4B - Thursday, December 5, 2013
The Michigan Daily - michigandaily.com
MATTHFI BOANICL GARENS IVTATTOOl TALESF.
MY tm nder the nel
15 minutes to a
By BRIANNE JOHNSON
Ever since Nurse Joan strapped
my flailing limbs to the ducky-pat-
terned table for a vaccine shot in
So, of course, I decided to get a
It's the Wednesday before
Thanksgiving, and I'm feeling
particularly thankful that I own
enough crewneck sweaters and
striped arm-warmers from my
middle-school years as a Hot Topic
regular to hide any imminent ink-
age during family dinner. But as
I crunch along the salt-sprinkled
pavement of 25-degree Ann Arbor
with Anna at my side, I wish I'd
worn more than a grey knit t-shirt.
"Are you crazy?" she asks, laugh-
"It's easy access - if I'm going to
get the tattoo high up on my arm, he
has to be able to get to it!"
"He" introduces himself as Jeff
Zuck, owner of Name Brand Tattoo,
a studio with wide windows that
peer across East Washington Street.
Dark tufts of beard tangle along his
collar, winding to a stop past the
second stripe of his plaid button-
up. He's cuffed his trousers at the
ankles, folded over aubergine lace-
up boots. Tall and scruffy like Abe
Lincoln, and with his warm steadi-
ness, Jeff is a man whom, I decide, I
can trust with a needle.
"Tell me what you're thinkin'
about getting,"he encourages.
I raise my arm like Rosie the Riv-
eter and trail afinger alongmy bicep.
"Ijust want aline of text here."
When I tell him, after count-
ing fingers, that the phrase - a line
from E.E. Cummings's "if every-
thing happens that can't be done"
- contains 10 words, Jeff winces.
But I assure him that I have long
arms (me, providing reassurance to
a tattoo artist?). We talk font, and I
stumble over a description of what I
want: calligraphy-esque script, but
not perfect cursive. Closer to hand-
But Jeff is a professional; he's
learned to pick through custom-
ers' rambles, to read their minds
through gestures and frustrated
explanations and recreate their
vision through his own.
"OK, cool. How about I draft
something up and see how you like
it?Untilthen, feel free to explore the
shop, and I'll come find you when
I'm done,"he said
I plant myself next to Anna on a
wooden, art deco-style bench fac-
ing a spread of framed tattoo prints:
Five rows and seven columns on this
wall alone, inked from floor to ceil-
ing with pastel mermaids known
for jigs on sailors' arms, jewel-
toned marigolds blooming from the
corners and feminine portraits of
women whose hauntingly gorgeous
faces,like sugar skulls, remind me of
Mexico's Dayofthe Dead.An inspir-
ing, if not comfortingdisplay.
I point to a set beneath the front
"Anna, look at that one. The
creepy Mickey face."
Disney's famous mouse seems to
sneer at me with a wicked glee, eyes
crazed and faded, and I'm struck
by the thought of my dad: The man
who - despite our many road trips
to Florida's Disney World, where
the atmosphere is sweeter than the
batter of mouse-shaped waffles -
would gladly put his foot to my ass
upon discovering my new and per-
Thankfully, Jeff returns.
He lays a waxy patch of paper
before me; my tattoo is scrawled on
the bottom in perfect alignment, so
elegantly curved and curled that it
belongs at the tail of the Declaration
of Independence. Call it hyperbolic,
but these women and men are tattoo
artists for a reason.
"I don't know if this will make
sense," I start. "But it's almost too
perfect, too formal. Like, it's the
Jeff Zuck, owner of Name Brand Tattoo, applies the finishing touches.
ideal,standard'cursive,'but I almost
want something messier."
As a close friend of many employ-
ees who brave the field of cus-
tomer service, I worry that I'm too
demanding. Will Jeff think I'm
being difficult? That I doubt his tal-
"A little less designed," he says,
hands spread over the paper. Typog-
raphy is a science, he explains,
wherein the artist exacts angles,
stems and serifs with precision. But,
he adds, reading between my sloppy
lines, he understands that I'm look-
ing for something more natural.
How about my own handwriting?
Jeff assures me that he has some
ideas -the suspense! - and retreats
to his Artist Lair, I imagine, only to
emerge with a sample of styles, all
seemingly drafted with the ease
of free-hand yet measured grace. I
pick the third: Its delicate loops are
sweetly petite and the line's first
word reduced to an unassuming,
"Are you ready?"he asks.
"I sure hope so."
We follow Jeff through the back
of the studio, into a room where
frame after frame of prints, all in a
defiantly surreal style, are pieced
together on the green walls like
an old, French artists' salon. After
applying the outline to my bicep
(flexing, always flexing), Jeff directs
me to lie on the black, leather-cush-
Then, the buzzing. Or maybe it's
closer to a whir, I think, as I stare
into the fluorescentlight on the ceil-
ing and tell Annato talk about some-
blares from a speaker behind a cur-
tain, but I only hear buzzing.
The most frequent question
I've received about tattoos - after
"What did it feel like?" and "But
what does it mean?" - is the immi-
nent, "Did it hurt?" One friend,
wide-eyed and admiringeven ques-
tioned my personal pain threshold.
"Put it on a scale,"she demanded.
On a scale of My First Ear Pierc-
ing to "Saw IV," the tattoo, depend-
ing on its placement on the body,
might merit a solid six. The pain is
as sharp as the needle, but as it drags
across the muscle and flab of my
arm, it's no more unbearable than a
15-minute pinch. ThoughI do admit
that one refugee tear may have
escaped my left eye as Jeff finished
the final words, I chalk it up (ink it
up?) to an unhealthy habit of staring
into bright lights. No, really!
Wiping the excess blood and
ink from my arm as Anna hovers
over my body in amazement, Jeff
announces that - thank Gaaaaaa-
awd - he's finished. "Why don't you
go take a look in the mirror and see
how you like it?"
I skip across the room,raising my
new, decorative wound to the mir-
ror, and, of course, flex.
"I really like it! My dad's going to
"But," Anna adds, "At least
you're not afraid of needles any-
for nev Sakroots arr'i.als and
113 .///l)/ 4