A couple Sundays ago—maybe the hottest day of the year so far—I went to 18th Street to get a tattoo. My last was nearly ten years ago—a Noah’s Ark adapted from a Russian block-printed tapestry I’ve had on walls of places I live since childhood. The new one came from a newer source but still from the past.
The Spindle was a sculpture which stood on the corner of Cermak and Harlem in Berwyn for twenty years until it was unceremoniously leveled to make way for a Walgreen’s in 2008. To me, it was a Chicago landmark. I’d drawn two versions of it on coffee bags while working at Hardboiled Coffee a few years back. The cars suspended on a spike seemed like a good way to memorialize my cabbie career, as well as paying tribute to a symbol of the city now gone.
Justin is dating my friend Tracy and works out of a shop in Pilsen, which is close to where I live, so I asked him about doing the Spindle tattoo and he agreed. I got to Studio One at 5pm, then walked with Justin down the street for a cup of coffee before getting started. We talked about the other shops he worked at, other artists I’d gotten tattoos from, and about Tracy, while he was getting the stencil and his gear ready.
The needle didn’t hurt much but made my mind wander. I’d forgotten that about getting tattooed, you sort of drift away, maybe to remove yourself from the low-level but persistent pain of the process. Tracy walked in when Justin was about halfway done. We talked about grabbing a bite afterward, since I had about an hour before my Skylark bar shift.
We decided on the newish Vietnamese diner down the street but it turned out to be closed, so we went back west up 18th to a new spot next to the tattoo shop. It was a cavernous place named after a no-doubt made-up person. I recognized a regular from the coffeeshop as one of the waiters. We put in our order and waited. After about half an hour I ran out and Divvy’d it to the bar, Tracy and Justin agreed to bring my food later in a to-go box.
A few minutes into my shift I carded a young woman named Natalie Wood. I asked whether her parents were fans of the dead actress and she rolled her eyes and nodded. She knew about the investigation into the death being reopened as well. Her own Robert Wagner showed up a few minutes later—a poetry professor type probably twice her age—and they retreated to one of the booths. Tracy texted to say they were on their way with my chicken and to expect an apology phone call from the GM of the restaurant.
The next morning the GM left a novella-length voicemail and a text message to match. He’d comped our entire meal and repeatedly intruded on Tracy and Justin’s conversation after I’d left to prostrate himself before them, sending out desserts and drinks one after another. Now he wanted to give me a $50 gift certificate to come back. I texted that it was unnecessary, that I hadn’t budgeted enough time for the meal, but he was inconsolable. I wouldn’t give him my email so he left the gift certificate at the host stand. I asked Tracy to have Justin pick it up and give it to one of the neighborhood borrachos.
I’m already planning another tattoo but will be careful to cross the street when approaching Justin’s shop from the west to avoid getting sucked back into the vortex of that eatery. Maybe by the time I return that place will be history already.