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Tattoo Or Not Tattoo…….

April 9, 2008

A few years ago, a friend and I plucked up the courage – the safety in numbers thing – to go to a tattoo parlor together. We wanted to check out the place for the obvious reason: we each thought we might get a tattoo. An exceedingly small one. Somewhere, a tad unobtrusive. Or at least on the ankle.

Without ever mentioning to C, I thought it might be a good idea to let this just be a reconnaissance mission; that I/we wouldn’t do anything on impulse; that we would stop each other from diving into something without a cooling down period at home just to make sure. I surmised she felt the same way. The place we went to was on the recommendation of someone I knew and trusted who had the inside scoop as to which parlors were totally safe health-wise (clean needles) and also did a great job.

This parlor was in a less busy part of town, indistinguishable from many of the surrounding businesses: a little seedy and rundown, all having seen better days. We entered the shop, a plain and simple and excruciatingly small brown space, barely large enough to swing a cat in let alone tattoo a body. Had it not been for the recommendation, we would have fled. Not exactly undaunted, we tiptoed around the front room that displayed samples of designs and completed work feeling a little out of place because the other (two) folk present were tattooed from head to toe. Or mostly up both arms. And necks. But then they were in their teens and twenties and we were a little er … more mature than that. I knew what I wanted, or at least I knew I would know it when I saw it and after checking out many designs, I found a very small critter of sorts which I thought would be fine “asset” to my ankle. C found one she liked as well and we left the parlor both feeling quite positive about returning soon to realize the fantasy of sporting a tattoo, despite the unprepossessing nature of the place. I even mentioned it to one of my adult sons expecting a “Good grief, Mom, belly button piercing next?” But he thought the idea an okay one. I was surprised and encouraged. Needless to say weeks went by and the thought of being permanently “marked” (yes, I know they can be removed by a laser) evaporated.

Sometime later when I related the story to N, he breathed a sigh of relief that I hadn’t gone through with the tattoeing, but at the same time looked at me as if I were from Mars; certainly not the kind of behavior he would have expected from “moi,” his eyes seemed to say. But then, he obviously doesn’t know me that well. Yet.

This design wasn’t quite what I was after.

A tattoo artist performs a tattoo.

Nor this.

Irezumi Tattoo.jpg

In our house Gracie, our greyhound, is the only one sporting a tattoo. Like all racing greyhounds, she has tattoos in her ears. In the left is her registration number and her right ear harbors her birthdate, but as her ears are large and flop over, the green lettering is not usually visible unless her ears are pricked up and you have a magnifying glass handy.

Tattoos have been around for millennia; it has been a Eurasian practice at least since Neolithic times. According to Wikipedia, Ötzi the Iceman, dating from the fourth to fifth millennium BCE, was found in the Ötz valley in the Alps and had approximately 57 carbon tattoos consisting of simple dots and lines on his lower spine, behind his left knee, and on his right ankle. Other mummies bearing tattoos and dating from the end of the second millennium BCE have been discovered at Pazyryk on the Ukok Plateau. Tattooing in Japan is thought to go back to the Paleolithic era, some ten thousand years ago. Various other cultures have had their own tattoo traditions, ranging from rubbing cuts and other wounds with ashes, to hand-pricking the skin to insert dyes.

And according to Wikipedia, the word “tattoo” is a borrowing of the Samoan word tatau, meaning to mark or strike twice (the latter referring to traditional methods of applying the designs). The OED gives the etymology of tattoo as “In 18th c. tattaow, tattow. From Polynesian (Tahitian, Samoan, Tongan, etc.) tatau. In Marquesan, tatu.” The first closest known usage of the word in English was recorded in the diary of Captain James Cook in 1769 during his voyage to the Marquesas Islands. The text reads, “…they print signs on people’s body and call this tattaw”, referring to the Polynesian customs. Sailors on the voyage later introduced both the word and reintroduced the concept of tattooing to Europe.

So now I’m thinking that as a tattoo is out of the question and a belly button ring has no appeal, perhaps I’ll just get a couple more piercings for my ears.

1) Helix/Cartilage, 2) Industrial, 3) Rook, 4) Daith, 5) Tragus, 6) Snug, 7) Conch, 8) Anti-Tragus, 9) Lobe

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