That night certainly hadn’t started out like one that would change Jo’s life forever. Around 9:30 PM, as Jo’s last customer left the shop, giggling with her friends and peeking into her pants at the newly inked turtledoves below her right hipbone, Keisha briskly informed Jo that she needed to stay late. No explanations were offered. Jo’s questions were rebuffed in the surly and tight-lipped fashion Keisha used when she was sitting on a secret and wouldn’t budge. Jo fumed silently in the break room, flicking crumbs off the table with her fingers. She split her attention between a rerun of “The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air” blasting so Keisha could hear it from the other room and the slightly more engaging second hand on the slowly-ticking wall clock.
At ten past ten, the door chime sounded and the room was filled with enthusiastic greetings: booming male voices, two of them, and Keisha’s happy shrieks of welcome. The sudden change of mood intrigued Jo enough to heave herself up from the table, click off the television, and round the corner for a look.
Keisha introduced Nick Glazier first, who’d come in to get a tattoo. His friend Tom Brady accompanied him. The reason they came at night, after hours, was that Tommy, as Jo soon came to know him, attracted a crowd in the daylight. It was the price of fame and success.
Nick wanted a tattoo to celebrate the team’s second Super Bowl win. Nick was an amazingly nimble three hundred seventy-five pounds and incredibly strong. As the backup center, his job was to call the offensive blocking scheme and keep the other team from tackling the quarterback. Nick told Jo he wanted something that represented power, strength, balance, and quickness. A cat quickly came to mind, but which was the right one?
Jo asked him why he wanted these qualities. She was asking out of pure professionalism, to design the tat. Jo had no idea her life would be altered with his response.
Nick began, “When I was in high school I was very, very big—already over three hundred pounds—but not muscular. Kids used to push me around. My father was a sports promoter, and on an extended summer trip to Japan, he brought the whole family along. There, I was introduced to Takashi Soto, a Sumo wrestler. Takashi took an immediate liking to me and taught me about Sumo training. I thought these wrestlers were just fat, but they’re extremely muscular. The big bellies are misleading. Their training is intense. I started Sumo exercises to improve my balance, endurance, and strength. I went from being just big and heavy to playing high school football, getting a scholarship at Georgia Tech, and eventually playing in the NFL. And winning a couple of Super Bowls.”
Jo listened intently. She was just over three hundred pounds herself at that point. Though her size afforded her a certain protection from the world, the practicalities of living were becoming increasingly difficult. Stairs were a trial for her, walking any distance was a challenge, and jogging an impossibility. Worst of all, Keisha was starting to take the more elaborate tattoo jobs herself. Keisha had even pulled Jo aside and asked, “Are you sure you’re up to this?” before entrusting Jo with Nick’s artwork.
“Tell me more,” Jo said to Nick.
“Sure,” Nick replied, “We fatties need to stick together.”
Jo did not take the comment as an insult or a joke, but as it was intended: a statement of fact.
Nick went on. “Thousands of years ago, Sumo wrestlers would fight to the death, and even five or six hundred years ago, it was part of military training. Then, only the warrior class could fight Sumo. Now anyone who is prepared to work for years to become a Rikiski can do it. Training involves weight lifting, bicycling, jogging, yoga, and katas, which are a combination of wrestling moves and ballet. What Master Soto taught me, I use every day in my regimen. I owe my success to him.”
Nick’s tat was easy to design: a Japanese stylized tiger with the initials T and S designed into the stripes. When Nick’s arm was still and hanging straight down, the tiger’s head looked just slightly out of proportion, too big or maybe off-center for its body. But with the arm held in position for rushing at full speed toward an opponent, the tiger’s head almost leapt off the arm in a 3D effect. Jo began work on Nick’s left arm. Above the hum of the needles, Nick described to Jo the details of his training. She decided at that moment she wanted what he had.
At the halfway point, they stopped and ordered take-out from a late night pizza place. When the hot pizza and subs arrived, all four crammed into the break room.
Jo remembered how Nick pulled out her chair.
“May I?” he asked and looked her straight in the eye with a million-dollar smile.
This genuine gesture stirred an unfamiliar feeling. Reality and fantasy blurred. She knew with certainty that anyone with a penis was scum, dangerous, aberrant, predatory, evil. Yet, for a split second she allowed herself to acknowledge what she had been forcing herself to not think about: boy is he good looking. And polite, and treating me so nicely. Strange and new emotions overwhelmed her.
Jo finished a couple of hours later. Keisha wanted to take a picture.
Nick apologized, but told her, “Mr. Kraft doesn’t like us to take pictures, but I’ll have the team photographer take one and send it to you.” Then he turned to Jo and said, “If you’re serious about starting Sumo wrestling training, you can work out with me tomorrow morning.”
Jo was taken aback. She didn’t know how to respond. Normally, she’d reflexively decline. But she knew deep inside this was an amazing, once-in-a-lifetime kind of opportunity. The kind one might soon and forever regret callously tossing aside.