“You’d be surprised what people will talk about when they’re getting tats,” he said.
Much of it is body, or bawdy, talk, but people also share intimate details of their lives. Some are horribly sad, and others are of great accomplishments. Many people get tats as memorials for a loved one. They often get tattoos as symbols of who they are and something that they’ve been through, a major life change like divorce or surviving cancer. People also come in for group or family symbols.
Navy sailors used to get tattoos overseas, which were often with dirty needles in unsanitary environments, causing infections and even death. This led to a ban on tattoos in the military for a while. Prisoners get tattoos to represent time served or crimes committed. After their release, they may alter their tats to something else. Gangs use tattoos to prove loyalty and membership.
Now all types of people get tattooed. It’s trendy among young adults, but older adults are going under the needle for the first time, as well. It seems to be a way of saying, hey, this is my body and if I want to use it as a canvas, so be it.
An 89-year-old World War II veteran got his first tattoo with Powers. He sat in his chair and told him about surviving a ship sinking during the battle of Midway as Tony tattooed the scene onto his body.
Tony won’t tattoo pregnant women. “It’s too much stress on the body,” he explained. But, he has tattooed many cancer patients and survivors. Some women chose not to do reconstructive surgery after breast cancer and come to him for a tattoo instead. His only warning is that the area can be sensitive because of the surgeries and treatment.
“I think body modifications are fascinating,” Powers said. He grew up reading and watching National Geographic with his family. “I’d look at those neck and nose rings, ear plugs, and detailed body art and think, that is so cool.”
He’s read about and studied tattooing from many cultures.
“No one really knows when it started,” he said. “It was probably a couple of cavemen fooling around the campfire. Oolong stabs Ogg with a hot stick and they’re like, ‘cool, I made a mark on you.’”
Archeologists have discovered mummified bodies around the world from thousands of years ago that had been tattooed, some very rudimentary, while others have complicated designs, as well as color. The first tattoos were applied by using sharp bone and puncturing ash under the skin. Tony would like to try doing that someday.
Today, to become a legitimate tattoo shop, you must be inspected by the Department of Health and be licensed by the State of Minnesota. You must use single-use disposable needles and clean the area you’re working on, and wipe it often.
“If someone gets an infection, it’s not going to be my fault,” Powers explained, of his sanitary tattooing procedures.
It’s important to take care of your tattoo. It is a wound, so keep it clean, put Aquaphor cream and lotion on it, and keep it out of the sun as much as possible, Powers advised. Tattoos do fade. You can do touch ups on them. If you get a tattoo that you later regret, they can be removed with laser treatment, or done over into something else. Powers said he hasn’t ever said no to a tat, but tells the young men that tattooing a girl’s name anywhere on your body is the “kiss of death.” Also, he doesn’t like to do anything that symbolizes hate.
Brad Baysinger said he got his first tattoo when he was 50 years old, and has been coming back periodically ever since to have Powers add to his scenes of the sea. He sat calmly sucking on a sucker while Powers worked on him and said, “Pain is just a thought.”
Baysinger has plans to also get his back covered. “I know it’s a bad idea to put a woman’s name on your body, so I’m having Tony do a ship on my back with a bust of a woman on front. The name of the ship is the Patricia Marie.” This happens to be his wife’s name.
The Biker Chef got his first tattoo when he was in his mid-40s from Powers. He wanted something to memorialize his friend, so he had him tattoo, “RIP Ron,” in small letters surrounded by two morel mushrooms. They shared many hunts and meals from these native Minnesota plants. He later added sweet grass, two bleeding hearts, fiddle heads, and for the photo shoot for this article, a maple leaf. He taps and cooks his own maple syrup). Powers did a marvelous job blending it into the existing art, coloring it, and applying in a swift and cheerful way.
Up until the writing of this article, I had never been inside a tattoo parlor, nor thought about being tattooed. After meeting Powers, who is kind, funny, relaxed, and a true artist, I could see myself with a very small tattoo in a respectable location, and I even know what it will be. Whether or not I ever sit in his chair and grit my teeth through the pain, remains to be seen.
Isn’t it great to live in America where we are free to make those choices? To be tattooed, or not, live out loud, or very quietly, with our pain literally on our sleeves, or covered up where only intimate partners can see them.