The lobby of the tattoo parlor was humming on a Saturday night. Young, wannabe strippers, thin as greyhounds, decked out in skintight, black yoga pants with cell phones stuck in the waistbands leaned against the counter, looking hollow-eyed and hungry. On the other side of the glass case, needle jockeys hovered over computer screens, working out details, details, details...
You'd have thought they worked at NASA for all the effort, but really it's hard to begrudge a tattoo artist for wanting to be thorough. What they do is going to leave a mark. You'd want to make sure it's the right mark.
The parlor had a good crowd, but people were loitering more than they were waiting. Some of the crowd had come to get work done. Others were there strictly as moral support, but me, coming through the door, I must have looked like the worst kind of trouble on a Saturday night. The shirt was new, but the tie wasn't.
A few minutes before my date and I had been at a library fundraiser, gone to bid on baskets we had no chance of actually winning, and to soak up whatever free food and drink was available. The food was pretty good, heavy hors d'oeuvres catered by the Bridge Road Bistro. The stuffed mushrooms, in particular, were very nice. I had three.
I'd dressed up for the occasion, gone out and bought the new shirt, which had been a steal for nine bucks on the clearance table at Elder Beerman, a store I do not shop at normally. The tie had come from the hand-me-downs of a dead man, given to me as part of a lot stuffed into a grocery store shopping bag. My jacket and slacks were from Goodwill.
We'd come out on a whim. I've been talking about getting a tattoo for years now and it seemed like a good night for it. This particular establishment came highly recommended and what I wanted seemed barely more complicated than getting my ear pierced.
But it just wasn't happening.
At the fundraiser, I'd passed well enough as someone, who if not particularly moneyed, was at least dressed well enough to be allowed through the door without anyone thinking much of it. But at the tattoo parlor, people stared. The receptionist looked almost frightened, like I might pull a gun or a badge or a piece of paper saying I was an avenging angel from the county health department come to raze the place to the ground or at least issue a stern warning.
"I don't know if we can fit you in," she said quickly.
I tried to explain that what I wanted wasn't especially tricky, but she just told me everyone was booked up.
"You can wait around," she repeated. "Maybe they can squeeze you in, but..."
She doubted it to the core of her being, but let me take the book of letter fonts from her hands to examine at my leisure. It was a free country and I was welcome to have a seat.
For 15 or 20 minutes, we sat on a couch, flipping through the book, weighing the individual merits or lack thereof of the different styles. We went through the book three times. I just wanted to get the letter V etched on my left ring finger, an immensely sentimental notion, but nothing requiring a lot of artistic energy, I thought.
Across, on the other couch, a hefty couple slouched and grimly waited for the inevitable --they had an appointment. A few minutes into our wait, they were taken to the back to begin whatever work they'd hired out for. Their paperwork was done, though neither of them seemed too excited about what was going to happen.
I have no idea why they were there. A tattoo parlor sounds like just about the worst place to go if you're pissed off about something --better to take a walk or get some frozen yogurt.
As we waited, a twitchy bottle blond came into the store and went to the counter. She lingered for a second, made a call then turned around and told the girl at the desk what she wanted. A moment or two later, one of the artists came out and asked if she'd already filled out her paperwork. She hadn't, but it seemed like he decided they could take care of business later.
Not a big deal.
He took her to the back while we watched. I have no idea. Maybe she was a regular.
I took the book back to the receptionist, figuring it hardly mattered if I found something I liked or not. Nothing was getting done. They had no time or inclination to bother with us. She took the book and told us we could come back tomorrow.
"We're open from one to eight," she said. "It's usually not this busy on Sundays."
It wasn't an invitation, just a statement of fact.
So, we left and got yogurt.