“That Time I…” posts are true stories that am I retiring from my social repertoire. To honour them, I am committing them to text for the first time. Read stories about sound torture, abortion, and the infamous Tragic Hand Button.
My friend Matt quietly sipped his coffee while I talked about my character-building adventures in Europe. I told him about walking through St. Peter’s just after the death of John Paul. I told him about the Lutheran Bible I bought in Berlin and the perpetual bookfair that takes place on the site where Nazis burned them. I also told him about an idea I had, but didn’t follow though on, to have a freckle tattooed on my arm. His response to all of that was, “Let’s do it right now. My friend works in a tattoo parlour on Yonge Street.”
Matt embraced this idea. He understood the pointlessness of artificially adding one small dot to an arm already covered in small dots. It wouldn’t be beautiful, it wouldn’t be art, but perhaps it could be comedy. Matt’s friend, however, needed some convincing which Matt was happy to do: “One. One freckle. Yes, I’m serious. Why? Because it’s stupid!” Matt moved the phone away from his mouth and made me the offer, “Seventy-nine dollars.” I shook my head. The joke was not still funny at seventy-nine dollars. Also, I had just spent a lot of money I didn’t have on a trip to Europe. Matt said into the phone, “It’s just a dot though. Can you do something?” There was a pause and then he made me a second offer, “Twenty bucks. But we have to go right now and we have to wait for the shop to close.” Twenty bucks? How could I say no.
An hour later, Matt and I were sitting in a closed tattoo parlour. The artist, Jake, sat next to me and opened his case of supplies, bottles of ink and whatnot. “You’re the freckle guy?” he asked and I confirmed that I was. He looked at my arm and said, “Alright, which one?” Which one what? I wasn’t having something removed. “What freckle do you want it to look like?” he said pointing at my am. “Cause that one’s big and that one’s small. That one’s sort of brown and that one is sort of orange.” I appreciated that he was taking it seriously and I pointed at a freckle he could use as inspiration.
Jake put aside his brightly coloured inks and dug out three bottles of light to dark skin tones. They were full which suggested that they were not often requested. A drop of each was dabbed on my arm next to the model freckle but none of them matched. “You know,” he mumbled, “I think it might be more of a red.” He mixed some in with the lighter skin tone and put it on my arm. That wasn’t it either.
He tried another mix with a little bit of orange but that was also incorrect. A few minutes later he was stumped. “Jason! Come in here!” he yelled. A second tattoo artist entered the room and the two of them tested colour combinations. Surprisingly, they decided to do away with the skin tones altogether and began using bases from their typical spectrum of colours. After twenty more minutes they had not succeeded. Jason yelled, “Derek! Come in here!” and a third tattoo artist joined the team.
I considered the possibility that no one in the history of tattooing and maybe of all science had never bothered to determine what colour a freckle really was. I took a moment to appreciate what was potentially a world’s first. But after forty-five minutes of guessing I told the men that their latest version of orangey-brown was close enough. Secretly, I thought it was far too yellow. Jake loaded the colour into his gun and held it above my arm. I pointed to a location that was south and slightly to the right of the original freckle.
People say that being tattooed is uncomfortable. I can confirm that it is and I was glad that mine only took ten seconds to draw. Jake created a small orangey-yellowy-browny blob and asked if it was good. I couldn’t really see it but I told him it was great. I didn’t want ten more seconds of micro-stabbing and I was questioning how funny this joke was going to be.
As Jake turned away to clean his gear, I began to feel woozy. I then remembered that I had a serious problem with foreign things being inside of my body. I have a history of it. One time at the optometrist, I passed out after he put drops in my eye. For several years, I would come close to fainting after I had blood taken. Intellectually, I’m quite comfortable with these procedures but my body unilaterally concludes that I am in terrible danger. I’m like one of those goats that passes out when you startle it. They’re real animals and I am their human cousin. Regardless, I hadn’t considered that this would be a problem, only because I had forgotten.
As my vision began caving in and my hearing began to fog, I considered how embarrassing this was going to be. I weighed the pros and cons of telling Jake that I was fainting. I feared becoming the laughing stock of this store and I predicted Jake would tell every burly biker about the wuss who passed out during his freckle tattoo. But considering that I was going to pass out either way, I decided to say something. Then at least the story would not include the moment where I fall over for no reason and smash my face into the floor. That would surely be more memorable. So I spoke up and said, “I’m sorry but I’m probably going to pass out in a minute.”
“Really?” asked Jake, clearly suggesting that I was less of a man.
“Yes. I’m not great with needles. I’m going to put my head between my legs but if I pass out, you’ll know why.”
The room was very quiet for a while. Perhaps I just couldn’t hear the men through the ringing in my ears or perhaps they were quietly debating the involvement of an ambulance in a potentially illegal freckle tattoo. Luckily, it was not required. I managed to hold onto consciousness and a few minutes later my blood returned to the correct places. Jake gave me two apple juice boxes and a cookie which he had stored in a special little fridge for wusses just like me. I paid him twenty dollars and left.
Since then, the freckle tattoo has brought me endless joy. For years afterward, when I found myself in a group of people talking about their tattoos, I would eagerly inform the well-inked that I was one of them. I would show them my forearm and they would search for the tattoo I claimed I had. “Where?” they asked and I would say, “Right there,” without ever pointing to the location.
It also helps that my older brother hates it. During family gatherings, he eagerly shows off his new art to our cousins. They’re impressed by the large, colourful phoenix covering his back and left shoulder. They like to look for shapes in the abstract lines that curve along his right forearm. When I say, “Hey, do you want to see MY tattoo?” my bother yells, “That is not a tattoo!” Delightful.
The best part about my freckle tattoo is that the yellow hue that differentiated it has long faded. Now, I couldn’t tell you which one was the fake if I wanted to and I think there is something beautiful about the joke being turned on me.
Of course, I still tell people about it but the lack of physical evidence forces them to conclude that I am lying. I understand their apprehension considering how strange this is. But that’s the logic that others use to defend me. Someone usually argues that I have no reason to make up a story that makes me look so uncool.