I got my first tattoo because a six foot six inch transsexual hooker named Destiny told me to.
Well to be fair, she told me and my best friend K that it would be totally cool if we both had the same tattoo because after all we were closer than sisters.
And that made sense. We’d already climbed a precarious step-ladder to the two by fours slung between the giant billboard which perched fifty feet above the roof of our warehouse, armed with 4 mini bottles of vodka and a small penknife and made the same, deep incision on our palms. I swear I felt her blood enter my veins like a jolt.
The tattoo thing was slightly more complicated though because back then girls didn’t get tattooed. Only men and sailors and some of the edgier members of the San Francisco gay scene. Those who liked leather wear and patronized the same fetish shops where we bought our bondage gear and studded bracelets.
But it was something to consider.
Destiny gave us a lot of advice. She was immaculate and groomed to within an inch of her five inch spiked heels. She had this way of walking that was almost alien, boneless, as if she had an invisible hula hoop welded to her hips, bracketing her taut bottom which engraved Mobius loops in the air. You almost felt as there should be a swooshing sound. She had the kind of figure that only exists in comic books. Tiny waist, large, gravity-defying breasts, long, shapely legs that went up to her chin. Perfect womanly beauty, only marred by her hands and feet being a little bit on the massive, basketball player size. But she distracted attention from these with tons of jangly bracelets, bright red talons and a rhinestone belt which looped five times around her waist and appeared to be the only thing holding up the thin strip of spangled lycra she called a skirt.
We loved Destiny. She had such a kick-ass attitude and she didn’t take any crap. Sometimes we’d see her standing in the middle of the street yelling and tossing her long platinum blond hair as some car sped away, ricocheting all over the road.
She was tough, she was sexy, she was our role model for feistyness. Most of the time I completely forgot she was a man until she laughed- deep, throaty and you could see her Adam’s apple bounce up and down. She had so much feline grace, like a geisha, arms like wafting, red-tipped tentacles.
Anyway she pointed us towards Lyle Tuttle’s studio which was South of Market street in SF (SOMA). Not the best neighborhood- tacky streets, lots of transients, hypodermic needles, and garbage, the smell of piss and roll-ups and spilled booze and dog shit and sewers. But we were coming from a bad neighborhood so hey, it was familiar in a sense.
Lyle’s did walk-ins. Which meant a wait of at least 3 or 4 hours with nothing to do but hang out on the street and smoke and talk with the winos while some guy got a ‘mom’ tattoo or a ‘girly’ tattoo (amazingly most of the girls bore a strong resemblance to Destiny and her hooker friends) or one guy who was getting the names of all his kids tattooed on his chest. He seemed to have fathered about a dozen or so and they all had stripper names (Madison Rose, Crystal Flower, Baked Alaska, Honey Dipped- OK I made those up)…That guy had actually arrived after us but he offered to pay me 100 bux if I let him cut in front of me so of course I said yes. We’d already picked out our dragon tattoos- classic, Chinese, a six-legged dragon curved in a sinuous s-shape and outlined in red for K and orange for me. I had enough money from the Dad guy to get another one so I was trying to decide on a lizard or something else.
K went first. She was a tough girl, always getting into fights in the pit and on the street but about five minutes in the color left her face like the tide pulling the waves back off the sand. It was eerie to see and almost instantly she started sweating. I thought she was going to pass out, her grip on my hand was so tight, and apparently the tattoo artist thought so too ’cause he finished her up in a hurry. It wasn’t until we got home later and compared our dragons that I discovered hers only had 4 legs to my 6.
Getting tattooed felt like someone dragging a razor blade over the same place on my arm for about an hour. It hurt worse if I watched so mostly I looked at K who kept pulling her bandage aside so she could peek at her dragon, or staring at the pylons and a section of the Bay Bridge I could see through the window. As bad as the dragon hurt, the lizard on my ankle hurt worse. Needle on bone= never a very good idea. Years later I endured laser tattoo removal to get rid of that lizard which was such an afterthought it never took on the almost totemic nature of my beloved tattoos. Laser hurts even more than the needle, though they’ll tell you it’s like the snap of a rubber band. Liars.
Once our tattoos had healed K and I often stood next to each other, we were of a height, with our upper arms pressed together. Destiny totally approved.
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