No. That was in case you started to wonder from the title of this piece whether I am sporting some ink. I did, however, once aid and abet someone else.
I have written before about my friend Dan. As hardwired as I might be to resist popular trends and fads, Dan’s inborn circuits in this area were of much higher amperage than mine ever were. For example, both of our musical tastes eschewed modern rock of the late 70’s. But where I took refuge in big band and jazz music from before the rock era, Dan dove headfirst into the music of John Phillip Sousa and the other practitioners of the march and operetta genre from the years on either side of 1900. Perhaps you didn’t even know that was a musical genre. Well that was Dan.
There was something else that was very out of current fashion in 1979 – tattoos. Me? I just never saw the reason or felt the need. I still don’t, which puts me squarely into the anti-trendy camp. And believe you me, I will feel pret-ty smug and self-satisfied when tattoos have jumped the shark and become the fashion equivilent of the spiky bleached hair and extra big cargo shorts everyone was wearing while listening to the Backstreet Boys. And no, I didn’t follow any of those fads either. Though I will admit to owning some cargo shorts now that they are wildly out of fashion.
In 1979 I did not feel the urge to go all anti-establishment by getting a tattoo. I was content to smoke the occasional cheap cigar while reading Life Magazines from the 50’s and listening to Stan Kenton on the stereo. Dan, however, decided to go for it.
Tattoo parlors were illegal in Indiana at the time. We had spent some time working with a guy who was from Toledo and it somehow came up in conversation that there was a tattoo parlor there. I think the tattoo-guy (we did not think of him as an artist then) was named Dave. Toledo was close to two hundred miles away from us but Dan began to make plans to go there.
Dan’s brother and I were enlisted as driving helpers as he was told that driving home was not something he might feel like doing. And thus began our testosterone-fueled road trip.
The car we took was kind of its own anti-trendy thing – a bright red 1974 Dodge Charger. First, by then anything built by Chrysler Corporation in the 70s was seen as something suitable only for trailer parks. Add the fact that it was a totally strippo car with a six cylinder engine, a three speed column shift and rubber floors. There was not even an AM radio. No self-respecting late-70’s kind of guy would ever drive anything like it. We, of course, loved it. And for what it’s worth, I have never seen another like it.
We eventually found the place and went inside. Let’s just say that I felt out of my element. There was an entire wall papered with photos of the proprietor’s work, and some of it was, let’s just say, Wow. The tattoo of the devil’s face on some nameless’ woman’s – well let’s not even go there – is a picture that I have never been able to erase from my mind. That must have really hurt.
Dan had no need to go to The Wall for inspiration (thank goodness) because he had designed a small patriotic design that involved an eagle over a shield of stars and stripes. There was not much call for that sort of thing among college students of the late 70’s but it was vintage Dan.
We were offered the chance to wait, but my co-driver and I elected to find a nearby bar to get a burger and a beer to pass the time. I recall the neighborhood being seedy enough that we had no trouble finding a bar open before 11 am but not so seedy that we were afraid to go into it.
When we returned Dan was sporting a white dressing over his upper arm just below the shoulder. I believe it was his left, but am unsure all these years later. His brother and I took turns finding our way back home and several hours later the adventure was over.
Dan was all into rebellion against the culture, but rebellion against his mother was something else entirely and thus we were sworn to secrecy. I can say that I kept my part of the bargain while both of them were alive, but she (as all good mothers would) found out anyway during one of his times back home. From what I was told, the reaction had something of a seismic character.
That single vicarious experience with a tattoo has proved to be quite enough for me. And now that tats have become popular, well no thanks. And once they have become uncool again? From the looks of things the crowd of uncool people will be way too big for me to want to join. Perhaps I will just buy a box of cheap cigars and play some Sousa marches instead.
Photo Credit: Tattooed Sailor Aboard USS New Jersey, 1944. In the public domain as part of the holdings of the National Archives And Records Administration (NAID 520883).