March 25, 2011. A date that shall live in obscurity for most. But for me, it marked a new beginning, a transition of sorts. Before you go hauling off and accusing me of undergoing a phase of cross-dressing or jaywalking with reckless abandon, let’s clear it all up. Rather than buying a red sports car or running off as a roadie for a disease-laden traveling punk band, I marked the occasion simply, in a classy fashion, one that will make my mother’s heart break: I got a tattoo.

Now, the constraints of my employment mandate that placement of aforementioned tattoo was of the highest priority. In common terms, no neck tatts or anything on my forearms (unless I want to wear nothing but a neck brace and long sleeves for the rest of my career). And as far as the neckĀ  rules go? I’m good with that. We’ve got a guy on our hockey team with neck ink who, coincidentally enough, takes his fake tooth out before each game, making him even more menacing looking. I’m twice his size yet the neck work and toothless grin say one thing and one thing only: you don’t mess with me. I oblige him. Avoiding the forearms wasn’t too troubling, either, since I have basically spaghetti noodles for arms, a source of middling shame.

So, to the thigh we went. I see this as a form of insurance. Never in my life, ever, do I want to consider Speedo-style, European man bikinis a viable option for bathing in public. It doesn’t matter if I’m on a beach full of Jaques on the Mediterranean coast, I’ll be the guy in regular shorts, sans gold chains, cigarette and most importantly man-kini. Insurance for me, insurance that you need not ever catch me in a pair of plum smugglers in public.

The design? A Maltese Cross, the symbol of fire departments the world over, with a Celtic weave in it and the Gaelic term for “brotherhood” inscribed, as a nod to the traditions and history of the fire service. Also, the year I entered the career as a paid professional, since it was a year of fantastic, and great, change. The artwork took several rough drafts on my desk and many a Guinness for me to finally come to terms with, but I’m glad, since most decisions like that are best left to several rounds with your creative conscience. When the moment finally came to step up and get the work done, I’d done my homework and decided that Ethen at Hearts Of Fire here in Springfield really had a style that I liked and respected. His work graces many of my friends here, and it wasn’t a tough decision at all.

On that fateful night, I finally took the painful plunge. Like all procedures I’ve gotten, we started out with me getting clammy and sweaty and unimpressing the hell out of Ethen. I suspect he had no desire to lug my ass off the ground once I’d passed out completely. I couldn’t blame him, but since it felt like a thousand bees were busy stinging the ever loving shit out of my thigh, I just sat there, bobbed and weaved for a few minutes; after promising that looking like a corpse was my usual modus operandi, he proceeded. We swapped stories, gruesome fire tales for crazy inking situations, his hands working fast and with purpose. I wish I could have detached and appreciated how he’d taken my drawing and was committing it to my body, a weird marriage of organic art and permanence. I was too busy focusing on the wall, on The Wife who’d surprised me by dropping in the studio to witness the crying & carnage. One of my best friends stopped by as well, so as to mock me, silently at first, and then later back at Patton Alley Pub, somewhat more loudly.

Two hours doesn’t normally pass so slowly, but in this case it did. The work he did was incredible, in terms of the accuracy and skill. As the days have passed, I’ve remained very happy, indeed, about my choice in getting my first tattoo. You can’t crash a tattoo into a tree and kill yourself, and yet it serves as a reminder of a moment in time, or in my case, a life in a certain career. It will always be there, and for that I’m grateful. Unfortunately for my bank account and skin, I’ve also succumbed to the addiction. Like coffee, bacon and reckless behavior, I think I’ve just added to my list of great loves.

Thanks, Ethen.