3AM Sunday 16 July 2012 Nunhead Heights
Westerners have tattoos in Chinese characters so that they can keep its meaning to themselves. To themselves and only 1.5 billion literate Chinese people. These tattoos translate into English as “This seemed like a good idea at the time.”
Vin, the 27-year-old Brazilian bartender at my shows in Soho, has a new tattoo – a woman’s skull with long hair flowing down. It’s beautiful, but scary, too.
Every so often, maybe once a month, I think about getting a tattoo. Everyone has one, or is getting one, and I have a lot to say. I blog, I tweet, I should scar my skin. And I want to scare people, too.
I stop myself.
I’ve never met an old person who is happy about his or her tattoos. They fade and blend and wind up looking like a Port wine stain – dripping down on sagging old person’s skin. My skin is sagging already. And I know I’ll tat something I’ll regret. This is just a post and I’m wishing I had chosen another topic. Oh, and old people are inherently scary. We don’t need to make it worse.
Did you know that tattoos were illegal in New York City until 1997? Before then, you had to travel out of town to get a tat. And the ones that came into New York were on men who’d been in the Navy, been in prison or inside other dudes. They were on scary men. People I knew, Jews, generally didn’t get tattoos. It’s prohibited by God to mess with your body though circumcision was okay. Go figure.
And they were small tattoos – not the ginormous spray painted murals you see today. They were the Marines insignia. A pretty girl. Their kids’ names. It now takes only few hours and a couple of hundred pounds – as in money – to paint the entire artwork from Iron Maiden’s Fear the Dark album cover on a fat, middle aged accountant’s back.
And what is so important that you need to be reminded of that you won’t easily remember? What is not already deep in your brain that you need to etch into your skin?
“Don’t forget to breathe!” or “Look right and left crossing streets in London!”
I don’t need to have my children’s names or the dates of their births on my skin. I remember them and their birthdays.
During the first days of my divorce, when I feared I was going to be denied contact with my children and that I might never see them again, I would struggle to spend even five continuous minutes not thinking about them. Every street held memories. Every face reminded me of their faces, and not just other children. The absence of the children would give me a sense of longing.
Even now, when the fear of losing my children has somewhat subsided, they still dominate my thoughts. I don’t need to see their names on my arms. It would remind me how afraid I was – and it would be scary.
I could tattoo: STOP TALKING ABOUT YOUR DIVORCE! That would be a scary tattoo.
I remember seeing a man in Greenwich Village in 1999 or so , and his face was almost covered in blue ink. I couldn’t look at him, so frightened was I of raising his ire. Now that’s more common – but only slightly less spooky.
I spent ten years living on Avenue B in the East Village and would walk past the Hell’s Angels clubhouse on the way to the Great Jones Café. The Hell’s Angels now have a website. [They have a website!] My friend Dan from The Jones got beaten up because he confused the door of the clubhouse with his own front door, so drunk was he, and so brutal were they. The skull and crossbones tattoos of the Angels was pretty scary to me.
I was with my father in Barney’s Boys Town clothes store on Seventh Avenue in 1969 buying my Bar Mitzvah suit. I was 12. That was before Barney’s was all trendy and fancy: It had a basement for children’s clothes.
We’re in the racks of clothes jam packed with suits for boys. Behind a pillar I see a woman. She is an old woman – or seems old to me. Everyone looks old to a 12-year-old. I glanced down at her exposed arm. There was a number tattooed on her forearm.
I knew what those numbers meant. It was just 24 years after the end of The War. Everyone knew what those numbers meant then. The Nazi’s had done that to her in a concentration camp because she was a Jew, too. She might have been a Roma Gypsy, or a Communist – at the time I thought the Nazis hated only the Jews.
That was the scariest thing I had ever seen.
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