E. Elmhurst man pays tribute to Queens with sleeve tattoo

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There is one place in Queens where you can always catch the No. 7 train: on the arm of 22-year-old Adil “Mef” Ali.

In July 2009, he got a tattoo of the subway line along with other iconic sights from the borough’s landscape.

“I’m a product of my environment,” said Ali, who emigrated from the United Arab Emirates to Astoria when he was a year old, then moved to East Elmhurst when he was 11. “These things made me.”

Looming above the No. 7 on Ali’s arm is the Queensboro Bridge, along with the Unisphere and the observatory towers from the 1964 World’s Fair in Flushing Meadow Corona Park. The dark blue ink runs from Ali’s shoulder to nearly halfway down his arm.

“Wow, that’s big,” friends of Ali said when they saw the finished product, which was a long time in the making.

Ali said the idea came to him nearly five years ago and he has been thinking it over ever since.

“I wanted my tattoo to be something I would want forever,” he said, and the idea of paying homage to his stomping grounds seemed like the best way to use the empty canvas, which was the skin on his right arm.

“This is the cornerstone of me,” he said.

And in warmer weather, Ali gets to show off that cornerstone as he strolls around the campus of York College, where he is a senior majoring in psychology.

“People from Queens really appreciate it,” Ali said, while others are simply shocked, again, at how big it is.

“Mostly, people just analyze it,” he said.

The picture as a whole can be daunting in its complexity, which is why curious strangers take a few moments to examine each part of the picture.

Ali has plans for expansion, but he said the future tattoos will likely not include another city.

Even if he moves, the idea of getting a second cityscape on his other arm “would be a bit much,” he said.

But the point of the tattoo isn’t only a shrine to his borough — it is also a reminder.

“Wherever I’ll go, I’ll never forget where I’m from,” he said.

It took a total of 11 hours over three sessions to complete the inking, according to Ali, and it wasn’t cheap, either. The artwork, tattooed by Jose Soto at Inkstop in Manhattan, cost about $1,300.

“Honestly, I think I’ve done something like this about three or four times,” said Soto, who has been a tattoo artist in New York City for 15 years. “It’s not as common.”

Soto asked Ali to bring in several photos of the structures before he planned out a design.

“I do tattoos that are custom-made because you always get something that nobody else has,” he said. But Soto added that he has been seeing more tattoos that celebrate locations in the last year.

“It’s just pride in their borough,” he said.

Reach reporter Joe Anuta by e-mail at or by phone at (718) 260-4566.

Updated 10:37 am, October 12, 2011
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