“What is an internal electrode?” I asked the receptionist. It was the second time she opened her window to answer my question and now she was annoyed. My first question was whether I could bring a laptop through the door since the sign read not to enter the MRI scanner room with “removable dental work … hairpins … magnetic cards” and other random objects. “The tech will help you,” was her answer with a smile so stiff it seemed as if a crank turned up the ends of her mouth.
There was no one else in the waiting room but yet she looked put upon. “If you have an internal electrode, you’d know it,” she said and closed the window in my face. I sat back down with my intake form.
No, I did not have a pacemaker or a cochlear implant or a prosthesis — but then I came to “body piercings.” I checked “Yes” and wrote “EARS” in the margin. I didn’t want the receptionist to think I was one of those women having an age crisis who got the body modifications kids did.
Then I got to the question that read: “Do you have any tattoos?”
I wanted to check “No.” What’s it their business? But I was getting an MRI of my lower back and what if the machine obliterated my 41-year-old tattoo, which wouldn’t be so bad, or burned me? (I have no idea how these machines work.) So I checked “Yes” (but did not write “ASS” in the margin).
My friend Janie and I were 15 when we hitched into Hollywood, swigging Wild Turkey some guy bought while we stood outside a liquor store in the Valley, and walked into a tattoo parlor on Hollywood Boulevard.
It was 1972, when “The Illustrated Man” was still a freaky scary book and tattoos were for sailors and bikers, not frat boys and soccer moms. Hollywood Boulevard was raucous, rough and sleazy back then. It was the Times Square of Los Angeles: XXX movies, porn book stores, hookers, junkies nodding out on the street, tattoo parlors on every block. Even Grauman’s Chinese Theater and the Walk of Fame were filthy and neglected.
We were walking on Hollywood Boulevard without a plan. A couple of tough, trashy girls from the Valley in mini-skirts, torn fishnets and wedgies, falling all over one another, insulting flirtatious men and shrieking with laughter. We were fearless and drunk when Janie came up with the tattoo idea.
I didn’t balk, didn’t hesitate. With philosophical seriousness, I said, “I’m getting mine on my ass so people only see it if I want them to.” She agreed.
We chose a corner shop with doors opened to the street, as innocent as a café. At that time, you could walk into a tattoo parlor stoned, drunk, underage — it didn’t matter. They’d tattoo you.
“What will $10 buy us?” Janie asked our burly, bearded, leather-clad tattoo “artist”/biker. He showed us some images the size of a fly and we both choose black hearts. I went first. It took about half an hour. I was dizzy from the booze while lying there and sober while I watched her go next.
I showed the tattoo around school every chance I got, pulling down my (already low) low-rider jeans an inch and peeling off the band-aid. Word got around and kids I didn’t know wanted to see it. Janie and I showed it at Rodney Bingenheimer’s English Disco, like a floorshow, staggering around the dance floor on 5" platforms, lifting our skirts in unison to show our naked tattooed derrieres.
It faded to inky blue over time, blurred around the edges, and has a couple tiny pieces missing where the scab came off. It was no surprise to my lovers in my early 20s, since I was still a cutting-edge kind of girl, and when I was older, it gave me a starting point to talk about my fraught history with my husband and later my female partners.
Until the tattoo craze arrived in the '90s, I had all but forgotten it.
“No, I don’t have a tattoo,” I answered in all sincerity when an acquaintance showed me the new Celtic ring around her upper arm. She wasn’t even Irish. Both my kids looked shocked and bellowed in unison, “Yes you do!” I was a little mortified. They wouldn’t tell me how they knew, which just added to my embarrassment.
I asked my daughter the other day how she and her brother knew I had a tattoo since I was not one to walk around the house naked. (The excesses of my youth gave way to a more modest adulthood.) My ex had told them, they said.
The MRI intake form felt like an affront. Yeah, I have a tattoo, but it is a remnant of a crazy past in which I was an unprotected child. It’s not something I got to be cool.
I should have written “ASS” in the margin.