Tattoo You


While watching the Emmy Awards last weekend, I was struck by the sheer number of tattoos on so many of the presenters, particularly the females.  Men can hide tattoos by wearing long pants and jackets.  Women, however, with their low neck lines and open dresses, display much more skin and therefore tend to show off their tattoos.  Although body art is now ubiquitous out in public, this was the first time that I really noticed it on a fashionable award show.  As Graham Nash once sang, I do find myself “envying all the dancers who have all the nerve.”

I’ve definitely never wanted a tattoo.  I’m pretty sure that I wouldn’t survive the moment when the needle touches my skin.  The only reason I can withstand getting a flu shot is because it’s literally over in three seconds.

Yet, when I fantasize and think about what kind of design I’d choose for my imaginary tattoo, I’m sure it would be something rather elaborate.  The “Abacab” or “Selling England By The Pound” album covers come to mind.   Or, in keeping with a pop music theme, I’ve always thought an ironic wearing of “There’s A Riot Going On” would be fun with those big, fat, huge snowflakes and stripes that replicate the U.S. flag.  My fantasy with that choice would involve an imaginary conversation with strangers in the grocery line …

“My but you’re patriotic, aren’t you?”

“No, I just like Sly Stone.”

There’s a Riot Going On

But that’s probably an awful lot to endure for what amounts to only brief moments of self-indulgent satisfaction.  It’s sort of like the Revolutionary Road character Frank Wheeler, whose post-collegiate chuckle was to start a career at his estranged father’s old firm as a way of playing-out his own private version of cynicism and humor.  Without that story’s tragic ending, of course.

In addition to my fear of the tattoo needle, I have to be honest and admit that another major reluctance was that I never felt I quite had the gravitas to actually sport a tattoo.  I’ve always assumed that one needed to have that Johnny Depp, Joaquin Phoenix, or Mickey Rourke vibe.  When your own alter ego is closer to Ron Howard or Jon Cryer it becomes slightly less romantic to consider it.

In recent years, however, I have come around to the “Duh!” realization that bravado and toughness are not necessarily in and of themselves necessary ingredients to have a tattoo. The endless parade of humanity that I see every day makes it abundantly clear anyone can have one with absolutely no prerequisites.  In the end, as with most things that center around self-image, it just boils down to your own comfort zone.

Still, I say a hearty “No Thanks.”  One glance at all of my fellow middle-agers who proudly sport their tats from the 1980s and 1990’s, it all makes me happy that I never got one. Those babies don’t look so good after a decade or two.

Rumor has it that George Shultz had a Princeton Tiger tattooed on his ass during his crazy college years.  But at age 94 I don’t want to venture a thought to what the former Secretary of State’s tiger might resemble now.  I imagine it probably looks a shriveled up old goat.   At least he had the smarts to hide it.  Only his wife and physician know for sure, and that’s how it should be.  All of the foreign ministers with whom he once negotiated are probably happy to let that little mystery be.

I can still recall the first tattoo I ever saw with my own eyes.  It was sometime in the early 1960’s, and I vividly remember that particular moment while in the A&P with my mother. Not only was the tattoo on the arm of an actual sailor in uniform, but it was of a ship’s anchor in blue, green, and red ink.  What could be more perfect than that?!   I was absolutely astounded.  I’m sure I saw him as Popeye or better yet, a younger version of Uncle Charlie, getting dinner ingredients for that evening’s meal for Steve, Robbie, Chip, and Ernie (don’t get me started on the later Barbara and that little brat, Dodie).  I stared at that man and his tattoo the entire time we were in the grocery store.  For a long time thereafter I associated tattoos only with sailors.

Source: c86.tumblr
Source: c86.tumbler

Still, even then I knew instinctively that I would never have a tattoo.  The line of demarcation between fantasy and reality was clearly delineated for me.  If I had any notions of fantasy as a small boy, it was in the persona of Clark Kent.  Not his super power alter ego mind you, but the genuine article of the mild-mannered reporter for a great metropolitan newspaper.   I was born to wear a suit not a tattoo.

Later on in high school, I knew a kid who was so over-the-top crazy for a rock band his friends had formed, that he had the band’s name and logo tattooed over the length of his entire back.  I was thunderstruck by his uninhibited audacity.  I also quickly took note of the fact that he wasn’t actually a part of the band but instead relegated to a hanger-on status.  I hope for his sake that a few of the band members remained friends with him into adulthood as a token of his devotion, though I guess we instinctively all know the answer to that one.

It’s pretty much impossible now not to know someone who has a tattoo. An old friend with whom I consulted for this very post has one on her back.  Her husband’s body is nearly covered with them, though he apparently does a splendid job of concealing everything when he wears long shirts and pants (Hi, G).   Likewise, a former co-worker also has one on her back and yet still manages to look like a million bucks every time she steps out in public (Hi, V).  To them I offer my heartiest hail-fellow-well-met accolades of genuine admiration.  It is good to feel right in your own skin.

This boy will stay tattoo-free, thank you very much.  I’ve have a hard enough time recently arguing with my wife about a desire I have to shave off my beard.  That’s quite enough to think about at this point in my life.

Until next time…

16 thoughts on “Tattoo You

  1. I’m with Elyse and you, 100%. If I were young enough to be — how shall I put it? — in the market (not for a tattoo but a man), one glimpse of blue, or red, or green ink on wonderful flesh-colored human skin would be a total turnoff. In my view — and no offense to your acquaintances — a person would have to have a screw loose or else be completely other-directed (“I have to keep up with everyone else”) to disfigure him or herself like that. The designs are usually crap too. And if you ever have a change of heart (or change of the beloved, whose name is engraved on you), removal is said to be extraordinarily expensive, time consuming, painful and never completely successful, since it tends to over-remove, leaving white marks. Who needs to borrow future aggravation and pain (and possibly shame) right now? Fight the good fight with the beard, Marty. That’s quite enough to contend with.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I wholeheartedly agree, Nina. I think what got me as I watched the Emmys last week were these beautiful women who wore open dresses, and you could see all kinds of tattoo lines going this way and that on their chests, stomachs, arms, etc. For the life of me, I couldn’t figure why they would want to do that when there are so many ways to cover up. But obviously they WANT them being seen. So there we are, and there I am. I wish them well, but I really have to believe that in 15-20 years they’ll realize what a huge mistake they’ve made. Thanks for reading, Nina.


      Liked by 1 person

  2. I know several women my age who either have recent tattoos or intend on getting one… or two. I think they’d say it makes them feel younger – I think it makes them look a little silly (sort of like wearing trendy clothes that look fine on a 20-year-old, not so good on someone close to 60). I’m firmly in the to-each-their-own camp, but I also reserve the right to disagree. I’m pretty sure if I was much younger, I’d probably be sporting a tat just like all my friends. It’s now as “normal” as getting ones ears pierced… and, of course, I HAD to have that done.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. So funny you should make the comparison to trendy clothing. On a recent shopping trip with my wife, I bought a red, short-sleeve Champion v-neck shirt that was on sale for under $10. Until I brought it home and put it on, then looked at myself in a mirror, I hadn’t realized that it was really for someone in their twenties. I looked rather foolish, and I know it’ll be going to Goodwill within a matter of weeks. I just can’t pull it off. Sometimes your inner fashion compass just knows. But, yeah, sometimes people don’t have one of those. 🙂

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  3. I’ve see the effects of aging tattoos and the design gets skewed. My step daughter has a huge rose on her upper arm and it clashes with some of her clothing choices. If you’re gonna get one, stay with a small design in places that can be shown or not as the occasion dictates. Better stay clean.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I agree, and at least your step-daughter’s is on her upper arm. In reading a bit before I wrote this piece, I saw where Halle Berry — someone whom I think is still one of the most beautiful women in the world — has a tattoo on her tushy of the name of one her former husband’s (David Justice). At least she had the sense to put it in a place only she and, ahem, her current husband, will see.

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  4. The only place I’d consider putting a tattoo is on my forehead and written in reverse. It would have to be something incredibly helpful that I’d need to see in the bathroom mirror every day–like ‘don’t forget to wash your face.’

    Liked by 1 person

  5. To each his own in my estimation. One or two can be fun but some avid fans of the tatoo go to far in my opinion. The hardest part for me would be choosing the item you want permanently on your body. The Beatles are the only band I would want represented as a tribute – if I had to choose. I picture something like the Beatles walking across Abbey Road in the 70s as a ‘tramp stamp’ … then again, I should have gotten that decades ago so they could age with me lol

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  6. I’m in the Tat-free crowd. Never had one , never wanted one. I think it was mainly because of not serving in the military so that may have helped. At work , I had a long career on Wall Street, so we were mainly wearing dress shirts, so in the main, I was clueless about whether any of my colleagues had a tattoo.

    My long time boss was a former sailor, so when whenever he rolled up his sleeves, there was this tattoo on his forearm. This was from 1986 to 2007 when he retired. But his tat had faded and I was never able to determine what the image once was.

    I agree with your statement about women having more skin on display. I’ve not been to the beach in a while, but you can see plenty of tattoos while food shopping at the local Publix or Walmart here in Sarasota.

    So around here I see tattoos all the time – which is 180 degrees different than when I was working.

    Liked by 1 person

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