Chicago Flag Tattoo

So, this is a little weird. Usually I share everything with y'all, but I did something pretty big two months ago and hadn't blogged it yet. And it's not like I was hiding it in my day-to-day life—it's very visible to people who see me in person. But for whatever reason, I teased about it on Twitter and then… radio silence. Not to beat around the bush: I got a Chicago Flag tattoo on my left forearm.

Chicago Flag tattoo, all healed up

I'm not a life-long resident of Chicago. My dad was in the Air Force and then worked for the DOD and we moved around a lot when I was a kid. When people ask where I'm from, I usually say "all over", or if I'm feeling a little more verbose, I rattle off the list: "Missouri, Maryland, Missouri, Maryland, Australia". When we came back from Adelaide, I went off to college in Indiana and ended up living in Greater Lafayette for an extra seven years after I graduated. And then, among other things, I got tired of driving up to Chicago every weekend to take classes at the Annoyance and moved up here in June of 1999.

As I started to approach ten years in Chicago, I started to think about getting a Chicago flag tattoo. I set myself a goal: not just live here for ten years, but also accomplish a major athletic endeavor in the city. Originally that was going to be the Chicago Marathon, but when that didn't work out, I ended up doing the Chicago Triathlon, which I think counts just fine.

Chicago Flag

I love this city, but I do also particularly love the flag. It's simple and clean, but also unique. Stripes of color and stars—you've seen that a thousand times before on flags. But check out those stars—they're a six-pointed star you won't see on any other flag. They're not Stars of David—those are made of two equilateral triangles. The stars get a little chubby in some implementations (the patches on cops' shoulders are probably the worst in that regard) but the original design is fairly pointy stars, with 30° points.

And you want symbolism? We got symbolism. The three white stripes are the three big sections of the city: North, South, and West. The two blue stripes are our water (there are various attributions of which is what, between Lake Michigan, the various branches of the Chicago River, and our canals). And the four stars are for major events in Chicago's history: the founding of Fort Dearborn, the Great Fire, the World's Columbian Exposition, and the Century of Progress Exposition. There was talk that if we had gotten the 2016 Olympics we'd have added an extra star. There are even, supposedly, meanings for each of the points of each of the stars, but that's stretching it a little, I think. "Salubrity"? Really?

The flag is also endlessly adaptable. I've seen dozens of designs for various organizations that replace the four stars with the logo or some symbol for the group.

But the design does present a few challenges for a tattoo. The fact that the top and bottom are both white to the edge—do you enclose the design in a black outline to indicate that? My favorite part of the design is the stars, but if you keep the original proportions, they're actually a fairly small part of the design. And I wanted to have this be my first really visible tattoo, so I had to figure out where that meant on my body.

I ended up deciding on the forearm, and on doing all four stars spaced equally around my arm. I reduced the blue bands to thin stripes and I decided that the white could be implied.

I have a nautical star on my thigh that I got 6 years ago and I'm still really happy with how crisp and clean it looks, so I wanted to try and have that artist, Rodney Taylor, do this one as well. And in a happy coincidence, Rodney was no longer at Tatu Tattoo, but is now working out of Speakeasy Tattoo, which is owned by Patrick Cornolo, who did my second tattoo.

I was having some trouble getting ahold of Rodney and so on Saturday, October 30, Erica and I stopped by Speakeasy to see if I could track him down for an appointment. We ended up chatting with some folks (and saying hi to Patrick, who remembered my tattoo!) and decided to just go for it (after all, I had already completed a second triathlon since I had decided to get this tattoo, and I sat down with Tine Defiore to get inked.

Fuzzy getting his Chicago Flag tattoo

The tattooing went about as well as it always has for me. I think this was my longest tattoo session—we were there for two hour and a half hours and I did fade a little near the end, but managed to rally and make it through.

Chicago Flag tattoo, all healed up

You want symbolism? I've got symbolism. The four stars, for me, are four of my big Chicago events: moving to Chicago, marrying Erica, doing those Triathlons, and getting this tattoo. That's right—I've got a recursively self-referential tattoo. And there's a bit of scarring in the blue bands, which I'm not going to lie, bummed me out a bit. But then I realized: that's my time in Chicago. It hasn't all been perfect. But the end result is something that I'm proud of.

[A bunch of pictures and two very bzzzy videos on Flickr.]

(Oh, and since it's winter, I haven't had it out in real public much yet, but I'm already getting ready to explain this tattoo for the rest of my life. The first day I was back at work after getting the tattoo, a co-worker who is a lifelong Chicago resident asked "what is that, an Israeli flag?" Oy vey.)