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Tattoo You

Art is for every body.

Do you have tattoos? Or a tattoo?

I have one. On my hip, right above my butt. A small dagger. I had it done almost 40 years ago, so it’s really faded. It also didn’t heal correctly because I didn’t think it would take longer than overnight. How wrong I was. Now, it’s so misshapen, it’s hard to tell what it was supposed to be originally.

I had the artist put it there because you can’t see it unless I’m wearing a bikini (don’t make me laugh) or naked (don’t make me laugh so hard I puke).

My mother saw it, though. I was squatting before the open fridge to dig something out of the crisper drawer. My jeans were a bit tight because I’d gained a little weight, so I was showing some plumber’s butt. Footsteps behind me, and then a…SCREAM, followed by the whole “why, what, are you crazy?” tirade.

Life is meant to be lived subversively.

I totally get her reaction. When I was growing up, having tattoos meant something. For men, it meant one of three things: One, you were a merchant marine or a sailor. Two, you’d been in prison. Three, you were from the other side of the tracks.

For women, it also meant three things: One, you were in the circus. Two, you were from the other side of the other side of the tracks. Three, you were from the other side of the other side of the tracks and an irredeemable slut.

I guess men and women could be all three at the same time. Why not?

In short, a person with tattoos was disreputable at best. Never mind that the tat was a work of art in its own right. Those in polite society NEVER inked their bodies. Probably the only rule that applied equally to both sexes.

When I got mine, I felt so, so wonderfully subversive!

It was no joke. People with visible tattoos couldn’t get what used to be called a “white-collar job.” Men, if on the arms, that meant wearing long sleeves all the time. If on his upper chest, button that shirt up to the collar, and keep it that way. On his legs, long trousers, never shorts.

Women, same with the sleeves. No going sleeveless or tops with shoulder straps, ever. Same with her chest. Legs? Forget it. Women weren’t allowed to wear trousers, not in the workplace (the thigh would be okay since dresses were long, but then you had to wear trousers on the weekends).

Body art belongs in the light.

Wherever the tat was on your body, the fabrics you wore had to be heavy enough so it couldn’t be seen through your clothes. And if you had tats where they could be seen regardless, like the neck or your hands, you wore body makeup.

Watching the societal attitude toward tattoos change over the last several decades has been fascinating. Like a silent movie. A mid-80s news story about the attorney with a tasteful rose tattoo on her ankle who argued before the court and the old, white dude of a judge didn’t throw her out of the courtroom. Don’t think I’m kidding about throwing her out, either. He certainly could have. Listening to the buzz, you’d have thought the legal world was coming to an end.

Today, I know the general counsel for a state government agency who has a sleeve on both arms that are to die for. And she goes sleeveless. Nobody’s thrown her out of a courtroom. The state’s governor hasn’t thrown her out of the mansion, and the legislators haven’t thrown her out of the state house. Haven’t seen her in years, but the way she was going, by now I’m sure she’s the Illustrated Woman.

I know that the tattoo’s popularity waxed and waned during the 20th. The 60s and 70s counterculture was really into it, but that’s really only where it was seen — where the counterculture hung out. It’s just my own observation, but it seems to me that Gen Xers were the ones who kicked the tattoo stigmatism in the ass.

Gen Xers did it. Fight me.

In the late 90s, my day job required me to attend meetings nationwide, and fairly often in New Orleans. So, whenever I was there, I made it a point to visit at least one of my old haunts from when I was in school. One time, I went to The Columns, a small hotel on St. Charles. Formerly a private residence, the library — paneled from floor to ceiling and including the ceiling — was now the bar. They played blues for background music, and nothing but.

On the night I visited, they’d had a wedding during the day and the reception was underway. N’awlins being N’awlins, the bride invited me to come and play. The wedding party, except for the bride, were dressed in black (hey, New Orleans, remember?). The groom and groomsmen wore zoot suits. The bridesmaids wore slinky, low-cut dresses, back and front. The ladies were well-tattooed, let me tell you. One of the men in the party had opened his shirt, and if the tat on his chest was any indication, so were the rest of them, too.

Of course, having grown up with Boomer and Silent Generation sensibilities, my first thought was “where do they work?”

Damn, that was a rippin’ party! Remind me sometime to tell you my N’awlins Halloween story, when I started the night at a party in a former nunnery turned art colony, and ended it at a whorehouse in the French Quarter.

Now you know why I love NOLA.

Roland was right.

After that, I kept an eye out whenever I thought about it. And yep, as the 90s turned into the 00s, and then into the 10s, well, there we are. When my Millennial nephews got their tats, of course I had that knee-jerk reaction. But the world had moved on, as Roland would say. Nobody bats an eye these days.

It’s great to see.¬†

Some have suggested that I get my tat redone. Nice idea, but no fuckin’ way. I did it old school — got drunker than drunk off my ass, didn’t know if I was coming or going. Well, as soon as that black ink needle hit the tender skin on my hip? I was soberer than the hangin’ judge.¬†

So, no. Y’all go on.

I’ll just sip my hurricane and watch.





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