I awoke at dawn, eager to greet the day.
I surveyed my dominion, but soon found that something had gone afoul. Scrawled across many of of my toys, clothes and other belongings was “Corey is a …” in the kind of penmanship only capable of children in Pre-K. I ran to my mother, in tears, demanding to know what it said.
“Corey is a fox,” it said, over and over. I was devastated. I was 3 years old.
My brother had just started Pre-K and in a fit of rage, strung together some of the only words he knew how to spell as a way to attack me.
But in much the same way that Tyrion Lannister suggests of our identities that we “wear it like armor, and it can never be used to hurt you” so too did I wear it like a badge of honor. The animated version of Robin Hood, all the Star Fox video games (especially making Fox McCloud my main in Super Smash Bros.) … I’ve just always been obsessed with foxes because of this. It’s been an in-joke in the family for my whole life. When Internet monikers became a “thing,” the choice was obvious: You can find me on Instagram and Twitter as @coreyisafox.
When the Dare came for our tattoo issue, the choice was again obvious. I would overcome my anxious fear of skin-commitment and get a tattoo to represent my lifelong experience, and obsession, with foxes. The fox has always been my spirit animal, would be my obvious patronus, and now, it’s my single tattoo.
I think you all should know before this really gets started, but I have a very low threshold for pain. I’ve fainted a number of times in my life, get woozy when my blood sugar gets low and I used to have a morbid fear of needles. Eh, I still do. The last time I donated blood I passed out, smashed my head open, and had to ride in an ambulance to the ER. With slurred speech, I deliriously tried to assure the EMT that I was fine and didn’t need medical attention while he wrapped my head in bandages.
I put my fears aside and threw myself headlong into this experience.
It seems only fitting that I reach out to a childhood friend for such a serious decision. Jon Gorman, a tattoo artist working for Providence Tattoo was a good friend when we were very, very young. We bumped into each other a few years back and he told me all about his enthusiasm for being a tattoo artist. Much like how we can never trust a skinny chef, we can never trust a clean-skinned tattoo artist, and Jon has a lot of great ink.
Jon’s been a tattoo artist for 10 years. He apprenticed under Dennis Del Prete, who owns and operates both Providence Tattoo shops, one on Angell St and one on Atwells Ave. Del Prete himself actually did Jon’s back tattoo years ago. Jon’s portfolio is littered with detailed tattoos in both color and black, along with a number of animals both abstract and lifelike, which was perfect for what I was going for. Even better? He already had the rusted orange ink from a fox he did a few months ago.
I reached out via Facebook where Jon and I were able to talk about scheduling and design ideas. I considered a dapperly dressed anthropomorphized fox, not unlike a faux Fantastic Mr. Fox, but it would have been a bit too complex for the size I was looking for. We brainstormed, each independently researching some base images and other examples. The back and forth went on for a few days until I stumbled upon a simple but detailed side profile of a fox’s head. And that was that!
It was really interesting to work with an artist like Jon while planning the thing out. My impression of the experience was always the stereotype of badass people wandering in, getting tattoos of hearts or skulls or motorcycles or something to do with flaming heart skullcycles. I’m ignorant. I know this.
For the longest time, it was illegal in a lot of places. Jon explained, “Some people attribute the vibrant RI tattoo community to the fact that in Mass[achusetts] it was illegal until about 15 years ago.” In contemporary tattooing, it’s trendy to think of your body as a canvas for art. Though classic tattoos are still popular, the newer norm is similar to what I did: Work with your artist on a creative design and then bring it to fruition, which I did recently.
I showed up for the appointment at Atwells Ave early to fill out the paperwork and was shocked. Who knew you had to initial in so many places? There was almost two full pages of clauses including things like recognition of the ink’s permanency, the assurance that planned designs don’t always come out exact and that infection can and does happen. It rattled me only slightly as Jon set things up in one of the cubicle-like areas in Providence Tattoo’s Atwells Ave location, so I sipped extra hard on my bottle of OJ.
The feeling of lying facedown on a massage-esque table while Jon prepped the equipment felt oddly like a very serious dentist appointment. The needles are a bit loud, the lights a bit bright and the fear was real. Jon used carbon paper and a print-out of the sketch to form a stencil that he was then able to slap onto my back with the outline.
As I braced for impact, he told me he was just going to draw a small line to break the ice. A sharp inhale. A wince. BZZZT.
If we’re being perfectly honest, getting a tattoo really fucking hurts. It really does. But it’s not as bad as I expected it to be. You know when you’re getting a haircut and the barber accidentally pokes you in the head with the corner of the electric buzzer? It’s just like that. But instead of release and bumbling out an apology, they dig a bit deeper and drag it across your skin.
I think to help ease the pain, Jon kept chatting throughout the procedure (do you call it a procedure?). “It wouldn’t be badass if it didn’t hurt, right?” Hurt it did, but I don’t know if I’m a badass.
“I consider myself fortunate to be able to make a good living by being an artist like this,” Jon said at some point. We got a bit philosophical by the end, which I’m grateful for so I could be distracted from the pain. Permanently scraping ink into your skin can seem like such a strange thing in a way, but a lot of people do it because they want to assert some kind of change in themselves. One of the last things Jon said to me before he finished up really stuck with me: “When you really think about it, tattooing is one of the most arcane and ancient forms of expression there is.”
The fox tattoo on my back left shoulder has a fiercely detailed face. I guess you could say he’s watching my back for life now, huh? I took my dare to finally get a tattoo. Will you?