Gayla Trail, of You Grow Girl fame, got some ink and it’s making me feel nostalgic. And perhaps a little regretful.
I got my first of two tattoos during my senior year of college, after a summer at the Hawthorne Valley Farm. It’s a pitchfork that I drew and it represents the kind of learning that I did over those few months: hands on.
When we cleaned the cow barn we used two different pitchforks: a three-prong fork to lift hay into the mangers and a four-prong fork to scoop the manure.
Remembering the difference–and not mixing it up once–was key to keeping the cows and the farm happy and healthy. After all, what sentient being wants to eat its own shit? Not I, not the cows.
Sounds pretty simple but I learned a lot of things that summer and it was easy to forget all the small, necessary details. There were the new plants to keep straight in the kid’s garden, the names of trees in the woods, the right amount of food to give to the chickens and the pigs and the calves when I was feeding them at 5 a.m. with four 8-year-olds in tow. What I liked so much about this hands-on learning was that it worked for me–it worked for me really well. I absorbed information in a much different way than when I read some cool facts in a book. I don’t have the type of brain that remembers dates of historical significance or even details in a plot of a novel unless I really, really study them. It was a different kind of learning and it took me until I was 21 to realize its impact.
So I got a pitchfork to make note of its importance–four-prong, of course. And also because I kind of wanted a tattoo.
Here’s where the regret part comes in. The parlor was in Geneseo, New York, where I went to school, and the owner had “done work” for a few of my friends. I liked their tattoos, I thought they looked good, and so I decided to let this man permanently scar my body. His name was Jason.
I brought Jason the drawing of the pitchfork, and he photo copied it and transferred it to that special carbon-like paper. He wet the copy and transferred the image of the pitchfork onto my wrist, and asked if the position and size was what I wanted. I was nervous about the pain and still at a time in my life where I wanted to look cool and “not young” at all costs. I thought making him change the size or position would be inconvenient and annoying–not part of his job. I thought it would make me look like some nervous, first-time, tattoo-getter and psch! I was so not that.
So I said, “Yeah, yeah it looks great,” and repeated the same sentence when he asked me if I was sure.
And it did look great. I was happy with the tattoo and it has served its purpose well in reminding me of my time on the farm. (It has also served my parents well whenever they want to tell their friends/co-workers something shocking: “Ask Whitney about her pitchfork! Ask her what they used it for! Poop!”) Over time though, my pitchfork has faded and lost a lot of its sharpness. The prongs are beginning to fade together and, well, I sometimes wish I had taken more time on the design and with its position. I think this is about 90% my fault for not speaking up and 10% Jason’s fault for being a little lazy.
The reason why I think Jason was lazy is because Kara, the artist who did my second tattoo, was amazing. Kara wanted to make two appointments with me: the first to talk about the tattoo and play around with the design, and the second to finalize the design and do the tattoo. She gave me the brutal truth about the size of my proposed tattoo (a postmark from Buffalo) and its position on my body (right side of my chest). She refused to do the tattoo unless it was a certain minimum size because she didn’t think I’d like what I saw in the mirror in five years. She positioned and repositioned the tattoo five times before she turned on the needle.
Kara made sure that I knew what I was getting into, and that I was going to be pleased for having gotten into it. That’s what makes a great tattoo artist and a great tattoo experience. I learned from Kara what I should’ve asked of Jason and also what he should’ve asked of me.
Three years later, my postmark honestly looks as good as the first day, and my pitchfork–it looks like a shovel.
PS: Last time I checked, Kara still works at Lark Street Tattoo in Albany, New York. Go there and tell her the Postmark girl sent you.