I love my mom. And I'm sure you love your mom. And I've tattooed a lot of moms and I love them as well. One of my favorite clients EVER is the textbook definition of a mom. She looks like someone who would be friends with my mom. She comes off like someone who would be on the church council and who makes good meatloaf...and then you notice the tattoos on her hands. I adore her, and I think part of that is because she reminds me a bit of my mom; gray, softened, grandmotherly. Only she is covered in tattoos, they're all over her hands, her arms, and she is talking about doing her neck. It's just such a shock and I love people who defy convention. Moms like that are awesome. We've tattooed her, her husband and her son, and they are just an awesome bunch.
Not all moms are like that, of course, and I meet a lot of moms who only have a few little hidden tattoos, or none at all. And they like come to the shop with their kids, and they're curious and they're nice, and we don't mind them one bit. I think it's a little odd, though, bringing your mother along while you get tattooed, but it seems most kids are doing that nowadays. My mother wouldn't be caught dead in a tattoo shop. She's pretty much over her initial horror and embarassment over what I do for a living, and reality TV was what broke her down. Don't get me started on those stupid shows. I hate them more than I hate blisters. But if they made my mother feel it was finally okay to stop lying to people about what I do for a living, then fine. When she first found out I had a tattoo, she lost it. She cried and yelled and didn't even want to look at me. I don't even want to get into what happened when I told her I was apprenticing as a tattoo artist. To this day, I cannot fathom ever having brought my mother along for any of my tattoos. Granted, that was a different time, tattoos were not as socially acceptable as they are now. Parents didn't like that their kids got tattoos, kids got tattoos to piss off their parents. Nowadays, parents get their kids gift certificates for tattoos as birthday and Christmas presents. Then the parents come along to the shop and watch the whole thing take place, they take pictures and it's some big family bonding experience. Like I said, I don't really get it, but whatever. They like our shop, they like my work, we're keeping busy and that's what I'm after. I still can't help but feel a touch of melancholy that the rebelliousness has been sucked out of tattoos and that the dangerous mystery of it all is long gone. But, once upon a time, a woman cutting her hair short or a man wearing an earring was extremely shocking, so every rebellious thing gets the edges blunted off over time, I suppose.
The one thing I cannot abide by, boys and girls, is the angry moms. We see a lot of them and I've had it up to the top of my lumpy head with this. Let me remind you of one very important fact: In just about every place on Earth, you must be 18 to get a tattoo. It's the law where I live and it is the law for most of the country, as well as in other countries to which I have traveled. There is no need for parental presence in our shop. A parent's signature is not a requirement for a tattoo in any place I have ever worked, because in every place I have ever worked, you must be 18 to be tattooed. We tattoo adults, not minors, not kids, I belive I have already covered this ground in more than one posting. So if you have brought your mom, and I will say 'mom' because they outnumber dads about two hundred to one in these instances, keep your mom on a leash.
Let me explain myself. Most people who bring mom do so because they want her engaged in the process. They ask what she thinks, they ask where they should get it, and occasionally, she pays for the tattoo. Like I said, this is my job and I don't get paid to sit and play with my phone. If having your mom with you will get you into my chair, so be it. But recall that I do not need your mom's authorization before I am legally allowed to put my hands on you. You are an adult, doing something that adults do, and I'm not going to abide your mom treating me like I am her child. I am not going to abide your mom shit-talking me, the shop, or my industry. I didn't get into tattooing to make moms happy. My career choice made my own mother cry. While that made me feel bad, I was a big kid and I was getting into something I really was excited and passionate about. So, if I'm willing to upset my own mother and garner her disapproval in order to live my dreams, I can't say I'm terribly concerned about your mother's disapproval, either on your part or on mine.
I had been meaning to write about this for a while, but the last straw came a few weeks back. Believe it or not, I'm actually pretty patient and polite in real life. I know, you wouldn't get that from reading this blog. I come off like a raging dickbag, and I won't deny that for a second. But I can turn it on and off like a lightswitch, and that is part of my success in this industry. I can be polite, calm and professional in the face of people acting like total assholes, abusive pricks and big, whiny babies. I keep my game face on at the shop, then I vent about it in this stupid-ass blog. People seem to like reading it, so I guess I'll keep on going. But I digress.
I no longer felt the need to be polite when my game face got slapped by someone's mom, whose presence was not necessary for me to do my job. I can't say that in the future I will continue to be polite to other moms who feel they have license to crap on me bcause they don't agree with their adult childrens' decisions. Recently, a young girl came in for her first tattoo, nothing elaorate, but it meant a lot to her and she was a really nice kid. I called her back to my chair but she hesitated, saying, "I'm waiting for my mom.....because.....she's.....a controlling mother." Danger, Will Robinson.....I asked her, partly joking but mostly serious, "Uh oh--she's not gonna bust my balls the whole time about this, is she?" The girl gave me a weary look and shrugged. Great. My stomach acids kicked into second gear and I braced myself for what was sure to be a struggle.
My instincts were correct. Mom showed up with a scowl that could peel the paint off the walls and immediately took a verbal swipe at her daughter over getting a tattoo. She turned to me and made a snarling request for the aftercare instructions. I began to explain, and she cut me off at every turn. "What, Vaseline? Or baby oil? Leave the bandage on all week?" I kept calm and continued, more or less ignoring her attempts to browbeat me. The daughter showed her mom the design and mom complained about the size, the content, the lettering and the placement. The daughter asked what she thought about a certain element of it and mom barked, "I'm not happy about any of this!" At the moment, I was more irked on behalf of the kid. She was nice, she was polite, and she was nervous. Mom was berating her as if she was the dog who peed on the carpet, and I couldn't even see why an adult would want to ask someone like that for an opinion.
Mom turned back to me with that scowl and asked, "So, what about removal later? She can laser this off, right?" I have been asked that question before. I don't particularly like that question, and I'll tell you why. If you're getting tattooed, hopefully you understand that it's forever. There is no escape hatch, you're electing to get this thing on you and you're going to be together every day of your life, 'til death do you part. Yes, there is such a thing as laser removal and it works, more or less. But if you're getting a tattoo with the idea that one day you're going to get rid of it, don't get it. Tattoos are not shirts, you don't retire them to Goodwill or the garbage when you feel they no longer suits you, and lasering off a tattoo is not like removing nail polish.
I wll also say this; I have devoted one-third of my life to tattooing. This is what I do, and I love to do it. This has been one of only two things I have successfully committed to and have managed to engage in for any length of time. Tattooing has been one of very few things that has given me any satisfaction, contentment and sense of purpose in life. I want more than anything to be the best I possibly can at it, it has nudged out my need to draw, paint or even doodle because my art-rocks are gotten off so thoroughly. Tattooing is truly my life's work and my love. What it means to me cannot be adequately put into words, although I'm trying. And that total strangers come to me and trust their bodies to me is no small potatoes from where I sit. That is enormous. I am making something for them, even if it's something small and simple, that to them means a great deal. They shall have it forever and ever, carrying a piece of me on their bodies for an eternity. And to look me in the eye and say, "How do I make it go away?" isn't just a slap in the face, it's a gut punch.
Let me also take it a step further, this was not the potential tattooee asking me this question, it was her mother. The person not getting the tattoo, who has made it very clear that she disapproves, is pretty sure that the adult who IS getting the tattoo will someday hate it and want it removed. Her tone, her expression, all of it, made me see red. This poor girl was near tears at this point, clutching the stencil in her trembling hands and looking as sad as sad could be. I had had enough, and I bluntly informed mom that she was insulting me, insulting our shop and insulting what I do for a living. I told her that I didn't appreciate being talked to that way and that her question was incredibly rude. My boss, who is way better at telling people to shove it than I am, jumped in and informed mom that this girl was an adult, making an adult decision, and that we were interested in pleasing our adult clients, not their irate parents. Mom, of course, did not like that one bit and began shouting back at us that we were being rude and attacking her. I'm no Gordon Ramsay, but I double-dog-dare anyone to go into his place, order dinner, and then ask him how to make yourself vomit up the meal after a while. If you don't get clubbed to death with a frying pan, you will certainly get an earful about insulting his work, his establishment and his art. I feel the same way, only I have no frying pan, and I have yet to call anyone a 'dumb fucking donkey'.
So mom, not content to browbeat her child, thought she could do the same to us and my boss sternly reminded her that "This is still a tattoo shop." As in, we are not the timid salesgirls at the shoe store, or the nerdy baristas at the coffee shop or teenage ice cream jerks at Tastee-Freez. I think the assumption is with the gentrification of the industry has come a gentrification of the artists. I'm no great big tough guy and I really don't like to fight. The younger guys and gals getting into it now are a lot nicer and softer than the old guard. There are a lot of new shops now, and they've not seen he mania and the violence of decades past. I have worked in shops owned by psychopaths who have shot people, stabbed people, and set people on fire right in the shop. I have worked for, alongside, and on gang members, motorcycle club guys, fighters and derelicts. Myself and most tattoo artists my age have arrest records, FBI dossiers and lots of scars. I haven't spent my career in a flower shop. I spent my career behind windows with burglar bars on them, keeping weapons within reach of my station in case I had to defend myself from an unruly drunk, be it client or co-worker. I'm glad things are mellower now. I have no desire to beat the shit out of people. But that doesn't mean I'm a laydown or a doormat. I'm going to be polite and professional, but remember, I come from a place where using someone's head to open the front door before dropping them face-first on the sidewalk was perfectly normal. I'm not going to stand for being talked down to by some tough guy who walks in the door. I'm certainly not going to stand for your mommy talking to me like I'm some asshole because she can't grasp the idea that you're an adult now, and because you made the dumb-ass decision to invite her along.
So mom left in a howling huff and the girl ended up in tears. I felt awful for her, and I felt awful that we had to fight with her mother in front of her like that. I don't feel awful for defending myself and what I do, because I was perfectly in the right. Especially considering that she was in our shop talking to us like we were shitbags who were defiling her little girl, when we're a legitimate business providing a legitimate service to legitimate adults. If she wanted to sit home and say that about us, fine. She's entitled to her opinion, but that opinion is not welcome in our shop. Sorry, kids. If you feel you have to tattle on yourselves and tell your mommy that you're getting a tattoo, fine. But have the fight about it at home. Don't bring it into our place. We're not interested and we're not going to put up with it. I have a mom already, and she has no problem complaining about what she feels are my bad decisions. I have no interest in hearing it from your mom. Remember, you're an adult now, doing an adult thing. If you already know they're not going to approve and are going to be mad and have a fit, what the hell do you suppose you're going to gain by bringing them along? She's going to belittle and humiliate you in front of the tattoo people, which I think is way worse if you're a dude. On top of it, you're likely going to witness us telling your mom to go pound sand. We don't give a fuck if she doesn't like us, or tattoos, or your decision. If you like it, you're old enough, and you can pay for it, welcome aboard. Naysayers and complainers will not be treated kindly, and we really don't feel we should refrain simply because she's your mother. Grow a pair and go do something without your mommy, for fuck's sake.
I've been on the receiving end of a mommy meltdown many, many times before, but this was the first time I lost my ability to keep my cool. I'm getting cranky in my advancing age. I've lost interest in being nice to people who are jerkoffs and treat me like I'm their unruly child who needs to be corrected. I was a bartender for a couple years before I started tattooing, and I don't recall anyone bringing in their mom for advice on what they should drink, and how much of it. I've been to a few titty bars, and I don't recall anyone bringing in their mom for advice on which stripper was the hottest, and should they get a lap dace or a private room dance, and how much should they tip for the dance. Most young people don't seem to have a problem going out to do adult things without mommy, but when it comes to tattoos, they're flat on their asses without motherly advice. Like I said earlier, if your mom is cool with the whole thing and wants to come hang out, fine. I'll even tattoo her if she wants something. I'll be real nice to both of you and we'll all have a good time. You guys will have a funny story about what a fun you had and that kooky-ass tattoo artist telling corny jokes and making stupid faces at you every time you tried to take a picture for Facebook. And you'll have nice tattoos that you can keep forever and ever and ever. But for those of you with the Mommie Dearest types, please leave her at home. You might love her, but we don't.