Skulking around at a tattoo parlor.

November 5th, 2013, 1pm

Red Rocket Tattoo is on the third floor of a walkup building on West 37th, right in the armpit of New York. The stairwell walls are covered in framed tattoo templates: skulls, geishas, stereos, storm troopers, machine guns, Indian women with big feather headdresses, robots, roses, lips (“I LOVE GORDON”), spaceships (“WANDERLUST”), circus freaks (“STEP RIGHT UP”).

A long list of “Rocket Rules” hangs on the first floor landing. Number one: You must be 18 or older to get tattooed. Number three: This is an ADULT ESTABLISHMENT. This is NOT a daycare center. Number Five: NO ATTITUDES.

The waiting room manages to look dingy without seeming unclean. The long, L-shaped couch is brown pleather, with squashed, sighing pillows. A high school biology lab skeleton is perched in the corner. A taxidermy coyote silently howls by the front door. The vestibule is filled with the white noise of needles.

A sturdy metal table is piled high with black portfolios, organized by artist and theme. More tattoo templates and photographs: tribal signs, bug-eyed aliens, Chinese characters, double helices, Yoda, Buddha, flappers with no eyeballs in their sockets, rats, babes, Marie Antoinette, pirate ships atop blue frosted cupcakes (with sprinkles). Tattoos of men with tattoos riding old-fashioned bicycles. Barebreasted women with monarch butterflies covering their crotches. A sewing machine and spool of thread (“MAKE STUFF”). A skull and crossbones made out of eggs and bacon (“I HATE BRUNCH”).

Despite their boundless body art options, Red Rocket’s customers were playing it safe on the afternoon I visited. A gentleman wearing an American flag scarf asked the receptionist what the smallest available tattoo size was. An aging Frenchman in a black windbreaker had stopped by with his identically dressed wife so that he could get Snoopy tattooed on his arm. Fortunately the receptionist was bilingual. Two young British women came in toting Toys R Us and Hard Rock Cafe bags— one requested a red delicious apple design on her wrist.

Located just blocks away from Times Square, it appears Red Rocket is the conveniently positioned parlor where tourists go to get inked. It’s the spot where New York City first-timers come for the ultimate souvenir.

Shu and Christine said thanks.

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Annie Massa

I'm a journalist. I like denim, early mornings and hot sauce.

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