Tattoo me?

For me, it's a terrible idea for aesthetic and health reasons, and I'm probably not going to do it, but for a while now I've been thinking about getting a tattoo.

I'm thinking of getting maybe a record player on my arm somewhere.

Coincidentally, last week, when my original idea for this column fell through, my editor suggested I write about the four tattoo parlors that have sprung up in my downtown New London neighborhood in the past three years, all within a five-minute walk from my apartment.

Plus, I've written about skin - my skin - before.

Over the past few years, I've written occasionally about life with psoriasis, the autoimmune disease which manifests itself as red, flaky lesions on one's skin.

For 22 years (I'm 35), I lived with a persistent itch and stinging sensation over most of my body.

In January 2011, I started a treatment that works and I got clear a little over a year ago. My skin is, more or less, unblemished.

I know. It seems like massive brain malfunction that I would want to blemish it again with a tattoo.

On Thursday afternoon, I toured the four downtown tattoo parlors - Lost Souls, New London Ink, Spirit Gallery and Whaling City Tattoo Museum - that all opened since the 2008 City Council vote which reversed a law banning them in New London.

I must confess: I had never been to a tattoo parlor before. I never had any reason to.

I had in my mind the old image of bright fluorescent lights and populated with obese leather-clad bikers wearing bandanas, covered in skull tattoos with flaming snakes coursing in and out of the eyes.

(Not to pick on bikers, but then again I live in downtown and deal with lots of needless Harley-engine revving on a nightly basis. So, yeah, I'm picking on bikers.)

But that's really not what the New London parlors are like at all. For the most part, they resemble trendy hair salons you might find in a disastrously hip neighborhood in Brooklyn.

"We've gotten out of that old stereotype," Mark Emilyta, of New London Ink, told me.

As its name suggests, Spirit Gallery doubles as an art gallery with regular shows from local artists.

Apart from the "normal" look of the parlors, I found that all of the artists and business owners share another quality: they all want to make sure a first-time tattoo customer knows that what they are getting into is, for the most part, permanent.

Spirit Gallery piercing artist Lari Mostro, who has tattoos covering most of his body, including his ears, told me once you get some ink, "The world looks at you differently."

"You're going be seen in a different light," Mostro said. "Especially young people. I always ask them, 'What are your future plans?' I don't need the $60 that bad."

Dan Pierce, of Whaling City Tattoo Museum, also tells young people that a tattoo could "limit you in life."

"Pfizer might not hire you," Pierce said.

Or as Niki Patterson of Lost Souls put it, "We're parents with kids, too."

From there, the consultation moves to what tattoo I want and where it might go. Again, all of the NL tattoo artists I talked to urged caution.

Ernesto Gonzalez at Lost Souls said, generally, he tries to steer customers away from "stupid stuff" they might regret.

And sirens blare whenever a customer mentions they want the name of their boyfriend or girlfriend emblazoned on some part of their body.

"It's like 'Are you sure you want the name of your girlfriend tattooed... on your neck?'" Emilyta said.

So, my prospective first tattoo should go somewhere inconspicuous right?

"No," Mostro said. "Your first tattoo should go somewhere where you can see it, not on your back, where you can only see it in the mirror."

The artists then talk about what design the customer wants, using everything from their personal portfolios, to original designs by the customers, even Google Images.

"We'll go back and forth," Emilyta said. "Some people are easy, some are picky."

Mostro said he tries to steer people toward something that interests them, and then find an original image.

"For instance, if you like jazz, don't get a saxophone," he said.

Mostro also is leery about non-English words, especially those that don't use the Roman alphabet. You might want to double and triple check the meaning.

"You might think it's Chinese for 'love,'" he said. "But with one mistake it now says 'kung pao chicken.'"

Then there is the point about the needle involved.

"They always ask about how much it hurts," Gonzalez said. "It's different for everybody."

And the artists are acutely aware of the fact they are pressing a sharp object into your flesh.

"I have to keep my emotions in check," Emilyta said. "It can't matter that I'm having a bad day or I'm in a bad mood."

Ultimately I didn't get a tattoo on Thursday. I think it's because I'm unsure, if the psoriasis were to return, if a tattoo would cause any problems.

But really, it's the permanence of it. So, I'll use one of the single male classics as an excuse: I'm afraid of commitment.

Stephen Chupaska is a writer who lives in downtown New London. Email him at schupaska@gmail.com or follow him on Twitter @schupaska.

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