of my head, the thought will be released into the ether, and whether it will return remains a mystery.

That’s certainly something I value about my journals:  They are literally the repositories of my thoughts, a hard copy of my memory.  If I had the time (or, I should say, WHEN I have the time), I could pick a journal from any year, from 1979 through today, open it up, and know exactly what I was thinking on that day.  I’ve written about my journals previously on this blog (“My Life in Journals”, 8/17/16), and I long for the day when I can just lazily pore over every word, looking for those golden thoughts and brilliant (if I say so myself!) ideas that I managed to commit to paper before losing them.  I’ll then use them as fodder for future essays or articles or stories or even poems (although my poetry has always been pedestrian, at best).

A random sample, grabbed from my “Small Notebooks” collector box, from March 15, 2008, while attending my firm’s All Lawyers’ Meeting in Florida:  “(later, at a ‘speed networking’ event) One beer goes straight to my head, even on ice.  I’m very bad at standing and holding a drink.  I’m much better off when I can sit down at a table, or at least stand next to a table where I can set my drink when my hand gets cold and wet.”  I could maybe turn that into a whole blog post about my social awkwardness, how I’m so friendly and comfortable one-on-one but when you throw me into a group setting, I turn into a shy wallflower.

Ah, someday, I’ll have the luxury of recapturing my memories and using them to create art.  But until then, I’ll just have to figure out better ways to memorialize them, using mnemonics or technology or the discipline to hold them in my head until I can get to pen and paper (or fingers to keyboard, but I tend to scribble my thoughts rather than type them, even though I am a pretty fast typist).

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A couple of thoughts about this week’s presidential debate, because it’s been heavy on my mind.  I knew Hillary would be better prepared, but for some inexplicable reason, I dreaded it, because Trump gets away with figurative murder and no one calls him out on it except left-leaning comedians.  And even when his lies and inadequacies are exposed, his supporters seem not to care.  Damn the “facts” and what they’ve seen with their own eyes and heard with their own ears!!  They just have a “feeling” about him or, more commonly, about how horrible Hillary is, which is another thing I do not understand.  I’ve read a number of think pieces on it, and I do think her femaleness is at the root (for a good analysis of this, see Larry Womack, “Stop Pretending You Don’t Know Why People Hate Hillary Clinton”, The Blog, The Huffington Post, 9/26/16 [http://www.huffingtonpost.com/larry-womack/stop-pretending-you-dont-_b_12191766.html]).  Don’t these Trump supporters realize they’re being played??  Trump doesn’t even WANT to be president.  He just wants to WIN.

But in the end, reason prevailed.  By every measure (despite the seemingly intelligent woman interviewed post-debate who believed it was a “draw” and that Trump showed himself to be a “man of action, an agent of change”; how any sane person could say that Trump performed well in this debate is incomprehensible to me), Hillary was the big victor in the much-anticipated showdown.  The man was unhinged!  He couldn’t put together a coherent sentence or thought.  Bragging, complaining, doom-and-glooming (“inner cities are hell”, our airports are “worse than the ones in third world countries”, he said, among many other things that he called “terrible” or “bad”), with nary a constructive suggestion to fix any of it, apart from his tax cut for the rich.

Whoopi Goldberg called Trump out on his inability to complete a sentence this morning on “The View”, which I caught for a brief moment while looking to see if pre-season Rangers hockey was on TV tonight – which it was!  It’s so great to watch Rangers hockey again and get excited about the coming season!  The NHL’s exhibition World Cup of Hockey was a tease, especially that exciting Team North America overtime win over Sweden last weekend, but now it’s time for REAL hockey.  And I’m also overjoyed that Optimum, my cable TV provider, has restored the real-time pause and rewind functions.  Now if they could just come up with the technology to link the DVR recording to the actual TV show so it never cuts off early and you don’t have to manually add 2, 5, 15, or 30 minutes to the “ending time” of a show, or when football games go long and delay the start time of shows.  But I can’t get greedy.  I’m certainly grateful for the improvements thus far.  I love having the ability to rewind and re-watch a good goal, and then be able to skip the inevitable car commercial — live!!

Tattoo Me

In the summer between my junior and senior years of college, back in 1980, my friend Liz Azzaro (nee See) and I went to get tattoos at Peter Tat2, a shop on in West Hempstead on Long Island. Tattooing was still illegal in New York at the time (it only became legal in 1997 and has since exploded, with multiple shops in practically every town), but Peter Tat2 made no secret of its purpose, with bright colorful signage and a large storefront window showing framed flash on the walls. Liz got a seagull on her hip; I got a blue heart crying two tears on my left ankle, which I considered the iconographical depiction of my love life. (Little did I realize at the time that my first tattoo would represent not only a lament about my present but also a prediction for my future.)


When I got back to Trinity for two-a-day football practices in August, a couple of weeks before the rest of the undergrads returned, it was still warm enough in New England to wear shorts on a daily basis, so I was able to show off my ink. I like to think that the guys were impressed; back in those days, girls other than biker chicks did not get tattoos, and only the coolest of the cool of the preppie and Connecticut public school boys got one, usually on a dare.

Nowadays, I see at least as many girls as guys with tattoos, and not just a tiny heart on the ankle or a butterfly on the nape of the neck, only to be glimpsed when their hair is up in a ponytail. It’s not as rare as it used to be to even see full arm and leg sleeves (is it actually called a “leg sleeve”?) on a lady. A Harris poll in 2012 concluded that 1 in 5 Americans have at least one tattoo and, for the first time since they’d started inquiring, women were slightly more likely than men to have one.

There are also more female tattoo artists. One of my favorite art-based reality competition shows is “Ink Master” on SPIKE TV (my other favorite is “Project Runway”, but I also like “America’s Next Top Model”, primarily because I enjoy watching the photography process and then seeing the finished product). “Ink Master” is hosted by heavily tatted rock guitarist Dave Navarro (ex of Jane’s Addiction and Carmen Electra), and every week the competitors tattoo a “human canvas” in accordance with an assigned theme. Every season there are at least a few female contestants, and while none of the females has yet been named “Ink Master”, I believe it’s only a matter of time.

My last two tattoos were done by a talented woman artist named Liana Joy in a shop in Oceanside, NY called Empire State Studio. Empire State is owned by one of the finalists in the very first season of “Ink Master”, Tommy Helm, who in addition to Empire State now runs a shop on the left coast as one of a trio of tattoo geniuses who specialize in difficult cover-ups on a weekly show called “Tattoo Nightmares” (which comes on after “Ink Master”).

I went to Empire State one day a few months after Superstorm Sandy actually hoping to see Tommy Helm. The shop was not far from where I was staying, and I had been wanting to get another tattoo, as a way to sort of cheer myself up after all the loss and destruction and homelessness. When I walked into the shop, I was almost shocked to see the man himself, leaning up against a wall. He was much smaller than he had looked on TV but as adorable in person as he had been on the show. (My daughter, her step-mom and I all had a little crush on him and we were convinced he should have won. I told him the latter but kept the former to myself.) Of course, he is too famous now to be doing the minor tattoos of walk-ins like me, but he suggested I consider one of his protégés. Liana Joy is a talented young artist with a creative eye and a steady hand for fine work, but I worry that she might have to give up tattooing as a career because the traditional tools of her trade are causing her to have a sort of specialized carpal tunnel syndrome. I’ve seen some new-fangled tattoo equipment, though, that seems to be lighter and less noisy than the incessant “BZZZZ” of the customary inkers of old, so hopefully she’ll be able to find a machine that is easier on her wrist and arm and she can continue her brilliant work.

Tattoos tell stories, and not always good ones, as Tommy, Big Gus and the exceptionally gifted Jasmine from “Tattoo Nightmares” can attest. Their whole show consists of re-enacting the horror stories of how the folks getting cover-ups originally got their terrible tattoos. All of my tattoos also have their little histories and significance, but thankfully none quite so horrific as the ones on “Tattoo Nightmares”.

I got my second tattoo on the Lowest East Side circa 1990. A friend of mine had come into the bar where I was tending with a delicate little bracelet of bones tattooed around her birdlike wrist. I wanted something just that tiny and fine – a laurel wreath encircling a yin and yang sign on the meat of my upper arm – so I asked her who had done it. “Mike Fineline!” she told me. Despite having a bloviating, self-proclaimed “tattooist to the stars” named Jonathan Shaw literally living in the basement apartment next door to mine at 43 East 1st Street, I ended up going to see Mike. He was called “Mike FINELINE”!! Of course he would be the perfect choice for the kind of delicate work I was seeking! Unfortunately, Mike might have had a bit too much to drink that day, and he freehanded my design instead of creating a stencil, and it turned out to be twice as large as I had originally envisioned. The black outline was heavy and the skin often gets raised. If I had a really great idea and a really great artist, I might want to cover that one up somehow, and I have a lot of upper arm around it to work with. But other than that, I think I’m done with tattoos. Soon my skin will turn saggy and thin and spotted – my legs, blessedly free of varicose veins for all these years, are starting to show some telltale capillary blooms, even near my most recent tattoo, done by Liana Joy, of a kitty yin and yang – and the thinner the skin, the more painful it is. And believe me, tattoos do not tickle.

My father had a few tattoos, which he had gotten when he was in the Navy in the early ‘50s. Maybe because he became a banker, he covered them up in long-sleeved shirts and suit jackets. By the time I was aware of them – a skull with a “Mother” ribbon and a bluebird on his arm and a hula girl on his calf – a decade or more after he had gotten them, they were blown out and blue, but I still loved them. I swore I would get my own when I was old enough and when I figured out what it was I wanted to preserve on my body for the rest of my life.

Other than the aforementioned laurel wreath, I am quite content with my current state of ink. They all look good and they all mean something. They even reveal me to be a little bit of a rebel, even though so many people have tattoos these days, unlike in my father’s generation. In most circles, tattoos no longer carry the stigma they once did, when they were only sported by bikers, sailors and ex-cons, but they’re still not very common in New York City law firms (or at least they’re not OBVIOUS). I’m a corporate lawyer who doesn’t hide her tattoos. They’re in full view on my lower arms because I want to be able to see them as well! My cat yin and yang, which is on my upper thigh and not on display except in the summertime, reads from upside down (to me) and right-side up (to onlookers).

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I have an owl-and-stars wristlet in honor of my mother, although she hated my tattoos. I hid them from her for years but when she finally saw the one on my upper arm, she expressed her disappointment. “You’ve defaced yourself”, she said with an exasperated sigh. I gather she never liked my father’s tattoos, and she would tell me that he regretted having them, but I didn’t read him that way. I liked his tattoos. They made me want to have tattoos, too. The Eye of Horus (designed and inked by Liana Joy) on my right inner forearm, which I treated myself to after Superstorm Sandy, is in honor of my father.

My daughter has one. She actually got her first without my knowledge, an “831” on her chest to commemorate the date of her grandmother’s death. For her 18th birthday I paid for a beautiful owl (my mother’s spirit animal) with a full red moon-and-pine background, done by a local kid.

My ex-husband never wanted one (big chicken!), even though he clearly didn’t mind them on his wives, since his second wife has even more tattoos than I do, including one massive piece of three horse silhouettes on her side that must have absolutely killed. But even he broke down and got one, a massively detailed Roman gladiator on his arm, which coincided with his being in the best shape of his life in his forties and enjoying showing off his guns.

I think everyone should have at least one tattoo, an entirely permanent and personal piece of art with deep significance. We all have our stories to tell.