I’m a pompous ass when it comes to brand names. I get a feeling of aversion that I can taste when I think about anything generic, prescription drugs included, and the worst part is that I know it’s ridiculous. But that’s why I got so excited when I found my tattoo artist. His work had been featured in Skin & Ink Magazine and National Geographic. Those are some hard hitting brand names; hell, I’ve recently trusted the latter with my DNA. The guy had tattooed Buddhist nuns (which I didn’t know existed) and the guys from Deep Purple (or maybe it was Iron Butterfly) so I was sold. My wife and I were already going to Sedona for our tenth wedding anniversary, so I called Siva at Sacred Fire Tattoo and made my appointment.
It’s just as asinine as my penchant for brand names, but at times, I feel like standing up and shouting that I’m from Alaska. My roots there are oddly important, so I wanted some sort of tattoo that related to home. Plenty of people get the area code (907) or “Alaska Grown” inked on their skin but it’s a bit generic, and far too many women have already done the little dipper for me to pull it off as a masculine tattoo. So I went with Byers Peak. Mount Matanuska is the quintessential mountain with craggy peaks and shadowed ravines, and Byers Peak crowns it like a halo. I literally grew up in the shadow of that peak so having it imprinted on my back seemed fitting.
The fact that Sedona is spangled with vortices doesn’t matter much to me. The locals take it seriously though. They’ve even decided to forgo grammatical traditions and refer to them as “vortexes” both in the brochures and on the signs. Other than that, the town is a perfect little Mecca of red-rock awesomeness. They’ve got rivers and monasteries, fine dining and epic sunsets. Everyone is considerably more attractive than I am (what would normally pass for a model is merely a barista in Sedona) and they’re all freakishly nice. My wife and I checked into an overgrown bed and breakfast run by a covey of French artists (and one vampire) and then immediately fell in love with the place. I’m pretty sure you’re supposed to refer to them as a “covey” right? I think you use “flock” if they’re British. Sedona is one of those strange little bubbles of perfection that pop up in the craziest places. None of the surrounding Arizona cities are even comparable with Sedona, and it wouldn’t be hyperbole to dub it one of the best places on earth.
We spent the first part of the week wasting money and eating veal and planned the last half around tattoos. Siva runs his shop out of his house instead of a parlor as a personal preference, and he immediately put me at ease when I found it. He had that whole “peaceful Rastafarian” thing going for him and his shop was meticulously clean (I half suspected he used a bit of OCD along with his Windex). My wife’s tattoo, which we christened with tequila, took all of thirty minutes but mine was going to be an undertaking. Siva had a rather comfortable chair of some sort for me to sit in with my chest pressed up against a pad and my back towards him. I must’ve been nervous because I didn’t even joke about the fact that another man was shaving my back, but he’d probably heard it all before. I trusted him because the stencil looked right and his eyes, while a little bloodshot, conveyed confidence.
I remember looking down at my sandals when the pain started. The buzzing from his machine and the Celtic music put me in an introspective trance of sorts and that’s when I realized I didn’t know myself as well as I thought. My fence is vinyl as opposed to picket, but it’s still white. I have a job in sales. I don’t do drugs. I wear sandals when it’s hot and cowboy boots when it’s not. As a child, I swore on all that was holy that I’d never do or have any of these things. I promised myself that I’d never eat veal but I suddenly remembered that I had just paid forty-eight bucks for it. I was once repulsed by permanent body art and I’d slowly shake my head at the fools I saw with colorful sleeves of ink, but now I was only hours away from having a black and grey masterpiece on my back.
I mentally went through my list of “never ever’s” and all I had left was a personal promise to never use a tanning bed. But what if I was about to go to Hawaii and I wanted to avoid the beet-red burn my Irish skin always gets when I reintroduce it to the sun? It’d be okay to fake and bake just once, right? Holy shit. I had just justified breaking my last “never ever”. My transformation into the guy I despised as a youth, the suburban thirty-something, was complete. Maybe Siva should’ve inked “hypocrite” underneath Byers Peak to immortalize the moment. I laughed a little bit which Siva mistook for a lamentation. He asked if I was alright, to which I replied “yeah, why not.”