People ask me often if I regret any of my tattoos, do they hurt, which one is my favorite, how much a tattoo of a Tasmanian Devil fisting a leprechaun will cost, which was my first, and so on. The answers are sort of, duh, all of them, probably $150-350 depending on the color, size and body part and finally, Darth Vader.
Yes, Old Darthy and I formed our relationship nearly nine years ago to this day. During finals time, an NYU Swim Team buddy and I decided to take a study break and get inked. A handful of my buddies owned tattoos by then, but what to get? In those ancient times of 2001, I fashioned myself as a terribly shitty humor cartoonist, so at first I thought of getting my cartoon drawn permanently. But my friend thought that was a retarded idea. Granted, he wanted to get palm trees in between his hip and his weiner, so thank goodness I listened to his advice.
So as he did stuff, I searched through thousands of photos. Spider-Man, fireballs, Mortal Kombat stuff and who knows what other crap. There was even the chance of me getting the Stroh's beer dragon or the Mickey's Fine Malt Liquor bee mascots.
(Yes, I almost had this mascot tattooed. Oops.)
I don't remember who advised me on it, but somebodysaid, "If you're getting a tattoo, make sure you get one that you'll never grow tired of." So I hearkened back to my yesteryears. What stayed in common? Throughout my life, Star Wars. The space opera supplied me with some of my first memories and even my first giant question in life: how can Han Solo also be Indiana Jones?
So I found a mugshot of Darth Vader. I walked to Saint Mark's Place and talked to a few people. I found a dude who actually wanted to do it, so I grabbed some cash from the ATM (this is still one of my most expensive tattoos—avoid getting tattoos in NYC kids, they're pricey) Meanwhile, the artist, Sketch, set up his stuff and shaved part of my leg.
I really wanted to seem tough because getting a tattoo is a pretty manly thing to do. I also thought of myself as a badass back then (I really, really wasn't). Most of all, Sketch was about three hundred pounds, about 5 foot 9 inches with "PAIN" inked across his throat in orange and yellow. I definitely didn't want to seem like a pussy in front of this dude. This guy terrified me more than the ouchiness of the tattoo, my parents' reaction and the final I was supposed to be studying for.
As he started working and I started talking, we found out we had a lot in common. We were both pretty much friendless dorks in high school, and found much solace in science fiction, comic books and video games. We both agreed "Star Wars: Episode I" wasn't totally great, except for the bitchin' Darth Maul fight.
When I asked how long he'd been doing tattoos, he sheepishly said, "This will be my fourth." I gawked at him and he laughed, "Look at me Kid. I'm covered. I can barely count the years I've been doing this." This is when I learned most tattoo artists have senses of humor and personalities too, you just have to know how to treat them—you treat them like an actual person. A person paid to scar people for life.
And yeah, it kind of hurt. But honestly, for most of it I studied and read up on whatever stupid crap I would be tested on. The worst of it wasn't the needle, but the angle my leg was on put me in a position where Sketch placed all his weight onto my knee joint. I didn't want to sound like a weenie, but eventually I said, "Hey Sketch, um, I think you're breaking my leg." I expected him to call me a laundry list of names, but he instantly apologized. "Geez dude! Why didn't you say something? I'm fat, I could have snapped that thing in two."
When he finished, he asked if he could take a photo and send it into a tattoo magazine and if I'd be around for the NYC Tattoo Convention. Unfortunately, I needed to be back in Colorado during that time, but allegedly there is a photo of my leg in some nine-year-old tattoo mag. Then I shook his hand, paid him and we parted ways. I only contacted him again because I thought he ripped me off, but instead, that was just my new Darth Vader tattoo peeling and healing—which I didn't know actually happened.
I didn't walk into that tattoo parlor with the idea of getting more tattoos. I thought this would be my first and last. I had no idea how many strangers would walk up to me on the street and compliment me, show me their tattoo or profess their love of Star Wars to me. It's a neat feeling, even though all I did was come up with an idea and sit still in a chair for three hours.
Over the past few years I've racked up a dozen or so more tats. I'm not even close to the most tattooed person I know, and I don't care to be. Most people don't know I have them, and that's how I like to keep it. Folks wonder if I regret any of them, well, kind of. I wish one was bigger or something else, but I'm happy with them all in general. Or people ask if they mean anything—yes, as stupid as many of mine are, they all mean something to me whether wisdom or acceptance, family or fuck the man, The Force or The Dark Side. But also, "No," not a single one has anything to do with an ex-girlfriend. Not even the "new famous one."
Most of all people pitch an idea to me and ask me how much it will cost. I have no idea, I'm not a tattoo artist, just a dude with more than his fair share of ink. My advice is always go to a few shops, visit with the guys and find a guy who likes your idea, seems nice and runs a clean shop. A guy who hates your idea will almost certainly do a shitty job, a nice guy is just nice to have as he's drilling into your skin and a clean shop really puts my mind at ease.
I wouldn't know all this stuff if I didn't skip out on studying so I could permanently ruin my skin with a sci fi culture icon's profile, but it happened nine years ago and I'm still happy with it.
And the end of the story is, my buddy who convinced me to get a tattoo with him…he pussed out.
It's May 4th, so happy Galactic Star Wars Day everybody!