“Tim” is a door-door-salesman for a carpet cleaning service. He doorbelled Dad and Mom’s house when I was doing some work there the other week. The parents own the place, so I couldn’t help him out with a sale. Still, something about him caught my eye when he turned to leave.
“What’s that tattoo behind your ear?” I wondered.
He took a beat and said, “It’s Korean.”
“What does it say?”
Tim craned his neck to show me another tattoo, behind his right ear.
“This was supposed to be an octopus. And the other one was supposed to be a bird. But I fell asleep in the chair and the tattoo artist went crazy.”
“And tattooed you with Korean characters instead?”
“Yeah this one says ‘sin’ and the other one says ‘lust.’”
Tim’s face got a little red.
He added, “I didn’t find out what it said for six months.”
There was another story there, of course. But the guy already seemed plenty embarrassed. I thought prying further would just be cruel.
Tim’s is only the latest in the long run of unfortunate tattoo stories, and hardly the most extreme. With the possible exception of military tats, they almost always turn out to be a bad idea in the long run or even the medium run.
The images, from tattoos of exes to tattoos of Texas, may start out fun. However, they end up producing about nine kinds of regret.
Tattoos might not turn out the way you wanted them to. Or they capture a passion or fancy at one point in your life that doesn’t carry over into the future.
Forget the risk of infection, which is minimal if done right. Many tattoos don’t weather well over the decades, making your stretched skin look that much worse. Plenty of even younger people end up wearing long sleeve shirts or abjuring swimsuits to hide embarrassing tats.
Gang or biker tats can limit employment opportunities or lead to harassment from authorities. And, ladies, let me say that a number of unenlightened Neanderthal males are going to take that “tramp stamp” a little too literally.
True, tattoos can be removed. But the process is expensive and painful and often ineffective.
Now, I fully support a woman’s right to choose whatever tattoo she wants. Most legal curbs on tattoos, other than perhaps age limits and general, commonsense rules against getting tattooed while drunk or high, are ill conceived.
Seriously crack down on tattoos and authorities would only end up driving tattoos underground. This would drive up the number of tattoo-related infections without all the safeguards that public parlors observe to keep from being shut down.
But enough with the talk of prohibition and censoriousness. Especially when we can accentuate the positive to make the same point here.
I have a painting on my wall. It’s a beautiful moonlight seascape in black and white. Sometimes you can see a boat in the surf, other times, from a different angle if you’re not paying enough attention, it disappears.
It is one of the most beautiful things I’d ever laid eyes on. It was first spotted by yours truly at a now-defunct art gallery at Washington, D.C.’s Union Station. There I stood lost in it and finally bought the thing so it didn’t take up the rest of my day.
As a painting, it’s grand. As a tattoo, it would be a disaster. It might start out like Narcissus’s reflection but it wouldn’t end up that way.
The image wouldn’t look nearly as good on human canvas, for one. Even if it did, looking at it all the time or having people constantly remark on it would turn it into a bother. Eventually, beauty or not, I’d despise it.
One doubts that will ever happen with the painting on the wall. But if it does, I can remove it, easy peasy, and either get rid of it or put it in storage for a bit and discover it anew later. If the image was literally grafted onto my skin, it would a lot more difficult to pull off.
That’s why I don’t get a tattoo, and why millions of people wish they hadn’t.