“What does this tattoo mean?” the guy shouted over the hammering music and touched my forearm. I flinched and looked up – and right then another guy charged at me from my right, through the darkness and a thick wall of paraffin smoke. He grabbed at the ledge of the skate ramp we were sitting on and clambered up. I relaxed, just someone else looking for a quiet place to sit down. We were holed up in a small alcove above the skate ramp to drink the beers we had smuggled in past the doormen. It was dark apart from one led light lancing the paraffin smoke. The alcove was behind one of the screens of the techno party, a little haven away from the dancers and the lights.
The guy who spoke to me looked like he was in his early 20’s – a round faced dude with a red wool cap, wearing basic UG gear. I looked down on my forearm. It has been some time since anyone had asked that. The last time I heard someone tell what their tattoos meant was in the late 90’s. Was a meaning in tattoos even a thing anymore?
“I modeled it after…” I searched for the term, drew a blank, with only the term pleistosene popping into my mind, something that felt was almost there, but not quite. “…a sea dinosaur” I continued meekly. The guy stared at the tattoo and looked genuinely interested. The music kept hammering, the wall behind my back made my teeth rattle and eyes vibrate whenever I leaned back.
“I drew it myself, but then realized skulls of reptiles look like an umbrella that’s been ran over by a car. So, I gave up on realism and stylized it up.”
The guy chuckled. The music pounded, an arm appeared from the smoke and placed a can of beer on the edge of the ramp. A second later anoter guy ran full tilt at us, grabbed the edge and sat down in one fluid movement, without breaking the sentence he was saying to his friend still down in the smoke.
What did my tattoos mean? “What it means, uh… Well, it had plenty of meaning for the 20 year old me”, I said. ‘Plesiosaur!’ screamed my memory that was late on the uptake. ‘Triassic age… ish?‘ The guy kept staring at me and then I realized the fact: I couldn’t remember the half-serious meaning I had assigned to the ink 19 years ago, which left me blinking. It had been so important to me back at the time.
The guy switched his attention to Heli sitting next to me. “So what’s your name?” She told her first name, and the guys eyes suddenly got sharp and focused. “Is your driver’s license with you? I think I found it.”
We chuckled, she started going over her bag. I was still thinking about the age-old outdated meaning of my 20 year old ink while watching Heli dig through her bag. Out came the can of beer we had wrapped in gloves to hide the others under it – a cylinder of black wool with little flaccid knitted fingers flapping on both ends.
When did plesiosaurs actually live?
Heli’s smile turned slowly into a rictus.
“You can’t find you wallet?”
The guy interjected.
“Well, I actually found not an ID, but a small brown wallet. I gave it to the door guy.”
Suddenly Heli whipped out her phone and handed it over.
“Is this your number, the one in red?” she said, showing her phone. There had been a mysterious phone call earlier in the evening we had missed. The guy studied the phone for a few seconds.
“Yea, that’s me.”
The throng was dancing in a lazy Helsinki techno party way. Ploughing through the dancers was easier than trying to navigate past the feeling that whatever the epiphany had been behind the tattoo, now it would be hopelessly trite. Dinosaur, bones, sea… Something in me… had died? Sounds about right for the level of melodrama I lived and breathed then.
It took the guy and Heli some time to get the attention of the door man and the cloak room attendants. They were friendly but dismissive, preoccupied with a gaggle of partygoers arriving to the club and not really listening to what was told to them. While we waited for the newcomers to sort out their clothes, the guy told us that he’d tried to call the police and find out the owner of the wallet. Heli peeked over the cloak room counter, looking for the lost and found box, and refusing to leave and take no for an answer. Her persistence paid off. Suddenly one of the cloak room guys was holding her wallet.
A moment later, on the bar, I was still thinking about the ink, relieved about how the whole wallet episode went. She promised him a hundred beers, I bought him one.
Then the mood just turned weirdly uncomfortable.
He was a nice, friendly and helpful guy, who could have gotten so many more free beers.