! Life is a banquet and most poor suckers are starving to death!

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

The Tattooed Jew

Coming of age in the 70’s, the mere idea of getting a tattoo was (according to my parents) strictly for bikers and convicts, which were basically one and the same. In spite of society’s contempt, I was secretly drawn to the notion, and harbored an unspoken desire to join the pirates, outlaws and miscreant’s who brazenly displayed their tatts. Aside from the mortification my tattoo would rain upon the family, the fear of pain and regret prevented me from acting upon my hidden yearnings. And then, there’s the Jewish thing. According to ancient Judaic law, “defacement of the human body” is strictly forbidden, and with 15 years of Hebrew school drilled into me, that tape played in an endless loop every time inky images danced in my yarmulke’d head. Ever the good Jewish boy, I towed the line. Approaching 40, the proverbial “bucket list” crept into my psyche, and I called Sunset Tattoo on that famous strip in Los Angeles, and asked the junkie on the other end if it hurt. “Um, yeah, she replied between gum chews- it hurts like a motherfucker!” Slamming the phone down, flushed with Jewish guilt, I dropped it. A week or two later, I called another shop. Same answer. The third time, I called Sunset back and disguised my voice, lest the junkie remember my girlish whimpering from the prior call. “ Have you ever slammed your finger in a car door?” the new receptionist-slash-ex-con asked. “Well, it doesn’t hurt as much as that”. Less than thrilled, but still coveting, I persevered. I drove by the place but didn’t get out of the truck. I walked by and looked in the window. I went in , heard some screaming - and fled. And then... I told someone my secret wish. It was my husband, JP...and he. freaked. out. He ranted, he railed and ultimately FORBADE me from doing so. “Over my dead body” he howled, and stormed out of the room. “You are sooo not the boss of me”, I whispered under my breath, as I screwed up my courage and waltzed out the door. Before approaching the counter - where a scary looking dude with a mohawk and hundreds of piercings, was scowling, I looked around. The ubiquitous skulls, pinup girls and tributes to MOM adorned the walls, and I realized that I had no idea what I wanted permanently emblazoned on my arm. Price-to-pain quotient ever on my mind, the Jewish neurons looked for a bargain, while the gay DNA looked for “pretty”. I selected the smallest red star available and settled into the chair, which resembled Frankenstein’s, replete with hoses, gadgets and yes...needles. My Tattoo artist, named “Stripe”, had waist length black hair tied in the back, and Zebra stripes covering his entire body, stem to stern. Nervously lighting a cigarette and swearing that I was not drunk, I gave Stripe the nod and he began. It did hurt, but not as much as I had feared...and since my star was miniscule, it was all over in fifteen minutes. Plotzing, I skipped all the way to the truck, went home, and showed the old man a thing or two. I didn’t tell my family, of course- but when I had surgery a few years later, my Jewish mother flew out to add salt to the wound...I mean “help out”. My illness was serious, and it was touch and go for a brief, shining moment. As they wheeled me into recovery, My mother flew to my side, weeping and gnashing her teeth. “Oh my God!” she wailed, as I squeezed her hand. “Yeah... I made it, Mom” I rasped through the breathing tube. “Not that, you schmuck!” she shrieked, “You have a tattoo!”. Screaming like a Banshee, she gesticulated wildly while screeching the endless list of humiliation, disappointment and horror I had invoked. The cemetery issue came up and when I informed her that I had planned on cremation, she lost it. After what seemed like hours, Mom finally acknowledged that she was glad I hadn’t actually died, and made me swear that I would never let her second husband, a deeply religious man, ever find about about the you-know-what. When she asked me to swear again, that I would never get another tattoo, I quietly told her that I couldn’t make that promise. I had been thinking nothing else for a while, and realized that another birthday was just around the corner. This time, an artist friend had offered to do a custom design. “You know, Mom” I said “You can’t be buried in a Jewish cemetery either- you have pierced ears”. “Oh, that’s different” she sniffed. “Of course I can”. “Not according to the rabbi”, I replied, quoting the torah “You shall not make gashes in your flesh, I am the Lord”. “Well, your father wouldn’t give me diamond earrings, unless I could literally screw them to my lobes” she moaned. “There’s got to be a loophole”. “Only in your ears, Mom, but even if God doesn’t forgive you” I winked, “I’s only a religious concept... we’ll both recover.

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