I was born 10-15 years too soon to comfortably fit in with Tattoo America. When I was in high school and college three guys I knew of sported tats, and they were all outlaws. I never gave it serious consideration. All I could think of then (and now) is what happens when gravity inevitably takes control of one’s body, like when one might be about to turn, uh, 60. As a result, whatever is sagging on me does not include ink, so I got that going for me, which is nice.
Tattoos began regularly appearing on otherwise respectable people not in the Navy in the early 90s. I remember meeting a woman about then who had a smiling sun on the side of one of her calves. It remains one of the few tattoos I actually liked. If I was ever to get one (not bloody likely), I would probably choose that, and maybe in the same spot.
At some point tattoos became standard equipment for professional athletes, especially in basketball, where they could be seen (and enjoyed?) by all. The first phase consisted of relatively tasteful single images on a bicep or forearm, and then guys like Dennis Rodman, Chris “Birdman” Anderson and Cherokee Parks took it to the next level by featuring multiple pieces of body art, including personal artistic expressions like neck tats. In my humble opinion, nothing says, “I am not a serious person” quite like a neck tat. But those young multimillionaires blazed their own trail, and popular culture willingly followed.
Fast-forward to the present and tattoos are more popular than ever. A story from the Huffington Post in 2014 estimated than 36 percent of all Americans between the ages of 18-25 had tattoos. I would guess that figure is higher now. People of a certain age, my age and above, have resigned themselves to their children, grandchildren, nieces and nephews tatting-up.
The 19-year old living at my house has been discussing tattoos for several years and made it clear they would be a part of his life. The first one recently materialized on his forearm, indicating his dismissal of my suggestion that he locate them in places where people who might judge him for his ink–people like his stodgy old man–can’t see them.
His tattoo is a Chinese character matching a gold piece he wears on a necklace that represents the year of his birth, 1998, the Year of the Tiger. Hey – it could be worse. I’m still suggesting strategic hiding places for the next ones, and I’m also lobbying hard against neck tats. Please, dear God, no neck tats.