Tattoos are pretty bad ass. Getting one entails putting needles into your skin on purpose, which causes more pain than pleasure unless the aforementioned needle is full of heroin. You can get a tattoo of a skull or a dragon or the name of a friend who was eaten by wolves. Bad. Ass. Even tattoos that look wimpy (like a tear drop) mean bad ass things (like you killed someone). Part of me wants a tattoo. It would be cool and fierce and cowabunga (is cowabunga still a thing?). But a larger, doughier part of me knows that I’ll probably never get inked.
At the core of me, I’m a wimp. I’m very risk-averse by nature. When I drive, I stick pretty close to the speed limit. Scary movies make me squirm. I’d win most games of “Never Have I Ever,” except I’m an adult, and I don’t play slumber party games anymore. I know that tattoos aren’t actually all that dangerous, but they seem dangerous. Like skydiving. Or dating a girl with a missing front tooth. I just read that Lil Wayne has tattoos on his eyelids. That’s terrifying. It just seems like begging to be stabbed in the eye. His tattoos say “Fear” and “God.” My eyelid tattoos would say “Fear” and “A Needle Going Into Your Eyeball.” (Though I’m not sure that would fit.)
The best tattoos come from great stories. My girlfriend has the woman’s face from the Layla album cover because she grew up listening to Eric Clapton, and that’s still her favorite record. Sweet. My friend Jackie has a tattoo of a figure her grandfather taught her to draw as a child. Touching. Several of my buddies got the Pabst Blue Ribbon blue ribbon tatted on them together at a party. Grody. Like, Adrien Grody. But still pretty awesome. I don’t have any tattoo-worthy stories.
My favorite album is probably Pinkerton by Weezer, but I’d rather eat a cardigan for breakfast every day of my life than walk around with a tattoo of that artwork like the poster child for shorthand hipsterism. My grandfather never taught me to draw anything. He did teach me: “Slow down when you’re taking that turn!” That’s not exactly something I want to commit to my flesh forever. I’ve already opted out of the Pabst tattoo. Who needs to make a lifelong bad decision to remind themselves of previous bad decisions?
So what would I even get? None of the things that are meaningful to me have impressive visual representations. I like pie, but that wouldn’t make a great story. “One time, I was driving through the mountains of Montana, and I had a slice of huckleberry that couldn’t be beat. I needed to remember that for the rest of my days. Oh, hey! Please stop dunking my head in the toilet!” I’m a lifelong Boston sports fan, but I feel like a sports team tattoo is a neon sign that says: “I haven’t read a book since tenth grade!” I have a Red Sox hat, and that is good enough. I like The Big Lebowski, but a tattoo of The Dude might as well be the Latin word for “unemployable.” Being a writer, I’ve toyed with the idea of a comma for a long time. But how will people know it’s not an apostrophe? I’d have to get a semicolon, and what am I, some kind of asshole?
I know a tattoo is supposed to be for you and not for other people. It’s an expression of something meaningful to you. But you can’t just get anything you want, because how you present yourself sends a message to other people. In terms of fashion, the outward expression of my essence is sweatpants and slippers. I can’t wear that every day, though, because I’d get tired of people asking me: Is everything okay?
The biggest question, then, is how can I best encapsulate who I am in a way that makes other people understand and “get” me with only one visual cue? That’s a weighty question, especially since my sense of self could change over time. How can I anticipate what about me is permanent and what is mutable? I’d like to think I know myself pretty well, but Me in 2011 is different than the Me from 2003. Who says that Me in 2020 won’t have lasers for eyeballs and abs of steel? (Most people would probably say that.) The whole thing makes me feel overwhelmed, like the best snapshot of my identity would just be a tattoo of myself, shrugging.
And I can convey that with my body the way it is now. So why not save myself the pain, and spend my money on pie?