This is a follow-up of sorts to this post.
I came home with my third tattoo a few nights ago (thanks for helping me pick it, those of you who weighed in!), and I’ve already gotten my “what’s that weird thing on your arm all about?” explanation speech down PAT. Would you like to know it? No? Then close your eyes. (And picture Ryan Gosling perched at the edge of your bed, in the nude, waiting for you to return with another Amstel Light, which the two of you will share whilst cracking adorably wise and slowly gearing up for round two.) Anyway:
“Have you heard of this thing called the hobo code? So, during the Depression, hobos would ride the rails and hop around looking for a free meal or a place to sleep. On their way out, they’d leave little chalk markings on the ground for their bum brethren. Like: ‘Man with gun lives here; or ‘Alcohol in this town.’ So yeah, this is one of those. Mine means ‘COWARDS. Will give to get rid of you.’ Although I kind of wanted ‘You can sleep in hayloft,’ because how ridiculous, right?, but the symbol was a little too tribal looking.”
So that’s what I say while I thrust my still-scabby right wrist into the face of whatever poor sap asked for an explanation. That’s the thing I’ll be saying, ostensibly for the rest of my life, between three and six times a week, depending on the season. I’m of the mind that there’s no way to explain your tattoos with out being a bit self-deprecating about it; but then again, I’m also of the mind that there’s no way to talk about yourself at all without a touch of ego-minimizing — so maybe that’s just me. (“Maybe that’s just me,” she says, shaking her head as she continues to talk about herself.)
My first two tattoos are both from children’s books, insert deep psychiatric implications here. I got the first one when I turned 18: my dad and I went to a little shop in Pasadena where he promised to get inked along with me in a generous act of fatherly solidarity until, last minute, I let him off the hook. (But guess what? Six years later, Dad came home with a bass clef etched into his forearm, casually showed it to my mom, then sent me and my brother a photo text that immediately caused us to wonder if a red Porsche and a buxom blonde stepmom were on the way. Fortunately, they were not, although Pop’s currently on a tour of the South, playing keyboards in a band. Yes, I’m trying to tell you that my dad’s cooler than your dad.) The image, super small, is from The Little Prince: it’s a sketch of an elephant inside of a boa constrictor. Meaning-wise, the point is that all the adults in the book think the drawing’s a hat because they’re not creative and open-minded like the kids, who totally understand the elephant/boa constrictor thing. Aw, or whatever.
My second tattoo is from a Shel Silverstein book, and it’s something my brother and I got together, when I was 22 and he 19. The image shows a child launched into space with a fishing net, which he’s using to hook a falling star. One time, a Subway sandwich artist said, “Hey, awesome coat rack tattoo!” Double aw, or whatever.
Everyone has thoughts about tattoos. You love them, you hate them, you want one but can’t decide on quite the right thing. You think they should be meaningful, you think they should be pretty, you think it’d be wise to invest your money in tattoo removal technology because in twenty years all these hipster idiots are going to come to their senses and realize that a shark wearing Ray-Bans and surfing the waves of your calf muscle is not conducive to, say, convincing your bank to let you take out a second mortgage on your nice three-bedroom in suburban Massachusetts.
My own thoughts about tattoos (oh come on, you saw the headline so you can’t complain) are the following: If you want a tattoo, get the tattoo, even if it doesn’t seem particularly meaningful, because chances are you probably won’t regret it or even think about it at all after a few weeks of craning your neck at extreme angles to view your wrist, shoulder, or lesser body part from every possible vantage point. Plus, it feels good in a buzzy, oh my god my flesh is being scraped out by a giant needle, but I can totally tolerate this! way. In exactly that way. I guess I also find something weirdly empowering about getting to make permanent decisions about how to present the body you were given. Tattooing yourself is a way of subtly asserting that your existence is your own to create, or whatever. (Nietzsche said that. He also has a tramp stamp reading “God is dead” in Old English, which maybe explains the syphilis.)
So this time around, I wanted something very un-earnest, something pointedly not all that meaningful. Something I got just for the story and the joke of it. In truth, I suppose I also wanted something that made me seem like the type of person who would get a tattoo just for the story and the joke of it, so there’s that. And I also wanted something that, like, looks cool. You know?
(Psst. Guys: open your eyes now. This personal essay is over and Ryan Gosling has a whole itinerary of other fantasies to appear in before the day is over. He says “Hey girl.”)