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I'm sitting here at the small desk in our living room, listening to the Hello, Dolly overture, and feeling proud, because just this morning, while I made the lemon-poppyseed bread for Sweetie's Mother's Day Breakfast in bed, while doing that, I suddenly realized that I knew who would be the perfect person to tattoo on your body.
Note that I say your body, not my body. I'm not getting a tattoo. I admit that from time to time I've thought about getting a tattoo, and for a while there, I actually had an almost-tattoo: I've had two fake tattoos in my life, tattoos I had put on at Summerfest back in the days when I used to bother to be social and go to things like Summerfest. I wasn't social, but I pretended to be and would as part of that pretense grit my teeth and go hang out with my friends all day, listening to music from groups like INXS and the Violent Femmes, and drink $5.00 beers, which was a high price to pay back then, and get fake tattoos.
Nowadays it's simpler; nowadays, I no longer pretend to be social at all. I just stay at home and bake lemon-poppyseed bread and read reviews of LCD Soundsystem in The New Yorker and blog about getting tattoos and hear INXS on the oldies station as I drive home from the mall with Mr F and Mr Bunches in the backseat. I've abandoned all pretenses of coolness (which I like to think makes me cooler, but which I know doesn't, really -- only nerds pretend that not caring about being cool makes one cool.)(Well, nerds and Moms; Moms are the kind of people who say "You know what's cool? Not caring about being cool." And nerds believe Moms -- or the dumber ones do.)
I no longer care about being cool, but I do sometimes wonder whether I should get an actual tattoo. Two things hold me back from doing so. First, I don't know what I'd get put on my body, permanently, that I wouldn't get sick of and that wouldn't seem lame in 5 or 10 or 15 years. When I had those fake tattoos, which lasted about five weeks (they last longer if you don't scrub them off, and I'm all for any rule that requires less effort from me in the shower), the first was a flaming cobra rearing up with a knife in its mouth, and the second was Marvin The Martian (which is not why I named him to this post, but it's not NOT why, either.)
You may wonder why a cobra, especially a flaming cobra, would also need a knife. I never did; that tattoo made me wonder why all cobras don't come armed. It only makes sense: If all cobras have poison, they're all equal. But if you're a cobra who can also light yourself on fire and do credible knife work, you're going to rule that world.
Choosing a tattoo that wouldn't be lame is important, because that thing's there forever, or until a knife-wielding fiery cobra cuts it off of you, whichever comes first. But who are we - -specifically, who am I -- to say what's not going to be lame in 5 or 10 or 15 years? Everything is lame after a few years. Everything. If you look at anything humanity has done, ever, 15 years later, society has looked at that thing and said, and I quote:
Flagpole sitting and baggy pants. Cave paintings. Powdered wigs. Manifest destiny. Spiky hair on only one side. Republicanism. Hawaiian shirts. Grunge. Beards unaccompanied by moustaches... shall I go on, humanity, or is the point taken yet? We all, at one point or another, start doing something, and we think Hey, this thing I'm doing is cool, and it's not, it's lame -- we just don't see it until later on. We do our thing, whatever it is (donning pink shirts from Tommy Hilfiger, go Communist, wear granny glasses and form communes, etc.), and we look at those who came before us and laugh: You people were such nerds! and then 5 years later, we're the nerds.
That's the first problem with picking out a tattoo, and it's a doozy. At one point in my life, I loved things like red Chuck Taylor shoes not laced all the way up, "A Flock Of Seagulls," and Generra hypercolor shorts. I clearly have no ability to pick out something that's going to stand the test of time.
Second, every tattoo, it seems to me, is lame. So that kind of ties into the first and kind of doesn't, because tattoos seem lame no matter who has them and no matter what the tattoo is, and without regard to the passage of time. They're mystifying to me, really: Tattoos are abstractly cool and concretely stupid; they have this mythos about them, an air of danger and rebellion, a feeling of dark nights and motorcycle gangs and rejection of norms... but that's a feeling that exists only when the tattoo itself doesn't exist. Once that tattoo is here, in real life, drawn on someone's wrist or back or thigh, it's inevitably incredibly stupid.
Look around at the tattoos you know people have, or which you yourself have. Does it seem dangerous or rebellious or sexy that a housewife has a butterfly on her ankle? Is it cool and hip that someone has barbed wire around his or her bicep? Is that Hindu saying peeking above the collar of the girl at the Wendy's drive-through inspirational in a radical way?
Or are they all a little sad and tired looking, already? That's all I think everytime I see someone with a tattoo: That tattoo looks sad and tired looking. The ink on a tattoo appears faded almost instantly, and the artwork is drawn on a saggy body or peeking out from underneath a raggy t-shirt sleeve, and, too, there's something so... second class citizen about it all, too: getting a attoo is the equivalent of being the only kid who actually threw his homework away, back when we were kids. The teacher would assign homework on a beautiful day near the end of the year, and everyone would complain, and a group of kids would get together and say We should all just not do it, and throw our homework away. She can't flunk us all! and everyone would laugh and agree and decide to just spit in the face of society, and inevitably, the next day, 23 kids would hand in their book reports and only Derrick Van Orten would be sitting there, without one, and we'd all look down at the ground, not wanting to meet his eyes, because if we met his eyes, this conversation would ensue:
Derrick's eyes: You were supposed to be with me on this, man.
Our eyes: I know, and it was going to be cool, but we really want to amount to something one day.
Tattoos mark you as the kid who fell for that, the kid who thought that throwing away your homework would really do something about... something. They're an act of indirect and indistinct rebellion, a mark that there's something you believe in enough to put on your body -- provided that the thing you believe in enough to put on your body is also believed to be cool.
That's why everyone gets tattoos in foreign languages, after all: it's cooler to have a mysterious tattoo made up of symbols that people have to ask "What's your tattoo say?" than to just have a saying up there. People get obscure quotes in misunderstood languages, or symbols that seem to mean something but they don't, or they put the names of their kids or husband but only in a hard-to-see spot, or they tattoo a heart or someone's name on the finger where their wedding ring should go, hiding the (more permanent) symbol of love under the (presumably less-permanent because it's removable) symbol of their marriage (and doing so without thinking of the real symbolism of that gesture ("I'm hiding my love for you under a gloss of commercialism and precious metal; you come after my love for money and riches.")
It's not enough, then, to believe or like something, if you're going to get a tattoo -- you have to also believe or like something cool. Take Angelina Jolie, for example. Her tattoos are so symbolic, and so cool, that they've landed their own blog posts and a cover of Entertainment Weekly -- both complete with explanations. (That latter might have been the first time that a celebrity's tattoos were the actual cover photo.)
Among the idiotic explanations for Angelina Jolie's incredibly cool and sophisticated tattoos are these: The phrase "Know Your Rights," we are told, is not just something Jolie believes, or good advice -- it's also the title of a song of her favorite band. The song, if you google the title, is by the The Clash. Apparently, Angelina didn't want "Lost In A Supermarket" on her shoulder blade. But that's a pretty good song, too -- and if Jolie wanted a song by her favorite group, why not put that on there?
There's another tattoo that supposedly is a "Buddhist Pali incantation written in Khmer script," a poem of sorts to protect her from "bad luck." A Buddhist Pali incantation is cooler, of course, than a tattooed-on rabbit's foot or horseshoe, but means the same thing.
She also, I understand, has latitude-and-longitude tattoos on her wrist marking the place of her children's births; again, the tattoo has to be obscure and cool; if she simply put the place-name, that wouldn't require people to say what's the meaning of that one? as they ignore her latest movie and speculate on her private life. (And, of course, if she didn't use her children's birthplaces as a way to generate interest herself, marketing her career via her kids, she wouldn't have that tattoo at all.)
Angelina Jolie is not the only celebrity duped into thinking that tattoos make one mysterious or cool; celebrities from Pearl Bailey to Donnie Wahlberg (I'm using celebrity loosely, there) have had tattoos, each of them more obscure than the last, and presumably cooler (but really not.) Donnie Wahlberg's "Wahlberg 1969" tattoo is upstaged by Tom Waits' Easter Island tattoo.
Why does Tom Waits have a map of Easter Island on his back? That's for him to know, and you to find out via a question asked by a celebrity journalist when Tom Waits fades from the limelight (something that could only happen if Tom Waits actually entered the limelight in the first place), the tattoo serving as a story-generator: Tom Waits has a tattoo of Easter Island on his back. We asked him why as he began to tour in support of his new album.
I'm assuming, there, that Tom Waits is a musician. I'm not entirely sure what Tom Waits is. Or who. I recognize his name as one that critics use a lot, so he's probably one of those things, like broccoli or 30 Rock that are presumed to be popular but who nobody ever really eats/watches.
Other celebrities get weirder tattoos: Cher has wings on her butt; Brad Jolie has lines on his side, for some reason -- I'm sure there's an obscure-but-cool explanation, and I'm sure in this case it has something to do with Brad Jolie's oft-professed love of architecture, which he demonstrates primarily by insulting humanity and using his money to build a $35,000 hamster cage for his kids. I hate Brad Jolie.
Weird shapes and lines and seemingly-symbolic messes are popular tattoos: they manage to seem to mean everything while meaning nothing at all, an appropriate message for an "art form" that isn't really. At least, with a symbol, there won't be a permanent mis-spelling on your body, as happened to Hayden Panettiere.
But the most mystifying to me are the tattoos of actual people: tattooed-on portraits of real, living people who have actually existed in this world, and who, having actually existed as a person now exist as a line drawing on somebody's sweaty, hairy body.
I'm not talking about putting a name or initials on as a tattoo -- like Mark Wahlberg did with his own name and Stephen Baldwin (creepily) did with Hannah Montana's initials.
Nope. I'm not kidding:
Nope, I'm doubly not kidding: he did it, and it's creepy:
No, I'm not talking about those. I'm talking about putting actual portraits of people on you as a tattoo: people ranging from "Roseanne"
to Janet Jackson as the Virgin Mary,
to Elvis and Kurt Cobain joined forever on the chest of Fred Durst:
And I've really think that Kurt Cobain is, in the afterlife, far more outraged that he's on Fred Durst's chest than he is about having been murdered by Courtney Love. (Elvis, on the other hand, is living in Michigan, shopping at pet stores, and generally unbothered by it all.)
Aside from the insult that putting someone on your chest might be -- would Kurt Cobain have been okay with his essence residing on Fred's chest? (I say probably, actually. It seems like he was pretty mellow) -- the bigger question is what person? What person symbolizes everything you want to say about yourself for all time?
I have a hard time with that anyway, with picking people to idolize -- first, because they're people, after all, and they're going to let you down. Just ask Ron Vergerio, the numbskull who tattooed a picture of Ben Roethlisberger on his left biceps. It's not bad enough that he's covered in tattoos, thereby guaranteeing himself a life on the margins of society -- his tattoos now celebrate someone whose name now carries with it the disclaimer "Not charged with any crimes... yet."
Letting people down is what other people do best, and everyone falls short at sometime. Even Obama has dropped the ball: yeah, he fixed health care and saved all our houses and allowed investment banks to make billions again (that last one may not be his best accomplishment) but he couldn't get the Olympics to Chicago, so if you've tattooed a portrait of Obama on your right hip as a symbolic gesture, know that people are looking at you and saying "That might mean something if I could go watch pole-vaulting in Chicago next year, or whenever it is the Olympics were going to come there."
The other problem with picking someone to tattoo on me, permanently, is the list of people I have to pick ahead of whoever I'd really pick. Anytime I, or someone else, is asked a question involving people, we have certain obligations to fulfill. Whether we're accepting an Oscar for best adapted screenplay (as I like to pretend, sometimes, I am doing) or hoisting a Super Bowl trophy and thanking the people who got us there, or simply hosting a hypothetical lunch involving various people from history, there are certain people who must be mentioned in that mix. And they are, in order:
1. Jesus/Mom (tie.)
2. Abraham Lincoln.
3. Albert Einstein (Niels Bohr if you want to be pretentious.)
4. Our wife/husband.
5. Random religious figure meant to show we are inclusive when really we think the other religion is bunk. (e.g., Gandhi, Mohammed, Tom Cruise)
6. Relatively recent political or pop-culture figure meant to make a political point to the person we are about to lecture on a political point. (e.g., Reagan, William Jennings Bryan, a Tuskegee Airman)
Every Oscar speech, every theoretical dinner, every list of people we admire has to include those people first -- they're the NESTLE-R of people we admire (Don't know what Nestle-R is? Read about it here.) So if I was going to put a tattoo of someone on my body, I'd have to run through all those people first, before I got to whoever it is I really wanted to get a portrait of on my elbow, and I'd run out of space, even on my body.
(Do you suppose, when you think about it, that Jesus and Einstein might want to stay home occasionally and just have a Hot Pocket and watch King of the Hill reruns? Maybe that should be the question we ask: If you could choose any one celebrity or historical figure, ever, to give a night off to and let sit home and watch reruns on TV while eating microwaved food, who would it be?)
Or so I thought: I thought that I would run out of space, having to put those people on my body, and I thought that tattoos were dumb and impractical and silly, but that was before I realized that there is, after all, a tattoo that one could get that would not be dumb, would not be impractical, and would not be silly. It would never go out of style. It would never seem too symbolic - -and yet it would be symbolic, after all, and kind of mysterious. And, best of all, it's a portrait of a person, too.
It's, in a nutshell, The Best Tattoo You Could Ever Get. And I'm going to share it with you, right now. Are you ready? Sit down, maybe. Or at least put down that piece of cheesecake. Why are you eating that in the morning, anway?
Here is The Best Tattoo You Could Ever Get:
Joe the Plumber!
Okay. You're skeptical, I can tell. Let me explain to you why Joe the Plumber is the ideal tattoo, why a tattooed portrait of Joe The Plumber is a timeless expression of whatever it is tattoos are supposed to express.
First, Joe The Plumber fits the role played by all 7 of the People Who Must Be Mentioned/Invited. We mention/thank/have lunch with those people for a variety of reasons: We want to show we are humble, we want to show we are smart, we want to show that we are knowledgeable about history and politics, and we want to show that we love our Mom.
Also, we want to have lunch with God, because that'd be cool.
Joe the Plumber does all those things: He's political, and historical, now that he went to investigate Israel or something, and he is humble (he's just a plumber, after all), and he's smart -- you try fixing a toilet -- and I'm pretty sure he loved his mom, because who doesn't love their Mom?
So in affixing a portrait of Joe The Plumber to your body, you are automatically affixing a portrait of all those ideals embodied by the 7 Mandatory Invitees, but you are doing so much more than that, because Joe The Plumber is really a vessel in which can be carried every single thing a tattoo is supposed to say.
Are you hip and into irony? Joe The Plumber's portrait will make a hip, ironic statement about the infusion of mass media into our political culture. Or vice-versa! He's vice-versatile!
Are you a steadfast Constitutionalist fed up with government but unable to make it to a "Tea Party?" Show your support for real America by tattooing a real American on your chest. Joe The Plumber isn't some struggling coffee barrista or multi-millionaire tech guy. He's us, ( provided that us is plumbers.)
If, though, you're a bleeding-heart liberal hell-bent on making sure that society actually takes care of everyone, and trying to cure the problems of the world, a picture of Joe The Plumber does double duty: not only does he show how the right-wing co-opts average Americans for their own purposes and then casts them aside callously, but he's also a plumber -- an unheralded blue-collar worker toiling away in obscurity fixing those problems that society would just as ignore.
Celebrities: Joe The Plumber shows you're in touch with common people and political.
Common people: Joe The Plumber was one of you -- and now he's a celebrity!
Old people can get a Joe The Plumber portrait to show how dumb young people are. Young people can get a Joe The Plumber tattoo to irritate the old folks. Fred Durst can get a Joe The Plumber tattoo right alongside Elvis and Kurt, sending the message Fred Durst wants to send most of all ("Pay attention to me, please!")
Even Joe The Plumber can get a Joe The Plumber tattoo -- the ultimate in irony. Or something.
In the past, it could have, and should have, been said: Tattoos, overall, are dumb. People who get tattoos, overall, are dumb. But that is no longer true, because there is one tattoo that you can get that will not be dumb. The stupidest form of self-expression, in one fell swoop, has become the best. By getting a Joe The Plumber tattoo portrait, you will be helping to transform the traditional message transmitted by a tattoo:
Old Message Sent By Tattoo: I'm so desperate for attention I let someone draw on my boob.
New Message Sent By Tattoo: Something political/hip/smart/ironic/all of the above.
Yes, with a Joe The Plumber tattoo, you will no longer be seen as just a shallow, self-centered person trying to seem deeper by quoting the Bhagavad Gita in a spiral around your navel. You will instead, be seen as a sophisticated, cultured person. A sophisticated, cultured person with a permanent drawing of a sweaty bald man on your back, but a sophisticated cultured person nonetheless.
And, if you want to make it better, make sure your Joe The Plumber tattoo is on fire, with a knife in his mouth.
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