Tuesday, March 11, 2008

just like brangelina, i've sold my tattoo baby pictures to spackleshot for $7 million. and i'm totally donating it to charity.

okay folks. here's the glimpse that you've been so impatiently and silently demanding. you're overwhelming lack of comments has told me one thing and one thing only--you don't like being teased with a drawing--you want to see the real thing. i know you've all just been desparate for the unveiling so that you can ooh and ah, admire, or--if you're my family--be totally horrified. (okay, so i started writing this entry a week or so ago, when all was silent on the tattoo front) by the way, i am totally aware that i will be looking at this tattoo for the rest of my life. i couldn't be more excited. and now, to fill you in a bit on my inspiration.
behold: my great grandpa sug.
that's sug like sugar. because he was a baker. i think he owned a bakery.
my understanding of my great grandfather's life is most likely inaccurate. what do kids care about details? his role or rather his character was of most importance to me, and that was hero. they say that absence makes the heart grow fonder, and in this case, i excitedly looked forward to my great grandpa's summertime visits.

i interviewed him for school reports. he was so old! i loved listening to his slow, gravelly, oklahoma drawl as he told me about coming out 'west' in a covered wagon, fooling around at cashe creek, how he knew the great geronimo. of course, i shouldn't really be excluding my amazing 6 foot tall cherokee great grandmother lottie. she was fantastic in her own right, however, most of those sweet summer memories are wrapped around my great grandpa, as he captivated me like no other.

we'd sit out on the front porch in the late afternoons sipping 'country time lemonade' out of tin cans and i'd stare in wonder at his navy tattoos--anchors and half-finished pin-up girls (ran outta money!), the ink slowly spreading like deltas from the aging designs. i busied myself eating pomegranates seed by seed. he'd chuckle as, despite my meticulous care, the red juice trickled down my arms and stained my skin. but mostly we'd just sit there quietly, listening to the birds, the everyday sounds of family muffled to the distant background.

he was probably smoking too. i only remember that habit of his, though, in his fierce and humorous fight to kick it past the age of 80. my mom would buy cases worth of hubba bubba gum in hopes he'd chew it instead of smoking. he'd put the whole pack of soft cubes in his mouth at the same time and literally gum it. did he even have teeth anymore? later my mom would send me outside with a trash bag to harvest the wads he left stashed behind. it was like my jehovah's witness substitute for an easter egg hunt, getting excited over spying big green, purple, red and blue wads of gum trailing from under the fence, through the garden we planted and up the trunks of the apple trees.

ah, the apple trees. grandpa sug always seemed to be around for the harvest. understand that my hometown of sebastopol's economy was built on apples, specifically the gravenstein apple. that juice you bought at the manhattan whole foods? more often than not, from sebastopol. we sebastopudlians (really, that's what you call us--i challenge you to say it out loud!) worshipped the apple as a deity. i was educated at gravenstein union school. in the spring we celebrated rebirth with the apple blossom parade and festival. as a child i marched every year, either playing the flute, tap dancing in sequins, enacting school plays, or wearing a poodle skirt and skates alongside my dad's 56 chevy. sometimes you'd march once, then run to the start line, change costumes, march again, then run out into the audience to scramble for the candy the banks threw into the streets, hoping none of it skimmed the "road muffins" the horses left behind.

in august when the gravensteins ripened, my mom got busy at the apple packing plant. sometimes she'd bring boxes of apples home and i'd marvel at their beauty, each one rolling down the conveyor belt, making the quality cut, then cradled gingerly in the soft contours of molded cardboard, row after row of crisp gems.
at ragle ranch park we celebrated the harvest at the apple fair with hay rides through the oak trees, bales of hay for sitting, local music and lots of food. apple cake, apple fritters, apple doughnuts, apple cider, and of course, apple pie. this was a downhome, country celebration, while the more serious showcase where the ribbons were awarded was the sonoma county harvest fair. again i marveled at the pavilions of gleaming apples, waxed and shined, arranged by variety (see my sister's harvest fair fun here): red delicious, golden delicious, jonathan, gala, fuji. they were all great, but gravenstein was the top of the heap. gravenstein was our special apple, and that's what we had on our trees at home. grandpa sug and i would go out picking buckets and buckets of them, me always carefully avoiding the ones with worm holes. grandpa would shrug off my squeamishness and tell me those little guys just added protein. the apples we left on the ground would sit and ferment in the summer sun, attracting many a drunken bee, 'til mom and dad sent me out for follow up harvests--but this time frog and toad, our horses, chomped down on them, rotten spots, bees, worms and all!

once we picked the buckets of fruit, we got down to business in the kitchen, making more pies than we knew what to do with--pies like you've never tasted, pies that spoiled me to the point of never being able to order apple pie again. nothing can measure up to homemade. in reality, i wasn't much help at all. i probably got in the way more than i assisted, but my grandpa explained that he urgently needed someone to clean up after him as he peeled the apples. could i oblige?
nothing like sense of purpose to capture the attention of a little one. not to mention a magic trick. my grandpa was blessed with a number of special skills that blew my little mind, of most importance, the patience to share them with me. there was the summer he spent teaching me how to shuffle playing cards like a dealer, spades and diamonds flying willy nilly up to the ceiling until finally i heard that satisfying whir of wind cutting through an arc of cards in my hands, and i got so excited that i showed off to everyone who came within a mile radius of the house. sorry, alhambra man, you think you got water to deliver? slow down--it's time to see a trick.

unfortunately, i never mastered my favorite skill of my grandpa sug's, and that was the five-second apple peel. this he accomplished despite his parkinson's shake and with the most rudimentary of tools--a greasy, blackened paring knife and a slow and subtle flick of the wrist that contradicted the speed with which he carved. just as my eyes and the apple started to spin, it was over. my grandpa would hand me the perfectly spiraled peel--a delicious, apple-shaped slinky. i'd bounce it a few times, admiring its artful negative space, then i'd eat it. by then grandpa'd finished another, which he'd hand to me, i'd bounce it and eat it, he'd hand me another...you get the picture, until my dad told me, apple blossoms would surely sprout from my ears. along with the watermelon vines i expected from swallowing too many seeds. and forget about the pomegranates. i was afraid. but it didn't stop me from munching on 'just one more' striped, spiral peel, leaving the gravensteins shivering naked in rows on the table.

fast forward 25 years (wow) and not only have i left sebastopol "the little apple" for the big apple--new york city--but the apple has also largely been edged out of sebastopol by the sexier and more lucrative wine grape. sure, i'm proud to say that i'm from wine country. there have always been vineyards in sonoma county, situated just west as we are from napa with perfect growing conditions not just for apples, but for grapes. sure i'll brag when the wine comes to the table from my hometown, and i'll take you wine tasting when you come visit. but my hometown heart belongs to the gravenstein apple and i cringe when i drive the backroads to find yet another mature, producing orchard leveled, replaced by newly planted vineyards. commercial apple production has slowed to a trickle, yet the apple is still upheld as a nostalgic symbol of sebastopol. i don't envision the apple blossom parade turning into the grape parade anytime soon (though the rows of polished apples at the harvest fair have most definitely given way to gleaming bottles of pinot noir and chardonnay).

so what does any of this have to do with my tattoo, you ask? well, everything. for quite some time now i've had the itch for a new tattoo, specifically, i wanted my great grandpa sug's anchor--the first tattoo that meant anything to me. i became obsessed with finding a closeup photo of it. unsuccessful. then i toyed with the idea of aging the tattoo as a way of personalizing it, so it looked old--not just any anchor. i never saw my grandpa's tattoo when he was young and it was fresh.
still trying to formulate the perfect design, i headed over to the local tattoo shop in my neighborhood. this wasn't just any tattoo shop, however. i was going there to meet with the owner to get images for the presentation he'd make in the class i teacher's assist the following day. he's also an established artist with a renegade reputation and an impressive fine art career. difficult to score an appointment considering his busy schedule and the fact that he only does tattoos that he approves of stylistically. as i pondered possible routes for personalization, i had the cliched absolute lightning bolt eureka! moment. THE SPIRAL APPLE PEEL WOULD WRAP AROUND THE ANCHOR!! it didn't matter that i couldn't find a photo of grandpa's anchor. it's all based on memory anyway. brilliant.

i explained my idea to the artist. "that sounds like something i'd be really into" he said. i offered my assistant services in order to offset the cost of the tattoo, sliced my finger open pretty good on one of his submarines, healed that up before going under the needle, got hired for real, met the founder of an art space where he shows in chelsea, planned a charity benefit masquerade ball for them, now manage the tattoo shop and that's the quick story of the last two months of my life also known as 2008.

it's surprising that i had to remind the artist of my aversion to medical situations, considering the whole finger incident. nevertheless he had somehow forgotten my extreme wussiness, and when i walked into the shop there was the standard for arm tattoos--a chair--waiting for me. that lasted about 5 minutes before i started seeing black in my head and requested the table. embarrassing as this is, its not as bad as all of the times my head has hit the ground at the doctor's office. did i mention when i went to the hospital with my sister for an ultra sound and i had to go into the bathroom and lie down on the blissfully cold tile floor? what a supportive sister. so yeah, love the table. you can't pass out when you're horizontal. it's a beautiful thing. from there on out, i was happy as a clam. well, as happy as a clam that's getting jabbed with a vibrating needle for four hours (VOLUNTARILY?!). i didn't look at the needle once. just listened to my yeah yeah yeahs, pj harvey, tv on the radio and bauhaus, sang in my head (yes, i promise, in my head) and smiled. i was even well enough to walk about when we'd take breaks and take this photo in process, prior to the incredibly painful detail work:
and here, a detail shot for ya. the artist explained that he was ridiculously anal about doubling all the lines, giving me the best tattoo possible. and i'm so thrilled with the outcome. love it, love it love it. i said, "i'm gonna get you so much business with this tattoo." he said, "yeah, that's what they all say".

so now it's been two weeks and i'm still starry eyed in love with my tattoo.

i should add though, that i wasn't always so confident. in fact i was terrified. it's a really scary thing to commit to altering your arm in such a way. even though i love the work of this artist, i was really nervous in the days leading up to my appointment, which by the way, i postponed until the day after my internship commitment as a way to celebrate, but also as the first free moment i had. on sunday, the day before the dreaded/excitedly anticipated appointment, i got the following very soothing text:

"i can say with great resolve i have just completed what might be the best drawing of an anchor going through an apple the world has ever seen."

i totally agree.


peakie said...

Looks like it came out nice. How many hours did it take?

kitty8joe said...

thanks matt! it took about four hours.

Anonymous said...

Love the story,verrry Sebastopudlian. Now if I only loved tattoos, hmmm.........
I'm glad to know you are happy with it though, what a bummer if you weren't!
Aunt Sudz

kim said...

Beautiful. My eyes were tearing up at your beautiful description of Sebastopol, the apple fair, and Shug. The pictures added a lot too. It makes me think about time and my own girls. Crazy! And, WOW, Kitty, you can tell a story! One of the many reasons I love you so.

peakie said...

Nice. 4 hours isn't too bad...it's just on the cusp of putting your body on edge of insanity. Two years ago I did two 5 hour sessions within a week and I was pretty wasted after both, but it was worth it.

Anonymous said...

I love your blog! Amazing tattoo!!!!

Good luck with the studying! :D

Amy said...

Wow, that is huge! For some reason, I thought it would be smaller. I can't even imagine the pain. Loved reading your journaling, beautiful.

Naomi Campbell said...

I always remember sitting on your grandpa sug's lap and he would "count our ribs". for some reason we always fell for this trick. i still remember kitty just sitting on his lap without a care in the world. she and sug seemed to communicate without even saying a word. it is still so memorable to me. he was such a gentle man.

Becky B said...

nice. love the story.

Tay said...

Ah, thank you for sharing this with me. Its odd to have a view of you from two such very different worlds. Hope you're not to sore tomorrow.

kitty8joe said...

taylor! thanks for stopping by. told you there was a lot longer description in store for you. not sore at all. thanks!