The room is dimly lit. it’s pouring outside, but in here the smoke is rising from the cigarettes and ashtrays. No one is bothered by it. Some people are talking, others are quietly sitting, looking into themselves, into nothing, disappearing into the past. Sometimes they awake when the dewdrops from their beers glides from the glass and hits their knuckles. The stage is set. This place contains both nostalgia and happiness, you decide which bottle to drink from. In front of me is a regular at this place. It’s not the first time that him and me are sitting like this, but usually we drink from the happy bottle. Today we are mixing in a little nostalgia, not enough for sadness though, just enough to reminisce. Both him and the artwork on his body are storytellers, and today I’ve come to listen.
"The first tattoo I got was when I was at boarding school. I was there for 2 years. I made a friend there who had tattoos. The first one I got, I was 15 years old. It wasn’t legal, but my buddy had some done in Nyhavn (at the time a part of Copenhagen infamous for its nightlife). He had been around the city and in Christiania. He became my roommate. But the first tattoo I got, was my name. I got it at Tato-Jim in Aarhus and that was the place I got all of them.
It was the kind of place where you would just walk in. You would be waiting in line until it was your turn. Some days where busier than others. You could book a session if it was bigger tattoos. I was 15 years old when my buddy took me there, because he already had a tattoo. I had a thing for tattoos and since he had one, goddammit, I wanted one too! So he said, “let’s go there together”. Then we drove our Kreidler mopeds, because he had one too, that was how we came to know each other.
I used mine to get to the boarding school. I didn’t go with my mom or dad, I drove myself. Then I met him. He had a Kreidler and from that a friendship evolved. Then we became “the name of the house” out there, no one bothered us. We called the shots. Well, then we got to Tato-Jims. It was a kind of dark place and he always sat there, with a cigarette in his mouth. He died many years ago. But he always had a smoke in his mouth. A filterless Cecil. But he would just say: “Ash is the cleanest thing there is”. Ash isn’t poisonous. But that tattoo cost me 20kr (about 3 USD, ed.). You could buy about two pints at a bar for that back then. That was in ’75, so that’s a couple of days ago. I kept the protective tape on for about a week and then I peeled that shit off.
The second one I got, was one with some flowers on it. With a banner and stuff. That was very popular at the time. Tato-Jim had a tablet with the things he could make and then I choose that. I got that one 3 or 4 months after the first, which was my name. After the first one I was hooked on the whole tattoo thing. I was still 15 but I didn’t need my friend at that point. Tato-Jim didn’t care. As long as you weren’t completely hammered. He had a deal with the pub across the street, that if anyone came who was completely wasted, he wouldn’t tattoo them. But it was okay to drink a couple of beers, that didn’t matter. As long as you were somewhat sober. Just behave yourself.
I only got the panther because there is something beneath it. There used to be a homemade heart. I had a friend make it. With a needle and some ink. Regular pen ink. Black. It was a heart with my initial and a P for her name, her name was probably Pia or something like that, and we were together for 14 days. That’s why I stopped doing that. Then I went to Tato-Jim and said: “can’t you make something that can cover that shit?” and the panther was the only thing that he could think of. Actually it’s the only one I’m sick of, because I don’t think it’s very nice. Many people say that they like it, but I think it’s annoying. But that’s probably because I know what’s underneath. That’s the story of that.
Well, now Jim had seen that I had a tattoo, that meant you had a kind of carte blanche, so you could get more. He didn’t care if you were 18. He was a very pleasant guy. He had many anecdotes, I can’t remember them all. But he was very good at doing marine style paintings. When he wasn’t tattooing, he was painting. He was very good and he didn’t do anything but marine style and sailing ships.
On this one you can see that the red color is gone. That’s one of the colors that goes away over time. I got that because of a girlfriend I had. She was pissed when she saw it. Shouldn’t have done that. But we stayed together anyway. She was a looker. But I was a bit older then. What was I? 18 I think. You can’t make out what it says. That’s not certain. The colors weren’t that good at the time. I got my tattoos from the age of 15 to 23.
It’s a dagger, an American coffin and an eagle. There always have to be eagles. That’s recurrent. And the obligatory banners. On the top it says “Pus” (a danish term of endearment) but he was about to write “piss”. He wanted to tease me: “I’m gonna write piss” he said, “the fuck you will!” I said. He did correct it though. I did it because I thought: “That works for all ladies”. “Pus” is what you called them back then. Here you can see the red is gone. At the top of the knife and on the bottom. It cost 400-something-or-other, 450 kr. Or something in that neighborhood. So there I sat for an hour or an hour and a half. He was good.
I knew a guy who rode the death drome on his motorbike in a carnival sideshow. That is why I had it done. He travelled around. He invited me out with him and his girlfriend to a carnival. He would ride it with another guy. I can’t remember where I met him, I only remember “come closer, come closer it’s getting worse and worse!”. They would ride around near the edge and do tricks. Riding without hands on the handlebar. He impressed me. The eagle on my arm is connected to the one on my back.
He was about 6-7 years older than me. He liked me and I liked him. So we went out drinking from time to time. I would dance with his girlfriend. He had one of those Levi’s denim jackets. Embroidered. You could get them down at Tato-Jims shop. Jim had them made out in the city somewhere. On the back of the jacket, he had an eagle with three stars on top. When he removed his jacket, he had the same eagle and stars tattooed on his back. That was pretty cool. So I thought: “I wanna get one too”. It took three sessions. It takes a little longer for one that size. First the outline, that was cheap. About 150 kr. After that the shading, and lastly the colors. In total it cost me 1200 kr. It was the last tattoo I had done. I was 23. Jim had an old dentist chair and I had to sit on it the other way around. That one hurt like a bitch.
For that one I went across the street and drank 3 or 4 beers. It was painful on the spine. The eagle in the tattoo my friend had, didn’t hold a snake in its talons. I got it because it looked cool. I admired him a little, so of course I wanted something cooler than his, so I added the snake. We drifted apart at a certain point later on.
It was a shame Jim died. He had always said, that I could come in anytime and have the colors touched up.
I also have one on my chest. It’s a swallow. But it has eagle wings. He was shitfaced when he made that one. Otherwise he wouldn’t have made eagle wings."
Outside the rain has stopped and given way to the chill of evening, and the darkness is descending on the place, surrounding us. According to the calendar it's supposed to be summer. But then again, it's supposed to be 2017, and I've just been in 1975.