T'at's OK by Me!

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I was at a [prominent but name withheld due to copyright issues] water park in Dallas last week, which was why I forgot to turn in a column. Standing in line, I was reminded of a summer twenty-five years ago when I was standing in the exact same line with the Dean of Students of my college. In theory, I was a leader and we were “showing the freshmen a good time” but in reality I was there for one reason: the chance to see a freshman named Teri in a bathing suit.

After standing in line for a quite interminable time, we were allowed to ride the ride (for the complete 17 seconds) and land happily in the splash pool at the bottom. It was there, out of the earshot of the people who had surrounded us in line, that the Dean of Students made a comment about the interesting tiger tattoo a woman in a leopard-skin bikini had been sporting.

You see, twenty-five years ago, tattoos were still a pretty rare thing to be seen in public, and most especially on women. I was thinking of that as I stood in line last Wednesday not just because I was in the same spot, but because everyone I could see had a tattoo. Many of them had many tattoos. Many of them had many mini-tattoos. Some of them had so many tattoos I was not sure there was a person behind the tats.

Now, don’t get me wrong. This is not a screed, a scribble or an injunction against tattoos. I’ve read the Bible and I know what it says about tattoos. I’ve read some of the medical literature and I know what they say about tattoos. I have nothing against tattoos. I don’t care if people have tattoos. I just don’t get it myself.

I frequently see articles about applying for jobs and one of the things I see mentioned lately is the advice that tattoos may not sit well with a perspective employer. I think this is bogus advice. In our culture, the iconoclast in the job-seeking class is the person without a tattoo. The odd man (or woman) out in the hiring class—human resources, vice presidents, etc.—is the one without the tattoo.

It’s the ubiquitous-ness of tattoos that confuses me these days. Growing up, I remember seeing people with tattoos. As a young child, I can remember sitting in the shopping cart and being fascinated by the guy in line in front of my mother who had the giant green blob etched into his arm. I could stare for hours, trying to figure out if it were a boat anchor, a cross, or Tweety-bird. (And speaking of Warner Bros.-themed tattoos, how come we’re told that we can’t show Speedy Gonzales cartoons because they are offensive to Hispanic people when, back there growing up in Abilene, it seemed like every Hispanic adult I knew—men and women—had a Speedy tattoo? They didn’t seem to find him offensive.)

See, tattoos used to be gotten because they meant something to the wearer. His service in the Marines, his love of dragons, her fondness of butterflies. Or, a person might get the initials of a loved one—living or dead—tattooed some place on their body as a sign of affection. I understood those. If I had ever gotten a tattoo, it was either going to be of Snoopy or a cross.

But now, I don’t remember the last time I saw someone with a tattoo who only had one. Today, the style is to have dozens of tattoos. Now, if all the tattoos were of a theme—dragons, the Dallas Cowboys, the many noses of Bruce Jenner—I could understand that. Wouldn’t want it, or want to look at it, but I could understand it. For me, I’d get the whole Peanuts gang. But the people I see now—and at the water park I saw a LOT of skin—have three dozen tattoos and there’s no particular theme.

I have friends and relatives who are aficionados of the tat and they tell me that the tattoos they have gotten make a statement about the wearer. Makes sense. A tattoo of Michael Jordan, another of a basketball, and still another of the number 45 tells me you’re an MJ fan. But I didn’t see anyone like that at the water park. What I saw were people with a body so full of tattoos that the only statement they were making was, “I like tattoos!”

Again, I have no moral problem with that. And I have no job-seeking or job-hiring problem with that. I just can’t help but thinking about the line that “a tattoo is a permanent caprice.” Tattoos are in style right now. And they probably will be for some time. But styles change and one of these days—might be next year or it might not be until the next decade or the one after that—tattoos will fall out of fashion.

I’m remembering another sensation from my youth. I can remember seeing the then-40-year-old man with a duck-tail haircut. And I can remember the adults in the room trying to keep from snickering. It wasn’t that they hated the duck-tail. They had had a duck-tail in their day. But they had also grown out of that day and were laughing at/feeling pity for the poor man who was either still stuck in his youth or thought no one would notice that he wasn’t 17 anymore.

Maybe the guy was a wonderful rebel, not caring what people thought of him, and so someone to be (sort of) admired. But if he were just a fellow who had fallen behind the times and not noticed, the great thing was that he could walk up to the nearest mirror, grab a comb, and move into the 1980s in ten seconds. The person with the tattoo, in an age when tattoos have passed out of vogue … what will they do?

I have a feeling that long sleeve shirts are going to be very popular and laser removal shops are going to be as prevalent as tattoo parlors are now. And with that in mind, I have some investing I need to do.