Of tattoos and tushes

The intrepid Jay Cavna at work. Sorry for the view, buddy.

Back when I performed standup comedy, I had a joke in my set about tattoos. To wit:

"So I'm at this party the other night and I'm talking to a guy who has full sleeve tattoos. When I ask him about them, he said that each tattoo was a reminder of what he was going through at that time in his life. Together, they comprised nothing less than an inked tapestry of his existence.

You should have seen the look on his face when I told him about the whole 'keeping a journal' thing."

ell, I've changed my mind in the intervening 15 years as evidenced by my own tattoo. Don't worry, this isn't the blow-by-blow account of an I-want-a-tattoo-but-don't-really-know-how-to-approach-it-so-I'm-going-to-get-a-tasteful-tribal-sun-on-my-shoulder story. No, for the first one, I decided to cover the largest plane of contiguous skin on my body with a full Japanese back piece tattoo that extends from neck to knees. My tattoo artist, Jay Cavna, liked having a clean, large canvas and poured in a ton of work--14 sessions in all.

I was committed to Japanese style because I think that tradition has mastered how tattoos should flow with and complement the body. Case in point:  Traditional American back pieces many times terminate at the waist but Japanese back pieces are designed to cover everything down to the just above the knee. It's a beautiful termination point aesthetically, plus it gives you room for more subject matter. Unfortunately, some collectors balk at the idea of getting their ass inked. I'm not sure why that's the case. Sure, the ass and hamstrings (for me) were the most painful areas to get tattooed, plus there's the indignity of having to strip completely naked for the below-the-waist work. Still, I don't understand why someone wouldn't go for the whole shebang.

My tattoo advice? Save your dough until you can drop a chunk of it on something bigger and better than you initially planned. And when the big day comes, don't be afraid to drop your drawers.


Good tattooer, bad tattoos


I dug puzzles as a kid. When I was a wee lad, I had three books that running advocate/aficionado Jim Fixx put out: Games for the Super-Intelligent, More Games for the Super-Intelligent, and Solve It!. (If you want to hear a hilarious standup comedy bit at the expense of Mr Fixx, google Bill Hicks' scathing observations about the jogging lifestyle he promoted.)

You'd think that puzzle books such as these would be a good-for-one-read type of thing, but I continued to thumb through them long after I had every right answer committed to memory. One of my favorites was a puzzle about the two town barbers, Mel and Johnny. Mel's shop was as immaculate as his neatly-trimmed coif. Conversely, Johnny's hair was dreadful. His shop was in constant disarray and reeked of cat urine. (I made the cat urine part up.)  You're new in town and visit each shop. The question is:  Which barber do you trust your precious locks to?

If you're like most, your inclination is to slide right into Mel's barber chair. After all, it appears that he's got his shit together. But the solution given is counterintuitive. The smart money says that Mel's shop is meticulous because his lack of clientele makes keeping his shop clean a breeze. Johnny, on the other hand, is such a whiz with the shears that a constant parade of clients makes even basic shop maintenance an impossibility.

I'm going to apply the same reverse logic to tattoo artists and unequivocally state that I'll never get tattooed by an artist who doesn't have at least one terrible tattoo on him. (Let's not even get into the question of whether it's okay for a tattoo artist to have zero tattoos.)

The reason for my artist discrimination is that I want my guy to have gotten bitten by the tattoo bug so early and so hard that he started getting them before he had the money and/or knowledge to get the good stuff. It's the guy who needs to have that piece of flash on the wall NOW! and not the one meticulously planning his full bodysuit that I'll hand over my hard-earned money to.

It's no surprise that some of the best tattoo artists have some of the worst tattoos. Jay Cavna, who did a tremendous job on my back piece, has stuff that's he's covered, lasered, or just plain hates. He once remarked that one piece on his chest is so bad that when he's at tattoo conventions, lounging by the pool with the other artists, he makes sure to keep his shirt on.

When I brought up the subject of bad tattoos to him during one of our sessions, he echoed my sentiments but for a reason that I'd never thought of. He said every tattoo artist should know the feeling of walking around with a bad tattoo. When you do, he said, you'll do everything in your power to make sure that a client never feels the same. Couldn't have said it better, myself. And that's why when I stop by the shop later this month, I'm gonna talk to Jay about doing the rest of my body suit.