At first, the tattoo studio felt a lot like a barber shop. There was somebody in the chair ahead of me and I had to sit in the waiting area looking at old magazines. The difference of course is that most barber shops don't make you initial 3 pages of liability waivers.
When it my my turn, the first thing "Lantz" asked me was "did you have breakfast today?"
"Why do you care whether or not I had breakfast?"
"Well when people pass out it's not because of the pain but because their blood sugar drops too much as their body struggles to fight off the massive infection."
Woah. Time out. People PASS OUT from this?!
I know I tried to play it cool, but I'm sure it was pretty obvious how nervous I was. I went over the final design with him, pointing out all the key details kept apologizing for being so neurotic about it. I told him "I know this is a small tattoo for you but it's a huge one for me." He said "There are no small tattoos. The people who come in here looking at the smaller designs aren't sure what they want. But your tattoo has a lot of meaning and significance to it." Bingo. He nailed it, he had me at hello.
He made an ink-transfer photocopy of my design and placed it on my leg. We played around with the position a bit and I picked a location and went with it.
He laid me down on the table and started to cut. That's the sensation; it did not feel like a needle, it felt like a razor blade slicing through my leg. People told me that it would only hurt while he was actually inking but that every time he stopped, the pain would go away. Wrong. It always hurt. Two hours after I left the place, it still hurt. The hardest thing was having to keep my leg relaxed. I couldn't tense up or even move my foot. It really, really hurt.
Lantz told me there two types of needles; one for doing outlining, the other for filling in color. He told me that they had different sensations but that one didn't hurt more than the other. He lied. The fill-needle was worse. At one point I told him "I am not making this up... last Friday a friend of mine had his kidney removed. I envy him."
I was embarrassed by how sweaty my pillow and the table was, but they assured me that was normal. I just laid there clutching my pillow sweating like a pig. I did ask for some cookies and they brought out some Chips Ahoys. Yummy. So here I am, clenching my pillow eating a cookie while being tortured by Lantz:
It took about 45 minutes total. By the time he was finished I was feeling pretty light-headed. He had me go over and look at it in the mirror but to be honest I could hardly focus on it. It was kind of puffy and the green looked black. I could tell that the whale looked OK and I told him it was exactly how I pictured it. But I was lying because I really couldn't even see the whole tattoo. Mostly I just wanted to leave. I thought I saw a tiny red dot on the eye and asked "did you add a red dot, or am I bleeding?" "You're bleeding." He wrapped it up in Saran Wrap and sent me on my way.
I hobbled out of the shop having more trouble walking after the tattoo than I did after the actual race. And it hurt to drive myself back to the office (bad planning on my part) so I pretty much never used the brake unless absolutely necessary. Once back in the office I showed everyone of course but at this point I still hadn't actually looked down and seen the tattoo for myself. I can't explain why, I think I was just in denial and didn't want to know about it. People told me it was bleeding, and I assumed they were talking about the small red dot on the eye. When I finally did look to see it for myself, I saw that my lower leg was covered in streaks of blood and it was staining my socks. It was not a lot of blood, but just a few drops dripping down your leg can leave some pretty nasty-looking trails. I was really embarrassed that I was showing it to people having it look so disgusting.
Now that it's cleaned up, I can honestly say I think Lantz did an AMAZING job. It is exactly what I gave him. The lines are crisp and clean and I can't fault his technical expertise one bit. My only regret, and this isn't really a regret, is that it's a little high on leg. It's actually pretty well-centered on the calf when I'm tensed up, so if I can build up my calves a bit it should look really good in bike shorts. But in regular shorts, in just seems a bit too far up the leg. Not by much, maybe just a half-inch or so.
*** UPDATE: I just realized, by having the tattoo a little high on my leg it leaves more room for body-marking. I want to make sure people know they're being passed by a 40-YEAR-OLD Ironman! ***
Lantz at Zulu Tattoo
, S Crescent Heights Blvd. in Los Angeles. He gets the Wedgie Seal of Approval. Highly recommended.
As far as the symbolism of the tattoo, I'm hoping it can be viewed in several ways:
People who don't know anything about triathlons might say "hey, cool whale".
Triathletes might say "hey, cool M-Dot, and the killer whale is a great icon for the sport: strong, powerful, king of the ocean predators."
But people who know me or read this blog will know the TRUE symbolism of the whale: the whale is NOT a fearsome predator; it's a silly little squeaky horn
Months ago I just wanted an M-Dot. Then Gerald told me I should "make it my own", which has been his mantra for me for the sport of triathlon all along. I didn't want to to incorporate a wedgie into the tattoo (that would have been just too weird) but then when Annie showed up in Oceanside with a giant inflatable whale I knew I had my logo. Gerald and Annie inadvertently inspired the design, and I feel a certain amount of closure with the fact that it was the two of them standing at an information table 3 years ago who first explained to me what a triathlon was. And of course, mad props to "Super" Dutch
for drawing the whale for me.