Nov 142007

During the fall of 1998, I worked for a company called Electronic Merchant Services. It was one of those terrific careers that afforded people to sit on the phone all the livelong day, trying to con businesses into checking out their credit card machines. I got this job right on the heels of losing my telemarketing gig at Olan Mills once our call center was shut down, and my manager there — Gladys — became my fellow co-worker at EMS. Naturally, we sat together, and in spite of our burgeoning age gap (she could have been my mother), we would giggle our way through the eight hour shift. Until our boss separated us.

I was struggling to bait business owners, so Gladys rose to the occasion and suggested that I call the businesses that interested me. I eschewed the cold-call sheet and flipped open the Yellow Pages to display the tattoo shops. Left and right, I was engaging them into scheduling appointments with our technicians.

One day, I called a place called The Hole 2, located in Butler, PA. After smalltalking with the owner for much longer past the ethical amount of deal-sealing time, I was promising Jay that I’d stop in that week for him to give me a discounted tattoo. How could I say no to that? Plus, he told me to sign him up for a terminal.

I wore a red cropped sweater with an exaggerated cowl neck, and a black camisole underneath. I always remember what I wore.

It took me about an hour to get to Butler, and that was the longest I’d ever driven alone in my Eagle Talon. The mix tape I played had a myriad of staples of 1998: Stabbing Westward, Marilyn Manson, Korn, Placebo, Tool, NIN and Soundgarden, plus a DMX track for good urban-vibing measure. (My tastes were a bit metallic-lite back then.)

When I pulled up to the shop, I was proud that I made it there without traffic infraction or directional discrepancy. The parlour was empty on that weeknight, and Jay began the outline of a large sun with a twisted face, which I very positively decided would go smack in the middle of my lower back.

His piercer, Clown, fleshed out the troika and together we chilled out and we laughed and we talked about how lame it is when girls get dolphin tattoos; and it was almost enough, mostly enough, to distract from the searing pain flooding up to my neck every time that needle shot through the skin above my spine. (They invited me to the Family Values tour, but I was busy.)

Clown, who had recently pierced the back of his neck, clasped my hand in a supportive squeeze every time I winced. It was an evenly distributed sensation of creepy discomfort and oddly mullifying security. “He likes you,” Jay laughed, during one of the few times we were left in the room sans Clown.

I was only strong enough to endure the outline and the tiniest bit of shading before Jay agreed that my skin had had enough ink molestation for one night. Clown, who had curly blond hair and a small stature, accompanied me to my car, talking about how the neighborhood was a bit rough at night. I didn’t feel very safe inside the crook of his scrawny arm, but I at least recognized it as a sweet gesture.

Driving home in the dark, my skin felt swollen under the feet of a thousand fire ants, but my smile was unfaltering. I even stopped and bought a bag of Combos in lieu of an actual meal with starches and protein.

And I rarely ate Combos.

While I waited for my skin to heal enough for a repeat performance, I received an unexpected phone call.

“Let’s hang out,” Clown said on the other end of the line. “I want to see you again.”

I sputtered off limp-wristed excuses.

We live too far
I have cramps
I’m gay

“I’ll come to you. I’ll come to your apartment and make you dinner and we’ll watch Halloween.” Half a point scored for listening to me prattle on about my stupid obsessions while half delirious from being needled.

“What will you cook?”
“Pasta!” he answered, his voice drunk with hope. “Anything you want!” he quickly added.

But I wasn’t into him. I had had a string of torrid summer affairs and I swore that I was going to live a chaste and demure lifestyle. At least for that September. I tried scheduling an appointment with Jay two times after that. The first time, Clown told me in a detached droll that Jay was in Aruba. A month later, Jay was booked and I lost interest.

The Hole 2’s business card remained tucked away in my wallet for years, a souvenir of that quirky autumn night. Just recently, I noticed its absence when I was looking for my insurance card, a sign for me to let go of the past. </p><p>I eventually got the tattoo finished, but that’s another (two) story(ies).

Choose Your Words Carefully