We’re friends, you and I. Chums. We have some laughs, we have deep conversations and none of it’s heavy because we’re pals. Amigos. It would be nice if you’d take me somewhere nice now and then, but hey, I’m not complaining. We’re buds. 

And because we’re such compadres, I’m going to let you in on my deepest, most shocking secret. 

I don’t have any tattoos. Not a one. No snakes, no razor wire, no cryptic lettering meant to convey something meaningful. Hell, I don’t even have a drunken, homemade tattoo of the Anheuser Busch logo on my shoulder, and that kind of thing was practically mandatory when I was coming up. 

It’s not that I’ve never been tempted. It wasn’t so long ago that I was stumbling around Venice Beach and really working myself into an inky kind of mood. The sun was hot, the beer was cheap and everywhere I turned was a little bit of Doors nostalgia. 

When you’re 10 or 11 beers in and you’ve been listening to “LA Woman” all night on a California beach, it’s easy to start thinking that maybe a quick tat at one of the 10,000 parlors on the block would be the perfect way to mark the occasion. A little “Mojo Risin” on the back of a shoulder could be just the thing. Or maybe something more symbolic, like a palm tree hanging upside down from the bottom of a cow. 

I have no idea what that’s meant to symbolize, but I tell you: It made perfect sense that hazy hot night in L.A. 

For one reason or another, I never ended up with any tats at all, and now I spend my days wandering about in nothing but the unadorned flesh I was born with. Back in the day, this wouldn’t have been a problem. Back in the day, only a select few had tattoos to speak of, namely gangstas, sailors and street-seasoned ex-cons. 

In those ancient times, getting inked made you different. It made you stand out as a potential hooligan, to the point where young mothers would scoop up their children and scurry to the other side of the street when they saw you coming. 

“Look out, everybody!” the trembling woman would warn others on the street. “He’s got a palm tree hanging from the underside of a cow, so you KNOW he’s trouble!” 

Nowadays? Pleeeeease. Half the population of any given high school have tattoos, and that includes music teachers, shy librarians and possibly the principal. Same at the old folks home, same at the country club, same at the little church on the corner. 

Whatever dangerous charms the tattoo once had, they began to fade right around the time Justin Bieber got about a hundred of them. Even the skittish young mother with the kids isn’t afraid of Justin Bieber, tats or no tats. YOU cross the street, pretty boy!  

There are still plenty of tough guys with tats, no doubt about it – I wouldn’t go asking that huge guy up on Birch Street what the teardrops on his cheeks mean. But these days, the tough guys have to share the fleshy landscape with rose-cheeked kids who have no street cred whatsoever. I’m talking about youngsters who have never suffered so much as detention, let alone prison. 

Like that lad strutting up Campus Avenue, for instance, with painted sleeves rolling up each arm and the bright red flames of hell crawling up his neck. Ask him about the angry tattoo that covers his back – the one with the bloody fist clutching a squashed human heart and the words “Never again!” scrawled in a splash of crimson. 

“That?” he’ll tell you. “That’s meant to symbolize the time I got punished for having an overdue library book. The rage is real, yo.” 

Sweet, pie-baking grandmas have tattoos nowadays. So do cherubic children fresh out of the Scouts. It’s a numbers game, really. The more tats there are in the world, the less shocking they become. 

So, I’m perfectly OK with the fact that I never succumbed to the siren song of needle and ink. In a very real way, having unpainted flesh makes you stand out more than if you have snakes, roses or lightning bolts crawling up your arms and engulfing half your face. 

“I see that you have no tattoos, my friend. Tell me how this happened. It must be a fascinating story!” 

“Well,” I tell them. “It all started one night on Venice Beach when I learned that even a small tattoo costs about 200 bucks, and then I got to thinking about how much beer I could buy with that money.” 

It’s not much of a story, I suppose, but it beats the hell out of trying to explain why I have a cow growing a palm tree where its udder should be, tattooed across my forehead.

When he’s not talking skin art with tattooed gangsters, Mark LaFlamme is a staff writer for the Sun Journal and can be reached at [email protected]


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