Thursday, December 27, 2012
Now, a Virgo, logistics thing - When I first decided to write a Norman Rockwell inspired series, I listed eight topics to go with eight of Rockwell's paintings. This post is number 13 in the series, which means I've added a few since I posted the first one, and, if you're wondering, as of this moment there are 31 folders in my Rockwell file. That means you're going to see at least seventeen more.
And now - Number 13 - Tattoos
I have nine tattoos. When I wear a short-sleeved T-shirt, which is most of the time, six of them of visible. Many times, people have said to me, "I'll bet you got those when you were in the service."
I'm sometimes tempted to say, "You're right," but, I never do. Depending on the circumstances, and whether or not I think they really want to know, I give them either the short or the long version, or sometimes the in-between version, of the truth about my tattoos.
Here's the in-between version. I was forty years old. I'd just ended a seven year marriage, and a corporate career, and was two days away from setting sail on a sea whose waters I'd never experienced. Before casting off, I decided to mark the beginning of my journey, and I could think of no better way to do that than with a tattoo.
I didn't know anyone who had a tattoo (this was thirty years ago) so I headed out in search of a tattoo artist without a referral. I drove past a tattoo parlor on my way to work, so with no reviews to guide me (we didn't have those either) I drove to the only shop I was a aware of, accompanied by my longtime friend, Ethel Sutfin.
It was Saturday, and all three of the shop's artists were busy. I signed the book, indicating I'd take the next available tattooist. Fifteen minutes later, a sailor left, admiring the new tattoo on his forearm as he walked out into the warm spring evening. Five minutes later, Bear, who looked a lot more like a tattoo artist than the one Norman painted in the illustration, came from the back of the shop, looked at me and asked, "You next?"
"Yep," I said.
Bear looked at Ethel, "You want one too?" he asked.
Ethel said, "Probably, but I won't know for sure, until I see how Bert does."
Bear laughed and said, "You first-timers are funny as hell. Come on back. Let's get started."
As soon as I was in his chair, he said, "OK, what do you want?"
"An Eagle," I said, as I handed him the sample book I'd picked up while we were waiting. I pointed to my choice and added, "That one."
As he opened the rings of the loose leaf binder and withdrew my selection he said, "Where do you want it?"
"On my chest, where no one can see it," I quickly replied.
"Okay," he said, laughing a bit and then he said, "You'll be back in a month getting one people can see."
He was wrong. It was three months before I made it back. However, I digress.
For three hours, Bear worked on my eagle. Though I didn't cry or scream, I thought about it more than once. Getting a tattoo is a lot like going through a hurricane. For the first thirty minutes or so, it's different, unique, something to mark in your memory for later consideration. Then it gets old, and you want the wind to quit howling, but it doesn't stop until it's over.
However, like experiencing a hurricane first hand, the bad parts are forgotten in time, and you begin to think about the next one. That's why I have nine of them, and at age seventy, I find myself wondering where to put number ten, and if Bear is still slinging ink.
Ethel did get her tattoo, but I've never seen it and she has assured me on more than one occasion that I never will. She also noted there will not be a second one, no matter how many more I get.
Which brings me to the point of my story. I've never regretted my tattoo decision(s). Daddy King had a tattoo on his forearm: a heart with the word "Mother" inside its simple outline. That was all the permission I needed to go down the tattoo road. Ethel, on the other hand, had never considered a tattoo until the night she sat beside me and watched Bear implant the eagle on my chest. Later she said to me, "You son of a bitch. I watched you for three hours and didn't think you were hurting. If I'd known the truth, I'd have never gotten one."
The moral of the story is, decisions are permanent, all of them. Don't make one for the wrong reason.
Tomorrow, is number fourteen in the Norman Rockwell inspired blog series. I call it Welcome Home, and I'll illustrate it with a painting that Norman called Homecoming Marine.