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.”
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.
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…