Just Part of Life: The Tale of My Tattoo

Tale of my Tattoo, by Rick Bassman

I can tell you this much; it was supposed to be a theme. But now it’s just a mess. Oh, hell.

I remember saying I began my mid-life crisis when I was about 20. (For whatever reason I thought I would drop dead at 39, just like Mom did).  What I’m trying to express is, my tattoo  –despite the fact that I got my first ink when I was 44—IS NOT A MID LIFE CRISIS CLICHÉ.

It’s just something I want to do.  As a form of expression.  As a permanent reminder of where I’ve been, and more importantly, who and what I want to be.

Tattoo Installment One.

Setting:  My cool, ocean view bachelor pad over San Clemente Pier.

Present:  Me.  And about 30 friends.




My good pal at the time, Evan Marriott (yes, of “Joe Millionaire” fame) had his tattoo artist make a special house call for me.  And it turned into quite a party.   The booze flowed freely, and friends, both from the complex in which I was living, and from all over San Clemente, dropped in.  It was a lot of fun.

First Tattoos:

I thought it would be a cool idea to ink a bunch of flags from different countries around the world.  This was equal parts to 1.  commemorate my belief that everyone is a citizen of the world, that in fact, all are one     –and—2.  to pay homage to places I’ve visited often and are a part of my heart and life and 3.  To honor the lands of my heritage.  And in most cases, a combination of all of the above.

– Flag of the United States of America
– Flag of Japan, the Land of the Rising Sun
– Flag of South Africa
– Flag of Mexico
– Flag of England
– Flag of Brazil
– Flag of Holland

I had originally brought the references for each as rectangles, with solid, straight lines.  Someone –I forget who—had the idea to make them look as if they were blowing in the wind.  I liked that idea much better than my own, and still do now.  As f’ed up as it all came out, there is the notion of life, of movement in the design being done this way.

The vertical symbols down the left side of my back spell out “COEXIST.”

Yeah, the bumper sticker!  The letters are formed by the various religious symbols of our world… The Muslim Crescent for the “C,” the Jewish Star for the “X,” the Christian Cross for the “T,” and so on.  Yeah, so it gained its fame as a…bumper sticker.  Whatever. I like what it stands for.  Again, like the flags of the world, it signifies us all being one.

The Kanji (Japanese) symbols down the right side of my back, in fact say “We Are All One.”

Or they don’t.  See, it goes like this…  My favorite fighter, ever, bar none, is Genki Sudo.  He’s one of my favorite human beings.  Period.  Whenever he won his fights –he’s now retired—which was MOST of the time, he’d celebrate by holding up a giant white banner, adorned with the flags of every nation on earth.  Emblazoned  over the flags was the mantra – his mantra, my mantra —  “We ARE ALL ONE.”  Got it.  Dug that.  Always have.  Always will.

My thoughts…if Genki, a Japanese national, could write this in ENGLISH, then I could do the reverse, and tattoo it on my back in JAPANESE.  So, I put “We Are All One” into Google Translate, and…nothing.  The same result –nothing—for every other on-line translator.  A week or so later, I was eating at Taka-O, my favorite sushi bar in San Clemente.  Sumi, my favorite sushi chef ever, was taking care of me.  Sumi is a HUGE Pro Wrestling, MMA and K-1 fan, and every time I showed up at Taka-O, which was often, Sumi presented me with another DVD he had burned for me from a Japanese channel he had access to.  “Hey Sumi,” you know Genki Sudo?”  I ask him  “Yes, of course, ‘We are all one’!”  ”Exactly!” I say. “How do you say that in Japanese?”  And Sumi blurts out the answer “(%d#k&@l(!!jfs*v#!”  Of course, knowing pretty much how only to say “Sake” and “Beer” in Japanese after 30+ visits there, I have no idea what he’s saying.  “Can you write that down?”  Always eager to please, Sumi carefully writes it down for me, on a pristine sheet of white paper.


A couple of years later, I’m shooting the promotional video for the “Knockout Network.”  We’re on the beach, it’s a beautiful day, and I have my shirt off.  Two female Japanese Production Assistants approach me.  “We like your tattoo,” one giggles. “Yes, the Japanese flag is very nice,” says the other, and she continues “But what does the Kanji say?”  Admittedly, my reply is a little sarcastic, “Well, you’re Japanese, so YOU tell ME.”  “It doesn’t say ANYTHING” is her reply.  “No,” I say, ”it says ‘We Are All One.”  Just to drive the point home, it’s now her turn to be kinda sarcastic, “No, really.  It doesn’t say ANYTHING.”


I’ve since had this confirmed – that it doesn’t say ANYTHING, by several independent sources.  I’ve never had the heart to tell Sumi.  I like him.  I like what it’s supposed to say.  And besides, it makes for a pretty funny story.


My first tattoo took over 3 hours.  Whoever tells you it feels good, that it’s addictive, is full of shit.  It hurts like a motherfucker.


—– BTDT —–

Tattoo Installment Two.

Setting:  Raygun Tattoo, Dana Point Tattoo. (Next to Hennessey’s Tavern, where I went drinking pre-tattoo)

Present:  Me.  Ann, Sam, Marley & Ramone.

I have some ideas to add to the theme.

Tattoos Added:

– Flag of Hawaii.
– Flag of my primary ancestry, Russia.
– Flag of Jamaica (actually, the Rasta version, not its national flag)

This was really starting to bring it home for me.  Hawaii and Jamaica are where I feel most at home.  These are the lands of my heart and soul.  My tattoo really became a REAL theme here, not just a gimmick.  I had a family of my own.  A girlfriend/”fiance,” a beautiful daughter, and my two beautiful “boys,” my beloved Staffordshire Terriers.  Although this session hurt as much as the others, it was somehow all diffused my alternately holding hands with Ann, then Sam, then Ann, then Sam.  (Not much paw-holding with Marley and Ramone.  While a complete stranger pierced me with a burning hot needle, my ever-vicious-pit-bulls lay on the floor snoring away.  Nice protective instinct, guys!)

The musical notes that separate Holland from Hawaii are the first two bars from Bob Marley’s “One Love.”  “One Love, One Heart.”  Enough said.  (Although it was a bitch finding the sheet music on-line.  I’ve never had it confirmed I got it right.  Don’t want to)

The Dove of Peace, holding the olive branch in his/her mouth (beak?)  IN other words, make love/not war.

Yin/Yang symbol.  To me –the ultimate symbol of all symbols – it’s about how total opposites, maybe even  “enemies,” are forever linked, depend on one another for their (our) very survival.   To me, it symbolizes the hopefulness that we can all put down our swords, put away our hatred, and love one another.

When we returned to our beautiful home that night, we put Sam, Marley and Ramone to bed.  Ann made drinks for us, removed my dressing, lovingly applied ointment, and put on a new dressing.  The world was a beautiful place that night.


—– BTDT —–

Tattoo Installment Three.

Setting:  American Electric Tattoo.

Present:  Me.

Tattoos Added:

Broken Heart, with a jagged bone piercing it.  The heart is wrapped with a studded collar.  The initials “R” and “M” are within the collar.


I’ve just gone homeless.  Ann and I are broken up, and I’m no longer allowed to see Sam.


Craig, the owner of American Tattoo, did the work.  As much as a loony-tunes as he is an underground legend in LA, he made this almost bearable.  I drew this one out myself, in detail, and Craig improved on it.  It’s the only tattoo I have that came out better than I had envisioned.


Ironically, it’s the one that should have been ugliest.  To reflect my emotion.  A few days earlier, I had identified Marley’s body.  My bubba had been crushed by a car.  And Ramone was missing, and presumed dead.  (At least by me).


Craig quoted me $100 when I brought my drawing to him.  When he finished, after having added all the unexpected  detail work, he asked me if $150 was okay.  All I had was a hundred on me, and he gladly and graciously accepted it.  It was the last hundred bucks I had to my name.  It is money well spent. The work is perfect.  My heart feels, literally, as if it is breaking.


I realized afterwards that I never felt the needle.  Not even for a second.  Just numb.

—– BTDT —–

Tattoo Installment Four.

Setting:  Studio City Tattoo.

Present:  Me, myself and I.  And Ramone.

Tattoos Added:

Broken Heart #2.  Separated by an arrow, pointing downwards.  Two big “L”s inside the heart and on either side of the arrow, with a plus sign between the Ls.  A very small “r” cradled inside one L, and an equally small “g” cradled inside the other.

Yeah, I was four sheets to the wind, but I knew exactly what I was doing.  I had wrapped production on the sizzle reel for “Bullys’ Angels” earlier that day, and had gone for drinks with my cast –Sky, Irena, Bridgette and Ingrid—to celebrate.  But it was a bittersweet day for me.  G and I had broken up, and it HURT.  We had come up with a term of endearment we shared only with one another…. “L + L.”  It stands for “Lust plus Love,” and in our collective minds, well summarized our relationship.  In deep, loving moments, I had “threatened” to get this affectation permanently etched into my skin.  Just never thought it would come when we were down and out.  When Gand I wrote to one another, we –for whatever reason—always wrote our names in lower case.  The small “g” and the small “r” are thus, obviously, the first letters of our names.  Although doing this tattoo might seem unnecessarily dramatic –given that it was done right after a break-up– I did the tattoo to memorialize the fact that I could still experience an insane depth of emotion.  Of love.  Something I thought that was dead in me forever, and now know that  it not only exists, but burns more brightly than ever. And remains there, for a deserving soul.  (God help her).

On reflection, I wish the arrow pointed upwards.

And oh yeah, even though it is the simplest of all the work done on me, in terms of pure physical pain, this one hurt more than all the others.


—– BTDT —–

My tattoo is ugly.  It’s a mess.  What was supposed to start out as a thing of beauty, quickly deteriorated.  Right from the get-go actually.  The first flags are much smaller than I originally envisioned, as are the symbols up and down the right and left sides of my back.  Still, I kept to the theme of peace and love and unity.  At least for a while.  And then, I began to add the symbology of loss.  Now, it’s all over the place.  A real, ugly mess.  But I like it.

The upper and middle left portions of my back are ink free. I don’t expect this to last.  I’m saving these spots for celebration.

I hope.