I was bitten. A few years after getting my first manly tattoo (a rose) I was bitten by the “tattoo bug.” They say getting inked can become addictive, and based on the number of “freaks” I’ve seen in recent years I’d have to say they’re probably right. I reckon my initial tattooing experience wasn’t too harrowing since I willingly got tattoos number two and three during an outing, to the Iowa State Fair, with my then new bride (aka lovely wife). Just outside the fair’s entrance as expected was a trailer with the familiar banner, offering bargain priced tattooing, tied to the dilapidated house on wheels. The makeshift tattoo parlor looked as though it had come straight from a white trash trailer park, but that did not stop me from entering the facility.
I had decided I needed a four-leaf clover on my chest and some barbed wire wrapped around my right arm (opposite the one with the rose) to cure my bug bite. The shamrock was meant to be a tribute to my Irish heritage although I later found out that by adding a fourth leaf it becomes an Americanized version of Ireland’s symbol for luck. The three-leaf clover denotes the doctrine of the Trinity; therefore, making the shamrock Ireland’s most cherished symbol. I wanted a barbed wire tattoo because the unique design looked so awesome on Vince Neil. I had noticed the vocalist of Motley Crue sporting his new ink one day while watching the metal band’s latest video on MTV.
My tattoo “artist” had a stencil of a four-leaf clover, so that tattoo turned out great, but he did not have any sort of pattern for barbed wire, so that one turned out not so great. An artist he was not. I fooled myself, at least for a while, into believing my new tattoo wasn’t that bad. Meanwhile, my wife faced the reality of the situation head-on. She cried. She cried off and on all night long and into the next day. I certainly could no longer pretend my freshly inked tattoo was anything other than a disaster, and from then on I refrained from wearing tank tops out in public to save both my wife and I from the humiliation.
You would think I would’ve never considered getting inked again, after the barbed wire blunder of 1989, but a short time later the “tattoo bug” struck again. This time I desired to have the Superman logo tattooed on my upper arm (inches above my “Paul Stanley” rose) similar to the one Jon Bon Jovi was wearing on his arm. It seems as though I was heavily influenced by the rock ‘n’ roll scene whenever contemplating a new tattoo. There wasn’t a Superman pattern to follow at that time, just like the barbed wire, and there weren’t many ways to create one either since the internet had not yet been invented by Al Gore. This time my lovely wife took matters into her own hands, and designed a fairly decent pattern for the tattooist to follow, presumably to save herself from more tears. The inking was successful!
I was now satisfied with the ink on my left arm, but I yearned to do something about the embarrassing barbed wire wrapped around my right arm. I wanted so badly to be able to once again wear a tank top out in public with confidence. I waivered back and forth on whether to cover up the mistake or to have the eyesore removed. Unfortunately, I chose the latter. Tattoo laser removal had just come on the scene and was boasting excellent results; however, the new and expensive procedure undoubtedly did not work very well on me. The colors did fade a bit, after three or four treatments, but the majority of the tattoo was being replaced with scarring.
The doctor said to me what no patient ever wants to hear, “I haven’t seen this before.” He then suggested I discontinue the laser treatments because obviously they weren’t producing the expected results. There was absolutely nothing I could do to rectify the situation either since I was required to sign a waiver beforehand. I could not sue nor was I entitled to any refund whatsoever. To my surprise, some people were actually fond of the raised scarring on my arm because it appeared as though I had been branded (like a cow), but I was still disappointed mainly because my collection of tank tops would have to remain tucked away in a drawer.
Years later I became dissatisfied with the “Paul Stanley” rose and the “Jon Bon Jovi” Superman logo gracing my arm. I think I probably had outgrown Paul and Jon’s type of music by then, and I figured my tattoos had lost all of their “coolness.” I definitely wasn’t about to embark on another laser removal endeavor since I whole-heartedly subscribe to the “Fool me once…” adage. However, I did have a brilliant idea for a cover-up. I had heard in most cases a tattooist could conceal an old, unwanted tattoo with a new one, depending on the compatibility of the colors of ink chosen, so I carefully crafted a large Underdog tattoo to mask the two smaller existing ones.
I’m a big fan of the humble Shoeshine Boy turned superhero even though I had not yet been born when the cartoon first aired on television. I do remember being engrossed in the show’s reruns day after day as a young child though. I designed my Underdog tattoo by combining an exploding phone booth from a limited edition print I own, signed by the rhyming Beagle’s creator, Joe Harris, and my favorite image of the loveable character I found on the finally invented internet. Thank you Al Gore. The sizable pattern was then meticulously positioned onto my arm, to cover up the two smaller ones I had grown weary of somewhere along the line, and the tattoo artist did the rest.
I apparently am not the only one who owes the cover-up a great deal of gratitude. One morning I was standing in line at my local Starbucks when I noticed the young woman ahead of me was donning an inked inscription on the side of her neck. The simple tattoo, just below her earlobe, greatly troubled me, but I assume she was enamored with it since her long hair was tightly pulled back into a neat ponytail; therefore, easily exposing the negative phrase, “F**k Love,” for the entire world to see. I was downright flabbergasted. I felt compelled to say something to her, but I didn’t know exactly what to say. Do I inquire as to the reason for her pessimistic outlook on love? Do I offer her a few words of encouragement? I decided it was probably best to just leave it alone.
I found myself in a deja vu moment, no more than a couple of months later, as I was standing in line at the same Starbucks as before. I couldn’t help but notice the person directly in front of me was the same young woman, who again had her hair pulled back into a ponytail, yet something was a little different about her this time. I was pleasantly surprised after realizing the unpleasant word, “F**k,” had been disguised with a tasteful, pink heart. I once more felt like interrogating her about the matter, simply out of sheer curiosity, but once more I decided to just leave it alone. I think that was the correct thing to do because we all know what happened to the curious cat.
I have had some good experiences with tattoos, and I’ve had some bad experiences with tattoos, and clearly the “luck of the Irish” has no bearing on whether one’s tattooing experience is successful or not. I have discovered inking your body is like a box of chocolates: you never know what you’re gonna get. Thank you Forrest Gump! Some people long for World peace, and rightfully so, but I long for a world in which I can wear a tank top out in public with confidence. Maybe someday. I know for sure I am absolutely, positively finished with inking my body…unless of course I’m bitten by the “tattoo bug” again.