What kind of tattoo would you get?

By Ray Tenorio, 18
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Photo by Managing Editor Libby Hartigan

I had always wanted to get a tattoo, I just didn’t know what. But after I discovered the band H.I.M. (His Infernal Majesty), I decided that I wanted to bleed for my belief in what this band says. They have the most beautiful message: that heartache is everywhere, but you can find the strength to heal it. You just have to look.

In tribute to H.I.M’s kick-ass metal sound and beautiful angelic lyrics, which they call "love metal," I wanted to have the band’s symbol, a heartagram, tattooed on my chest. I feel that a tattoo is like a partnership between your soul and body. Your soul is who you are; marking your body with a tat is showing everyone who you really are. To me the heartagram represents my life: full of life but a dark life of pain and sadness, empty without love. (Don’t get me wrong though. Sure, I have an emotional side but I can still kick your a**.)

Last December, I got my heartagram tattoo from my friend Elliot. Elliot is a legit licensed tattoo artist, who runs his small tattoo business, Sidewalk Ink, out of his garage in Huntington Park. Here’s how it worked:

The cost

Elliot charges based on how big the tattoo is, how much detail there will be, and the time it’ll take him to do it. Elliot charged me $20, which is really cheap because in a pro shop they would have charged me $100 or more.

The equipment

To make sure that none of his customers get AIDS or another disease, he sterilizes all his equipment before and after use. Elliot uses a homemade needle gun, which he made himself. His needle gun has only one needle, which means that it’s going to be a while until he’s done, and it’s going to hurt like hell. (Some tattoo guns have more than one needle, so it’s quicker.)

The process

First, Elliot practiced drawing the symbol while his instruments were being sterilized, and then he drew the heartagram with a special marker on my upper right chest. When he was done drawing, I looked it over and felt it was perfect. Then I had to wait, wondering how it was going to feel, while Elliot got his equipment set up. When Elliot was ready, he said, "OK, lay down, relax and try not to move a lot." He then started to tattoo my skin—there was no turning back. As Elliot was tattooing me, all I could think of was that damn needle and THIS HURTS! The pain was like getting pinched 1,000 times really fast in one area. Ouch! I went through the pain for about an hour to an hour-and-a-half. The good thing is that after a while you get used to the pain and it doesn’t even hurt as much or your skin gets numb and you don’t feel it. Until of course he moves and starts tatting a new spot.

When Elliot was done, he said, "Finished. Next time, Ray, try not to move as much." I got up from the bench and took a look in the mirror. My chest had been marked for life—this tattoo would be on my body ’til the day I die. I felt so free.

The tattoo made me feel like I was breaking the hold that my mother and society had over me. The hold that you can feel and hear but can’t really see. The hold that says you are who you are because of the way you dress. The hold that says tattoos and piercings are evil and only bad people have them. The hold that you feel when cops roll by and stop you for no reason except for the fact that you’re dressed like a hoodlum, punk, greaser, cholo or someone who just looks like a bad person. The cops define you by how you look and not by who you are. It makes you feel like being yourself is a crime. My tattoo said no to all that.

Elliot gave me a piece of paper that said how to maintain and clean my tattoo and we all just kicked back. After a while, Elliot started to clown on my tat. He said, "Hey Ray, you know that tattoo didn’t come out straight!" In other words, saying the tattoo was "gay." I just looked at him and said, "Well you know what, this tat is on my body and not yours, so don’t worry if you think it’s gay because to me it’s a symbol of my life and my favorite band, so your opinions on my tat don’t matter to me unless they’re compliments." Elliot slowly stopped laughing and said, "All right, all right, cool." I think he did that to see how I’d react, to see if I’d appreciate my tat or regret it.

But I didn’t care what he or anyone else said. My tattoo is a symbol of H.I.M., the band that has helped me get through my life, the good and bad times. This is my love metal and no one else’s. The only person I was really worried about was my mom. I knew she wasn’t going to like it.

Mom freaked

I maintained and hid the tat from my mom for a couple of days. Then one day my mom asked me why I have been hiding my chest when I had no shirt on or when I came out of the shower. She asked to see my chest and I just thought of two words, F@#k it! I showed her my tattoo and she freaked. She cussed me out, saying only criminals have tattoos, what the hell was I thinking, only drug dealers and bad people have tattoos, and then I shouted, "Shut up!" My mom got surprised and stood quiet. I told her that I really did think about getting the tattoo for a couple of months, that it meant a lot to me, and sure, drug dealers and bad people have tattoos, but not all of them do and I’m not a dealer or a bad person. I then noticed that my mom was really hurt. I told her, "I’m sorry but it was my decision, my body, and I will never regret getting this tattoo." After that, my mom basically disowned me for two days. She just told me that lunch or dinner was ready and that’s it. She was really, really, really pissed at me.

I talked to her about it later and all she said was, "OK fine, it’s done, but if you get another one you’re out of my house!" I said "OK," hugged her, and said that at least my tattoo is not a devil thing or something like that. She has come to accept the heartagram but tells me to always have a shirt on. That’s why I’m going to wait until I start college to get my next tattoo.

In the words of the Dead Kennedys, another
great band: "I fought the law and I won."

Laws regulating tattoos in California

• If you are under age 18 you cannot get a tattoo, even if your parent says it’s OK.

• You cannot get a tattoo on any area that has sunburn, rash, pimples, infection or any evidence of not being healthy.

• If you are drunk or high you cannot get a tattoo.

• All equipment must be properly cleaned and sterilized. The tattoo artist must keep equipment in sterilized containers and open the equipment in front of you.

• The tattoo artist must wear new, clean disposable gloves for each client.•

• You must sign a consent form before getting a tattoo, acknowledging you know how •to take care of the tattoo.

• The tattoo artist is not permitted to eat, smoke or drink while working.

• After you’re finished you should get verbal and written after-care instructions that include:

(1) responsibilities and care following the tattooing
(2) possible side effects
(3) restrictions
(4) signs and symptoms of infection
(5) instructions to call a doctor if infection occurs

Source: California Dept. of Health Services