I got my first tattoo when I was 18.
It was in Wichita Falls, Texas where I was in a communications technical school in the Air Force. Like many dumb 18 year olds, my buddies and I decided it would be a great idea to get tattoos. I got a small black rose on my lower leg.
I assumed that would be it, because I am no fan of pain. The pain of getting a tattoo ranks somewhere between being eaten by a shark and having a grizzly bear give you a back rub. So that one small tattoo would be it for me.
Or so I thought.
Back then – I got my first tattoo in 1981 – the only people you saw with tattoos were in the military, belonged to outlaw biker gangs or were in prison. Plenty of World War II vets had anchors and hearts and such, but they were OK because those guys had saved the world from tyranny.
Me? Not so much.
But at my first duty assignment in Guam, I got a couple more small tattoos. One is also lower on my leg and one is on my back. The one on my lower leg was originally a word, but now looks like a black rectangle.
That was it for me for years. I wanted another one, but life and kids and work all got in the way. Plus, no one with a real job got tattoos, right?
Well, a funny thing started to happen in the 1990s – tattoos became popular. People began to embrace them for the beautiful body art that they can be. Of course, there were also some questionable trends (tribal anyone?) that thankfully didn’t last, but tattoos slowly became more acceptable for men and women.
That meant I could rekindle my love of the art form. I started slowly by getting some work done in Minnesota when I lived there. Then I got some more work done in California when I lived there. In fact, we flew out our favorite tattoo artist at the time and he tattooed friends for a week at our house.
Trust me, it is not nearly as crazy as it sounds. Most tattoo artists take their art and craft very seriously. It is safe and clean.
Here in Illinois I have found a fantastic artist who lives close to Chicago. His art skills are pretty mind boggling to a guy like me – I can’t draw a reasonable stick person. He has done some beautiful, colorful work on my arms. I just got more work done last week.
Yes, it still hurts. I had a lot of work done a couple of months ago in one sitting, and I finally had to throw in the towel – I just couldn’t take it anymore.
And I know that many people don’t like tattoos, and are turned off by people who have them. To each his or her own, I say. I know many very powerful, successful people who have a lot of tattoos. They clearly don’t have the stigma they used to have.
I enjoy checking out the art people are sporting on their bodies (just visible parts, folks. Nothing dirty here). Some work is absolutely stunning.
Of course, there are always those hideous tattoos that you just try to grin through while telling the person with the tatt that it looks great.
“I love that portrait of your dog you got on your arm. It looks great!”
“That’s my mom.”
“Oh, look at the time. I have to get going!”
So, if you have a tattoo and you see me checking it out, it’s just that I enjoy the art form. Don’t freak out.