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
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.