The permanent marker

I’ve never really understood tattoos. I find it hard enough to commit to a month long metrocard, so the thought of being permanently branded with the kind of illustration that most people gave up drawing when they were sixteen fills me with fear and dread. The fact that you pay through the nose for it, it hurts like hell, and you can only get rid of it by having your flesh roasted like a nice piece of pork belly is neither here nor there.

For some reason, however, it appears that my deeply-held opinion is of little interest to the vast majority of Americans. Hard though that is to believe. Federal legislation passed shortly after MC Hammer’s brief flirtation with success demand that anybody wishing to have a hit is required to have at least one strap tattoo in order to be eligible for chart entry. And if you’re in the grip of a midlife crisis, but can’t afford a Ferrari (or the child support payments when your wife finds out about your affair with Mindy, the pneumatic blonde from the local hardware store), a tattoo is the choice du jour. Because, as we all know, tattoos look really great the older you get.

One thing I’ve noticed though is that women have tattoos in vastly greater numbers in New York than they do in London.

I’m not talking about the tiny pictures of hearts, snakes or stars that some women pick to decorate their lower back, shoulder or posterior. These are, after all, the bank charges of the body decoration world – mostly kept hidden until it’s way too late to avoid them. I’m not sure why these people don’t just buy a nice new piece of jewellery instead, thereby avoiding spending an hour in the company of a Hell’s Angel named Barry. But each to their own. I’m sure Barry’s actually a really nice guy who genuinely loves his mummom.

No, I’m talking the full-on murals that probably took a team of seasoned painters and decorators six days working around the clock to pull off. The kind of design that would make Sandra Bullock start sharpening her newly-bought collection of kitchen knives. No piffling stars or hearts here – just increasingly elaborate designs that suggest the work of a troubled youth who had run out of space to doodle and picked on the next available material that came to hand.

Favorite designs that I’ve seen on the ladies of New York include the complicated tattoo necklace (I presume she had alternative skin available for the times that the necklace didn’t accessorise properly with her outfit), and a frankly inexplicable design on the back of both knees. Although nothing really beats the trailing ivy that sloped from one woman’s foot, all the way up her leg. The fact that the shrubbery appeared to emerge from between two toes, implicitly suggesting that the ivy had incubated in some kind of fungal growth, clearly was of no concern to her.

Thankfully, some New York women take a much more practical view of tattoos. Taking the subway home last night, I witnessed a woman whose back of her hand featured three tattooed boxes, each a quarter inch in size. I pondered deeply on the strange simplicity of the design. Could it be some reaffirmation of the power of three, or a symbolic representation of the father, the son and the holy ghost? Or maybe she was simply halfway through the eventual design, with the initials of a loved one soon to appear within the boxes, maybe in an unnecessarily elaborate brush script?

Then ten minutes into the journey, she took out a pen and scribbled ‘pick up dry cleaning’ next to one of the boxes. In New York, it would appear that romances come and go, but checklists are truly forever.

10 thoughts on “The permanent marker

  1. Limey

    I have never seen a tattoo on someone and thought it was something I would want to see my whole life. I just could not commit to one and – to be honest (and this would upset many of my friends if I ever told them) – I find them rather tacky and common. I’m a snob, I know! It does depend on where they are, what they are and the reason for getting them, of course. But, the lower back tats or the Chinese symbols are just dreadful. A fashion trend that will haunt people forever!

  2. Alasdair

    Limey – ’tis indeed true – a tattoo on the lower back does, by necessity, tend to follow one forever …

    Dylan – interesting that you mention “permanent marker” – as a comparatively new entrant to parenthood, as and when and IF you and your SWMBO choose to have another mini-Dylan, you get to look forward to when the older kid discovers that permanent markers work well on the younger kid – probably on the head/face – perhaps just like MomMum does with makeup …

    When a kid is smart, said kid discovers henna instead … and ‘experiments’ with that as far as body-modifying goes, since it is gone a couple of weeks after surface application …

    Then again, when your teenager tells you that he/she wants a tatto, you might consider suggesting a ‘belt’ of biohazard symbols around the body, just above the navel … if he/she asks why, you can point out that he/she must have heard of “Toxic Waist”, right ?

  3. Lynda

    I think here in Newcastle, Australia, the tattoed population would give New Yorkers a run for their money. Skin is very much on view in our climate and a lot of it has tattoes on it. I feel sorry for those pretty young things that I see looking gorgeous on the beach with tats on view. Don’t they know what happens to the tats when skin gets old and wrinkly and starts to sag!

  4. Silverback

    Lynda’s comment made me think of these tats once the first flush and taut skin of youth wears off and they and their owners become senior citizens.

    Maybe a few have thought of this and have got tats that will become like the famous folding page of MAD magazine ! Two tats for the price of one. What forward thinking that would be !!

    Or as things sag, maybe a nice image of a happy man smiling at the beach would, over the years, become Edvard Munch’s ‘The Scream’.

  5. geekymummy

    San Francisco is also a heavily tattooed city. It seems compulsory if you work as a checker in whole foods that you have a good swathe of your body surface inked.

    I don’t have any, but I ever leave San Francisco I may have to get a little souvenir permanently marked somewhere. As someone who has resorted to sticking post its to my iphone to remember things I do like the hand/checkbox idea though

  6. Shmii

    That is some serious back of the hand check-listing.
    I dislike tattoos. I dislike how most of them mean nothing, like a top-heavy mermaid sipping on a pint of beer, or a snake crawling around a skull’s head, or a lame little butterfly. I dislike how they not only mean nothing, but also look pretty bad.

  7. Dylan Post author

    Who knew that my readers were so firmly in agreement with me?! Now I just need to win you all over to not breaking the spines of books…

    Oh, and hello to Shmii, Huw, Lynda and geekymummy – nice of you to comment! I can only apologise for Alastair’s “toxic waist” pun…

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