My husband and I celebrated our 31st anniversary on 9/1. Yep, 31 years ago, we tied the not in a small Episcopal church on the Upper West Side in Manhattan. Our lives then, as now, revolved around the theatre. At the time of our marriage, Jimmie was performing the role of Nag in a production of “Endgame” at the Samuel Beckett Theatre on Theatre Row with Alvin Epstein (Hamm and also Director), Peter Evans (Clov) and Alice Drummond (Nell). This production subsequently toured to Israel where we had a free honeymoon, staying at The Diplomat Hotel in Jerusalem. The hotel had a bar with a piano where, I kid you not, the piano player sang “Where it’s at, at the Diplomat!” There, in the bar, they served martinis consisting of about a thimble full of gin, a lot of ice, a twist of lemon and two of the smallest olives you ever saw. We were still drinking then, a habit which I shed shortly after our return from Israel, and Jimmie, about a year later.
A successful marriage of over thirty years is marked by many changes, involving mutual growth as well as personal.
If you read my blog about our 30th anniversary, and the romantic weekend getaway at the Langham Huntington Hotel in Pasadena, you can see that this year was going to be hard to top. 30 Years, 30 Memories
So I started to think about the gift as a dramatic story; the kernel of the story coincided with something inexplicable that I have been thinking about over the past three weeks. You may think less of me, or perhaps more after you learn that I have been thinking hard about getting a tattoo. I don’t know why. Maybe it’s my midlife crisis kicking in. I’m hardly the family’s first. Our son, Chris, has entire sleeves of elaborate tattoos on both arms, which, if the truth be told, I’ve given him a great deal of grief about.
My thought process in the past week got more focussed, as the timeline shortened, and I found the image I wanted while cleaning off my desk, an unopened box of Crane’s stationery. The notecards are adorned with a single, colorful hummingbird hovering over a frond of Indian paintbrush, a vibrant red flower stem that matches the bird’s ruby throat.
We’ve become obsessed with hummingbirds, starting from when Jimmie and I decorated our patio two years ago with furniture and two hummingbird feeders. Each day, from 7am to about 8pm, we have from 10-15 hummingbirds darting back and forth between the feeders, sparring for access. They are enormously entertaining to watch. Frankly, I don’t know why it took me so long to choose the image for the tattoo, but once I had, it was just a matter of working up my courage and finding the time to do it.
My online search for LA Tattoo parlors was brief; I quickly selected the one from Yelp with the most stars that was closest to Downtown LA, Alchemy Tattoo. I pored over their site, looking for similar images, and learning a little about flash, catalogue frames of tattoo art that is displayed in a parlor to give those with the urge but not the clarity some ideas.
This was supposed to be a surprise, of course. I figured there was nothing that would surprise my husband more than my getting a tattoo. It wasn’t just the shock value, which I hoped he could handle, but it was the (hopefully) romantic statement that I would go through a lot of pain and suffering for him, decorate my body with an image that had profound meaning to both of us and to our lives together. So, for the purposes of maintaining my cover, I told him that I had to go do some shopping for our anniversary, and after breakfast, I headed out the door with my hummingbird notecard and the best intentions.
Just before leaving, I texted a photo of the card to Chris, asking him for a sanity check. He approved (duh, Mom) and off I went. I pulled up in front of Alchemy Tattoo, which is on Sunset Blvd in Silver Lake. It was about 11:45AM on Sunday, and the security doors were not quite open, but I pushed my way in, heart pounding. It was empty! Great news. Chris had warned me that I should be prepared to discuss my project with someone, but not get in, because usually walk-ins would be given second priority to those who had larger ongoing projects. But, he had said, you might get lucky.
Jake, one of the artists, greeted me with the news that the place didn’t open until 12, but in spite of that, he came over to listen about my project. He told me all work was paid in cash, which caused me to sag for a moment, until he referred me to the liquor store next door where he said the owner would give me cash back on a purchase. I went over and bought a water and got some cash, returning to Alchemy. By now, Jake had surveyed the other artists and determined that none of the ones present were available – they were working on larger work with more organized clients than myself. But Josh was on his way in, had no appointments, and could help me with my project.
I sat self consciously, in the front of the store, the only person in a 3 block radius with no ink, and did my crossword puzzle, in ink, while I listened intently to the culture of the shop. There was a lightness and ease in the room, aside from my own terror, as people dropped in, dogs in tow, to share their tats with the artists there. I watched as a young red head came in to continue work on his left arm, and he was asked to show his completed work to the staff; they audibly appreciated it.
Then something happened. I had no idea how it was going to feel to get a tattoo, and that worried me, but the process of planning, designing the art work was one that was so familiar, that I instantly relaxed. I watched as Jake worked with the young man who was adding a dagger to his arm, listened as they discussed the shape, size, color and placement of the new tattoo among his existing art. They moved around the shop, looking at the art on the walls and describing how his idea of the dagger might differ from the options there. It was the theatrical design process in microcosm.
When Josh arrived, he and I looked at the image of the hummingbird and he discussed how the tiny (less than 1″ square) image would not translate well, and he threw it into the copier there and blew it up to about 2x the size. We discussed the flowers and I said I might like a different flower, and he showed me some cherry blossoms which he then went away and sketched into the picture. While he did that, I continued to try to finish my crossword puzzle and calm my nerves.
Soon we were solving the fact that I’d worn a pretty inappropriate blouse – I turned it around so the buttons ran down the back and Josh began to do the tattoo. Just like the dentist, the noise of the gun was worse than the pain. It was not nearly as painful as I thought it would be. Jake, at the next station over, was working on the red head’s knife, and when I asked how it was looking to Josh, piped up with
That pentagram is looking pretty good.
Tattoo humor. Who knew. I laughed and continued yoga breaths to get through the discomfort. I told them about my earlier trip, (only about 38 years ago) to a tattoo parlor in San Francisco, with a calendar-sized picture of a red footed booby. How the artist there had turned me away because I didn’t have the exact size artwork, and how relieved I had been. More jokes about the Red footed and other types of boobies that they had done. Throughout the process, I wanted to see what was happening, but of course, that wasn’t possible. As we neared the end, I asked Josh if I could take a selfie for the record and he agreed. See, I’m smiling, probably from relief that it was over.
On my way home, I stopped at Macy’s to buy the package that I could carry into the apartment to justify my 3 hour absence. And after two days of hiding my tattoo from Jimmie, on our 31st anniversary I will show him the gift that signifies we are bonded forever. Our little hummingbird.