This is something I wrote sometime in 2008 when I still worked at the tattoo shop. Just got around to posting it now.
With the exception of traffic violations, it’s hard for me to yell and curse at an elderly person. Family member or not. Big mouth or not. Colostomy bag or not. I maintain my honesty to those who may have known me from my younger piss-and-vinegar years. How can one take advantage of them? The fragility and instability of their bodies, bones and skin; the inevitable decline in sharpness and clarity of their mind, all the things that lead them to being weak. There is no room in my paradigm to allow for that motive.
It was a Thursday night. The shop was closed, the open sign off, and just a couple of tattoo machines buzzing away and near completion of their projects, but the door was unlocked.
With her shyness liquidated by a moderate to high amount of alcohol, she walked into the shop with her gray hair salon-fresh, high heels that would’ve stunned the gentlemen in 1946, and a black dress with white floral print. Typical old lady. A monthly social security check. A few kids in any state but Florida. Angry at the driver in front of her and behind her. Angry at her neighbors.
Something looked off. Something didn’t look right. Something was amiss. She had a bulge under her dress from her belly that was not reminiscent of obesity as it didn’t have the curvature of McDonald’s and high fructose corn syrup-induced fat to match the thinness of her arms and legs. This object jutting out interrupted her appearance like dynamite on a suicide bomber. I couldn’t pull my eyes away from the magnetizing effect of her bulge. What the fuck was she carrying under there?
Mike looked up from the tattoo he was doing. “How’s it going, ma’am?”
Ignoring him, her feeble body starting walking around the shop, looking at everything we had on display on the walls and counters.
“I need to use your bathroom.” She says, answering his question in a way.
“Number one or number two?” Asked humorously by Mike. Easily detectable as a joke unless you’re drunk and your sense of humor left with your sense of shyness. We don’t usually ask our customers the liquid/solid question, but on this one occasion, it would prove to be one issue she probably did not want brought up.
“Well, don’t worry about that…”
“Number two?” Mike asked.
“Nope, I got number two in here,” she said, divulging the secret of the bulge as she patted the colostomy bag hidden beneath her dress like she just ate a fulfilling turkey dinner. Her patting on the bag caused the contents to jiggle and create a sound similar to that of squeezing a sandwich bag filled with chocolate syrup – or someone patting their colostomy bag.
“But first,” as she interrupted her trip to the bathroom, “I want to get a price on a tat.”
She actually used the word “tat.”
Not wanting to further interrupt his work, Mike pointed at me. “Talk to him!”
“What are you interested in doing,” I asked her.
“A dolphin tattoo.”
“Flipper or the other guy?”
“No, not flipper. Not the mammal. The one up there,” she informed me pointing to the mahi hanging on the wall above Matt’s station.
“Oh, I guess on my ankle,” she said, lifting up her dress to reveal her small feet and thin ankles.
“Ok. When are you looking to get it done?”
“In a month or so, but hold on, I need to go to the bathroom.”
It was apparent at this point that the woman was a little strange. Drunk, but still innocent with no intent to harm, physically or emotionally. In the bathroom, I can only assume that she emptied the contents of her colostomy bag in our toilet considering her hesitancy on answering the Number one/Number two question, which is fine, because we are not in the business of discriminating against people who are unable to normally release fecal matter through the traditional tunnel. If it was me, I would have emptied the contents out in the parking lot, but some people have a bit more couth than I do.
I waited for her to come out of the bathroom to finish our discussion and killed time by cleaning up around the shop. Finally, she exited the lavatory.
Reigniting the conversation, she asks, “Who’s the Great Masturbator?”
“Dali.” I told her.
“Oh,” she replied, satisfied with my answer. And she began to walk around the shop. She walked into Shannon’s room and looked at each and every piece of artwork. Then she walked into the drawing room and did the same thing. She did this around the entire shop like she was considering buying the place As Is and with each fragile and cautious step that she took, she confirmed her age, her frailty, her closeness to death.
I let her do her thing and survey the area and I went outside to smoke a cigarette. Mike came out and asked me to talk to her as she was apparently nosing around the shop and getting in the way of everyone’s work. I opened the door while she was walking towards me.
“How’s it going?” I asked, opting for the usual approach at initiating conversation despite the fact that no one who has ever asked this question ever cared about the answer and prefers to hear “pretty good” rather than a prolegomenon to a life story filled with rough times, abusive childhoods, and shitty bosses.
“How much for a dolphin?”
“How big?” A pretty necessary question considering the price difference between a tiny tattoo and an entire back piece.
This is the point where she loses it.
“What are you stoned?” She barked at me with an annoyed head twitch and eye roll that only her insanity could rationalize. She was looking at me like I was drinking the contents of her colostomy bag. The impatience of putting up with other people’s shit for the past seventy years all caught up with her at that very moment and she took it out on me by accusing me of working while intoxicated.
If this was some wisecracking seventeen year old yo-dawg or juggalo, I would have responded aggressively. It was just weeks before this event that I was standing outside of my home with brass knuckles and a stiletto knife waiting to send a very deserving drunk to the hospital.
But this was an old lady. A mouthy old lady. A feisty old trout. An impatient, mouthy, feisty, AARP card carrying member. And by the way she was lazily, cautiously, and, geriatrically walking around the shop, I could tell she was not only frail and old, but drunk. And she might be the rudest person to walk in there in weeks, but it’s still hard to return the rudeness to someone who would be knocked out by the wind of your punch.
“Actually, ma’am, I don’t smoke -”
But before I could defend myself and explain to her that I’m not the Cheech and Chong fan she was looking to knock over with her purse, Matt jumped up out of his chair from behind me. He would never let this opportunity escape him. Her patting her colostomy bag was a little weird. Asking me who the Great Masturbator is was a little weird. But now the situation was going to get awkward.
“Lady, you got no business talking to him like that, now what do you want!” The directness and firmness in his voice was reminiscent of a state trooper and executed with complete and total dominance. Not a trace of bullshit in the air.
“A dolphin,” she said, pointing again to the mahi on the wall, “this big.” She used her thumb and index finger to indicate the size of a half dollar.
“Ma’am, that’s a mahi, not a dolphin.”
“No! That’s a dolphin!” Her frustration was overflowing.
“Lady, that right there is a mahi, not a dolphin. The shop is closed and you need to get the fuck out.”
She started to leave, but not without blowing off some steam in the process.
“Mr. Know-It-All thinks that’s a mahi,” she angrily mumbled while she passed us.
“Whatever you crazy lady. I know a shit load more than you’ll ever know.”
“It appears you don’t know much.”
“Lady you don’t know shit. Look who’s stoned now?”
She mumbled incoherent arguments in a battle of who’s more stupid, but they never reached our ears.
“Looks like someone left a door open at Savannah’s [a local mental health facility!”
She stepped into her gold Saturn, sat there for a moment, then finally pulled away. And as she left and we all joked about how completely senile this woman was, I still felt sad that this little old lady had to defend herself alone in the shop. Although she crossed a boundary and should’ve been put it in her place, I find it easier to let her voice the frustrations of her golden years, in whatever form she wants to while placing the blame on whoever for whatever, than to engage her in battle.
The next day, we saw her park her gold Saturn outside in the same spot then walk into the bar, but she never walked through our doors to empty her colostomy bag.