Shotsie Gorman First North American Serial Rights
579 word Copyright 2010 Shotsie Gorman
An interview with an old school Tattooer
Chunks of gold comprised his monogram ring. Dazzling gold surrounded his wrist in a pile of watchband and bracelets. The yellow metal seemed almost as out of place in his mouth as on his knurled hands, tattooed with indecipherably fuzzy blue letters. Each digit's symbol led your eye to the web of thumb and forefinger of his right hand, where the stigmata of a long forgotten commitment read to love Joan forever. If only he'd held onto Joan the way he clutches that cigarette, his life might have been different. Though not necessarily better. Those hands might have been better suited to the simple battered wedding ring of the day laborer or the scarred but unpretentious absence of decoration of a convicted felon. It wasn't until the flash of his smile that I reconsidered. Sparkling gold teeth shone out of his mouth. They lit up his whole face, until a cloud of cynical stories and blue-gray cigarette smoke passed over it. A life of dirty deeds, boonswagles, overcharging drunks, head in trade for tattooing and seductions leapt out of his deep-pocketed blue eyes.
I tried to focus and breathe in the billowing smoke, the stinking rancid barbecue in the trash and bleak commentary that poured out him. I wanted him to let out his life to me. Maybe he literally was. Continue the interview rang my mantra. "Well, Jack, after half a century of being in the tattooed skin tattoo trade if you could do it over what would you do differently? How would you have changed it?"
A riotous cough sent him doubling over, his body retching in what seemed a desperate, convulsive cry for help. I was suddenly aware of how tight and dark the waiting room was. "Goddamn-- egh! Emphysema," he gagged out. He started up again "Well you know, son, let me tell ya." Jack prefaced every gem of wisdom with this phrase. I heard it over and over. It was his way of slamming you with a two-by-four to get your attention. It made me think at the moment, of the music in "Jaws. "I've been in the tattoo trade for as long as I can remember." He sputtered again, spasming into a long cough.
"Are you all right Jack?"
"Yeah I'm fantastic."
"Ain't Life Grand," done in a 1930's Texas Swing style, twanged from the ceiling speakers-- Bob Wills and the Texas Playboys, offering their ironic commentary here in Arlington, Texas, out of a dark 1990s box. Jack sat up, his right hand tapping the pack of butts in his blue short-sleeve
poplin shirt. He tapped, then again, just to be sure they were there. He took the pack out, tapped it on the counter, pushed the bottom corner up, forcing out several cigarettes just enough so the configuration of filters exactly resembled those in the old Marlboro ads. Out slid a butt. He tapped it on the filter side with his indecipherable blue tattooed right hand. He moved so deftly, sliding the pack into his shirt, it seemed one motion to me. I had seen it so many times over the last few hours that I'd become enthralled by the ballet. It was almost a Baryshnikoff move. Again he tapped the pack. He seemed to lose consciousness for the entire period of this dance. He sniffed the butt then lit it so fast I missed it.
" Well, you know son, let me tell ya. If I had to do it all over again, I'd've been a preacher."