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My Take on Tattoos

by

Paul Hord

phord@csisd.org

I sort of recall the first time that I noticed a tattoo on someone.  We had a family friend---I can’t recall his name.  This person was someone whom we always saw at church each Sunday.  He was an older gentleman, someone who could have been my grandfather.  His wife was just as nice, and she always found a way to sneak me a Certs mint during church services.


One day during the summer after an evening church service, I noticed a colored picture of an anchor on this man’s forearm.  This caught my
attention.  Maybe he was coloring with markers at his house that day and decided to draw a picture on his arm?  Being a young, curious fellow, I had to learn more about this.  My parents had taught me to not ask others why they look different, so instead of asking this nice man about the picture on his arm, I asked my parents.  The response was that this picture was a “tattoo” and is made with very permanent colors that couldn’t be removed.   They also told me that this nice man had served time in the Navy when he was younger and that the picture of the anchor was to remind him and let others know of his pride in and service to his country.

 

Okay.  This was a good enough response for me.  I didn’t give much thought to it other than anytime I saw someone with a tattoo, I just figured that they had been in the military.  I didn’t ask how the tattoos were made.  I just figured the people did this to themselves with colors or markers.  This was from the perspective of an eight-year-old boy.


Another time I remember seeing people with tattoos was on the television.  There was a television show that my parents always watched on Friday nights called 20/20.  It was one of those investigative television news shows, similar to 60 Minutes.  I think both of these shows were about the only ones of their kind at the time.  I initially watched the show with my parents because there was nothing else for me to do.  The show came on at 9:00 pm, so it was dark outside, and I couldn’t go out and play.  The desktop computer was still in its infancy at this time so that wasn’t an option (How did we survive without computers?).  I wasn’t going to read a book unless I absolutely had to.  There was no need to get to sleep early because I didn’t have school the next day, so I sat up and watched 20/20 with my parents and learned about all kinds of current events that were happening around the world, along with the top personalities in Hollywood and politics.


Geraldo Rivera started his career on this show.  He was really good on 20/20, and then he left and ventured out on his own and ultimately became a total goofball.  Barbara Walters was the best.  She could squeeze tears out of
anyone by asking questions regarding the horrors and pain of their past.  I learned enough about the Cold War on this show to give me nightmares about the Soviets sending nuclear rockets across the Atlantic to blow up our country if President Reagan made them mad enough.  It was a good show.  I don’t know if it was appropriate for a ten-year-old, but I guess I was mature enough to handle it. 

One evening 20/20 had a feature on the infamous Hell’s Angels motorcycle gang.  The story was about how the gang still existed in pockets of the country, their organization, history, etc.  Wow!  “Who are these people, Mom?”  She did her best to give me the Rated G version of the freedom movement of the late 60’s and early 70’s and that these guys rode around on motorcycles because they didn’t have jobs and that they didn’t always make the best choices.  While watching this feature, I noticed lots of men and women dressed in leather on motorcycles all of whom had tattoos, some with scary looking angels that apparently signified their membership in the gang.


So, my ten-year-old mind suddenly had an epiphany about tattoos.  If you were in the military and served your country, it was okay for you to have a tattoo, and you were probably a good person.  All others with tattoos didn’t have jobs, robbed people, and drank lots of beer.  Again, this was my understanding at the age of ten.  And looking back on it now, I kind of wonder how mainstream America viewed tattoos at the time?  Good, bad, indifferent?  I don’t know.  My parents never said good or bad about tattoos.  I did kind of instinctively know that this was something they would never allow me to have on my own skin unless I was supporting myself, living under a different roof, and probably living in a different country.

 

Fast forward to the mid-90’s.  I don’t quite recall if tattoos had become more of a mainstream type of style.  I do recall younger females getting the inconspicuous, small tattoos on their ankle areas.  You know, small enough to miss but one might glimpse it.  These were tattoos of hearts, crosses, ladybugs, you know, some type of safe genre.  They seemed to say, “Hey look at me.  I’m wild enough to get a tattoo, but I’m not a Hell’s Angel!”  I guess around this time, I could understand the small, innocent tattoo stuff. 


Of course, people who had served in the military got a free pass from any negative first impressions because this was just something that many of them did, plus they had served our country.  If you had major, super tattoos all over you, you were still a Hell’s Angel, in my opinion.  There was a professional athlete at this time that I kind of believe became the face of everything tattoo.  His name was Dennis Rodman.  He was a professional basketball player with the Detroit Pistons in the early 90’s and looked like a regular, everyday dude, no tattoos.  Then, he moved over to the Chicago Bulls a couple of years later, and it just seemed that one day he decided to get his whole body “tattoo’d”.  Dennis was one hell of a basketball player.  He couldn’t shoot worth a lick, but, my gosh, he could rebound and play defense and he was a vital part of the Bulls’ winning several NBA titles---along with Michael Jordan of course!  And he did it with the tattoos.  He played just as hard off the court, which I kind of think reflected his rebellious nature, thus all the tattoos.  His were Hell’s Angels tattoos.  However, and this is just an opinion, I believe that Rodman’s tattoos spawned the era of the popularity of tattoos among professional athletes.


Another decade passed and then we entered a time of technology, laser technology that could remove one’s unwanted tattoos!  There was now an option for removal!  Never mind that the procedure cost a Mercedes Benz and might expose you to enough radiation to shrivel your brain.  When traveling
on the interstate, I would see the advertisements from time to time on the billboards.   At least people now had an option if they had walked into a parlor late one night after a long evening at the pub and had gotten their boyfriend’s name “tattoo’d” on their buttocks.


Within the past ten years, it seems that the popularity of tattoos is at an all-time high:  expression of oneself through ink on skin is common now.  I’m sure that social acceptance has something to do with this.  We’ve seen the social acceptance of many things that used to be perceived as taboo, right or wrong.  Everyone is entitled to his or her opinions. 


My kids are elementary school age, and we often frequent the public pools in the summers to escape the heat.  A public pool is a great place to see the popularity of tattoos these days.  And age doesn’t really seem to matter either.  This can be a little repulsive at times.  We always tend to think that it’s the younger generations that decide to get tattoos.  But there are some older folks out there that do as well.  Or maybe these older folks are still carrying their tattoos with them from their younger days.  I’ve noticed that aging skin can distort the images.  My kids ask me about the tattoos that we see from time to time and most times I just change the subject.  But when I do feel inclined to explain, I let them know that people who get tattoos have a reason, mainly to tell others something about themselves without having to say it.  I always throw in that a tattoo is like taking a Sharpie marker to your body but with 1000 times the strength.  I’ve decided not to try and explain that tattoos are made with needles or that they can be removed with lasers.  They also know that they are forbidden from using their allowances for tattoos.


I work as a counselor in a public school, which gives me the opportunity to visit with many students and their parents.  One day, an elderly lady, probably in her 70’s, stopped by to visit with me about her troubled grandson to whom she was guardian.  It seems that the boy had an issue with attendance and respect for authority.  This lady walks into my office and takes a seat.  Again, she is in her mid 70’s and is wearing what looks like her nightgown, one that is probably more appropriate for a lady more than half her age.  That’s when the tattoo jumped right out at me, like a left hook from
nowhere,  the distorted image of a red rose.  The appearance of the lady, along with the story of how she ended up being the caregiver of her hellion grandson, led me to believe that this woman had lived a hard life.  And then there was the tattoo.  So, I naturally fit her into the Hell’s Angels tattoo category, right before I almost lost my breakfast for having to witness all of this.  Advice to those with tattoos:  know when the time has arrived for you to cover them up!


My Hell’s Angel view on tattoos, unless of course you are in the military, changed about seven years ago.  I had a lovely secretary that I used to work with who was old enough to be my mother, and there were many times that she treated me as her son.  She was an absolute pleasure to work with.  She was an extremely hard worker and demonstrated the most patience I have ever seen when dealing with difficult people.  She was a wonderful wife, parent, and grandparent.  She lost her husband in a horrible accident one summer, a man she had been married to for many years.  A few months after his death, I noticed that she had gotten a very small tattoo of her deceased husband’s initials on the top part of her right hand, right above the wrist.  I thought this was pretty cool.  This was also the last person on the face of the earth that I would have ever imagined getting a tattoo.  She was no Hell’s Angel and hadn’t served in the military!  So, I developed a new group of folks who get tattoos:  those with a true sense of purpose and a high level of confidence in themselves and what they believe.  I guess I concluded that many people from all walks of life get tattoos, and, of course, I shouldn’t assume that they are members of the Hell’s  Angels or served in the military.  They could have their own reasons for getting their tattoos.  So, I’ve learned to look beyond the tattoo, to learn more about the person rather than to fit them into one of my tattoo categories.  It’s no different than the old adage of not judging a book by its cover.


As I mentioned earlier, tattoos are prominent among professional athletes, especially so in the NBA.  One current NBA player, Chris Anderson, is quite the example of what Dennis Rodman did several years ago.  He is known as the “Birdman.”  He plays with Lebron James for the Miami Heat, which won the 2013 NBA Championship.  Chris is one scary looking dude!  Just search for him on the Google thingy and you will see what I’m talking about.  He looks as if he fits into
the Hell’s Angel tattoo category, and if you read about his past, you will find this to be true.  But he really has a good story.  He might be living on his 7th of nine lives, but he seems to have really gotten his life together.  You should look it up and read about it.  Anyway, Chris Anderson attended high school in Iola, Texas.  He left from there after high school and flunked out of college and somehow made it to the NBA where he has played for quite some time.  Chris keeps a home in the Brazos Valley in the offseason and is spotted quite often in and around College Station.  How could you not miss a guy who is nearly seven feet tall with a mohawk and tattoos all over his neck, arms, and no telling where else.  I had a friend who was recently at Lowe’s in College Station with his seven-year-old son.  His son spotted the Birdman shopping in one of the aisles.  His son got all excited and begged his dad to walk up and say “hi” to him, which they did.  To their surprise, he couldn’t have been friendlier and offered to take his picture with my friend’s son.  Another friend of mine saw the Birdman inside a Starbucks one day.  This friend is a huge San Antonio Spurs fan, the team that the Birdman and the Miami Heat beat in the championship series this past summer.  He had no idea that Chris is originally from this area.  So, he walks up to him and asks, “Are you who I think you are, and, if so, what are you doing in College Station, Texas?”  He said the Birdman just laughed and explained to him that he attended high school in Iola and that he had a home in the area.  My friend said that he seemed to be a very nice and genuine guy and that they had a really good conversation about basketball, College Station, and coffee.


So, I suppose I’m a little wiser than I used to be.  I have done my best to broaden my opinion of those with tattoos.  I don’t have a problem with people that make the decision to get them.  “To each, their own!” I say, as long as they aren’t putting another person in harm’s way.  Just realize others may judge you and your tattoos a little differently, right or wrong, and for the sake of other folk’s stomachs, please realize when you have hit the age when it is time to cover those things up!


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