look dude, i had no idea in 1998 that to give off some semblance of cool as an adult i would need to get a cubist rose tattooed on my barely discernible ribcage. in 1998 i had two pagers and one of those clear house phones that allowed you to see all the pink and red and blue wiring within. in 1998 i drove a maroon ford escort hatchback that i crashed in front of a strip mall while distractedly turning up the radio to better hear "the boy is mine." i knew in 1998 that pacey was the only reason on earth to ever watch dawson's creek, on regular CRT tv with an actual antenna. i had only tried three different types of cheese before 1998. in 1998 i didn't have a goddamned email address. so when, in 1998, i turned 18 years old and it officially became legal to carve intricate, lacy floral patterns and the names of my literary heroes into my supple young skin? i raced to the nearest tattoo parlor clutching my poetry journal to my bosom, ready to spend all $217 in my possession to have something deep and meaningful permanently inscribed into my flesh. JK I GOT A BUNCH OF TRIBAL TATTOOS AND SHIT LOL FUCK YOU.
i was in chicago last weekend for a book thing. and when i wasn't in my beautiful hotel room intermittently sobbing into the crisp white towels over how many delicious varieties of fried chicken were available within any one mile radius at virtually any time day or night, i was unfortunately outside of that hotel room being assaulted by other people's inane conversations. one night i was standing on the corner of halsted and randolph laughing at the idea that anyone would actually wait 2+ hours to eat a cheeseburger at au cheval when a handsome young man with two vibrant and colorful full sleeves adorning his pale, slender arms stumbled out of the restaurant, insulted that he was on the wait-for-a-text-list, griped "we can't get a seat at the bar but that guy with the cubs tattoo has a table!? let's go back to logan square, bro." (i might have taken some creative license with the last part of that sentence but whatever you know it's true.)
i could feel all the hair on my unironic mickey mouse/tweety bird/tazmanian devil tattoo stand on end. (i don't have any of those, but i know some bitches who do, and this is about solidarity.) everyone is a dumbass at 18. some people are still dumbasses at 32. it can't be helped. and sure, maybe i should've known that one day the olde english lettering spelling out ONE IRON DUKE on my right forearm would cause me deep and powerful shame at the hands of a style blogger with access to an american express card, but i fucking didn't. there were no smartphones back then, i couldn't just whip out my iphone and bring up the 10,000,000 pictures of the chinese symbol for "mother" available to me so that i wouldn't end up with the word "vagina" TATTOOED ON THE SIDE OF MY MOTHERFUCKING NECK FOR THE REST OF MY LIFE. so give us a goddamned break, kids. back then we still had to fucking use encyclopedias.
so this one's for all the homies getting tattooed in the early aughts who had neither access to 2500 real american dollars to get inked from shoulder to wrist with something cool enough to impress our future roller derby teammates nor the foresight to realize that tattooing "i want no one else to succeed" on her breastplate would force her to engage with so many hideous, mouthbreathing strangers. ugh my life is neverending misery. i should either wear a turtleneck every day or get cards made up that say "please don't make me take my headphones off, it's a quote from there will be blood, okay!?"
i'm here for all you girls with butterflies flapping gently above your ass cracks and what you were misled to believe are the japanese letters for "love" and "destiny" peeking out from under the hems of your jeans; and the bros with barbed wire circling biceps that no longer flex as hard as they used to and faded orange koi gasping for air atop flabby pectoral muscles that strain a little tighter against your old abercrombie polo shirts. yes, i have an inky black tribal "sun" tattooed over the ill-conceived initials on my inner left wrist of a grown man who put ketchup on a steak at ruth's chris one time before leaving a 10% tip and I WILL NO LONGER BE ASHAMED, friends. did that dude and i end up happily ever after? no! but at the time did my then-25 year old brain think that a person who made me a copy of his house key should be honored in return with a corner of real estate on my body!? you bet that ladybug tattoo on your ass i did.
i'm not hiding anymore, fam. some asshole at a reading a couple years ago was like, "lol japanese wave tattoo!?" and for a split second i felt stupid and almost apologetic but wait: HELLO, SON. I AM OLD. and while i hope that tiny hipster mustache etched permanently into the side of your finger remains au courant forever, i'm smart enough to know it won't and that you better start thinking up the cutesy story to explain it away at parties now. because in ten years when 3D face tattoos are the wave and the girls you're trying to bone are all, "ew...mustache?" you're going to feel this exact same shame and hopefully by that point my aquarius constellation tattoo and i will be cackling up at you from the ninth circle of hell.
a semi-exhaustive list of all my trash tattoos, which hopefully will make you feel marginally better about your own life choices:
1 my first ever tattoo was this garbage i got, inspired by my 1998 hero ani difranco, in the dead center of my chest. i had the cover of her spin magazine tacked to a square of cardboard hanging on my dorm room wall, and that tattoo seemed as fitting a tribute as any to let everyone know that i spent a lot of time in high school crying along to "not a pretty girl."
2 giant tribal flame on top of right forearm.
3 tribal flower with nearly illegible name of dead mother scribbled beneath, top of left forearm.
4 below that, some other tribal thing that this dude at jade dragon kept calling a spider as he was tattooing it on me. i'm not really that into bugs and twenty years later it lives on my arm and still creeps me the fuck out.
5 "one iron duke," in honor of dead father, in that running from your wrist to your elbow style that eminem has wow o wow is this humiliating.
6 AFOREMENTIONED NECK TATTOO.
7 "shut up" on right upper arm.
8 ugh my sister and i got these matching butterfly tattoos? which is weird because i don't think we even like each other enough to do that kind of thing, and i'm going to go on record and say that i had chosen mine first and was in the chair with my shirt off when she got hers.
9 oh man i was deeply in love and got the initials of a non-fictional person on the inside of my wrist and totally didn't think it was a mistake.
9a happiness is a lie and love is fleeting as fuck. cover ups to the rescue.
10 i was never one to instill a whole lot of meaning into my tattoo choices (and i definitely did not give them a whole lot of thought?) but i couldn't resist getting a little something when i went with a friend and got that there will be blood quote written on my left boob in this font that looks like a child's handwriting. i think this is officially when i was like "let's just cover this bag of rotting meat with whatever who cares."
11 case in point: i got really, really into sons of anarchy and decided that i was going to get a bunch of biker tattoos? okay so the first is this black and white shaded reaper surrounded by smoke and waves, angrily wielding a sickle with blood oozing from it; 12 the second one is a freehand skull done with only shading needles. he's surrounded by stars and roses and has a serpent coiled throughout, with its tail coming out of the skull's mouth and its head slithering out of where his missing brain would be; and finally, 13 a screaming reaper with terrifying sharp teeth who is brandishing an incredibly detailed smoking pistol. these are all on my right arm, and i still stand by this decision. man, i love that show.
14 slowing down in my old age, i got the aquarius constellation because if you pretend you believe in astrology people tend to be less irritated by your idiotic decision-making.
15 when i went to dump my dad's ashes i got a tattoo of the state of tennessee, mostly to remind myself that i drove from chicago to nashville in a rented camry in seven hours fueled only by lukewarm diet coke and the kind of adult contemporary playlist that would melt your mom's panties right off.
16 cursed, on my wrist. because duh.
i wish i was cool, man. but i feel like that ship sailed as soon as i decided to pick my first handful of tattoos from the drunk rugby player's handbook circa 1997. there's freedom in covering your body with nonsense, though. once you get one dumb piece of garbage, you can just do whatever the fuck you want! aim low! get all of the cartoon characters and insipid motivational quotes your body can handle! ALL TATTOOS ARE TRASH. "dream as if you'll live forever." *cluster of birds trailing over mole-speckled right shoulder*