The Challenge: Lucky-Dip Tattoo


Words || Phillip Leason

Another Grapeshot meeting, and a few jugs have been drunk before we get to discussing ‘The Challenge’. The first idea is to turn me into a human cactus: acupuncture. That’s not far enough, apparently, so continuing the needles theme, Lucky-Dip Tattoo seemed like the next logical step. My better judgement lost out to the beers, and my fragile male ego. “Fuck it. I’ll do it.”

So, some days later when our designer Huss has drawn up some pictures, I meet with Angela outside The Electric Texta, in Woy Woy. Before we begin, we go for a coffee and I’m presented with four envelopes, each containing a design. It’s a bit like being a contestant on Deal or No Deal, but instead of money I’m likely going to have permanent embarrassment etched onto my body. And instead of Andrew O’Keefe’s dad humour, I have Angela, and her conniving smirk to guide me through my decision. I pick number three.

As we make our way into the studio, Ange checks the envelope and a pained look of pity sweeps over her face, “Ohh you… You picked a bad one.” The overpowering smell of ink  makes me light headed, and to make matters worse, Black Sabbath’s song ‘Black Sabbath,’ from the Black Sabbath album, is playing. You know the one that’s probably Satan’s ringtone? Talk about ominous. I meet my artist, Dan – a chipper, Where’s Wally looking hipster, and I’m told to wait outside while he draws up a stencil. At this point I still don’t know what I’m getting, but I’m allowed to open the other envelopes, to see the options I dodged. There’s a drum being played with chicken drumsticks, a zombified cactus, and a portrait of Iggy Azalea, over a banner that reads, “NO REGRETS – IGGY <3”. The international joke of hip hop and the most ironically regrettable motivational slogan ever was an option, yet I still managed to get the bad one? What the fuck, I’m feeling ill.

Fortunately, it turns out Ange lied, I hadn’t picked the bad option. The image I’m getting indelibly plastered on my skin is a sketch of my Facebook profile picture, only I’m an otter. It’s a vanity tattoo. I pick the back of my thigh.

While Dan inks me up, a rather overweight, middle aged guy sits on the chair next to me, his bare feet inches from my face. He removes his shirt for an arm tattoo (although he could just as easily have rolled up his sleeve), and his hairy innie-nipples are glaring at me as he tries to haggle over pricing. To distract myself I ask Dan what the stupidest tattoo he’s ever given somebody is. “A mate got me to tattoo ‘YOLO’ on his arse cheek, but with a hand giving peace as the Y. Otherwise, yeah, this is probably the winner.” So I’ve got that goin’ for me, which is nice.

Once we’re out, I hop back on the train to Sydney, periodically mopping up blood and ink that’s seeping from the glad wrap. I need to tell my parents about what’s happened. This isn’t my first tattoo, but it’s definitely my most irresponsible. I tell dad first, and explain the lucky-dip process. His reaction is somewhere between bewilderment and dismissal, “Erm, well, that was your decision to make.” That’s until he remembers I’ll now have to wait six months before I can donate blood, and it’s this which makes him snap. Of all the things, he’s shitty that I can’t let the Red Cross bleed me out until October. Next, I have to tell mum. As we all know, the one thing worse than anger is disappointment, and her reaction broke my heart. Before I finish a sentence she interrupts, choked up, to say that she doesn’t want to hear about me getting another tattoo, and that she’s going to go. Dad calls a few hours later to explain, “She’s not upset with you, she just worries that you’ve done something you’re going to regret, and can’t undo.”

I can understand why it worries her. It’s nearly healed now, and the reality is sinking in. Every day of my life I’m going to see a picture of myself as an otter. But I can confirm that I don’t regret letting this happen, and I don’t think that I ever will. You see, I don’t take photos, and I don’t write in journals – things like this are all I have to inform my memory of the past. So when I’m forty, I won’t be quaking with rage and damning the Grapey team for ruining my body. When I see this picture I’m going to, quite literally, see myself at 21. New friends, binge drinking, hard work and hopefulness, working for a little magazine and doing stupid shit: these are all of the things that make these the best days of my life, and I think there’s no better way to remember it.