Eyes closed, I lay back on the couch and inhaled the aroma of a Nag Champa incense stick balanced on a carved Maori tray with red ochre highlights over by the window. I held in my mind an image of Queequeg, South Seas cannibal and harpoonist, Ishmaels’s alter ego on the Pequod, in search of the great white whale. Queequeg’s tattooed whorls had inspired my visit to the King Crimson Tattoo Parlor. I wasn’t thinking of anything extravagant, just one or two navy blue spirals on the anterior aspect of my left forearm, where my tangueras’ gazes would focus as I led them into perfect molinetes. I did not exclude a more secretive titbit that might occasionally peek from my collarbone, inciting more fevered interest.
The sound system was playing mood electronica, and so I fired up my iPhone. I was lost in Miguel Calo’s “El Vals Sonador” when I felt a soft touch, almost a caress, on my arm. A quiet voice insinuated itself into the mesmeric flow of the waltz. “Hi, my name is Esmerelda. What can I do for you?” Eyes open, adjusting to the glare of overhead fluorescents, like a hostage in a dentist’s chair, I beheld the perfect face of my guide to body ink, framed in a halo of blonde curls. “A bald eagle, perhaps, or Botticelli’s Venus on a half-shell, or just Semper Fi?” My lips must have curled, because she frowned, and she leaned towards me and said, “Anything you like.”
“Queequeg”, I said. “Maori tattoo. One or two, here and there,” and I gestured towards my left forearm and chest. “Certainly,” she replied, with a knowing look that spoke of familiarity not necessarily with Melville, but with the imaginings of those seeking order in chaos. “The swirls of Maori tattoos reflect the dance of life and love. Are you Queequeg, or just a friend?” I smiled, and she smiled back, a radiant smile that encompassed us both, and then she busied herself with a design portfolio, vials of colored inks, cotton swabs and a buzzing electric needle. I drifted off to Calo’s “Al Compas del Corazon”. After a while, I emerged a new man, adorned with nuanced tattoos, eager to engage on the competitive piste of Tango milongas, always alert for the elusive perfect quarry. I thanked Esmerelda, and mentioned my Tuesday night Tango class and practica. “Queequeg,” she murmured, “You may call me when your tattoo fades.”