I have always said that if I had even an ounce of artistic-drawing ability, I would pack up all of my belongings and travel the world as a tattoo artist. The idea of gypsies, movement, art, free-spiritedness—has always been fascinating to me. (I’ll take this time to shoutout my all-time favorite book, The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho; enough said)
This past Saturday I had two of my old college roommates in-town visiting. I suggested we go to the tattoo shop I’d previously gone to—I needed a touch-up, and they could get something small. The three of us each became invested in the thought of remembering the memory of the experience; deciding the spontaneous tattoos were significant enough, and we did not need to overdo it with matching tattoos.
To say the experience was your typical “walk-in,” would be far from the truth.
Immediately, the mood was off. The artist who had done my tattoo previously was asking the other artists if they would do the touch-ups for her; costing me another $30 (this tattoo is the tiniest heart on my pinky finger, I wasn’t paying $30, again for a touch-up that had been promised to me for free).
Tensions were high, I was uncomfortable, and my friends weren’t sure if they were able to even get a small tattoo—All around, just weird energy.
In true “Zoey” fashion, I immediately address the whole room of people, “Is everything okay? Because we can leave if now is not a good time—I just feel like I can’t read the room right now,” I finished, with an awkward laugh.
The man that seemed incredibly standoffish (and the one who, actually, ended up doing each of our tattoos) was clearly confused by my question.
“Nah, we’re all good,” he said.
So, we filled out our paperwork and carried on our way, though I was not fully satisfied with his answer because of how, obviously, irritated he had been.
Kenny, I later learned was his name, simply needed a coffee. He told me this after I pestered him, yet again, after he was finished with my friends’ tattoos.
“Are you sure you’re good, Kenny? You seemed like you really didn’t want us here.”
“Huh? No? I just need coffee,” he said.
Thus, I ordered him and two other artists DoorDash from McDonald’s—two hot coffees and one iced with caramel. You have to treat someone well if you are giving them permission to put permanent ink on your body, I’m sure that is in the rule book somewhere.
The first artist I was working with to help me brainstorm an idea was named Dominique. I told her I wanted to be her when I grew up—I’m sure she thinks I am crazy. She had dreads with gemstones and crystals hooked into them, all of her clothes (including the shoes) were thrifted, and she had gorgeous red and green tattoos that paired perfectly with her olive-colored skin.
Dominique designed a beautiful, and much bigger, piece of artwork for me to put on the inner side of my leg near my knee. The catch? The stencil wouldn’t lay properly, to her liking. When I tell you we spent four hours laying and reprinting stencils—we. Spent. Four. Hours.
It got to the point where I could tell she was irritated. You also never want someone irritated if they are putting ink on your body, that’s another rule. I suggested that she could go home, not thinking she would actually jump on it after the four hours we had spent, but she did and I didn’t blame her. Only, we all really wanted to get the tattoos on the same night.
Kenny came to our rescue, offering to do my tattoo so long as it was okay with Dominique. I paid her for her time and design, then switched over to Kenny’s workspace. It was 10 p.m. at this point and the shop was closed.
My tattoo was not finished until 4 a.m., when I walked out with my own red and green tattoo to match my own olive-toned tan skin (thanks, mom).
So, what do you spend six hours talking to a random tattoo artist about, especially, when you originally came in as a walk-in?
Well, Kenny moved from Atlanta, Georgia, to Jacksonville, Florida, about two years ago. He doesn’t like it here because he does not think there is much to do other than drink. He began tattooing at this shop about three months ago and quickly became friends with Maurice, the shop owner.
Maurice was a nice guy but a smooth talker nonetheless so, when he walked it at midnight, confused as to why Kenny was still there, he took one look around and figured he would stay as well.
Maurice is in an open relationship, has three kids with a fourth on the way, homeschools all of his children and had a pet Tarantula named Lynn. Lynn recently died and Maurice has a tattoo on his arm in her honor.
I talked to Kenny about recurring dreams for a while, well, nightmares for the both of us. I told him about mine from Third-grade of the random gunman in the tree shooting down at me and my family. He told me about his and how he has to battle two, Darth Vader’s, but each time they grab him (using the force) by his neck, and he loses.
I tried to expand the topic of dreams into a further discussion about life on other planets and the possibility of parallel universes, but I could tell I had lost him.
“Yeah, man, that shit is just crazy. There’s gotta be more out there,” he said.
Maurice smiled gently at me from his spot next to my friend. He kind of nodded at me in a ‘slow it down a bit’ type of way. It was getting late, Kenny had already drunk the coffee I had DoorDashed him, and my vocabulary is not really the kind that I think is frequently used in tattoo shops. I guess that’s what I get for studying journalism instead of being a gypsy tattoo-artist, huh?
We all talked about our tastes in music, the coolest tattoos we have ever seen, the worst tattoos we have seen and the different places we had come from. Philly, Indiana, Atlanta, Texas.
It’s a story worth sharing, or so I think, but it is definitely one that my friends and I will never forget. I hope Kenny and Maurice always remember it too. The night that strangers joined in one room with needles, ink, and McDonald’s coffees but left as acquaintances who know what keeps the others up at night, the reason they moved to Florida and, all, who share the same passion for exchanging these random experiences with perfect strangers.
As Maurice put it,
“Y’all, this is the best part of my job right here. These types of nights.”