My grandfather had tattoos. They were not ironic.
They were drunkenly forged into his skin by his frightened comrades in a bombed out saloon in Algeria in 1942. He didn’t care how they looked. He just wanted a distraction from killing people he didn’t know, in a place he didn’t want to be. Over the next year he would traverse North Africa before shooting down planes from the back of a jeep on Malta.
Perhaps there were Nazis only a few miles away tattooing each other and drinking cheap pilfered alcohol to take their troubled minds off the manifestation of their fuhrer’s agenda. Or perhaps they were simply wishing they could likewise be home with their loved ones instead of killing Americans they didn’t know or really hate all that much. Either way, those tattoos were not ironic.
Thousands of miles to the North countless souls were being subjected to tattooed reminders of the war in an altogether different surrounding. It seems strange how some chose to remember the war on their skin and others were forced into remembering despite wanting to forget it at any cost.
Ask a military man over the age of 70 about the ‘significance’ of his tattoos and you may get the same answer; I was in the army. I was at war.
Its almost a nice way of saying what the hell else was I going to do to remove myself from the living hell that surrounded me, stop asking me stupid questions.
Years ago, my Uncle Butch made a lot of money in the stock market. Apparently random people with no real knowledge of finance can actually do that.
Not wanting snooty rich neighbors to soil his character, he opted to continue living in his doublewide trailer in New Jersey. He drives a smart car when he isn’t cruising in one of his restored 1950s Chevys.
His tanned, leathery skin is adorned with a spattering of ink. Most saliently, a naked woman creeps down his hand, her legs covering the tops of his pointer and middle fingers. It is very anatomically graphic. On his shoulder the Statue of liberty holds open her robes and casts a paltry, naughty glance. She is well endowed. Somewhere else on his arm a hot rod races toward nowhere, spouting flames and exhaust.
The irony of his tattoos remains in question since they actually represent the things Butch loves. Ostensibly he is fond of naked, attractive females, America, and cars.
I have no tattoos and I don’t think I ever will. When I was 13 I desperately wanted many tattoos to accompany my persona as a punker/hardcore kid.
In one of the few intelligent moves of my teenage years I resolved to wait at least 2 years before getting a tattoo. That way I would know if I truly wanted one.
When I was 18 I encountered Delacroix’s ‘Liberty Leading the People’ painting in a history class I was taking on the French Revolution. It was still a somewhat obscure piece to most people (Americans) at the time. It would have looked extremely bad ass in black and green across my ribcage.
Shortly thereafter Coldplay put it on the cover of their album. My uncharacteristic self-enforced rule helped me dodge a very large bullet in that particular instance.
It was around this time I realized I should probably never get a tattoo. I’m not sure of the exact moment when it struck me. There were multiple contenders.
One day my friend pulled up his pants-leg to reveal a shiny pink and purple My Little Pony tattoo on his thigh. My roommate winced like a little girl as he had three red airplanes inked across his hip and crashing into his groin (a Talking Heads album cover). My other roommate had “fuck you” tattooed on the inside of his lip.
I watched as my three best friends got tattooed by a fourth friend in his parent’s living room. They all had the acronym for our fictitious teenage gang (The Butt Naked Crew or BNC) in “Cholo” letters scribed on their right ass-cheeks. It was hilarious, and still is to this day.
But when my turn came I declined to much berating, berating which continues to this day. I didn’t need a tattoo. What the hell would my grandfather think.