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Me and my tattoos

One Man’s Inky Voyage Toward Meaning
By JAMES PARKER  |  July 23, 2008


I know that most people get their first tattoo when they’re drunk, or infatuated, or when there’s a race war on their cellblock and they have to quickly join a gang — but not me. My first session with Donny (who does all my work)? He never even took out his tattoo gun! We just talked and looked at pictures — it actually got pretty deep. Donny’s a libertarian Odinist with degrees in unicycling and hand-to-hand combat, and he had a lot of empathy for my life situation. I told him how I’d recently received a lower-than-expected tax refund, plus I was fighting off a bad cold, and I felt like I really needed to get out of this slump that I was in: I wanted something on my forearm that would symbolize the power of rebirth. Donny suggested a snow leopard in clown makeup with a yin/yang sign in its mouth. “But don’t get it now,” he said. “Sleep on it.” So I did. And that night I dreamed of . . . a snow leopard in clown makeup with a yin/yang sign in its mouth. When I got to Donny’s shop the next morning, I didn’t have to say a word.

So you see, for me, every tattoo tells a story . . .

UPPER BACK: KUNDUN. I got this right after I saw the film Kundun, directed by Martin Scorsese, all about the young Dalai Lama and his flight from Tibet. I went straight over to Donny’s shop and told him to write the word across my shoulders in some kind of cool Asiatic script. The idea of this person who is so special that all the world should listen to his message of peace and spirituality, but instead he gets chased out of his palace — I really related to that as I’d just had my six-month review at work (not good).

MIDDLE BACK: The Eye of Horus. This is a big piece. Wikipedia says that the Eye of Horus is “an ancient Egyptian symbol of protection and royal power from deities, in this case from Horus or Ra.” What a great name for a deity — Ra! I got this when I thought I’d left my iPod on the T and I was really bumming. A couple of days after Donny put the finishing touches on the Eye, guess what? I found my iPod at the bottom of my bag. I was pretty freaked out.

LOWER BACK: Some mermaids. To me, women are eternally associated with the element of water. They flow, they drip, they boil. Karen, my first wife, used to eat a lot of fish. Nancy, my second, was a very good swimmer. So: mermaids.

RIGHT SHOULDER: YTIK? This stands for You Think I’m Kidding? It’s kind of my personal motto — my creed, if you will. I’ll give you an example. I say I’m going to climb Mount Everest one day, and you go, “Yeah, right,” and I go, “YOU THINK I’M KIDDING?! I’LL FUCKING CLIMB THAT MOUNTAIN RIGHT NOW! I’LL PACK MY BAGS AND GO TO THE HIMALAYAS RIGHT NOW!” I’ve got a couple of other things like that which I’d like to get tattooed on me someday: JTM (Just Try Me) and INHTMF (I’m Not Here To Make Friends). And, of course, my favorite is FTBITTTD (Fuck The Bullshit It’s Time To Throw Down). But James Frey already has that.

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