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"The Tattooed Dog Freak"
Dressing for my appearance on the Today Show, I worried about what shirt to wear. It was one of the first real humid days of the summer and called for short sleeves, but I had to be a cognizant that I was appearing on national television and that not everyone would take kindly to my long (tattooed) sleeves.
That is the thing about most people who have marked themselves -- we are far more aware of the bias against us than of actually holding any bias ourselves. Each dressing decision is informed by our choices. There is a heightened self awareness amongst the initiated and an intangible level of vulnerability that betrays the tough guy (or girl) personae normally associated with tattooing.
I am the tough guy who spent $60,000 on lawyer fees to attempt to rescue my dog from my ex-girlfriend. In the two or three days that I became news content, opinions ranged. In the span of a news cycle, I was: A pathetic loser who could not get over his ex (not true); A sucker who had been milked by his attorneys (possibly true); A fiercely loyal father with more courage than money (very true). Regardless of the reporter's personal take or, more likely, the spin he was concocting to separate himself from the other reporters and try to get a few more hits on his social media platform of choice, they were always asking about my job. Every story began with my name, age and job description. If you remember the days of dial-up, AOL modems and chat rooms - you might remember how disappointing it was when we discovered that the internet, this new form of communication, would only lead us to discuss ourselves in the same superficial, box-creating definitional ways as before.
The other superficial box that was being created for me was that of one who is tattooed. No matter if I was a loser or a hero, I was a tattooed version of either. In fact, the first three reports in well-known, credible news sources referred to me as follows: A tattooed employee at an art gallery (true); A tattooed artist (possibly true); And, finally, a tattoo artist (not true at all). Forget the apprenticeship model, the news is a far quicker way for one to earn his machines. Again, regardless of their spin and the validity of their descriptions, reporters loved to point out the tattoo information as if it had some bearing on my extreme situation or my being at all.
I was incredulous. And, I was curious. I kept trying to figure out why tattoos meant so much. My greater concern was raising the funds I needed to pay the lawyers to ask the judge to do the thing he should be able to do for a lot less money. Looking at the very arms that I hoped to use to carry my dog back home, I realized just how much money was on them. I could have fought two more cases with what I had spent on ink. Then I realized, it meant everything.
I fought (and am still fighting) for my dog because of the same reasons I am tattooed. I have a sense of permanence and significance. Items that are important or significant to me are sacred to me, expressed in my skin, in my blood, in my life. I am fearless in the face of societal judgment and norms. I am generous with my time, spirit and money when it comes to holding onto beauty. I am, sometimes, reckless and impulsive in protection of my individuality. I am beholdent to no one but myself and to my puppy.
Considering my new extreme circumstance, I would trade all these tattoos back for the money to rescue my pup. But, I would never trade the passion that created my desire to tattoo myself and to hold on to my dog.
In about 2004, Horiyoshi III was working on my back at the Isecho studio when in comes this Yakuza boss and his, um, assistant. It was apparent from his attitude, speech, and armed escort that he was a really big cheese.
I have mixed feelings about the relationship between the Yakuza and tattoos. I endure discrimination in Japan because of the association.
On the other hand, I owe a debt to the Yakuza for keeping traditional Japanese tattooing alive during that dark century before the current tattoo renaissance.
Anyway, the boss came to discuss a tattoo design with Horiyoshi. After he finished with that business, he turned his attention to me.
"That's a weird looking dragon," he commented. I suppose he was referring to the acid trip proportions of my dragon.
The boss and his assistant leaned over me to further scrutinize my back. This was alarming, as I would rather not confront underworld figures while lying naked and prone on the floor. Chuck Norris would never approve.
The boss quizzed Horiyoshi about other tattoos I might have on the front of me. Always eager to meet unusual people, I engaged them in a bit of chit-chat, but the boss was more interested in talking than listening.
After a while, they left. I had survived my encounter with the Yakuza. The only pain endured was that of the tattoo.
Horiyoshi's practice is now limited to finishing existing clients' tattoos. As I have repeatedly witnessed, all new clients are politely referred elsewhere