We pulled away from the busking trio and made our way down Frenchman street. As we drove Marc explained that he and Chestah were both firefighters in the same precinct. Sofie told me that she had flown into Lexington Kentucky without any plan and had since travelled solo around the South.
The parlor, ‘Downtown Tattoos’, was on the corner of Frenchman and Decatur. It had grown dark and the street throbbed with revelers. Chestah parked, we all disembarked. Marc clapped his hands together in anticipation. “Alright, ready to rock?”
“Yii,” said Sofie, in her distinct accent.
“Let’s do it.” Chestah concurred.
Marc pushed open the parlor door and we entered. It was a neat store divided in two by a long counter. On one side, where we stood, was the waiting area; on the other side was the studio. I could hear mechanical buzzing accompanied by human whining. The source? A clichéd joke, some big guy was laying face down having a Fleur De Lis rendered onto his Christmas ham calf.
“Good god!” I thought to myself, “How painful was this going to be? I don’t like pain.” I thought about backing down. “No Denton!” I rebutted myself. “Remember, this tattoo is your last chance to make a name for yourself in New Orleans. That or stop being so damned insecure.” I considered it for a moment but realized that if I stopped being insecure I’d have nothing to write about in my blog. “Do it for the blog, Denton. If not yourself.”
It was at this point I realized I was conducting my internal monologue aloud. Sofie and Chestah stared at me. Marc was finishing his paperwork. He stepped back and turned to me, “Your turn bud.”
The surly looking guy at the desk placed a form before me. I smiled at him but his frown did not bend. He wore a black hooded sweater with the sleeves pushed up revealing his patterned forearms, his hair was slicked back rockabilly style and he wore black spectacles. A cigarette was tucked behind his ear.
He looked me up and down, “First tattoo?”
“That’s right.” I guessed that the perspiration gave me away.
“Any reason, or just because?”
“I’m insecure and need material for my blog.” I half-joked.
“Ah, one of those, tick this box.” He pointed at a space beneath ‘Reasons’, which read,
‘I have social-anxiety and I think writing will make it charming in a Woody Allen kind of way.’
It was between that, ‘I sold my shoulder to a company on eBay,’ and, ‘I’m drunk.”
I filled out the forms then sat on the couch next to Sofie who was flicking through a folder of designs. I looked at them too trying to work out which tattoos fitted into which category. Pizza tattoo? Drunk. Pizza Hut tattoo? Sold on eBay. Tattoo of a mother cradling a pizza with the words, “I’m proud of you son”? Social anxiety. I was a little concerned that there were so many pizza themed designs.
“Rupert and Marc?” The guy at the counter called out. “You guys are up.”
“Okay, this is it.” I said to Sofie, “I may never see you again, but good luck and remember… strive for the stars.”
She turned to me and replied, “Stop being so dramatic. It’s just a tattoo.”
I took a seat in the studio. A tattoo artist rolled over to me on his wheelie chair. He had a beard and wore a beret, on his knuckles was tattooed PIZZA ROX.
“So what’re we gettin’ done?” He asked.
“Good question.” I hadn’t actually given any thought to what I wanted.
“I mean. I can just do a pizza or something?” He suggested.
“Maybe not a pizza?” I replied.
“Whatever.” He shrugged,
I thought for a minute. Then it hit me, ‘YES’. If I hadn’t said yes to going to America I would not have my relatively dull travel stories. If I hadn’t said yes to going busking I wouldn’t have known that I was pretty average at both that and the guitar. That, and it was small enough not to hurt me too much
I turned to the tattoo artist and said to him, “I would like the word ‘Yes’.”
“Here.” I pointed at a spot on my ankle just above my sock line
“Alrighty,” he activated his pen, dipped it in black ink, leaned forward and began. I immediately fell unconscious.
When I came to I had three little letters printed neatly across my ankle. I admired the tattoo then stood up, ready to be praised for my bravery. But the desk was unattended, the couches vacant, my tattoo artist gone. The room appeared to be completely empty.
I noticed a solitary buzzing behind me. I turned around, everyone in the shop had gathered where Marc was sitting. He was shirtless, head tilted to one side, the tattoo artist focusing intently on his neck. I went over to them. “Hey. Hey, Sofie.” I whispered, nudging her. “Check it out,” I pointed at my tattoo, “Pretty brave no?”
Without taking her eyes off Marc she shushed me. “Marc is getting an eagle tattoo on his throat.”
“Yep, now that’s badass.”
Upstaged again, Denton. I looked down at my tattoo, my own little feat near my feet.
Then I thought about it. People had told me New Orleans was a place of self-discovery, that it would mark me. And so it had. By saying ‘yes’ I had found that, not only was I not very good at the things I knew, I was also bad at the things I didn’t. I had discovered that, not only were my hidden talents hidden, they didn’t actually exist.
I smiled as I thought of all the new things I could try, and then fail at, if I just said that one word. Yes.