Saturday, September 1, 2012

Lydia, oh Lydia, that encyclopedia

Personally, I don't have any tattoos. When I was a kid, the only people who had tattoos were bikers and old men who had served in the Navy, like Popeye and pirates. My father came this close to getting a tattoo during his stretch in World War II. I went to art school in the early 80s and I only knew two students with tattoos. One guy sported a primitive drawing of a dagger on his wrist, which he did himself one evening when he was bored, jabbing a match-sterilized sewing needle loaded with Bic pen ink under his skin. I don't know the circumstances surrounding the other guy's tattoo, 'cause he was an asshole and I didn't speak to him.

These days, you can't swing a roll of anti-bacterial-treated gauze without hitting someone who has been artfully inked. Now, I'm not going to climb atop a soapbox and expound upon my views on tattoos. I realize that it is a personal decision made to express one's individuality. I choose to exhibit my uniqueness in other ways, so if you can respect my methods then I will respect yours.


I do question the placement of some folk's expression of individuality. Mostly, I have seen tattoos peeking out from under a short-sleeve shirt. I have discreetly observed the occasional piece of a floral pattern poking above the dipping waistband of a young lady bent over to adjust a loose shoe strap (although that one seems to be gaining popularity). I have even caught the most conservatively-dressed executive-types with a few dark, swirly lines permanently etched into the backs of their necks. The ones that make me scratch my head are those members of society with tattoos on their faces. I've seen a few of these guys fiddling with their cellphones on the subway while I stared, trying to figure out the thought process behind insisting on three-inch, Old English letters across one's forehead. Also, noting the fact that once this decision is made, you have seriously limited your employment options.

Recently, I was descending the steep staircase at the Girard stop of the Market-Frankford elevated train line. As I reached the sidewalk on Front Street, I turned the corner and walked with the exiting crowd towards Girard Avenue. About six or seven feet ahead of me, a young lady was dragging a wheeled suitcase behind her as she navigated the uneven sidewalk in front of a 7-11. I tend to walk at a quicker pace than most people, so I narrowed the gap between me and the suitcase girl. From behind, she seemed to be in her early 20s, based on the youthful garments she wore - a pink, flowery top and a pair of ridiculously-short jean shorts. Keeping a comfortable distance, I followed her on the sidewalk, when something caught my attention. What, at first, appeared to be shadows soon revealed themselves to be tattoos. She had a pair of tattoos at the very, very tops of the back of her thighs. As high as you could possibly go without falling into the "buttocks" category. On her left thigh was the word "Yours" in dark, serpentine script. On her right thigh, was "Truly" in a matching, equally twisting cursive font.

My first thought, and one that remained with me long after she disappeared from my view as she strode West on Frankford Avenue and I headed East, was "When and how was the decision made?". Did she wake up one morning and decide "I want a tattoo"? As the day went on, did she consider the sentiment that she wanted emblazoned forever in her flesh? Did she weigh each candidate and their sacred meaning in her life? Did she narrow the choices down to several contenders until "Yours Truly" was the obvious victor. Did she stand naked before a full-length mirror, scanning her person for the perfect place -  the definitive parcel of dermis - on which this inscription would dwell, where its personal significance would be a constant reminder of the deep-rooted emotion it holds in her existence?

Or did she just plop down a hundred bucks and tell a guy with an electric needle, "Hey, put 'Yours Truly' on my legs right under my ass, okay."?

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