I didn’t get my first tattoo until I was in my early 30s—partly because I was always broke and partly because they hurt pretty bad, but mostly because every tattoo idea I came up with until then I later discarded on grounds of being tacky or insipid. Consequently, I’m that lucky person in their 40s who still likes all their pieces.
I have eight in all, ranging from the sentimental (a shoulder piece of my dog, Dudley, who I miss very much) to the ridiculous (a vaporwave-style Mr. Smithers, from The Simpsons) to the naughty (I’ll never tell). My most recent one is of Janice from The Muppets with the words “CHAOS MUPPET” above and below her in a heavy-metal font. It’s on my left calf, and it was by far the stupidest and most excruciating.
When people say tattoos are addictive, they’re telling the truth. But after the first half dozen, they no longer have to mean anything deeply personal, so when I learned that 20-year-old Inner Sunset institution One Shot Tattoo offered a get-what-you-get option, the nihilistic absurdity of it was too tantalizing to pass up.
Here’s how it works: You pay $100 to get two quarters from a Russian nesting doll, which you then insert into a gumball machine that’s filled with plastic bubbles, each containing a pre-drawn design. They’re all in the “American traditional” style, that set of recognizable and often nautical motifs—mermaids, anchors, stars—usually in simple colors and outlined in black.
I was pulling for a flamingo, because they’re my power animal. I would have been happy with a heart, a rose or even a skull. The only thing I didn’t want was a butterfly. Although certainly lovely creatures, they’re a little too on-the-nose for a nonbinary trans person, metaphorically speaking. With get-what-you-get, you can only place the design on an arm or a leg, and let’s face it: Butterflies rightfully belong on the lower back!
If you truly hate what you get, you can pay an extra $10 for another turn at the gumball machine. Gritting my teeth as I unpopped the bubble, I opened my eyes and saw I had gotten a devil—specifically, the 1950s comics character Hot Stuff the Little Devil.
It’s a pudgy, adorable Satan, facing left, with horns and a pointy tail—hardly a terrifying Baphomet or something that looks like I bargained my soul for an actual indwelling of Lucifer. In the tarot, drawing the Devil card can mean breaking free from what’s holding you back, which is a good enough symbol for me.
Violet, my amiable One Shot artist, is the daughter of the owner Dave Bobrick, so she grew up in the world of tattooing and didn't mind me peppering her with questions about her craft while she worked on me. Her Satan design was mostly red—obviously—with blue shorts and a few little dabs of carnation pink that glow under a black light.
Every time I get a tattoo, the same thing happens. I feel serenely prepared until I hear the gun switch on, and then I seize up trying to recall just how much it hurt last time. The pain is always fine until it’s not, but then I breathe rhythmically until it’s manageable again.
This time was no different. The agony of anticipation gave way to giggling that, yes, I will carry this evil little deity with me forever and, yes, I will submit an expense report for reimbursement. When it was over, I got a surge of endorphins that made me gleefully manic.
Violet finished in well under an hour and, unlike all my previous tattoos, it barely itched as it healed. Of course my parents hate it, but what are you going to do? Some people have the devil on their shoulder, but I have him on my left bicep, which means I can easily kiss him for luck while plotting my next design.
📍 One Shot Tattoo | 555 Irving St., SF
🎟️ $100 (with optional second choice for $10)
Astrid Kane can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org