, Corbin, KY


February 6, 2014

Take time to think before getting a tattoo

CORBIN — I have a tattoo.

Now that you’ve passed the collective sigh of shock, I’ve had it for more than 20 years.

I say that because I was perusing something on the Internet and came across a tattoo faux pas — somebody got branded with a tattoo celebrating the Broncos’ win in Sunday’s Super Bowl.

Anyone who spent five minutes watching the big game knows the Seahawks dominated the game from the first quarter on.

So seeing that huge mistake cracked me up.

I’ve noticed over the years that tattoos have become less and less taboo — although I’m also noticing the tattoos are becoming more obvious, sneaking out from under shirts, the bottoms of pants, and the ends of sleeves.

Now, when I was 19, tattoos were still a little bit taboo — the available tattoo parlors in the Johnson City, Tenn. area were scary at best.

But for some insane reason, I got it in my head that I wanted to get a tattoo.

None of my friends at the time had one — in fact, I can’t remember anyone I knew who bore the mark of a decorative needle.

But, despite the fact I was young and very impetuous, I was determined to not only think long and hard about the decision, but to also think of what I could live with when I was older.

Like I am right now.

I spent almost eight months looking at tattoo pictures, and researching the local parlors to see who would be best suited to work on me.

I also gave serious consideration to that tattoo’s location.

The first decision reached was the “what” my tattoo was going to be — a black scorpion to represent my astrological sign of Scorpio.

Location of tattoo came next. I knew I didn’t want it in a place that could be seen by potential interviewers for jobs.

I didn’t want it in a place that it was expected to be shown off — like my chest or arms or legs. I’m not built for that type of display and don’t plan on getting that way any time soon.

So I settled for the belt line.

Then it was a matter of who was going to do it — and that took more time than anything else.

I went by design and reputation — what little I could uncover anyway.

The day came when I was going to get the tattoo — and I went flat sober.

I had read somewhere during my research that the blood thins with alcohol, making it harder to get the tattoo.

I didn’t want the process to be any harder.

I get to this parlor — a “remodeled” mobile home with a ramshackle front display area along a stretch of Highway 19 south toward Elizabethton, Tenn.

I walk in, and the place is almost empty.

This guy comes out, and a small part of me wanted to back up out the door and split for the car.

But I was determined and my mind made up — I was leaving with that tattoo that evening.

He was a little shorter than me, which is no big deal, but he was covered — literally covered — with tattoos.

They were splattered across his face — colored around his neck — just everywhere you looked and saw flesh it was painted up with another tattoo.

There were so many it was hard to tell one from another.

But not only was he tattooed — he was pierced several times as well.

There was a hunk of metal in his nose, all through his ears, eyebrows and the works. The one I vividly remember was the one just below the Adam’s apple in his neck.

But again, I remained determined.

I spoke with the man, who was gruff and a bit intimidating, and we negotiated a price around $70.

Now, today’s shops typically are more private and include more professionalism.

At that time, if you wanted one you dealt with all the extra baggage.

As you have already surmised, I was determined to get it done.

So I was brought behind the counter, and placed in a type of old-style medical prop table.

I showed where the tattoo was to go — and he informed me I would have to be a little more revealing so he could, as he put it, paint the skin canvass.

Although blushing, I didn’t hesitate — and that’s when the man’s wife emerged from a curtained-off area with a pack of cigarettes.

“Do you smoke, darlin’?” she asked.

Of course, I did.

“Well we don’t allow smoking in here, unless you’re getting tatted up,” she said while pulling up a chair. “Have one.”

By this time, several people had wandered into the shop, and were watching the process take place.

A small part of me was ready to bolt from the room.

But the rest of me remained steadfast in my desire for that silly tattoo, and I stayed, smoked, sweated and bled a little.

When it was done and paid for, I politely thanked the couple for their time and hospitality — and nearly fled the little mobile home running.

I was sore for a few days, but once it healed up, I was happy.

And here it is, 22 years after making this decision — and I am still pleased with the tattoo.

In fact, there’s never been one moment which I have regretted the decision.

For me, the only real surprise came when I revealed that I had a tattoo to my mother. We were riding together, just the two of us, headed for Charlotte, N.C. where I had a job interview.

Somehow the topic of tattoos came up — and I just blurted it out that I had gone under the needle.

She got very quiet for a moment — I figured she was gearing up for a patented discussion of the matter.

But instead she took me by surprise, wanting to see it and glad it was out of sight for potential job interviewers in the future.

Look I know tattoos are the newest craze — they started becoming really popular and people are getting them in places I would never have dreamed to put one.

But if you’re contemplating getting a tattoo, take my advice and spend some time thinking about it.

Otherwise you’ll end up with a faux pas like our aforementioned Broncos fan.

John Ross is a staff writer for the Times-Tribune. He can be reached at

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