I step into the tattoo parlor, only to be halted by the doorman’s grasp on my shoulder. His fingers, weathered and adorned with countless minuscule tattoos, seem to be a permanent barrier to a more conventional job.
“Password?” he demands.
“Southern Living Magazine is a deceptive ruse,” I retort, prompting him to grant me entry.
Just as I move forward, another individual seizes me. His fingers each bear a solitary letter tattoo, and when he clasps his hands, an unconventional phrase forms: “I CALL MY MOM ONCE A MONTH, IF THAT,” an oddity given his eight fingers.
“Nice ink,” I offer, taking a drag of a cigarette – the approximate 1,000th of my lifetime.
“Thanks,” he acknowledges. “Second password?”
“Defy conventions,” I reply. “Tattoos symbolize my devotion.”
With the recognized passwords of the tattoo realm exchanged, I’m guided into the parlor. Its walls are plastered with sign-up sheets for local gangs, risqué posters featuring Looney Tunes characters, and flyers for support groups aiding the unemployed. All the women here are former inmates, each convicted of murder and having escaped captivity. The men each bear one of the following: metallic studs protruding from their heads, a wooden leg, sharpened canine teeth resembling fangs, a scrawny capuchin monkey perched on a shoulder carrying a bag of syringes, a mask of human skin, a glass eye (for sheer amusement), rabies, and visible tattoos.
The moment of truth arrives: selecting the tattoo that will mar my untainted skin. After contemplating various designs suggested by the parlor – Barney the Dinosaur lewdly grinning and gesturing at his well-endowed genitals, a cigarette emitting swirling smoke that spells out “ETERNAL DAMNATION, ANN TAYLOR” – I opt for an image that resonates with my affinity for nature: a geometric rendition of a stag’s head.
If only I could ink a billboard-sized tattoo, I would.
After choosing my design, the shop’s owner offers me a line of cocaine, which I immediately insufflate without the need for instructions. He inquires if I wish to confer with my on-site advisors before proceeding. That’s when I spot them: my former youth pastor, the spectral presence of my maternal grandmother, and the hiring manager from my dream job, huddled in a shadowy corner of the establishment.
As I approach them, I can’t help but reflect on my mother’s absurd appearance in her reading glasses.
“Cara, this tattoo will thwart your aspirations,” warns the hiring manager.
“Then I’ll launch a food truck. Who’s next?” I retort.
“I thought my daughter had raised you better than this,” my maternal grandmother’s ghost chimes in, her blue translucent glasses fogging with tears.
“Evidently not,” I reply. “Also, I indulged before marriage.”
Her response is one of utter dismay. My former youth pastor gasps and falls to his knees.
“Are you aware that your choices could condemn you to hell?” he implores, beseeching me to reconsider.
“Is Skrillex not the preeminent artist of my generation?”
“Very well,” he concedes. “While I’m here, may I pose a question?”
“How many navy tunics does your mother possess?”
“Enough to warm all twelve disciples during winter,” I quip, using a Biblical reference to undermine my mother. He chuckles.
With that, my advisors depart. Before I know it, I’m being inked with a needle sterilized with the urine of a junkie. The process takes three arduous hours, blood flowing freely, and the pain offers a sensation of vitality surpassing any vacation with my mother. Naturally, I share the tattoo on Snapchat, Instagram, Twizzler, Fizzler, Marco Polo, Bitmoji, Pooper Scooper, and the other platforms connecting me incessantly with friends. I contemplate informing my mother, but I assume she’ll come across it on Facebook.
Yet, something I haven’t divulged to anyone takes shape: within that tattoo parlor, I finally make the resolute decision not to have children.
Cara Michelle Smith, a humorist and journalist, has studied at The Second City. Her work has graced platforms like McSweeney’s Internet Tendency, Reductress, and Splitsider, among others. Engage with her on Twitter, albeit in a creatively respectful manner.