I don’t know if I’m just lucky or if I got into the funeral industry at the right time, but I’ve never had real trouble finding work…other than that rather unfortunate three-year period when I became sort of confused and joined what turned out to be a couple of criminal organizations and bounced around between three states just kind of not making any sense and I had to plan an escape and sneak out during a blizzard and I was strung out on codeine cough syrup that a shady psychiatrist was prescribing and then I had to turn to federal agents to help me and became an informant for a year and then started this website which used to be – of all things – a podcast about that time in my life but I mean besides that, I haven’t had to go without a job for a while. Not all of this is due to any particular skill, but rather, directors comparing the positives and negatives of each person available to complete a particular job and deciding to go with me.

I have a lot of advantages – my own equipped van. My own supplies and cosmetic kit and airbrush kit. My own removal cots and Muslim burial shrouds and bodybags. A spare suit, always. An overnight bag, always. Sneakers, PPE, blank case reports. The strength and the availability and the desire to even do this at all. I also get noticed for what I don’t have – a whole bunch of visible tattoos and little pieces of metal coming out of my face.

This topic inevitably causes fighting and personal attacks and Facebook bans, and I had a whole “Now I’m not saying tattooed people can’t do this job well, but” piece written, and decided I’m not up to that whole debate after only 3 cups of coffee and a Hydroxycut. So, the short version:

  • Are you looking for a job?
  • Do you have a bunch of stupid cartoon animals or the [misspelled] names of personality traits [you don’t have] that you associate with being an “alpha” [when in reality you could not be the alpha of a group of rocks] drawn on your face, neck, or other visible body parts?
  • Likewise, do you have metal bits sticking out of your eyes and nose and lips, or a profanity shaved into your hair, or is your hair a rainbow?
  • Is this job an important part of your identity to you, more so than having “Craig” scrawled on your neck?

If so, you might consider doing something about your appearance. Don’t pretend that appearance doesn’t matter at all, or that you have never made a decision or judgment about someone because of how they looked. Remember you are going into a stranger’s home and taking away the person who was their entire life. They must be comfortable with you.

And, to head off the inevitable “would you take off your headscarf for the right job” questions, you need to consider that for starters, I am not looking for a job. But to answer your question – yes, I would. I took it off this summer at work just because I was too hot. The job is more important to me than the faith.

I actually do have a lot of ink, and for anyone who has ink they want to hide or get rid of, I do have some experience with various methods, and someone may find this useful. I’ll tell you everything I have tried to hide or remove ink, what works and what doesn’t.

HIDE IT WITH CLOTHES

Most obvious and easiest. A funeral home is a conservative office environment anyway, and it’s a profession where we are expected to wear full suits and nice shoes regardless of the weather or conditions. Every day, I’m in opaque tights because I have large tattoos on both ankles. Possibly, you could get away with sheer tights if you had a skin-colored bandage over the ink.

HIDE IT WITH MAKEUP

One waterproof brand, Dermablend, is meant for use on the body and will stay put for about a day, but it will start to rub off on your sheets or clothes. You just use a makeup sponge to cover the design. I’ve used this on the ankles and low back when I was still doing fitness shows and photo shoots, and it stayed on through hot stage lights. It’s a process; completely obscuring a design about the size of your palm might take about 30 minutes, assuming you want it to look good and natural.

CRUDE SELF-REMOVAL METHODS

I am far from the only one who has tried TCA (trichloroacetic acid). It sounds easy – just use a q-tip to paint the liquid onto your design and, after several months of applications, the tattoo will be gone! But it’s not actually that easy. You will get blisters and open sores, but it will be in small areas at a time and not evenly over the design. And naturally, an extremist like myself wondered, if it works topically, it’s probably even better to inject it! And since I rarely wonder what something would be like without actually doing it, I can also tell you that subcutaneous injections of corrosive acids are kind of lame. I really wanted that ink gone, and I was willing to resort to insane measures. I remember using this on a large ankle piece and after several weeks those blistered areas kind of ruined the design, but they didn’t remove the color from the skin. I had similar results with a hot piece of metal. Not a good way to go about it unless you like the idea of being covered in open sores for a long time. I really, really wanted that ink gone.

MORE INK

This might seem useless, but it’s an option for people who have a visible tattoo that’s maybe dumb or offensive or just not appropriate for work. It’s possible, if the tattoo is small, to cover it with a tasteful floral design or other motif similar in shape to the characters you are trying to cover.

I have eight tattoos, and four are covers. I just walked into a shop, said I want these pieces hidden today, right now, and that they could do a black box for all I cared. I had a fitness show coming up and was tired of having to smear on all that extra makeup. However, they spent some time with me and convinced me to pick some other designs that I could live with, so after several weeks and about $1000, I had some new ink that was, by necessity, a lot larger than my old designs. A lot of women choose small, dainty work for their first tattoos, and it’s important to know if you want a cover that looks like new art, it will be bigger than you want. I have a piece going up my calf to disguise a small ankle tat.

My personal experience was that I get wimpier the older I get, and I could barely get through the ink at all. It was embarrassing. I had to book 15-minute increments, and they had to use lidocaine.

THE LASERS

Inevitably, anyone who has tried this and that to remove a tattoo has been asked, “Why don’t you just get laser removal?”

Eventually I decided the cover-ups weren’t enough; I could still sort of see the original designs and I just knew I would look better without drawings on my body. You know, the bumper-sticker-on-a-Ferrari analogy. I had something perfect and basically scribbled all over it.

Laser tattoo removal is probably the only way to really get the ink (mostly) gone, outside of just cutting it off. What most people will say about lasers is they are expensive; they hurt more than getting the tattoo did; and they take several sessions to fully remove the ink. I tried two sessions, and here is what I learned.

The first mistake I made was going to a Medspa – you know, one of those places that does botox and laser stuff and spray tans and dermabrasion and lip fillers. If you have a lot of ink, large ink, or brightly colored stuff, you need to go to someone who specializes in laser tattoo removal and doesn’t have a botox gig on the side.

The technicians explained to me that with the size and color of my ink, it would take them an estimated two years to significantly remove most of it, and that some brighter colors such as orange and yellow could not be removed but would instead turn gray. Black and dark green are the easiest to remove and will be noticeable first.

This was particularly applicable to me because most of my covers were done over black ink. This would mean my original design would then be skin-color in contrast against red and green ink. Not what I wanted. I decided to try the lasers only on two pieces which were mostly blue and green.

But, because it’s me, another stupid thing happened. I wasn’t about to find out how much the lasers hurt, because I could barely get through the tattoos. So I selected a place that offered general anesthesia. It seemed simple – they give you a shot and you go to sleep and wake up with your ankle all bandaged up after your first treatment. But I am very hard to anesthetize.

I learned this the hard way when I got my wisdom teeth out. I am allergic to benzodiazepines – drugs like valium, Xanax, etc that are often used before surgeries. And something went horribly wrong during the wisdom teeth surgery to earn me the chart note “COMBATIVE UNDER ANESTHESIA” which has followed me for about two decades now. So I avoid these kinds of drugs, which means I often wake up during surgery. Dentists won’t even work on me unless I am in restraints in addition to being asleep.

So, during the laser thing, I do remember waking up several times, a lot of crying and fear and confusion, and we all just decided it wasn’t worth it; this was not a procedure they felt comfortable doing on me anymore. I spent $700 for those two treatments and the only change I noticed was a slight fading.

Another problem I had, and another reason they didn’t want to do further treatments, was I developed a lot of swelling in my foot and ankle and had to go on prednisone. They suggested if I tried this again on the ankle, that I only do in one-inch strips rather than the entire circumference. The lasers will cause a lot of swelling and blistering, and if the lasers are applied in a band all around a limb, that limb could swell.

I decided lasers were out. No one sees this ink anyway; I’m just tired of it but not so much that I would go through all this again. Anyone considering this should know it’s not as simple as getting zapped a few times and then no more tattoo. You will have a painful, oozing wound for several weeks between sessions.

SO I SAID JUST CUT IT OFF

I saw a plastic surgeon instead. I chose the lower back tattoo, which was a long piece with a circular center design. We agreed on a cost of $2700 and that he would remove just the center. He explained that it would be a long healing process; I was still competing back then and would have to stop strenuous exercise so the incision wouldn’t open. He also warned me this would not look cosmetically good; it would be a twisted and hacked-up design with a huge scar.

And that’s what I have now. The remaining design is kind of L-shaped, and the surgeon said in two more sessions he could remove the rest of it the way he did the center – just literally cutting it out with a scalpel and sewing the edges together. It was really gross and painful and the end result looks horrible…but it was worth it to me. Now it’s gone. I could tell people I had a tail cut off or something.

As far as the ankles, if I want to go the surgical route my only option will be a skin graft. Right now it’s just easier to wear tights.

I got my kids’ names tattooed on my wrists, and one day I worked with a woman who had the same name as one of them. The next day I made a point of showing her my wrist, and told her I had just gotten the tattoo the day after we worked together because I felt a connection. She freaked out and asked not to work with me again, and the ink wasn’t even fresh. There was a heart after the name too.