I have always been a wanderer, happy to be on the road, excited to see new things. I still am. But blogging has changed my perspective. I think more about what will make a good story, and what photos I should take to illustrate the story. I do more research. Sometimes I think, “Damn! This resembles work.” Posts have to be written, photos processed, deadlines met. The thought passes quickly, however. Blogging has made my travels more meaningful and interesting. On occasion, it has even led me down paths I might never have taken. Today’s blog is a good example.
I was taking advantage of Starbucks’ free Wi-Fi in Fort Bragg, California to check in on my WordPress blog when a promotion came up listing “things to do in Fort Bragg.” I expected options like ‘visit Mendocino,’ or ‘go for a walk on the coast,’ etc. Much to my surprise and bemusement, number one on the list was a tour of the Triangle Tattoo and Museum at 356 N Main Street. It caught my attention. I had never been in a tattoo parlor, much less a tattoo museum. The thought of someone scratching an animal, flower, skull, naked woman, snake, dragon, Mother, or even Popeye the Sailor Man on me sends my skin scooting away in hasty retreat. I am a wimp when it comes to such things. Even a trip to the dentist seems like more fun.
But I was hooked. I had to go. I packed away my laptop, pulled out my camera, and headed downtown. I didn’t have a clue what I was getting myself into, which often makes for the very best adventures. I was greeted by a wonderfully garish stairway and begin my climb upward, nervously.
Madam Chinchilla was waiting for me at the top.
Whatever I was expecting, she wasn’t it— she is an absolutely delightful, attractive, and charming woman in her late 60s, tattooed from head to toe. Over the next hour she served as my tour guide. We started out at the business end of the parlor where Mr. G., her partner in the business since 1986, was busily tattooing his pharmacist. Next she took me into her studio and told me to take all of the pictures I wanted. The walls were covered with photos of her life and interests. There was even a picture of her mom, proudly displaying some fish she had caught.
The museum reflected tattooing down through the ages and within various cultures. Masks reminded me of my time in West Africa as a Peace Corps Volunteer. I thought of Sam, the young man who worked for me, and the scarification/tattoos on his chest that represented marks made by the Bush Devil’s teeth, an experience reflected in my book title about my Peace Corps experience: The Bush Devil Ate Sam. Modern tattoo machines are much more sophisticated than whatever tool was used to carve Sam’s skin. The control of depth, speed, and force of the needle allowed by tattoo machines has turned tattooing into an art form.
There is more to the museum than tattooing, however. Numerous photos and artifacts, such as boots and a sword, serve as a memorial to Captain Don Leslie, a world-renowned sword swallower and circus sideshow attraction. Madame Chinchilla and Mr. G had befriended Captain Don in 1986 when they had first started their tattoo business. It was a friendship that had grown and lasted up until the Captain passed away in 2007. His presence is still very much felt at Triangle Tattoo. In 2010, Madam Chinchilla published a biography on Leslie that she had co-written with Jan Hinson. I bought a copy, which I read that night and was immediately transported back in time to when the circus came to town.
As I was leaving the museum, Madam Chinchilla left me with two thoughts. One was that “the human body is a historical site for the inscription of culture and its history/herstory.” The other was about how popular tattooing has become— it is now mainstream. Judging from all of the tattoos I see around me, I have to agree, but I am still not going to offer my body up as a tattoo artist’s canvass.
NEXT BLOG: This blog completes my North Coast series but provides an excellent introduction to my Burning Man series. I am running it now to coincide with the time that Burners prepare to buy their 2016 tickets. The 2015 theme was Carnival and is the subject of my first blog. Captain Don would have loved it. In fact he would have quickly become a main attraction. Join me.