It was the summer of 1989. I had graduated from high school a few weeks earlier, and I’d immediately left for L.A. As cliché as it sounds, the pull to leave my little hometown (NEW YORK CITY)and go west as soon as possible, to seek fame, fortune, never look back, etc. was strong. I was defenseless against the urge, and my parents didn’t seem to have much to say about it. Anyway, I landed in L.A. smack dab in the middle of The Metal years where I started a long, glorious career of starts and stops with a whole bunch of hanging-out in between. The Sunset Strip was wild. Riki Rachtman's Cat house was the spot, and my dream was to buy all my clothing at Lip Service. Naturally, I decide that the first order of business was to get a tattoo. In the handbook for young, stupid 18-year-old girls who’ve just moved to L.A. for the first time, it says: YOU MUST HAVE A TATTOO. Just like that, in big capital letters. And then, in small print, almost as an addendum, it says: Several of them, in fact, and they must be meaningless and stupid. What goes unwritten is the unofficial motto of the handbook for young, stupid 18-year-old girls: I am a mature young woman living on my own and I can make decisions for myself now. I believed that wholeheartedly. There was no one to tell me what to do – not that there ever had been, which may have been a small part of the problem.
Back to the story of my first tattoo, because there are many. Nine to be exact. Each story dumber than the next - read on.
My neighbor was a young actress, and she was going out with a guy in a band called The Red Hot Chili Peppers. We all lived in a typical Los Angeles prefab, two story rental on Orange. Sort of like Friends, but not at all. I met them because I was blasting Bad Brains while my best friend and I paper mâched our breasts. Anthony came up and knocked on the door. He had no shirt on and neither did I. I had never seen so many real live tattoos on a person, and judging from his face, he’d seen plenty of topless girls. So, Anthony wanted to leave his girlfriend with us while he went “on tour” and he figured since we liked Bad Brains we were a safe bet - makes sense. Anyway, the Chili Peppers weren’t famous yet; this was way before Under the Bridge came out. They were a big local band with a lot of fans, but they weren’t known outside of L.A. or NYC. I, for one, had no clue who they were. But Anthony was super nice, and he was covered in tattoos and they looked cool, so I thought he would be a good guy to ask.
“No problem,” Anthony said, enthusiastically hopping up on his toes the way only a future Rock Star could. He sent me to Spotlight Tattoo, a little shop on Melrose, just West of Western Avenue, which in those days was a terrible strip of road. The shop is still there, last time I checked. It was owned by a famous tattoo artist named Bob Roberts, and that’s who Anthony sent me to see.
The first time I went by, they were closed. So, I went home and took a nap. When I woke up, I hopped into my Ford Festiva rented for me by an Heiress named Alix (super sweet of her since I had no license) and drove in a trance-like state back to Spotlight. They were open.
When I walked through the door Bob wasn’t in, but his son Charlie was, and he was a Super Fox, with a perfected coolness that comes with a lifetime hanging around in a Tattoo parlor. I was, at that time in my life what you would call a walk-in,a role I have gotten used to over the years (I digress.) A walk-in, typically, has never been in a tattoo parlor before, has never gotten a tattoo before, and is excited and nervous and has no idea what they want to have tattooed on their body - FOREVER. I checked every single one of those boxes. Walk-ins are who the wall of “flash” is for. Any tattoo parlor you walk into will have a wall – sort of like wallpaper actually – of hundreds of tattoo patterns that you can pick from. There are devils, sexy leprechauns, crosses with banners (your loved one’s name written out in script), mud flap girls (always a popular choice), a giant boot, “Keep on Truckin’”, sailor girls, “Semper Fi,” tigers, hummingbirds, broken hearts. You name it, it’s up on that wall – a great big hunk of America and her number one commodity, Popular Culture, all in living color.
Anyway, the wall of flash is total amateur hour. If you’re picking your tattoo off of a wall, you probably shouldn’t be getting one. True story.
That was me, sort of. I was a blinking sign that said WALK IN, and so I was directed to the flash wall. After scanning the wall briefly, I summed up that the wall of flash was a diss and I was never going to be taken seriously. Before I had completely formulated a plan, I blurted out, “I want something custom” and Charlie looked annoyed by this. “Well, if it’s going to be complex, I’ll need some time to draw it out.” I said I didn’t think so, this would be simple: “I want the words ‘Beef Jerky’ written in Old English lettering around my ankle.”
I was expecting more of a reaction. Charlie, who looked like a young Greg Allman, just pulled his razor straight blonde hair off his face, tucked it behind his ear, sized me up for a few minutes, and then said OK. “Sit down, this will take a few minutes," he said.
Why Beef Jerky? you might ask. Good question, Excellent question - I have no idea. It just popped into my head. I was feeling the pressure, and I so desperately wanted to stand out and be liked, and admired, by this total stranger that I had to say something and I had to say it quick. I had already mentioned that Anthony had sent me, which went over like a lead balloon. Just an FYI – name-dropping in Hollywood is ALWAYS A VERY BAD IDEA. I learned that as soon as I moved there, and the lesson served me well.
So, Charlie did the tattoo, and it didn’t take very long, costing me around $40. He did not make any small talk with me. He took one phone call in the middle of it, made a plan for the night, did not extend an invitation to me, and that was that. His father showed up towards the end and expressed his disappointment that I was not getting a tattoo on my “tit or ass,” which I thought was funny. Completely sexist, obviously, but funny nevertheless. He was an old crusty biker dude and that’s what his view of women was, I guess - a solid, completely tangible, sort-of-humorous stereotype.
The other 8 tattoos followed over the next three years. Each of them dumber than the last. They got bigger and uglier – until I had them meticulously, and slowly and painfully, lasered off years later, which wasn’t an option when I got them. In retrospect, it’s amazing that I was able to commit myself – my body – so completely and permanently to these crazy, ugly, things, long before I could commit myself to living a real life.
The irony of the whole story is that, years later, I was getting coffee with Anthony, the same guy that sent me for my first tattoo, and there was a beautiful girl in the café, and I said "Wow, check her out. She’s gorgeous." And Anthony said "Yeah, but she has too many tattoos. I hate girls with tattoos."