A tattoo made its first mark on me when I got a bus-bench view of an ex-con sporting a teardrop tattoo on his cheek. I remember thinking it was a remarkable act of emotional vulnerability for a muscle-bound goon. I was tempted to ask what could possibly have happened in prison that would make him so sad.
Tats used to be the mark of the outsider–downtown drifters and denizens of the Long Beach Pike. But now that the practice is so commonplace? What kind of bold statement does a woman make when she strips off her blouse and flaunts a breast that resembles a Hermes scarf? And how does a butterfly stencil on the small of your back suggest something more fascinating about you than “I got hammered one night”? To be fair, some parents of my acquaintance claim their tats helped them gain the trust of their unexceptional kids.
The Bible forbids tattoos and piercings, but with the repeal of the Ten Commandments, I’m guessing few people worry much about a little body art. If you mention the biblical passage to anyone under thirty, there’s a 50/50 chance he’ll show you the relevant phrase stained into his neck.
I know I sound like a scold, but I’m not immune to social pressure. On a particular booze-soaked night through Hollywood, a pair of sexy women who prefer their bad boys inked up caught me in a weak moment. But I was determined, if I was gonna get a tattoo, to make sure it would be something I wouldn’t want to laser off the next day, an image tasteful and discreet, even appropriate. The tattoo artist would have to have an MFA from a top-five art school. If he had any talent, the next lucky girl who peeled off my jeans would encounter a haunting, thigh-to-navel illustration of Jockey Brand underpants.
It’s an incredibly intricate design, as if Norman Rockwell hand-loomed a pair of tighty-whities. The cashier in the tattoo parlor said the ass cleft peeking over the elastic waistband was amazingly realistic.
The girls insisted that I get my nipple pierced too. But I wasn’t that drunk. I managed to fool them with a clip-on.
And that’s where the night took a left turn. Women who get their nipples pierced are not necessarily the sort of people who maintain their piercings. That night, I saw nipple rings draped with lint, thread, toilet paper, and what I presume were baked beans.
Here’s a bit of dialogue I recall from those hours, despite the alcohol haze. “Honey? The string from your sleeve is snagging my belly-button ring.”
And do I need to go into how piercings of tongues and genitalia, no matter how generously-intentioned, complicate what really should be a tender moment? No man can feel entirely comfortable knowing that an orifice may confront his most vulnerable limb with a pointed metal stud.
If the idea is to enhance sexual pleasure, wouldn’t a session with a sex therapist offer more profound gratification without the risk of tetanus? If the intimacy takes place outside of a therapeutic setting, say inside a penitentiary cell, reading an excerpt from “Tropic of Cancer” to your partner may get the job done and simultaneously arouse a love of literature.