Not so long ago, tattoos were distinctly counterculture. But these days, they are just as likely to grace a banker as a biker, a doctor as a rocker or even a housewife desperate for some body art.

Not so long ago, tattoos were distinctly counterculture.

But these days, they are just as likely to grace a banker as a biker, a doctor as a rocker or even a housewife desperate for some body art.

“You name the walk of life and profession, and we’ve tattooed them, from cardiologists to prostitutes and everything in between. It really is completely mainstream now,” said Joe Staska, owner of Broad Street Tattoo in Bridgewater, Mass.

Critics of tattoos often point to their permanency as a drawback. But that’s one of the things Staska likes about them.

“It’s almost a magical, mystical thing that transforms your body. It’s instantaneous and never goes away. For lack of a better word, the longevity of it is sort of romantic,” he said.

Staska doesn’t know how many tattoos he has. He said he lost count years ago.

“Someday, I’ll connect them all, so I can tell my mom I only have one,” he said jokingly.

But there are some lines Staska won’t cross. He said he doubts if he’ll ever tattoo his face.

“I think there is a fine line between self-expression and anti-socialism. I think you have to keep in mind if you tattoo your face, you’re going to have some issues for the rest of your life,” Staska said.

Tattoos hurt. But not as much as you might think, said Chris Quimby, an EMT from Brockton, Mass., who got his third tattoo, a Celtic cross on his back, at Broad Street Tattoo one recent afternoon.

On a scale of one to 10, Quimby pegged the pain at a one.

Staska, 38, said it depends where you get the tattoo. The back of the arms is one of the easiest places, the ribs one of the toughest.

“It’s just a white-knuckle flight. You’ve got to expect it,” Staska said.

He said it’s hard to describe what it feels like to get a tattoo.

“I’d say it’s about as intense as getting a dental filling,” he said. “The big difference is nobody wants to get a dental filling.

“You’ve got to earn it, but anybody can. I’ve never had anyone who said, ‘I’m done. I just can’t do this.’”

And it can be an exhilarating experience, despite the pain, he said.

“There is an endorphic rush and the adrenaline sort of carries you through it. Some people even feel it’s somewhat therapeutic, almost acupunturish,” Staska said.

Tattooing may be newly mainstream, but it’s nothing new. It’s been around for thousands of years, Staska said.

“I think it’s probably a primitive drive to express oneself or identify oneself with a group or clan with a common bond,” Staska said.

Tattoos range in size and complexity from a tiny letter or symbol to a full-arm sleeve. Staska’s seen them done in as little as three minutes and as long as 100 hours. The average cost is about $150 an hour.

The most challenging part isn’t the actual application of ink to skin, it’s “pulling the idea from someone’s head,” he said.

First he sketches the tattoo on paper and works back and forth with the clients until the image is what they had in mind.

“You have to have really good people skills because it’s part of someone. It’s not just the thing. At some point, it’s going to be them and the tattoo together,” said tattooer Lawrence Digiusto.

Tattooer Michael Ray Anstine Jr. said he takes the responsibility seriously.

“It’s pretty nerve-wracking, because it’s something permanent you’re putting on someone else’s body,” Anstine said.

But there’s nothing like the sense of accomplishment when it’s all over and the client is satisfied.

“Sometimes, you have that tattoo, it’s the right skin, right needle, right machine, right ink and everything seems almost easy, and that’s what I think we all tattoo for,” Staska said.

Staska said tattoos can age well if applied properly, but he cautioned against a potential pitfall.

“You have to be careful where you put something. You wouldn’t want to put a perfect circle on something that might sag and become an egg,” he said.

They follow strict hygienic guidelines at Broad Street Tattoo, and new needles are used in each fresh application.

Staska also follows an informal code of tattoo ethics.   “A lot of stuff we’ll straight out refuse,” he said.

He won’t tattoo any design that promotes hate, such as a swastika, he said.

“I just don’t want to be a part of it. In some ways, I want to do it, so they are labeled for the rest of us to see, but I’ve got to sleep at night,” Staska said.

Another no-no is giving an 18-year-old his first tattoo in a prominent spot.

“They don’t know what they’re getting into. They haven’t walked around and felt the stigma. Some people do get tattooed and find they’re not really too fond of being tattooed. If it’s on your shoulder blade, it’s not the end of the world. If it’s on the top of your hand or your neck, that could be an issue,” Staska said.

Another red flag – a girlfriend’s name. There is no ironclad rule here. These are judgment calls.

“The 18-year-old kid who’s been dating his girlfriend for six months, you just know it’s not a good idea. The couple that’s been married for 40 years celebrating their anniversary and they’re both doing it at the same time, you can kind of feel it,” Staska said.

Staska’s most visible tattoos are his full-arm sleeves – a complex sinuous dragon that’s been a work-in-progress for 15 years and the Statue of Liberty he’s sported since 1996 – and the tattoos on his neck.

His neck is tattooed with the names of his children, Annika, 9, and Zachery, 16.

“You can’t go wrong with that,” he said.   Bridgewater Independent