Posted on 04 October 2014.
For some people, tattoos are therapeutic. So it’s no irony that Michael Moten, a licensed massage therapist, practices out of the Texas Tattoo and Co. parlor in Decatur.
RETIREMENT PLAN – Michael Moten got his first tattoo 15 years ago and has gotten dozens more since then. About a year ago, he began giving them. “I went to school for massage therapy,” he said. “That was my passion. But then when I started doing this, therapy took the backseat. This is my retirement plan.” Messenger Photo by Joe Duty
A year-and-a-half ago, at the insistence of friends, he added one more tool to his belt of ways to help people relax – a tattoo gun.
“Everything just fell into place,” he said. “The same tables that we use to tattoo on are the same that we use in massaging. Everybody started asking me about doing tattoos, and once I did it, it was pretty much addicting.”
Just like getting the ink.
Moten, 32, got his first tattoo at age 17 – his last name.
“When I got it done, I liked the way it was, and it went from there,” he said. “Some people get one tattoo and they’re like, ‘It hurt too bad. No more.’ Me, I got one tattoo and I wanted a lot more.”
That included angel wings down his back, representative of his daughters, age 3 and 7, who he calls his angels.
On one leg, dubbed the “power leg,” there are portraits of the likes of Martin Luther King Jr., Jimi Hendrix and Malcolm X.
“My great-grandmother hates tattoos, but she likes some of those,” he said. “That’s cool. At least she likes one of them.”
BACK INK – Michael Moten has gotten tattoos in honor of his children, including angel wings all down his back for his daughters, who he calls his angels. Messenger Photo by Joe Duty
He also has the state of Texas, a cross, his nickname, a spiderweb, tributes to his younger sister and son as well as his score on the national exam for massage therapy licensing.
As a tattoo artist, he’s had all kinds of requests – from in memory tattoos to ’90s babies” marks like Ninja Turtles and Nintendo games, as well as military marks.
Among the most popular are script, flowers and the infinity symbol.
The most random one he’s done is a silhouette of birds.
“Any kind of saying, and then they’ll put birds behind it,” he said. “I don’t know why, but a lot of people get that. Some people have good sayings behind them, and then some people, they just get them to get them done.
“Everybody has their own reasons behind getting a tattoo,” he said. “It could be having a kid. That’s when a lot of people come in and get their first tattoo. A death in the family. A lot of girls that have best friends, and they’ll come in and get a tattoo like peanut butter and jelly, stuff like that.
“It’s a good bonding experience for moms and daughters, fathers and sons. We even had a grandma bring her grandson in as a graduation present.”
The thoughts that prompted the ink are worth exploring.
A MOTHER’S LOVE – Cat Lafitte commemorated the birth of her daughter, Moxy, now 5, with a tattoo on her left shoulder of a mother holding up her daughter. The rest of her ink work remains unfinished. Messenger Photo by Joe Duty
Cat Lafitte of Springtown got her first tattoo at age 17.
“And that was going to be the only thing that I got,” she said. “Something small and tasteful, something symbolic, where nobody could see it.”
So she had a Celtic knot inked on her lower back.
“I wanted a symbol, not an object like a bird,” she said. “That was it.”
Then a friend bought a tattoo gun and offered to give her another one in exchange for the practice, for free.
“That should’ve been a red flag right there,” she laughed. “But I was 18 and thought, ‘What a great deal!'”
The tattoo was so badly done she was forced to go to a shop to fix it. She then had the idea to have her family crest across her back as an honor to her ancestors.
“And it just went on from there,” she said. “Basically every few months, once a year, I would have some brilliant idea that I would have to get.”
Among those ideas were a sacred heart on her heart, a bunny and a kitty. Some have spiritual significance. Others, like the one on her left shoulder of a mother holding up her baby, mark life milestones like the birth of her daughter, Moxy, now 5.
“I was so happy to be able to be a mother,” she said. “I waited a long time and was very responsible in waiting and finally got to do that.”
Lafitte also started in on the theme of duality – nature and technology, water and fire, past and future, east and west.
She envisioned the finished product – ink across her back and arms. And although the line work is there, the pieces are not all colored in.
After a series of events in her life, Lafitte was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder in the spring of 2011.
“I used to have a really high tolerance for pain,” she said. “Now just even the sounds of the machine and the smells get me worked up. All these things I wouldn’t have thought about twice before, is magnified. Blood, being injured, pain – before I was a police officer, I was a nurse’s assistant. Now I can’t look at wounds. I used to be a cop, now I’m like, ‘Don’t tell me a story about a snake.’ It’s ridiculous.”
Although not being able to complete the work is frustrating, she recognizes the symbolism.
“It’s sad, but I’ve just kind of accepted the facts. Every tattoo tells a story,” she said. “The fact that mine are unfinished kind of tells the story of what happened in my life.”
INK CONFLICT – Although he has ink all over, Sgt. 1st Class Danny Anderson must turn away potential recruits with tattoos that do not meet regulations enacted in March regarding the number, size and placement of tattoos. Messenger Photo by Joe Duty
Army National Guard recruiter Danny Anderson finds himself in a bit of a dilemma.
The 42-year-old enlisted 25 years ago. Since that time, he’s gotten more than 30 pieces inked on his body in places ranging from his fingers, all down his arms and across his back.
But he is having to turn away some people interested in joining the military because of new tattoo regulations.
In an effort to “maintain the professional appearance of the force,” the Army in March passed restrictions on the number, size and placement of ink for new recruits.
Sleeve tattoos are banned, and a person can have no more than four tattoos below the elbows and the knees. Those pieces must be smaller than the size of the person’s palm with fingers extended.
Ink on the face, neck and hands, as well as work that can be deemed extremist, indecent, sexist or racist, is not allowed.
“I’ve got six right here in Decatur, otherwise perfectly qualified, that I’ve turned away,” Anderson said. “That’s a huge number for a recruiter when my yearly mission is 24.”
Although he understands the military’s perspective, it doesn’t make his job any easier.
“We have a lot of gangs in the military that we’re trying to weed out, and they think that the tattoos are going to knock a bunch of that out,” he said. “But it’s difficult for me being a recruiter with full sleeves to go and tell somebody they’re not eligible. I hope they change something.”
For him, getting tattooed is a stress reliever.
“It just relaxes you because you’re not focused on everything going on,” he said. “You’re just focusing on that moment. It’s not pain, because I haven’t had a tattoo hurt yet. You just forget about everything else you’re doing for those 30 minutes or three hours, depending on the tattoo.”
Most of his have a meaning, whether it’s military or religion.
He got his first tattoo, a black panther, after completing basic training for the Navy.
“Once I realized it didn’t hurt, I started coming up with ideas,” he said.
He integrated the design of two motorcycle brands into one after he purchased the two “dream bikes.”
As a tribute to his Catholic faith and Cherokee roots, he had a barbed wire with a rosary and Cherokee feather inked on his right arm.
A piece across his shoulder blades represents his sniper platoon’s emblem.
He admits that some, like a rose on his chest, have no meaning at all.
“I just wanted to try that area to see what it felt like,” he said.
But for the most part, his tattoos reflect what is important to him.
“Religion and family, those are worthy things of tattoos,” he said. “Something significant in your life – birth, death, memorials, something you’re passionate about, traumatic experiences.”
TATTOOED LOVE – Shelby Jackson of Decatur designed a tattoo symbolic of her husband, Scott, and their wedding song, “I Will Follow You Into the Dark” by Death Cab For Cutie. The couple celebrated their fifth anniversary yesterday. Messenger Photo by Joe Duty
COMMITMENT IN INK
Shelby and Scott Jackson of Decatur have memorialized their love for one another in ink.
In fact, their first date included a visit to the tattoo shop.
“We went and watched a movie,” Scott said. “It wasn’t that late. She was 18. Can’t really hit a bar or anything. Go-karts could’ve worked, I’m sure. Batting cages. But it wasn’t on the agenda.”
So the couple trekked down to the tattoo parlor.
It was her first – a heart morphed into a skull below her beltline – and his third – a piece on his wrist. The two have returned several times. She’s added a dove and a giraffe on her side.
“I’ve been to Africa before for a medical missions trip,” she said. “It was a [tribute] to Africa.”
Scott got a fox, designed “by his fox,” on his leg.
The couple celebrated their five-year anniversary yesterday. But a month ago, Shelby got an original piece she designed, between her shoulder blades.
“It’s based on the song ‘I Will Follow You Into the Dark’ by Death Cab for Cutie,” she said. “It’s for him. The anchor is our marriage. I wanted something to tie into the song as well as something symbolic for him.
“The life raft is him saving me. The song is about being beside someone through all kinds of scenarios, to the very end. It was our wedding song.”
Although Shelby isn’t sure she wants any more, Scott said he would probably get another when the two have kids.
Even though all of his pieces don’t have that much significance, he appreciates each one.
“Every tattoo has something that’s important to that person,” he said. “That’s always where it’s going to be the coolest. With that one person, whatever the reason that they wanted. Even if it does turn into something that was just kind of a random, spur-of-the-moment. You got it put on you for some reason. That reason’s yours and yours alone.
“It might be irrelevant. But I’m thrilled. It meant enough for you to sit down in a chair and endure some pain to get through it and get it.”
For the two, a graphic designer and photographer by trade, tattoos are art. They find it disappointing that they are often judged otherwise.
“I feel more comfortable in the presence of somebody else, as a complete stranger, if they have tattoos,” Shelby said.
“They’re not going to come at you with judging,” her husband interjected. “Some people look at it as being a bad thing to do, degrading your body. It all comes back to that individual and what they did it for.”
INTEGRAL PIECES – In two years, Nathaniel Botello has covered his right arm with tattoos honoring loved ones and inked the state of Texas with a cog on his chest. The “backbone” of his arm features the Hebrew word for family, which he says is the “backbone of his life.” Messenger Photo by Joe Duty
FOR FAMILY AND STATE
Each of the nine tattoos that adorn Nathaniel Botello’s body, right arm and chest tells a story.
The first one, which the Chico High School graduate got two years ago at age 21, is an awareness ribbon in memory of his Aunt Marilyn, who lost her battle with bone cancer a year-and-a-half ago.
“When my aunt passed away, I was on an oil rig and couldn’t make the funeral. I felt really guilty,” he said. ” … So I had my own day to reflect on it.”
The tattoo artist advised him he was either going to want just one or that he would be returning to see him a lot.
“Sure enough, in the past two years I’ve gotten my whole right arm done and part of my chest,” he said. “I was one of the ones who liked it. It was an adrenaline rush.”
He continued, getting his parents’ names, Crisantos and Tonie, on his arm.
“They are the reason I’m here,” he said. “They may not be together, but I’m thankful that they were civil with each other and allowed me to have a relationship with both.”
There is also an orchid, in honor of his Aunt Sonia, who he credits as being his “biggest supporter.”
He added the Hebrew word for family and a hope anchor with the word “survive,” along with Michael the Archangel, representative of his favorite biblical story and the support of his family.
“He’s God’s secondhand man,” Botello said. “In my mind, he’s a real superhero. There’s always somebody that has your back. It’s easy to get down on yourself, have a bad day. Everything piles up. There’s always going to be something in your corner. A teacher, friend, Facebook friend, family.”
All of those designs on his right arm are tied together by acanthus leaves.
“Back in the Biblical days, when a king or queen would come into another city, the high-up in that city would send the servants to get the acanthus vines, which means royalty,” he said. “It ties together everything that I put – family, those that have been in my life and passed, who I consider royalty. They showed me a lot, and I wouldn’t be here without them. I wouldn’t know the things I know without them.”
His newest ink is of the state of Texas with a cog.
“A cog is a small part, but it turns a much larger machine,” Botello said. “I’m a huge supporter. I think it’s the greatest state. We have such a rich history, not only within our state lines, but if you think about the nation’s history, we are so involved. I’m just a huge fan. Born here, live here. die here. I wouldn’t want to live anywhere else.”
He acknowledged that all places have pros and cons.
“But I think Texas has more pros than anywhere else,” he said. “I swear we’re the nicest state. In New Jersey, when I was visiting, I’d ask for directions and people would look at me like, ‘I don’t know you. Don’t talk to me.’
“In Texas, you ask where the Wal-Mart is and they’re like, ‘Hop in my car. I’ll take you there.’ Things as small as holding the door open for somebody, they don’t do that anywhere else.”
But some of the greatest people are those who give him judgmental stares.
“Tattoos don’t make the person at all,” he said. “You can be the scum of the earth and have no tattoos. Or you can be in the public’s eye one of the greatest, should-have-a-key-to-the-city persons, covered in tattoos head to toe.
“I’ve never been jail. I’ve had two tickets for speeding. That’s my criminal history,” he said. “People have something in their mind, and they’re always going to act emotionally off of that. Maybe that’s what they’ve been taught their whole life. Tattoos equal prisoners, drug dealers, bad people. Sometimes that may be the case, sometimes it may not.
“But if you don’t want to learn what those are about and get to know that person, I don’t think you should get to pass judgment on that person based on looks.
“It could be a rusted-up car with an $8,000 motor.”