I’m not sure where it began, with my surprising affection for Biker Mike’s single original tattoo, the meaning of which I’ve forgotten, on his left bicep; with the realization of my hapless addiction to ACDC, though their lyric material seems limited entirely to sex; or with the evolution of my alter ego as a rocker bike chick. Heretofore, I cringed whenever I heard the word ‘chick’ used in reference to female persons; and I still refuse to use that title unless it is connected to biker.
Meanwhile, I’ve become a tattoo groupie. I'm that girl who asks about and studies a tattoo when I see it; I want to know what it is, what it means, and why it’s there. I’m intrigued by my friend Beto’s forearm pinups. The ladies smile at me from a history of gang membership and rockabilly style. Beto quit the gang a while back, but not the rockabilly; now he works at a local restaurant, always ready for me with a bear hug.
“I found out people like you better when you’re nice to them,” he says smiling and bussing tables with the same fifties pompadour he’s had for over twenty years.
I watch the entire first season of LA Ink. The show features both newbies who've never seen a needle and old timers trying to find a patch of un-marked skin to cover. I’m intrigued by the stories, a strange sampling of superficiality and life-altering benchmarks. And then there was the guy who wanted R.I.P over a slice of cheese tattooed on his arm, marking his diagnosis of lactose intolerance and the beginning of a cheese-less future.
But my interest started moving into obsession when I read Skin Deep: Tattoos, The Disappearing West, Very Bad Men, And My Deep Love For Them All by Karol Griffin. Griffin writes about her own life in Wyoming, learning to tattoo, and dating the clientele. An eager student, I devour the book like a manual of tattoo culture, unencumbered by the obvious side effects of dating ex-cons and drug addicts. And I'm won over by the specific skill of tattooing: an artist's trade. Griffin argues that the true canvass for tattoos wants more than a memory made permanent, but for the tattoos to exist for their own sake. Art for art’s sake.
“When did you get your first tattoo,” I ask Ryan while I wait for him to scan my groceries. He appears to be working on sleeves on both arms. He says he's getting another tattoo after work.
“Do you have any art,” he asks.
“Do you want to get a tattoo?”
“Probably not...I think, I just like skin too much.”
“That's different. I’ve never heard that before. So you probably hate these,” he indicates his own ink.
“No, I mean, I like them on you,” I stammer pathetically before he turns to the next customer.
But I do. I’m attracted to the bad ass image of a well-placed tattoo, particularly on a shapely bicep. And I think Kat Von D is gorgeous in all her ink. But me?
My new obsession is disturbing considering my revulsion to the mere idea of my cousin Derek getting a tattoo when we were teenagers. To my adolescent mind, this was nothing less than an insult to his character and an affront to our family values.
As I got older, there were other reasons. I knew my friend Rebecca and I were soul sisters when we confessed to one another over coffee one morning, that we didn’t want tattoos because they were too mainstream. In fact, we were prone to specifically avoiding anything if everyone was doing it. Apparently the cliff-jumping hypothetical was never necessary in our rearing. But I’m sure when the uprising of skin purists begins, we’ll be at the forefront.
And so I am red-faced to admit that I actually considered getting a tattoo on my own body this year...embarrassingly past the age of running off to the tattoo parlor on spring break to get the initials of your best friends in some medieval font on your lower back. But then, I never partook in that sort of revelry, so I never really had the opportunity.
But I’ve had some time to mull it over, and one afternoon, I have a vision. I tell Ryan the next time I see him. “So, I decided what I would get if I got a tattoo....a big gnarly tree, on my back, with the twisted trunk curved with my spine.” It would symbolize peace-making with deformity, and a newfound pride, drawing attention to that part of my body that I’d always wanted to hide. Plus I have a thing for trees. If anything could be, it was perfect. Or maybe a warrior princess atop a unicorn fighting a dragon. I know one five-year-old who would be impressed.
Rebecca was confused, but supportive, offering to take me on a field trip to a local parlor. And the inspiration stayed strong for nearly a week. Then I started thinking about what a big step that is, how I have plenty of time to think it over...asking myself if I’m really that into it. I fully endorse rebellion against social norms for the sake of promoting free-thinking; but I’ve never really liked rebellion worn on the sleeve myself. Maybe I’m more of a tattoo voyeur; appreciating but not partaking, a wannabe who doesn’t really.
The last time I went through Ryan’s line, I asked if he’s gotten that tattoo. He hasn’t. “I don’t know,” he says, “I’m not sure I’m really that guy any more." I wonder when you're that far in, if you really have a choice; but that’s kind of how I feel, like I might not be that girl. A tattoo girl.
This morning I received an email from friend and film color artist (not his official title), Mikey Man. It contained this:
I’d call that disability gets revenge. I’m thrilled by the idea...in theory. I'm all for comedic coping, but do I really want a shark arm?