Oliver Vog is a talented tattooist from Cologne. I met him in the back of Danny’s studio, drawing away Turkish and Ottoman themed flash. Perhaps he had been promised customers, perhaps not but few had arrived since his announced arrival in Istanbul. Not having anything to do with Oliver’s work, which as mentioned was excellent, but due to the almost serious collapse of Istanbulites taking of tattoos. I looked over his fezes, flaming daggers, evil eyes and hookah pipes, ready to be burned into a Turk’s skin at any moment. Oliver was tall, blonde, blue eyed, with a sturdy, stocky body. Like any artist of his trade, he was covered in evidence of his craft. His beard had a sight point in it and the fedora fit on his hat without an ounce of pretentiousness. He had a soft, voice of a medium tone and spoke to anyone in the most respectful way possible without being timid. He beamed with an understated kindness, but also stood with the confidence of a man who would cut your throat if he needed to— the type of person you might want to count as your friend in the time of an unexpected catastrophe.
“Vud yu like a tattoo?” he asked as he watched me look over his art. I lamented that I hadn’t the money to spend on tattoos at this particular moment in my life. “I’m waiting to make it big as an English teacher in Constantinople” I said. “Oh no, ther vil be no charrge. I vant to practice mein flower. Can I put it un your laig?” the gentleman from Cologne asked. I agreed without a moment of hesitation. “Too eager”, I immediately thought. I felt like I was committing some minor sin, allowing a thoroughly accomplished tattoo artist from a country with hoards of serious artists of this marking of the flesh trade, but I couldn’t say no. He had offered, it would actually be an insult to refuse his flower.
“Haus you leg?” he asked in his excellent but Tuetonically-flavored English. “My legs are mostly empty.” “Vunderbaar. De side of the shin vould go nicely.” I agreed but warned him that there would be much shaving required before he could begin The Marking. “Dun’t vurry, I have verked in Turkey before” he remarked with a lovely grin.
The bed was prepared, the mass of hair was scraped away, the equipment and ink was readied and i lied on my side with one of Danny’s classical art books, on Degas or someone like him. “Figures… I picked the only impressionist who officially sided with the fascists”.
Oliver turned on his machine, dipped his needle into the ink and moved towards my leg. I waited for the prick, that precious injection, the joyous Little Stab to begin. I kept waiting. I felt the faintest sensation, but nothing more, as if he was keeping the needle above my skin. This continued for minutes. “Oliver…you can put the needle in completely…”
“Wat? I am. I have a special majchine.”
Oliver, inexplicably, had a machine that was considerably softer than what I was used to experiencing. His speed was standard for outlines. I felt mostly nothing for the first thirty minutes. However, that feeling drastically changed as he worked his needle towards and above my shin bone. Now I felt it—yes, you couldn’t miss the needle marking you into the shin. Professional muay thai fighters, being used to taking kicks to the shins endlessly throughout the day, will roll steel bars back and forth across them at night, the permanently kill the nerved. Let me just say I am no muay thai fighter. I played soccer as a teenager. I had always wished the game was a little more violent than how we play it. I felt like some punching, full body shots and sidekicks should’ve been allowed (Rugby wasn’t offered in Georgia at the time and I found American football stupid, never understand the constant stopping and starting, in addition to all of those pads and smothering, blinding helmet.) But there was and still is a distinct unpleasantness of being kicked in the shins, even for the most seasoned sado-masochist macho-striving teenage adrenaline-slave. That feeling of a direct, solid smack to the middle of the shinbone when your shin pad had moved off to the side, can knock all but the most determined human off their rhythm.
Now, I wasn’t having to suffer through some redbulled-up young man straight up leg cracking me, but I was getting a new experience, the more relaxed and acute sensation of a prolonged needle jabbing into the shin. It was worth it. After the initial surprise, I began, like many others to thoroughly enjoy it. Oliver moved back throughout the 8inch x 5 inch area. Outlines, colors, shading. It would take him over two hours, as this required diligence. Towards the end I began to show the a dreaded Weakness. This was a serious mistake in these areas.
One did not, could not do this. In pre-modern societies, from Tahiti to Japan, a major purpose of the tattooing of one man to another was this necessary demonstration of strength and to keep this poker face to the Master in the face of hours and hours, many times days of pricking and poking of a needle in the hand, into the flesh. Among societies in Polynesia, one did not leave boyhood unless he had, among other things, correctly lived through the process of near-full body tattoos. Rites of passage, uniform to pre-modern societies, are almost gone from our’s. The comedian Joe Rogan has remarked “The Universe favors bravery. It doesn’t want weak bitches (men) spreading their seed”. In the United States among our younger generations, this is not a sentiment that can be said to be uniform or even held by the majority of males or females, where displays of traditionally masculine characteristics can have any male accused of sexism and misogyny . Not so in Turkey or in the Great Nation of Deustchland for that matter.
I was just getting a tattoo, like billions of others. This was not some difficult, remarkable feat. However, fidgeting, moaning or bursting into tears is not seen as appropriate behavior by almost anyone. Ayca noticed my discomfort and ratched up some Tom Waits on the stereo. I’m not sure if Ayca cared at all for the melodic moaning of Waits but she’d noticed I had showed a recent, mild obsession with it. Oliver also noticed my discomfort. “Hoe are we doing??” he asked over the hum of the machine. I said I was fine, but was admitted I might need a break soon. “I am almost don mae friend. Do you feel it now?”. I had to tell him I did. “Dat is fine” he said as he continued to work, but then paused, looked into my eyes and gently but firmly asked “But are we not Men?”
Oliver produced a valuable tattoo that sweltering, summer day.