I Woke Up With A New Tattoo in Thailand

My mornings in Thailand are usually ushered in with the unpleasant sensation of a cat licking my arm. This morning, unpleasant was swapped for excruciating pain as the area receiving said daily feline salivary stroking attention was covered with my less-than 8-hours old tattoo. Needless to say, I awoke quickly.

Yes, I was fully sober with of all my faculties when I sat down and let Woodee jab electric-powered needles into the underside of my forearm for three hours straight. Three cigarettes (for him) and many tears (from me) later, and I've the most permanent memento of our new life-abroad lifestyle. Memories fade, but ink stays. Sort of.

A Tale of Two Tattoos

Gramps to the left. me to the right.

Gramps to the left. me to the right.

In 1940-something, my grandfather made the single-most dangerous decision of his naval career at the tail-end of WWII -- risking the wrath of his wife when he'd come home with his new tattoo. My grandmother is as kind and sweet as any amazing grandmother should be and I love her dearly. But she's a tee-totaling prude. She'd neither consider a tattoo "cool" nor "manly", and there was a good chance she'd kick him out on his keister. Heck, for all I know, she did kick him out for a few days, they reconciled, and she swore him to secrecy.

It's possible he got the tattoo in Tsingtao (now Qingdao) China, since most of his stories from his time in the Navy center around that area of the world. But it's more likely he got it when stationed in either San Diego or San Pedro. I've probably asked him, but Gramps' stories tend to come with baked-in embellishment that, like single-malt scotch, increase in complexity and character over time. So, screw it. I'm going with Tsingtao. 

The simple "skull-and-bones" flash has faded over time. I can recall when the script "U.S.N" at the bottom (as in U.S. Navy) was legible, but I don't recall it ever having the red coloring he claims was there. Then again, I first saw the tattoo some 25 years after it was applied, so it's possible it was more than just India ink. Again, that's conjecture. It was and is my grandfather's first and only tattoo. Growing up, he was the only man in my family to have a tattoo. That clearly skipped a generation, as both I and my grown-son have continued the tradition. Oh, and two thirds of my half-sisters (mathematically, one complete sister) are inked, too. Though they're from the other side of the family. But I digress.

This tattoo is my fourth (includes a cover-up) and draws obvious inspiration from Gramps' simple little tattoo. I wasn't a Navy-man, so while the crossbones are there, the skull is adorned like sugar skull, recognizing the 18 years of my life spent in the heavily Mexican-influence desert southwest. And it's bigger. A lot bigger to accommodate the detail I wanted. And then lamented, as bigger means longer, and longer means more pain.

Here we go again...

Here we go again...

I worked with Woodee of 84 Tattoo Andaman Ink over the course of a week to get the design just right. On our first visit, we dug deep into research, looking at various sugar skulls, Polynesian motifs, and cross bone treatments. On my second trip, I brought him the photos of Gramps' tattoo and, of all things, a design from a t-shirt I'd owned for years. He then worked as any good artist should, combining attributes from everything to come up with design options. I returned and gave feedback on what I liked and what I didn't. And when I was happy and he was confident he could deliver, I literally went under the gun.

Three hours later, I was done. Well... done but for the healing. I'll probably go back a few times in the next couple of months to get a little touch up on shading, colors, or lines. Lucky, his shop is only about six buildings down from where we're staying in Ranong, so it's a quick and easy trip.

Oh, and because someone is going to ask: Gun, professional ink, sterile needles, autoclave... all the normal paraphernalia and accouterments were used during the tattoo process. So no, I'm probably not at any greater risk of catching Hepatitis C than I would be anywhere else. YMMV.

I hope Gramps likes the tattoo. And I hope Gram lets me in the house.