I embarked on another multi-state journey when I heard that Frank Turner and his gang were playing the northeast, with their first United States arena show topping off their tour in Boston. As he was playing in New York City the night before, I decided to attempt five states on the way from New York to Massachusetts, including New Jersey, Connecticut, and Rhode Island. The first of the five new tattoos would be my New York tattoo.
For New York, I decided on Scrabble tiles as Scrabble was invented by Alfred Mosher Butts, an American architect from Poughkeepsie, New York, and it is a game I love to play. I knew I wanted four letters, but did not know which word I would choose. I saw a lot of Scrabble tattoo examples online, including my favorite, L_VE, with a blank tile allowing for the word to be LIVE or LOVE. I eventually decided on QUIZ because it is a high-scoring word using both of the two 10 point letter tiles that I am always keen to play. Plus, I would be placing it under my Twisted Stitches tattoo, which is my Pub Quiz team name. It’s also next to my beer cheers emoji tattoo, forming a pub quiz trifecta on my arm.
As I was also collecting Fadó pubs across the country and JFK Airport contained a Fadó Sister Pub, Tigín, I flew into JFK and made that my first stop for breakfast. After breakfast, I braved the public transportation system and took three different types of trains, both above ground and subway, to get to my hotel. After checking in, I decided to walk the twenty-eight blocks to the tattoo parlor along Broadway so that I could take in the sights of Times Square along the way.
It was a beautiful sunny day and the tourists were out in droves, as well as native New Yorkers, considering it was the middle of the day on a Friday. I walked past Central Park and then entered the fantastic eye-pollution area that is Times Square. The Naked Cowboy was playing his guitar and M&Ms were dancing larger than life on one of the many screens advertising everything from clothing to TV shows. I also walked past a cute art installation of painted animals, which I enjoyed photographing.
All of this made me a little late for my appointment, but I figured I would have to wait for the artist to finish setting up anyway, which I did. The shop I chose was Studio 28, because it was convenient to get to from the music venue where my hotel was and had a number of talented artists. I chose Rafael Marte because I appreciated how he was able to add such incredible detail into his pieces. Considering I wanted fairly realistic looking tiles in a small space, I thought he would be the best choice.
I met with Rafael and took off my jacket and sweater, which revealed all of my arm tattoos and the immediate reaction was “wow, you’re covered.” My chest piece was admired and asked about so I gave a shout out to my Georgia peach, Vince Villalvazo. Rafael apparently thought I was going to be pretty clean because the shop tattoos a lot of tourists and first-timers. This was surprising to me because although it is close to Times Square, it is not that obvious to get to, but Google does a lot for that business. Going to a tourist-frequented shop made me a little nervous because I try to avoid such places, but tourists only make up half of their business and I trusted in my research of the artists there.
Instead of a vertical line of tiles that Rafael was anticipating, I asked him to split up the letters and fit them into a wavy spot I had under the lines of the Twisted Stitches banner. He drew out the design, adding a little three-dimensional definition per my request, and fit them to the limited space on my arm. Rafael was able to make the tiles larger than I expected because I did not mind them being overlapped by my other tattoos. The shop was really pleasant to be in and the two artists working there were fun to chat with. Rafael was originally from the Dominican Republic and has been tattooing since the age of sixteen. He moved to the United States to be able to study tattooing and grow as an artist. Tattoos are not as accepted in the Dominic Republic as they are here and so this country provided him with much more opportunity to excel in his chosen art form, especially with the availability of new advances in tattoo machinery and supplies.
Because the shop was frequented by tourists from all over the world, I was curious to know what was the most requested New York City souvenir tattoo and it ended up being the skyline. Rafael asked me whether I thought about tattooing since I enjoyed acquiring tattoos so much and I showed him some of my hand-pokes. He was pretty impressed with my “be cool.” because lettering is pretty tough to do.
Unlike most shops, I had to pay up front for the tattoo and so I gave Rafael his tip right away as well. He thanked me for it but I joked with him that he better do a good job or I would have to ask for it back. Fortunately for the both of us, I loved it. He added a wood grain to the tiles which made them look so realistic and I did not see whether he used color or not, but they appeared to have a wooden hue to them as well. After the tattoo, Rafael wanted to get a photo taken with me for the blog, and I was happy to oblige with a quick selfie.
I had an immediate appointment in New Jersey, so I hopped in an Über and we combated the traffic through the Lincoln Tunnel. Afterwards, I took another Über back to my hotel and quickly changed for the concert. Frank Turner and the Sleeping Souls were playing at the historic Beacon Theater, which was a very fancy venue, but strange for one of his shows because it was filled with seats. It was a great show, nonetheless, and Frank promised us a new album soon, which was really exciting to hear because new music means new tour, and perhaps more countries and states to visit.
My New York tattoo is one of my favorite tattoos currently on my body because of the wonderful woodgrain detail. I love how Rafael fit the letters among the other tattoos in a way that did not make them seem like an afterthought. Even though it is a filler piece, it really stands out on my arm and reminds me of two of my favorite pastimes: Scrabble and bar trivia. My visit to New York City was a brief one, but it was not my first, nor will it be my last.