by Elizabeth Rodarte
photography by Erica Paal
The sterile smell of a hospital permeates the room where John Joines sits patiently waiting for his tattoo artist to prepare the needles. He watches a man walk out reeling from the experience as if he just rode the worst roller coaster ride in his life. An hour later, Joines leaves his tattooing session, one of many until his masterpiece is complete, and comments that his arm throbs from the two-hour needling and inking, but he says, “It is worth it.”
Junior music major John Joines decided it was time for a life-long commitment to his fraternity soon after his initiation into Sigma Alpha Epsilon (SAE). In June 1998, he began to research different tattoo parlors and finally decided on Classic Tattoo in Upland, Calif.
He was determined to engrave a “Phoenix” on his body that he had become familiar with during his six-week SAE pledge period. Joines says the “Phoenix” is a strong and powerful bird from ancient mythological times. “When a ‘Phoenix’ dies, it descends into fire and from the ashes arises a stronger and better one. That is what my fraternity represents and I believe in it,” he explains. “One reason, truthfully, why I got my tattoo was because I feel that I symbolize something like the “Phoenix,” where I come in when the fraternity is not doing so well and bring us out of the ashes.” He also confesses that he did it because it was a “cool” picture. To date, Joines’ tattoo has taken a year, he has invested $1,100 on it, and his personal masterpiece is still in the works. It is a form of defining the person he is, he says. “When I am at the shop talking to my artist, I see a lot of people coming in and picking out like a skeleton or something ’cause it looks cool. It has no meaning,” Joines says. “A lot of people tell me ‘what are you going to do when you are 70, so I tell them I am going to try to stay alive,” Joines laughs. “I am not going to care what my arm looks like.”
Joines says that his mom likes the tattoo, but she just wishes it was not on her son. “I feel that every generation finds some way to make a statement, and the current rage of tattoos is this generation’s,” says Dorothy Joines, John’s mother and secretary to the executive vice-president at ULV, Phillip Hawkey.
“I don’t have a problem with tattoos in general — especially if they are tasteful and unobtrusive,” Dorothy adds. “However, I absolutely do not like tattoos that are sacrilegious or demonic. The tattoo on John’s arm is very large and very bright so I am thankful that it can be hidden under his shirt. I am worried that society will stereotype John, and that could have a negative impact on his future.”Dorothy adds that she hopes that people will become more tolerant and accepting of each other’s appearance and look beyond the tattoos to the person inside. Tattooing is commonly referred to in the United States as the American emblem of rebellion. In fact, many cities have banned tattoo parlors all together. According to Los Angeles County Supervisor Gloria Molina, in a Los Angeles Times article, “Tattoo and body piercing parlors are attracting a wide group of youths and turning them into bad crowds…the parlors are a negative hangout. They are not the library.”
City of La Verne clerk Kathleen Hamm, employed by the city since 1973, verifies that “there has never been a tattoo or a piercing parlor here in La Verne.” Hamm says there have been requests for tattoo business licenses, but she does not know why they have never been approved. “It could be that they find the process [of getting a business license] to be too complicated,” she says.
Tattooing is not new. It was widely practiced by ancient civilizations as a form of art. The first evidence of tattooing traces back to Egypt, where mummies of the 11th Dynasty have been found tattooed with a blackish pigment.
For others, like the Greeks and Romans, slaves were tattooed with “Stop me” or “I’m a runaway” on their foreheads. Centuries later during the Holocaust, Jews were also forcefully tattooed. For many people of Jewish descent, tattoos are now considered a form of branding and are viewed as shameful.
Don Pollock, professor of communications, who is of Jewish descent, says, “The Jewish believe that there is a Messiah that is going to come to save them. In order to be saved you must be perfect. By having a tattoo, that makes you imperfect.” He says that during the Holocaust the Jews were branded and robbed of that perfectness they sought.
Modern laser technology now allows individuals to reverse the former permanent mark of a tattoo. The procedure is nearly painless and averages about six treatments to remove a tattoo.
As a form of expression, body piercing has gained in popularity within the last 10 years. Jeremy Houska, junior psychology major, says, “Mainstream society automatically labels people who have body piercing and tattoos differently. That is why I no longer have my ears pierced.” Instead, two years ago Houska had his genitals pierced. “I am open about my piercing because that is how I am. Not because I am a ‘promiscuous, sexual deviant,’ as one who doesn’t know me may assume,” Houska says. “I got the piercing done partially because of the beauty aspect of it and partially for pleasuring my partner sexually,”he says.
Allison Evans, senior English major, says that she finds belly and nose piercings to be cool. However, “I think it’s unattractive when people go crazy and have piercings everywhere.”
For people receiving the piercings, the threshold of pain varies. Some find it excruciating, while others take it in stride. “To be perfectly honest I nearly blacked out,” recalls Houska. “It is an experience I will always remember.”
Senior diversified major Diana Verduzco had her belly button pierced two years ago. “I almost fainted,” Verduzco recalls. “I got up really quick, and I did not let my blood circulate, so I almost passed out.”
Both Houska and Joines advise to those interested in getting a tattoo or piercing to make sure they are well informed, and that the place is clean.
The fee for piercings and tattoos varies. The minimum fee for either is approximately $45.
Former Governor Pete Wilson signed a legislation in 1997 requiring parental approval before minors could receive tattoos or body piercings. For piercings, one needs to be accompanied by a parent. “I card everybody,” says 63-year old piercing artist Jim Kearney with a smirk. “I had a 76-year old man come in to pierce both his nipples, and I still carded him.”
Tony Salgado, a tattoo artist for Classic Tattoo, advises to “look for quality and think about it and be sure of what you really want. What appeals to you in life.”