Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Scrabble, under my skin

Posted by Brad Mills
To both cement and embrace my geekdom, yesterday evening I got a Scrabble tattoo. The work was done by Tommy Haley at Danny's Ancient Art Tattoos in Kanawha City. Here's a write-up of what went down, from beginning to end.

The planning took several months. Much of this was mentally working myself up to the procedure - and the rest was throwing around design ideas. I knew going into it that I wanted a Scrabble-themed design. Initially I planned to only have a Triple Word Score square, but that by itself seemed plain and I really wanted something more. After digging around, I found two images of owls I liked. The owl represents two things - an acronym for Official Word List, and a classic archetype of wisdom - so he fits in with the Scrabble theme very well.

About a week before committing to the design, I took it by DAAT to make sure it was workable and to fish for suggested improvements. Chatting with Kevin Adams yielded several tweaks and ideas - and a preference for the simpler of the two owls from a workability standpoint. I took these suggestions back to the drawing board and came up with the final design in both color and outline formats. I dropped off these final versions Thursday and left my phone number to set up the appointment. On Saturday afternoon I got the call - everything was ready to go and we confirmed the day and time.

Shortly before leaving work yesterday I took three acetaminophen - just to take the edge off what was to come.

I arrived at the studio a little before 6:00. I sat in the parking lot, ate a Subway sandwich (just something light), and around 6:15 I went in. A little bit of paperwork, a little bit of waiting. Chris showed up while I waited, camera in tow as usual, and we chatted a bit. Finally, Tommy came out and called me back to the workroom.

Probably the number one question asked of anyone who gets or gives a tattoo is: "Does it hurt?" Of course it does. The degree of pain varies based on what you're getting done, where on your body it is, the artist, and your tolerance for pain in general - which itself can vary from one hour to the next. Tommy told us when people ask him what it feels like getting a tattoo, his response is, "It feels like getting a tattoo. You forget what it feels like after it's done, but when you get another one you remember."

From my perspective, imagine putting your hand into a very large hornets' nest and leaving it there for an hour or two. You do get used to it, however, as your body's natural pain defenses take over. In my case this only took ten or fifteen minutes - at which point I felt little more than a rubbing on my arm and the vibrating buzz buzz buzz of the tattoo gun.

As Tommy did his magic and the endorphins ate away at my pain, I realized some similarities between tattooists and Scrabble players. We are both a niche market in society, first of all - and a misunderstood one. We players don't necessarily sit around and learn strange words all the time. Tattooists don't necessarily sit around listening to death metal all the time. The lesson to take away from this is a little understanding can go a long way.

Second, we both travel around quite a bit. Just as there are Scrabble tournaments all over the country, there are also tattoo conventions. Both are interesting places with lots of goodies to buy, interesting people to meet, and new friends to make.

Third, we are who we are and we're not ashamed of it. In fact, most of the time, we're damn proud of it. There are enough of us out there that we don't feel alone or "weird" for not always fitting in with mainstream society. Some of us actually do fit in with mainstream society, but really, we're most ourselves when we're doing what we love.

The tattoo was covered with a sterile dressing, which stayed on overnight. This morning I took the dressing off and found the expected red and black oozy mess. Cleaning it off revealed the tat in all its glory, and most of the residual surface ink and damaged skin washed down the drain. This will be an ongoing process as the tattoo goes through its healing phases.

  • Think carefully before getting any tattoo - it will be a more or less permanent part of you. Give it the same consideration you would to an elective cosmetic medical procedure. In some respects, that's exactly what it is.
  • Hell yes, it hurts.
  • Never get a tattoo on an empty stomach, or under the influence of any drugs or alcohol. If you want to get tattoos about drugs or alcohol on your stomach, I guess that's up to you.
  • Follow the aftercare procedure provided by your artist or the studio. If all else fails, read the tattoo faq for other suggestions.
  • Your tattoo artist is a professional and deserves your respect. Most likely, he or she has spent many hours perfecting the art.
  • Embracing your inner self - geeky or not - is both a good thing and a learning experience.
My thanks to Tommy Haley for an outstanding job on this body art, which I will wear proudly - and to Chris Ross for taking pictures of the event.


  1. Cool write up! I'll have to try to remember the cool stories that Tommy told us while you were going through your procedure and I was doing my lawyer thing getting the big ink-covered guy to open up and tell us about himself. It was remarkable to me when he said that they do tattoo conventions that sound very similar to sci-fi conventions that I've been to in the past.

    Also, kudos for enduring the discomfort of the needle and my chit chat for that hour or so that it took.

  2. Hey, that's cute! I like the final size/position of the owl.

  3. Looks good! Is the red doing okay?

    I always thought the most painful part of the entire process was showering the next morning. OUCH!

  4. Honestly, the most painful part of it (besides those first few minutes of actually getting it) was ripping off the surgical tape Tommy used to attach the sterile dressing. You'd think after having a needle go under my skin thousands of times over an hour and a half, I'd be able to handle removing what's essentially a bandaid.

    The "ink ooze" stopped at work this morning - things are progressing right along. I normally heal pretty quickly so I don't expect a lot of problems in general. No reaction to the red ink so far either, though I did learn that people who have that condition also have reactions to cheap hot dogs and red Kool-Aid, both of which use the same family of dye.

    Just to get in some Scrabble content, the word AZO refers to several nitrogen-based compounds used in tattoo ink.

  5. I have posted my write-up of the same encounter now!

  6. Hasbro is a very strict enforcer of their copyright. I had to deal with their lawyers some years ago with my own game. Don't be surprised if they come after your arm.



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