He was bad.
Not wife beating, bank robbing bad, but rebellious bad. Wild bad.
He worked at the Courtesy Food Store and looked clean-cut enough in his short-sleeved white shirt and black tie. I’d see him when Mama did her shopping and sometimes when he was walking home along the railroad tracks.
But even though I was only a little girl, I still knew it. I could tell it. He was bad.
First of all, he had dark hair and dark eyes, a sure outward sign of inner badness. With all due respect to James Dean, you can’t be bad with blonde hair and blue eyes. Defiantly cute, maybe, but not bad. This fella had the blackest of black hair, a little too long, a little too shaggy, and eyes so dark they had no pupils.
I had also heard the whisperings. He was known to drink and maybe even fight. I wondered if he went to Old Glory, the local (and only) watering hole – and a place where people went to drink and maybe even fight.
But the legs proved my case beyond a shadow of a doubt. The legs were the final, undeniable mark of a bad boy. And not his legs. Hers.
Her legs, daintily crossed at the ankles. Her legs, long long long and ending in shoes with mile-high heels. Her legs, peeking out from the beneath the snow white short sleeve of the Courtesy Foods shirt – tattooed on his bicep. Tattooed!
Had he been a Merchant Marine? In a motorcycle gang? Gone to Hawaii? Prison? Where else would one get such a thing!?
I couldn’t help but stare. What did the rest of her look like? Reckon she was nekkid?
I couldn’t tell! I couldn’t see! That damnable sleeve!
And so began my fascination with tattoos.
Used to be seeing a tattoo was almost like a rare bird sighting. Next to nobody had one. You might see the occasional Hell’s Angel in the gas station or an elderly veteran with a barely discernible greenish black mark on his forearm. But they were few and far between.
Now, everybody and their country brother has a tattoo or, better yet, tattoos. Skulls, flowers, devils, angels, aliens, hearts, koi koi and more koi, literary quotes, Chinese script (how do you really know that you have the symbol for happiness and not the symbol for slut), cartoon characters, portraits of loved ones, all manner of tribal design and emblem, family crests, Jesus, Our Lady of Guadalupe…it boggles the mind!
I’m incredibly intrigued by the artwork, the colors, the symbolism. I’m jealous of the talent it takes to paint a picture on someone’s flesh. That takes guts, and I don’t think I’d be brave enough to try. I admire those who do.
But the bad is gone. Getting inked is no longer rebellious. Tattoos are no longer hidden, taboo. In fact, it’s nearly normal.
And, quite frankly, as much as I love to look at them, I don’t think I really want a tattoo. I think I’ll just keep on being rebellious in my own little ways. Hidden ways.
Unadorned is the new wild.