I am tattooed. I know, big deal, who isn’t? Most every strip mall here in town, just like in probably every other city across the U.S.A. , has a tattoo shop. But it wasn’t always like this.
My first tattoo hit my skin in 1988. I lived in Clearwater, Florida, across the bay from Tampa. I’d been seeing a tattoo on my skin for a couple of years, although I cannot recall where that vision came from: back then, tattoos were the province of bikers and rock stars. Actually, not even too many rock stars rocked the ink in the mid-80s; Axl Rose hit it big with Guns N Roses around then, and his tattoos, bright and bold and prominently displayed on his arms, really opened the door.
But I had this urge from somewhere, so in summer of 1988 I went to Lou’s Tattoos, probably the best-known tattoo place in town, and had an atom inked onto my right shoulder-blade (is that image called the atomic swirl?). From there, they gradually migrated down my arm…and I do mean gradually. It would be six years later that I dared to put one on the inside of my wrist.
I entered that realm modestly and thoughtfully, perhaps due to the lack of role models or examples. What was happening prior to the rise of tattoos were simply piercings. Before Axl hit the scene sporting unashamed ink, rock stars were expressing themselves with ear-piercings.
Note that I said ‘ear-piercings’ there. Nowadays, as many people have facial piercings or bodily piercings as have their ears pierced. And most of the ears, it seems, are now gauged rather than just being pierced. But in the 80s, it was mostly ears (mostly), and only piercings. I don’t recall seeing gauges back then at all.
And that’s where it almost started for me, almost. With pierced ears. I was 19 years old in the fall of 1986, and I was bored. I was in my second semester at the local community college, and I was bored on a Friday night. I was not a terribly social person, but I was still tired of sitting around the house, over and over. (obviously I was not very imaginative either, that I could not think of a way to entertain myself). So this one Friday night I decided on a new course of action. I was going to head to the mall that evening to get my ear pierced. (Two things to note in that sentence: 1. going to head to the mall; that was the only place for piercings. There were no shops that specialized in needles back then, and tattoo shops were for tattoos. 2. ear, as in singular. I was going to get one ear pierced. Back then, guys had one ear pierced; only rock stars had both ears done. And one ear pierced signified that you were gay, and the other pierced meant straight.)
But I was down for it, and I was going big. I was going to get one ear pierced five times, up the lobe! Crazy, right? That was my rebelliousness coming up, although that would do nothing to alleviate my boredom, other than for that one evening. I kept it to myself, but I was just waiting for a little later in the evening and I was going to go take action. But I never made it.
I got invited to a party instead. Again, I was not very social, with really no friends other than my older brother to hang out with. But I was in the school honors fraternity (actually it is a nationwide junior college honors fraternity, Phi Theta Kappa), and had been to a few meetings and had met some new folks. One of these young women invited me, along with a bunch of other members, to her house for a party. As much as I don’t like parties, I am surprised at my willingness to go. But go I did. It turned out to be a lot of fun and I met some nice people that night.
Perhaps I’d have gone to the mall the next night, or at least the next Friday, but another detour appeared in my piercing plan. The next night I got a call from the same woman; she was having another, smaller, get-together with some of the same folks and wanted me to come back over. Again I agreed. Well, it turns out that one of my new acquaintances from the party was a young woman who wanted another chance to talk with me. Being a close friend of the host, she requested the second night’s mini party so that we could have more time together.
Well, we hit it off and would end up dating for several months after that. That relationship story is for a different page, but for this story what it meant was that I was not bored on Friday night, or any other night, for quite some time. The piercing plan faded into memory and that was that. I would go on to get tattooed, again and again, between 15 and 20 times during my twenties and thirties. And once or twice I considered a piercing. Ultimately, though, I have found that while I could take the tattoo needle, the piercing needle scared the crap out of me. So I missed my moment. But I don’t miss it now.