Regarding a Pair of Tattoos
It’s been a while since I’ve given some business to Dirk Vermin. I’ve been to Las Vegas dozens of times since he inked my last tattoo in May 2002. On a few of those occasions I’ve even visited Dirk at his shop, Pussykat Tattoo. But it’s been eight years since I’ve gotten a tattoo from Dirk, or from anybody else for that matter. It’s time.
I waited a good long time to get my first. In 2001 I got a tattoo of the first typewriter I ever owned, the Royal Quiet Deluxe, on my upper left arm. The design and the placement of the tattoo were the result of years of planning and contemplation; I wanted something that spoke of my greatest enthusiasm, and I wanted it in a place where I could easily show it off but it would protected from Vegas’ intense sun by even the most threadbare of t-shirts. (And I chose the left arm – the “sinister side” – because for some reason or another I thought that was the side of my brain where creative writing originated.)
Dirk was pleased by the assignment. “I’ve never done one of these before,” he said, as he carved 42 alphanumeric and eight function keys into my skin. He spent the better part of four hours laboring over the details of the work – you can even make out the ampersand. To this day, my typewriter tattoo still looks amazing.
Immediately after getting the tattoo I began to think about a second tattoo, on my upper right arm this time. At first, I thought I’d take my cue from a friend who has some cool “alien” characters on her arm, kinda like crop circles; she said they came to her in a dream.
“So they could be alien instructions?” I asked.
She smiled, and neither confirmed nor denied. I considered ripping her off: I’d get a vintage camera to compliment my typewriter, so the aliens would know I was a photojournalist and spare me so I could make a documentary of their takeover. That’s me, always networking.
But I couldn’t decide on a camera. While there are thousands of interesting-looking vintage cameras, I couldn’t find one that spoke to me personally; my first camera, a Mamiya-Sekor 35mm reflex, was functional but not sexy, and I didn’t want to put one of my new digital cameras on there because I felt no spiritual attraction to them. (I’ve since become attached to my Nikon D80 – it has personality, “soul” – but it’s not as visually dynamic as the Royal, and I may upgrade to a D3X next year anyway.) Finally, I rejected the camera idea completely; it simply didn’t inspire me. If the aliens came, I’d have to buy my way onto the guest list like everyone else.
Instead, I began to think about pinup girls, because Dirk excels at them. The punk rock bassist and comic artist got into tattooing by way of some “bondage Betty Page” comic books which he created years — and I mean years – before every rockabilly hipster babe in America went out and got her hairdo. He was so early to the party that many fans of “Betty Page Fetish Comix” — a two-book series that paired the pinup diva with everyone from Captain Sensible to Lee Ving to Adam West — thought that Dirk had created Page out of whole cloth.
Finally, I made up my mind. I asked Dirk to tattoo pinup model and photographer Bunny Yeager on my right arm, and she’s there even now giving me the thousand-yard stare. As with the typewriter, it was a new challenge for Dirk; he had never so much as doodled an image of Bunny Yeager, despite the fact that Yeager and Betty Page are closely associated. My Bunny Yeager tattoo took just shy of three hours, most of it shading.
Reasons? Many. A stunning pinup model, Yeager achieved her greatest successes on the other side of the camera: She photographed Betty Page’s first Playboy centerfold, and many more of the iconic brunette’s most popular photos. My Bunny tattoo has roughly the same dimensions as my typewriter. And best of all, something in Bunny’s eyes reminds me of another girl I fancy, the incomparable Princess Leonilla, who was also a candidate for that right arm. But Leonilla would’ve looked cartoonish as a tat, and besides, she never picked up a camera.
Soon after I got my Bunny tattoo, my girlfriend personalized it. “How’s she doing?” she’d ask, gently patting my arm. Well, I can say this: Bunny is getting kind of bored. The typewriter seems impatient, too. They want company; they demand fresh ink. And I’m this close to granting their wish, as soon as I figure out the answers to the three questions everyone should ask themselves before they get a tattoo: What will it be, where will it be, and why do I want it?
A portion of this piece originally appeared in the Las Vegas Weekly.