Henna, Not Heroin

There is no chance I will ever become a heroin addict. I hate needles.

Even the THOUGHT of an IV makes me cringe. And the ACTUALITY of one sets my normally prominent and generously sized veins into a state of such constriction that the routine procedure of inserting an IV becomes an agonizing ordeal.

It was with this attitude and proclivity that I approached tattooing. You might say I was just “slightly” squeamish.

The sign on the front door of the tattoo parlor didn’t help much to allay my fears. “NO CRYBABIES.”

I gingerly pushed the door open and stepped inside. My friends were already preoccupied with the ceiling-hung display boards housing hundreds of patterns that can be permanently affixed to skin.

“Anywhere but the face,” was advised.

“0h gee,” I thought disappointedly. “I was so looking forward to getting a tattoo on the tip of my nose!” It wasn’t clear whether state law prohibits face tattooing or if it is just a “No-No” in the world of permanent body art.

And Art it is. The owner of the shop, Dana, has a master’s degree in Fine Arts from the University of Cincinnati. And all his independent contractors have apprenticed for years under tattoo artists. Their designs are unlimited: Indians, skulls, nude woman (with large breasts), butterflies, flowers, castles and even cartoon characters.

I look around. The place is clean, uncluttered, business-like and mellow. The technicians all have lots of tattoos, lots of holes in their ears filled with studs and hoops but otherwise appear quite mainstream.

None of the customers seem totally bizarre either. One guy is involved in traveling all over the world checking out “ruins.” He has long blond hair (I’d kill for his locks) and is getting a Mayan tattoo on his leg and an Egyptian mummy on his back. All in one sitting.

Another couple has lust walked in the door. Young. Good looking. Dressed like they are out shopping at the mall. Her only distinguishing feature is that she is carrying a huge framed picture of herself that she wants duplicated on her boyfriend’s back. Talking about confidence in everlasting love. Or possessiveness.

I notice certain things. The recliners are comfortable and clean and the clients seemed relaxed. Technicians wear gloves. And instruments are sterilized by high pressure and high temperatures in an intimidating machine. There is even a Norman Rockwell print of a tattoo artist on the wail.

“Maybe I should reconsider,” I think. “Just a small ‘Iris’ on my ankle….”

Then 1 notice the sign tacked up by the plastic paint containers: Jeffrey Dahmer says: “Tattoos Taste Great.”

I experience a sudden surge of gagging – my initial repulsion comes flooding back.

I watch carefully as my friend is prepped for her tattoo after picking out the design and color scheme she wants – and deciding just where on her body to place it.

Brenda, the technician, cleans the area with alcohol and shaves it. Then she applies the stencil outline of the design onto the skin. After that, she fiddles with the machine that houses “the needle.” My legs are starting to buckle and my skin feels clammy. I sit down heavily, wipe my brow and force myself to pay attention.

My friend, meanwhile, is chirpy and chatty and perfectly at ease. They begin.

“What does it feel like?” I demand instantly.

“Well,” says Susan, “a little weird and then sort of like scratching myself with my fingernail.”

Minutes later I ask again as the machine whirrs on and on.

“Well,” says Susan hesitantly, “it feels a little irritating but nothing I can’t tune out because the needle’s not in place constantly.”

At the end of a line, Brenda stops and then starts again. Finally, she finishes the outline and starts on the coloring. Susan is still resting comfortably.

I think of my Grandpa Harry with his famous forearm tattoo of a naked lady that for my benefit he would wiggle to make her body parts move.

“Maybe just one tiny, teeny little band of cascading daisies running down my forearm -in memory of Grandpa Harry….”

In 45 minutes the tattoo is done. On Susan’s ankle is a black outline of a delicate rose with red petals and lush green leaves.

The cost: about $80 bucks. The care: minimal. Just leave bandage on for 10 hours. Then wash with warm soap and water and moisturize two times per day. Within about 3 weeks, all the itchiness and scabbing will be gone and within 4 weeks, the surface is back to normal.

I take a deep breath. I have the cash. I have the time. And I always like to try new things….

I look once more at the needle. I watch as it comes in contact with the skin. Nah, I can’t do it.

I’ll just have to stick with “Imposters” – those temporary tattoos you apply by pressing firmly on clean, dry skin, wetting with a sponge and after 20 seconds, peeling off the backing.You know, the kind my nine year-old granddaughter always has stashed away in her crayon box.

Or the henna tattoos I am beginning to be addicted to.

I always was and always will be a wimp when it comes to needles. And heroin.

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