virtual children by Scott Warnock

Tattoos I woulda had

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Everywhere you roam nowadays in our great land, you see tattooed folk. I wonder if the runaway U.S. tattooing craze of the past decade or so is connected to the rise in American shortsightedness (e.g., “What do you mean overextended? I’m buying that house!). More importantly, when I see how young some of the inked are, I often can’t help but feel they are traveling the road to regret.

But it’s important to point out that while I don’t have any body art myself, I have nothing against tattoos. Queequeg had ‘em. Joe Melchiore had one. Joe Melchiore, you ask? See, kids back in my time (a little after Queequeg) didn’t have tattoos. When I was a skinny high school wrestler, Melchiore was this legendary grappler at Highland High. Not only was he the best in the state — maybe ever — but he, amazingly, had a tattoo: A large feline on his arm. Nobody had tattoos then, but Joe did. It was boss. (By the way, you can see it here in this video; while unrelated to this column, go to the five-minute mark to see Melchiore execute an amazing throw.)

Okay, let me get back on track. Perhaps my concern about tattooing is just about me: The worries of a person who perpetually, and sometimes pathologically, sees himself in others; the kind of person who sees others’ bad decisions and thinks of what he might have done in the razor-thick line of life choices. This person projects, so in tattoos of others can’t help but see tattoos he might have gotten pressed onto his self, and he thinks how, at age 45, he would deal with such in his adult life. He thinks in shock about his once self and his youthful predilections and the tattoos that may have emerged from them. Yep, I would have done some dumb things:

  • I woulda had a “Led Zeppelin” tattoo, probably on my forehead. How else could I have reflected my obsession with Zep? Ah, but the choice of forehead wouldn’t have been the only problem. On my teenage bedroom door, cut out of green fluorescent sticky paper, I proudly displayed this: “Led Zepplin.” Somehow, despite my superfandom, I missed an “E.” Adding another sticky “E” was easy. Forehead editing? Trickier.
  • While Zeppelin/Zepplin was always #1, around 1982, I began to think I was Jim Morrison, despite obvious differences, such as the ability to sing. I woulda gone for “Mr. Mojo Risin'” tribal style around my bicep, but because of my 1980s build (see above), it woulda been a double wrap-around.
  • While I cannot sing, my loyal and talented teenage friend Mike Kahn put up with me for a short while in our band, The Revolutions. We had one song: “Imaginary Palace.” Where would I have tattooed our immortal words, “There is no crime, we don’t have the time/There’s no care for, religion or race/They won’t laugh, so you can show your face”? The prospects of the “face” part scare me.
  • I loved the Minnesota Vikings football club at one time, perhaps leading to having horns tattooed on the sides of my head. Because I like to keep my hair short, aside from workplace issues, this woulda guaranteed multiple beatings by Eagles fans in my hometown of Philly.
  • Okay, maybe I get a stroke of life luck. It turned out that my high school, Eastern, has the Vikings as a team name. With the horns, I woulda been prom king. But then I went to college, and I got the Pioneers of Rutgers Camden: A covered wagon. Where do you put that menacing symbol? Then I went to grad school at Temple: Owls. Then I worked at Penn St.: Nittany Lions. Now, Drexel: Dragons. Since there’s no greater way to show loyalty than a tattoo, I’d be stuck these critters and icons. Maybe some wizard tattoo artist woulda combined them: An owl riding a lion-dragon (a, uh, manticore) pulling a covered wagon driven by a viking. Yeah.
  • Speaking of wizards and manticores, I once played Dungeons & Dragons a lot. (Whether I still do is none of your business.) I woulda had to go for the dragon tramp stamp. Maybe Gary Gygax on my, uh, thigh.
  • At least one person thinks I may be the greatest wiffleballer player in the history of Eastern Camden County, New Jersey. That person is me. And that self-delusion woulda certainly led to a wiffleball tattoo. While I woulda had to negotiate around the horns, I woulda gone for the full wiffleball head tattoo, inspired by my friend Billy, a lesser wiffleballer who once created a similar design with, he learned later, indelible marker. But his (eventually) wore off.
  • I do enjoy the grand romantic gesture, so while my wife has always been the only girl for me, I woulda had a long list of tattoos of the names of Matildas, Gertrudes, and Esthers, perhaps in a progressively crossed-off list. Maybe I woulda, in remarkable foresight, had them immortalized with tattooed visages between my toes.
  • What about a life slogan? Well, in my 20s, I liked to party and thought I would never get married and never have kids (so much for this blog). What would my kids say about my “Too cool for kids” chest tattoo? Maybe I woulda been smart and had it done in Chinese characters.

Perhaps the problem is just me. Maybe today’s youth are not, like me, cursed with philosophical impermancy. They’ll always love the same bands and the same people and the same teams. They’ll always want to seize the day and believe that while dreams only last one night, love can last forever.

Who knows, I may yet join the body art crowd. Recently, I realized that, quite by accident, the first letter of each of my children’s names spells ZEN. I was shocked. Z-E-N. Now that would be a cool tattoo (although, if somehow we had child #4, the names Ken or Karla are out…).

Scott Warnock is a writer and teacher who lives in South Jersey. He is a professor of English at Drexel University, where he directs the University Writing Program. Father of three and husband of one, Scott is on two local school boards and coaches all kinds of youth sports.

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6 Responses to “Tattoos I woulda had”

  1. This was a great one, Scott…title got me to look (and avoid work).

    I even watched the video. That throw, at 5 minutes, could be used in a promotional video for “Mothers Against Wrestling.” And where, exactly, did his right hand go to get that leverage? Seemed to be an extra-special finger hold involved…

    It isn’t too late for you…although I’m glad I didn’t get a certain company logo tattooed across my back…:)

  2. Well good, another avenue where I can turn to you for help. My son wants a tattoo. I have no problem with him getting them as an adult, and I think the tattoo he wants is pretty cool – once he earns his Eagle Scout he wants the emblem. My problem is that he wants it on his neck!
    But there are of course websites devoted to the bad tattoos – and apparently yet another reality TV show dedicated to fixing them?
    And oh yeah, at 45 I still want the same tattoo I did when I was 20.

  3. Maybe with a tattoo you woulda won more matches and gone to Iowa like Joe? You coulda added a Hawkeye to your art collection. Woulda, shoulda, coulda……

  4. Ha! So, want to know the real reason you don’t have any tattoos? You think *way* too much about it.

    The idea of tattoos is that they are markers of points in time. People often mistakenly think they are supposed to represent permanency of some kind, or capture some definitive “statement.” You’re looking at it the wrong way because that’s exactly what they’re not.

    Tattoos mark chapters, even pages, but they’re never supposed to be a book. It’s just something that represents one time point. Overtime, however, they become, a story and that’s where it gets interesting. (I’ll refer you to Ray Bradbury.)

    Remember– Tattoos memorialize the moment, but don’t capture the whole. So, go get something. It’s fun. And don’t worry so much about what it is. If you like it today, at this very moment, that’s good enough.

  5. This article is hysterical! Enjoyed every word! Bravo!

  6. Is this article about my Ignition album cover tattoo I got when I was 17 from a guy who literally wore 2 sets of glasses while he tattoo’d?

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