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Why do I try to rationalize…  Tattoos and Their Vicissitudes?

By Robert Cluely
November 1st 2003

A few weeks ago I got an email from my friend Will.  Will, myself and another friend called Ben had just got back from a weekend spent relaxing on the East Anglian coast.  Will sent me some pictures he'd taken along with a message saying “I've got the best photo of you ever, you looked stacked”.  Now, I'm definitely not stacked by any stretch of the imagination, so I presumed he was joking and really he had a photo of me looking bookish and wimpy.  However, that weekend when Will brought the prints round there was indeed a photo of me looking quite buff, even if I do say so myself.

After a good few hours looking at the photo, I realised there was something missing from the almost unrecognisable Adonis-like figure staring back at me.  There was something that would have truly transformed the ginger-haired pastey fool in the photo into a red-hot lump of dangerous, molten animal magnetism: a tattoo.

Ahh, the humble tattoo… not just a strangely alluring Russian-lesbo band but at heart a brutal rite, the symbol of rebellion, passed down through generations and across cultures.  I've been toying with the idea of getting a tattoo for years.  As a punk rocker in my youth I wanted a Screeching Weasel weasel tattoo but grew out of that when I got to university.  Then when I reached my early twenties I started to want one again, but was talked round by my girlfriend at the time.  I had such a tenuous grip on our relationship that I couldn't risk giving her any extra reason to dump my sorry ass. 

But it's a subject that I've thought about a lot, some might say too much, so now, my friends, it's time to share my wisdom. 

I have reduced the Tattoo Problem into two manageable questions that I need to answer before committing, and which, sadly, I've never been able to confidently solve.  One: Where?  Two: What?  (It has been frequently suggested that heavy consumption of alcohol can help circumnavigate these issues, but for the semi-asperger's syndrome/neurotics out there we really need to get answers before taking the plunge don't we?).

Question number one: Where should your tattoo be? 

This is the easier of the two questions and can be approached with deductive reasoning.  A drunk in a pub toilet reliably informed me recently that tattoos don't hurt too much if the area is fleshy, whereas anywhere boney will hurt to buggary.  To prove this he showed me the LOVE/HATE tattoos he had spelt out on his fingers, apparently they hurt a lot, unlike the tattoos on his arms and stomach that were only moderately uncomfortable.  At this point I left him, topless in the pub toilet, fearing that things might get out of hand; but what he said made sense.  A needle repeatedly hitting hard, brittle bone would hurt more than and needle sliding into fleshy, limp muscle.  So, unless you like pain, we can remove any boney areas from the equation, which really leaves only the arms, some areas of the leg, buttocks, stomach and possibly chest and back.     You can automatically cross out leg and buttocks because there's obviously no point getting a butch-looking tattoo there.  The stomach is just wrong; the idea of a needle going to the stomach freaks me out.  Which leaves chest, back and arms as possible canvases.  As an added bonus these seem to be the socially acceptable areas for a tattoo too.

Question number two:  What should the tattoo be of? 

Because this areas is far too specific to give a definite answer let me provide you with some basic ground rules that I've picked up from the idiotic mistakes made by some of my more dim-witted friends here. 

Firstly, patterned bands which stretch around your arm will make people think you are in a boyband and/or a bummer.  So unless you are a bummer, or like the idea of people thinking you are, then these are out. 

Secondly, foreign scripts are a big no-no.   We've all heard the stories of people who thought they had “WARRIOR” branded confidently across their chest in Sanskrit only to find out it actually said “BUMMER” (which is what everyone else assumes it says anyway).  So I think the basic tenant is: if you can't read and write it, don't get it. 

Rule three is perhaps the most important rule of all: make sure you're getting a tattoo for the right reason.  The right reason might change depending on the person and situation, but tattooing is like suicide: a long-term solution to a short-term problem.  In Nottingham, England there is an ingeniously monikered rock venue called, simply, Rock City.  If you get the Rock City logo tattooed on your person than you get free entry into all their concerts for life.  For some people that's enough reason to get one, but I hope you can see my point: it might not be enough for everyone!  Famously, there's a tramp who had “Bumfight” tattooed over his forehead in exchange for booze from an unrepentant California-based spoilt-teenage-sadist brat-pack-chumpazoid-wannabe to post on his website, only to wake up with the worst hangover, look in a car wing mirror and realise that maybe he hadn't made the most of his life.

But these simple rules aside, consider yourself a blank page.

I can illustrate the pitfalls of choosing your tattoo design with a personal tale.  For some inexplicable reason I have a pension for maritime imagery.  I went to see a gig by Pit er Pat and their drummer had a badass anchor tattooed on his arm.  I thought it looked super cool, my mind was made up: an anchor tattoo it was.  But then a large spanner was thrown into my plans when I surveyed my friends.  I got a unanimous response that an anchor was “a bit gay” and that I “couldn't pull it off”.  So that threw me off the track and now I don't know what to get.

Tattoos that are too butch become gay, things which are too personal become meaningless or painful reminders of your stupidity.  It seems you really have to believe it what you're permanently scarring yourself with. 

Remember that tattoos are hugely powerful they can transform the lowliest nerd into a hunk and reduce hard as nails gangstas into limp wrested pansies.  The lesson is, therefore, that unless there's something you actual want a tattoo of it's probably best to not get one just because you want a tattoo.  You're on your own, advice is useless.  But then again, I could just be scared of needles.

Which leads to the final rule…

Rule Four: Hygiene.  You must check that your tattooist is reputable.  My friend Jeff, from the fantastic band Need New Body, once said that you really need to trust your tattoo artist; he must be your friend, comrade and confidante.  So use the same criteria you would for choosing any friend, with some specific additional concerns.  Start off making sure he/she uses gloves (hopefully not the same pair) and that he/she changes the needle regularly.  If the tattoo parlour smells of piss that's a bad sign.  Basically, use your common sense.  But also make sure it's not located on an Indian burial ground, or that he/she uses die made form the blood of gypsies, you don't want to piss though guys off by using their blood to get Bob Marley slapped on your back.  Trust me.  I've seen the X-files.         


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