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  • Nicole

Chats with a Ponsonby Tattoo Artist

Turning left off the sidewalk full of minimalist shopfronts and women perfectly outfitted in activewear, I ventured up a set of narrow, wooden stairs. The words painted on the front of each step cumulatively read ‘no room for cry babies’. What fresh hell had I walked into.

Upon reaching the top, the walls were covered in A4-framed pieces of artwork. But this wasn’t just any art. Think half-naked women, the grim reaper, and Mickey Mouse. The set-up of the two small rooms looked like the inhabitants had attempted medical experimentation in the 1970s, given up, and then turned the rooms into unused office space. An artist with a goofy smile beckoned me into the first room. I couldn’t fail to notice he was inked right up to his jaw, up the back of his skull, and even had a small x on each eyelid. The angry metal music he had playing just added to the whole ambiance.

We discussed my business there- two tattoos. I wasn’t there for anything serious, just some small ink on my ribs and on my foot. I can’t remember the last time I was in a place that reminded me so strongly that I am a young, white, privileged female. As the guy left to go and print off my designs, I nervously perused the titles of his numerous books. From French botany to classic Japanese designs, I was intrigued. When he returned, he said he had more bookcases full at home. He changed the music to something a lot more chill, and I finally remembered to breathe again.

In order to ease my nerves, I asked about how he came to be a tattoo artist. Hint: to make yourself feel less nervous, just get people to talk about themselves (people love that). He informed me that he’d done the normal job stuff, been overseas, came back to normal job, but still felt unfulfilled. I think this was the first of many times he informed me "the world was f*cked". He had since been a tattoo artist for eight years. I was relieved by his years of experience, but also strangely by his straight up opinions of humanity.

Unfortunately, he then asked what I do for a job. His gawky reaction to me saying I was a lawyer was marvelous, but I felt like my white-privilege-o’meter had just skyrocketed. So I told him that my job is actually working for coroners, on unnatural or suspicious deaths. Bingo. We then embarked on a chat about our own interests in morbidity- he permanently deforms people, and I read about dead people. We shared favourite true crime shows, interests in psychology, and why we both got our tattoos. Turns out two people from very different worlds can actually have a lot in common. And despite my initial prejudices against his appearance, I came to really respect his attitude.

As he was permanently scarring my foot, I was looking out the window onto Ponsonby Road. Directly across from me was one of the super fancy restaurants that I imagine I will never visit (mainly because I have no interest in doing so). Beautiful couples were walking past with their dogs in the sunshine, and I couldn’t get over what a crazy juxtaposition I was experiencing. So I asked mr. artist if it was weird working in Ponsonby. His reply- yea, it’s pretty f*cked. His reaction to everything apparently. Although he’s not wrong. And he believes that everyone is weird and morbid, even those externally beautiful Ponsonby locals with the perfect tan and blonde balayage, it’s just that some people find life is easier if they deny that they’re weird.

Yet we both agreed that the best people are those who are openly weird. Those who aren’t in denial about their interest in the strange and the macabre are easier to connect to because they view humanity on a different level. They aren’t actively ignoring what is wrong and ugly in society. Because it’s true, it’s all pretty f*cked. After our business was done, I said I was probably going to go to Ben & Jerry’s to treat myself (also because I had been looking at the shop across the road for 20 minutes and hadn’t eaten lunch). I offered to bring him back some ice cream, and although he declined, he agreed that B&J’s was "so amazing, it’s f*cked".

Turns out both a lawyer and tattoo artist can both appreciate pain, humanity and ice cream. Who would have thought.

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