I have bad tattoos. Okay, they aren't all bad -- only about 33 percent of them are, if I break it down by specific tattoo artist. Also, since I didn't get my first tattoos (almost all came in pairs) until I was 24, they are strategically placed, meaning that, for the most part, they can't be seen if I'm wearing my everyday modest attire. But while wandering the dirty Band-Aid lands of Water World yesterday, parading my sick tats for all to see, I found myself staring at strangers' tattoos, too (and their bacne, rat tails, wet hair extensions and creepy tan lines. Oh, and their dermal piercings, the thought of which still makes me throw up fake sea water in my mouth).
I didn't have the ovaries to pull out my camera phone and brazenly document these tattoos, as my Westword cohort Cory Lamz did last year, but I did have time to ponder the meaning of inked life while waiting 45 minutes for a turn to ride a backwash-water-filled tube through a dinosaur's stomach. And I wondered, "Do people think about what their tattoos will mean when they are standing in public undressed, without the context of their own personality-defining clothing?"
I'm guessing the fully tattooed dude nodding off on the Cimarron River ride with a swastika on his leg didn't think about it. But then again, he has a SWASTIKA TATTOOED ON HIS LEG. I can't imagine he thinks much about anything.
And what about the lady with the words "dance like nobody's watching" tattooed in a swirl of stars and nondescript swirly stuff on her torso? Was I the only person to see that and think, "Wow, that woman liked her Walmart home decor purchase so much that instead of just hanging the plaque above her toilet, she had to get it permanently inked in Lucida Calligraphy handwriting font on her body?" Maybe she was really a Mark Twain fan, and I was just being judgmental.
I was definitely judgmental of the gentleman with a chest piece that, in barely readable script, said, "Better to be dead and cool than alive and uncool." Wait. Wasn't this guy alive? Doesn't that negate the statement? Whatever. I enjoyed reading the IMDB for what sounds like one of the finer films of the twentieth century, Harley Davidson and the Marlboro Man, the movie that this quote was taken from.
But really, who am I to talk? This past spring while my band was on tour, I got another addition to my collection of commemorative tour tattoos. While last year's inkingsaccidentally connected me with a female gang in Oakland
, this year I became more GLBTQ-allied than ever. By accident.
While we had a day off from shows in Tempe, Arizona, I had the words "You go west, young man" added in black cursive above the tattooed piece of candy and initialed hairbrush on my bicep. My intention was to honor a line from the Liz Phair song "Go West" that I had always admired. Upon arriving home, I showed my roommate my new tattoo and she screamed, "It's so cool that you got a Pet Shop Boys tattoo, dude!" I had forgotten about the duo's hit, "Go West" -- a song I later realized was originally recorded by the Village People.
To add another twist to my lack of Googling, when I showed my mom the tattoo, she said, "A Horace Greeley quote? That's interesting." Basically, I could never make fun of someone with a Colorado state flag tattoo ever again, because I had something equally CO-proud.
But what this really goes to show is, when we're almost naked, all of our tattoos are the same: kinda dumb. I can't judge the man with a Mortal Kombat logo on his left shoulder blade or the dude with the full-on re-creation of Rancid's ...And Out Come the Wolves album art on his bicep (though, of all Rancid records, that one isn't the greatest) any more than I can be judged for having a piece of John Candy gracing my arm. We all have different reasons for our tattoo choices, yet we allow the markings to speak for us -- and speak to strangers sharing nothing but the same surely pee-infested waters of the Lazy River.
And P.S.: If there is a tattoo artist out there interested on taking on my big, gross bro-style back tattoos, please contact me. Because every artist I've come crying to for help thus far has said something along the lines of "Sorry, lady. I can't fix those star tattoos. They are too horrible."
If you like this story, consider signing up for our email newsletters.
SHOW ME HOW
You have successfully signed up for your selected newsletter(s) - please keep an eye on your mailbox, we're movin' in!
Follow us on Twitter!