To Ink or Not to Ink
By Brian Randleas
The other day I was out with friends enjoying good company when one of our group showed us their new tattoo. For some time after that the conversation was dominated by the subject of tattoos. The discussion covered a rather large gambit of tattoo related subtopics. What does your family think about it? Did it hurt? Is this your first? Is there a meaning behind it? Etc… Through the discussion we learned a little more about each other even some things we weren’t sure we wanted to know. This got me to thinking about the general idea of tattoos and my own experiences in the culture.
You see them everywhere today. Young girls, and not so young girls with tattoos of flowers on their arms and chests. And of course the ever popular design across the small of the back. Young men mark their coming of age with tribal designs and other neutral figures indelibly marked across their skin. More and more people from more and more walks of life are getting tattoos and often more than one.
How did they become such a large part of today’s social order? Just thirty years ago they were considered taboo. If you had tattoos you were assumed to be an escaped prisoner, a gangster, a biker or worse a side show performer. Mothers would shield their young children and mouth the words “Call the police” to nearby observers. Girls who were discovered to have tattoos were referred to as “one of those kinds of girls” and it was generally accepted that they hung out with escaped prisoners, gangsters, bikers or performed in a sideshow. Either way tattoos were considered to be suspicious, shady and of course the one swear word even your minister could say. Deviant. If you were not an escaped prisoner, a gangster, a biker or a sideshow performer then you kept your tats covered in public and never spoke about them.
I got to wondering. Have tattoos always been taboo throughout history? So I did some research. The oldest known instance of tattooing goes to 5000 year old (otzi the iceman). His frozen body was found near Austria and Italy in 1991. One has to hope that (otzi the iceman) is a nickname and not something a researcher translated from a 5000 year old tattoo. If it was, then sporting 57 tattoos otzi is most likely also the oldest frozen sideshow performer in history. Historically tattoos have been used for warding off or summoning spirits, medicine, rites of passage, and in the most recent centuries, identifying prisoners, slaves and outcasts. It is most likely these latter uses of the art form that was responsible for its lack of popularity.
So what changed? Why have tattoos become as common as nose piercings and iPods? Why are there not one but 3 television series devoted to them? Well the same force that always brings change was brought to bear on the subject. Examination. When someone took the time to examine the culture they discovered everyday normal folks like bankers, lawyers, doctors and sideshow performers underneath that ink covered skin. Suddenly everybody wanted one and tattoos were cool once again.
Today you can find tattoos applied in most all of the historical uses. Perhaps the biggest difference is that some people use them as an expression or definition of who they are. I wonder if Rene Descartes was alive today would he change his famous quote to say “I ink therefore I ‘am”?
I have thought about the question over the years, to Ink or Not to Ink? It would be a statement of who I ‘am and what I stand for and it would be really cool. Unless… What if the tattooist was a bad speller? Is it possible I could ask for a declaration of the love I have for my mother only to exit the parlor professing my affection for Mothra? What if I got my girlfriends name tattooed and then we broke up. Would I be stuck only dating girls named Melissa? What happens when you get older? I was always afraid that I would get a tattoo and then as I got older and wrinkles appeared it would turn into something else, like the fold up pictures they put in Mad Magazine. It’s a big decision.
A few years ago I dated a woman who had decided to get a tattoo. She had decided upon a small heart to be placed just below the belt line. In the middle of her tattoo she decided that I should get one in the same spot. I told her that I had considered a tattoo but had always thought it would be something practical and useful. She thought for a moment and then whispered to the artist. He nodded and started to draw. I was excited. What had she come up with? This woman loved me. What could it be? He finished and handed me the paper. There was a drawing of a rear view mirror and the words CAUTION: OBJECTS IN MIRROR ARE CLOSER THAN THEY APPEAR. Crumpling up the paper I asked the artist “Do you have one that says I love Mothra?”
So now that I am older I have finally decided that I will get a tattoo. I intend to get it shortly after my 60th birthday. I want it tattooed across my aged and wrinkled chest. When I exhale I want it to fold into a picture of Alfred E. Newman. And when I inhale I want it to expand into the words ATTENTION: SUCCESSFUL RESUSCITATION WILL WIN YOU FREE DRINKS ON ME!
WHEN DID YOU GROW UP?
By Brian Randleas
Do you remember what you wanted to be when you grew up? Most of us went through a list of possible dream professions. When we learned that there were not many openings for real cowboys, who rode the range, fought Indians and outlaws, and drank rye whiskey from a dirty glass, we moved on. We discovered that to be a princess you needed to have more than a tiara and a pink evening gown with frilly edges. Your parents had to be royalty. We judge from mom's old house coat, and dad's comfortable but worn out shirt and boxers, this was not happening. Gradually we worked our way through a world of possibilities, until as we grew taller our list grew shorter and more practical.
For instance. To be an astronaut one is required to learn things. Things like math and algebra. To be a famous athlete once must be borne with amazing talent, or resign themselves to work each and every day to make the cut.
That being said. If you didn't like math, or the idea of spending hours a day doing actual exercise didn't make you giddy then chances are your list was pretty short.
What about those of us who never got that dream job or our face was never on the cover of a Wheaties box? How did we know we had grown up? Well first I suppose we must try to define a measure of what it means to be grown up.
Would being old enough to vote count as being grown up? Society after all and even our own government have decided that at the age of 18 we are grown up, and responsible enough to be able to vote. What about our first real job where we were not required to ask, “Would you like fries with that?”, or “May I super size that for you?” Perhaps it was having our own car, apartment, or even kids of our very own. Along with each of these choices came responsibilitys as well as bills of our very own.
I must confess. With each of these new milestones I still had no sense of being grown up. Although I did have a new sense of responsibility, a grown up to me was someone like my parents. That was definitely not me.
Then one day it happened. There had been no warning. No one sent out a memo. Nothing was marked on the calendar to prepare me. One of my children wanted to go somewhere, or do something. My mind raced ahead to all of the dangers, and things that could or would go wrong, and end with my child endangering themselves or another. Of course I said no. At this point dad had done his duty as a parent and been responsible. Of course my child asked me the question all young and foolish young children are want to ask. “Why not?”
Now if you were reading earlier you know and I know that I genuinely did have reasons. My list of reasons was way to long to make for anything other, than a long and drawn out answer, which would of no doubt surpassed the attention span time limit of a youngster. I also thought better of suggesting things to an impressionable young mind that had not occurred to them before. So of course I gave the old standard adult answer.
I immediately flashed back to my childhood as I heard my fathers voice escaping from my own lips, and saying those four words. “Because I said So.” I wanted to take it back, to not believe it was so, but it was too late. I had said it. Unfortunately everyone knows that once said, words cannot be taken back. They are out there.
I sat down sighing in my comfortable worn out shirt and boxers, and feeling very much like a grown up.