Tattoo You

Make your choices carefully. They are wonderful when they are meaningful to you.

I love my tattoos; I have over twenty. I regret only one, and I had it reworked into something I am very fond of (NOTE TO EVERYONE: Think very carefully before having someone's name tattooed on your person). Many people today have love/hate relationships with tattoos. Some think they are trashy (What was once sexy on a woman is now a "tramp stamp"). Athletes sport so-called "tribal" tattoos (What tribe? Or are these creative adolescent tracings of the old drafting French curve?). There's enough bicep barbed wire out there to fence the Old West. Religious tats are popular in some circles. What better way to convince others that you love Christ than to have a fish or a cross carved into a conspicuous place?

Tattoo removal is a big business. "Regrets and recriminations," as Tennessee Williams might say. Thankfully, I have no regrets—except for the aforementioned reworked ink job. I chose my ink carefully. Each one means something very significant to me. Never did I think, "I want a tattoo; what should I get?" Often, when my students discover that I am inked, they think it's really cool, and they tell me of how they, too, plan to go under the needle as soon as either (a) they turn eighteen or (b) they talk their parents into it. I always give the same advice, and, more often than not, they think it strange: You should wait until you're at least thirty before you get your first tattoo. I still believe it is good advice. Imagine how many Tasmanian Devils, Smurfs, and butterflies wouldn't be joining stretch marks on aging thighs, breasts, shoulders, ankles, and waistlines. But I'm not going to judge; perhaps owners of said tats really burned to be branded with these symbols. I don't know. Lord knows, some might think I look like some kind of formerly incarcerated hoodlum were they to see all of my ink. Once, while working out at the YMCA, a very lovely young lady gathered up the courage to ask what my "371" tattoo represented. She thought it might be my "prison number," as she called it. I didn't vouchsafe the tat's meaning, but I assured her that I had yet to darken a prison door. She seemed partially relieved. I used to ponder what morticians will wonder when they finally lay me out, but over the past decade I've had two surgeries serious enough to require several days in hospital, so now I imagine operating room conversations over my (what many tell me are) enigmatic tattoos. As well, I think about the day I might require heart surgery and if scars would affect my chest tattoos. I guess the lesson, boys and girls, is to consider whether or not future tattoo canvas areas will stretch/sag with age or if they are directly over a major internal organ which may require invasive surgery one day.

Finally, tattoos do hurt; those who say otherwise are not being entirely truthful. The good news is that they hurt while the artist carves away with his or her needle. There is very little residual pain. In other words, when you hear the buzz of the apparatus, you will feel pain; when the buzz stops, the pain stops. Also, the pain level corresponds with certain areas of the body. The "bonier" the area (e.g. the top of the foot, the sternum, the lower back), the more intense the pain. Correspondingly, the meatier the area, the more comfortable the entire process. Some people might encourage you to get drunk before hitting the ol' tattoo parlor. I can think of at least two reasons this is not wise: (1) Like "drunk dialing" and "drunk shopping," you might make a poor artistic choice (e.g. someone's name), and (2) alcohol thins the blood and will guarantee a messier experience for you and your artist.

So, all you tattoo haters out there, I say to you the same thing I say to the anti-abortion crowd: If you think it's wrong, then don't do it! Thinking about getting a tattoo? Think a long time. Make your choices carefully. They are wonderful when they are meaningful to you.


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