An old outlier without a tattoo to his name

ImpressionImpression: When dotcom companies were flushed with cash in the early 2000s the websites invested in their fair share of flesh. Hostgator Dotcom is pictured. Daily Mail, 9-27-12

Tattoos have never made much sense to me; actually that is not the complete truth, once when I was 18-years old I was in San Francisco and wanted to get a tattoo, but by the time I was drunk enough the place had closed.  Growing up we had a family story that was always told as a lesson about my mother’s brother.  When my uncle was a young man and first in the navy in 1938 he got a tattoo; years later it embarrassed him – he had his ex-wife’s name tattooed on his arm – and he wanted to get rid of it.   It was possible, but not easy – at least that is the way the story was told in our family.

Most of my life, tattoos have been like my uncle’s tattoo, shady things on a sailor’s arm best hidden from polite society.  Sometime in the last 20 years that changed, now it is common to be tattooed; tattoos are no longer the providence of sailors and renegades, now they belong to the mainstream of society; people from all walks of life are tattooed and wear their tattoos openly and proudly.  Also, tattoos are no longer the sole providence of men – women now have as many tattoos as men.  Still, I wonder if as people age, change partners and interests that more than a few of those who proudly support a tattoo will want to hide them and try, like my uncle, to rid themselves of that once lovely tattoo.  It is not an easy thing to talk about because so many people have them; I don’t and am therefore an outlier – and an old outlier at that.

Today, however, the London Daily Mail tackled the subject.  The Daily Mail article was about the people who had websites address tattooed on their faces or other prominent places on their bodies; the people in the article had tattoos advertising website long since gone, dead and disappeared.  I thought immediately of my uncle and his ex-wife, he lived 60 years after that tattoo, 50 of those years with a woman with a different name.  The article frames the issue for me.  What that we do, want or think today will still have the same importance or significance to us in 10, 20 or 30 years?  The answer is probably nothing.  I think about myself as an 18-year old wandering around drunk in San Francisco; what that boy thought, believed or wanted survives in me today?  Nothing I would argue, but one might well answer that is just because you are old and live is over for you.  In my defense I would tell a young person, that those things that boy wanted disappeared from my consciousness long before I was old, just as what you hold to dearest today will be very faded years from now; faded in importance just as the colors in the tattoo will fade.

In the interest of full-disclosure, I admit that I once stopped shopping at a store and wrote a letter of complaint to the store’s management over the tattoos of an employee.  In the letter, I supported free speech and the right of any person or employee to choose how to decorate his/her own body.  But, I argued when the words hate and kill were tattooed on a person’s fingers, I could not find any occasion that I was willing to support those sentiments with my patronage; therefore I would shop at places that did not display such messages.  The store wanted to disavow any association with the message – however it was in their store the message was displayed.

That is the only time I have acted that way, but it is not the first time I have been insulted by a tattooed message.  It is a subject I think about often, it is so much a part of contemporary society it is impossible to avoid.  I am offering no conclusions, the judgments and no recommendations; I am simply offering up my thoughts on the subject, supported for the moment by the Daily Mail.  Without that article I would never have written on the subject – a person’s tattoos are their own business, as are their clothes, friends or beliefs and therefore not my business.  However, today, I could not resist – I meant no offense to anyone; some of my best friends have tattoos and certainly some of my family also.


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September 2012
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