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WTF Friday: Tattoos February 3, 2011

Posted by J. in Genius.

There was a time, gentle reader, when I thought the epitome of cool was a double ear piercing.  I’d had one hole in each ear, totally vanilla, since the third grade.  But I was a child of the ’80’s, and there was nothing cooler than having more than one hole in your lobe.  Everyone I knew had at least a double-piercing.  If you went to high school in the late 80’s, have less than three holes in your combined ears and are NOT my sister, raise your hand.  See?

Clearly, I was on a slippery slope.

My mother forbade it.  “You’ll look like a Ubangi!” she insisted, and when I hotly informed her that I’d do it when I was 18 and didn’t need her permission, she said I could do whatever the hell I wanted when I moved out.  I took this small victory in personal autonomy and stomped up to my room, crossing off the days until I was old enough to do whatever the hell I wanted.  Me being me, I still  brought the issue up from time to time, usually whenever yet another friend of mine got yet another piercing, just to see if she’d softened on the issue.  Jane never softened on the issue, or any issue, for that matter.  I turned 18 with nary a spare hole in my head.

I headed off to college, as so many 18-year-old’s do, both with the noble aspiration of becoming a teacher, and of the less noble but no-less-important mission of going to the mall with my new college girlfriends the first chance I got to add a few extra holes from which to sport a vast and dazzling array of earrings.  As an educator I would mold and shape young minds, helping them realize their full potential as future leaders, and more important, they’d love me for my fashion-forward piercings and embrace me as the cool teacher that everyone hopes they get.

College proved to be an eyeopener.  To make a long story short, and perhaps I’ll tell you about it someday, it was a square peg/round hole situation.  I didn’t come within a row of assholes of fitting in.  I had to make all new friends for the first time since kindergarten, and it turns out I’m not good at it.  And I’m not sure any of my roommates had or even wanted multiple piercings.  They were not so much from the acid-washed jeans and Aussie Scrunch-Sprayed bangs crowd that I ran with, but more of the Laura Ashley and Talbot’s twin set crowd.  My vision of a girls’ day at the mall with piercings and Orange Juliuses for everyone evaporated into the ether, just one of many early disappointments.

I also discovered a couple of things about my chosen career path: first and foremost, I don’t really like kids, and they don’t really like me.  It was going to be a hindrance, for sure.  The second thing was realizing that the other people in my major were going to be the people I was going to spend the rest of my life hanging around: in meetings, at conferences, at lunch.  And I didn’t really like the people in my classes.  They were nothing like me, and I didn’t want to be like them.

Around the time I was thinking seriously deep thoughts that I might have to reevaluate my major, I fell in with the theater crowd.  I’ve always been creative and I consider myself artistic.  I went to college because, and I quote, “I was too smart to NOT go to college.”  Brains, schmains.  No one ever asked me what I liked to do.  No one asked about my interests.  I was set with my path on a college-prep course of study with the knowledge that it was never a question of me going to college, only where.  Seriously, why no one ever fostered my love of making stuff is beyond me.  When you’ve got a 12-year-old who understands the concept of a bust dart, you should be thinking about design schools for her future and not worry about signing her up for Physics.  I’m just saying.

Anyway, my thwarted potential aside, at the end of four years, I came away with a Bachelor of Arts in Technical Theater, but still no extra holes in my ears.  In retrospect, I think it was a combination of being too busy to get to it, the fad fading by the time I made some friends, and having friends with a better developed style-sense than my own.  To this day, I still have just the same two piercings I got when I was 8 or so, and even now I hardly ever put earrings in.

Fads come and fads go.  In the next phase of my life, I literally hit the road.  I got hired within a year of graduation to go on tour with a production of Peter Pan.  For the uninitiated, it’s what we in the Biz call a “bus and truck” show.  We load up trucks with everything we need to put on the show, pile onto buses and take it from city to city, usually playing a city one night before moving on to the next city.

I was one of a crew of around 8 or so.  We had a stage manager and an assistant stage manager, a lighting guy, a sound guy, a lead carpenter, an assistant carpenter, on Pan we had a flying guy, and wardrobe (me).

Our schedule was demanding.  We would pull into a city in the morning and usually grab a bite of breakfast before heading to the theater.  We’d get there and while the truck was parking we’d go in and size up the place and the people.  Different house, different stage, different dressing rooms, different crew, every single day.  In a few minutes I assigned dressing rooms, gave my crew their jobs and we started loading the show in and unpacking everything.  By mid-afternoon we’d be set up to go and have a few hours of down time to grab something to eat and have some time to ourselves before getting back to the theater.

Circa 1992, on stage before dance warm ups waiting for the stage manager to give us notes from the last show. Im in my backstage black. I dont think I wore any other color for 3 years.

The cast would arrive at six after traveling all day for a cast and crew meeting and dance warmups, and the curtain would go up at 8.  As soon as it came down again (and Pan was a long show–over two hours every night) we’d start packing everything up again.  Everything went on in a specific order and got put in a specific place on the truck.  I’d have a limited amount of time to get them ready and when they called for my road boxes, they’d better be set to roll.  You DO NOT want to hold up the load out by not having your road boxes ready and to my credit, I don’t think I ever did.  It’s one of those skills few people know I possess.  I can pack a suitcase, a trunk, a packing box, a backpack, a truck, you name it, in record-breaking time with room to spare.

Our coach looked a lot like this. We looked like Bob Seger lyrics. "Well you walk into a restaurant strung out from the road..."

When the truck was packed and loaded, it was back to the hotel where we’d usually go to our rooms, shower, change, and get back on the coach.  We rode from city to city in the kind of tour buses you see bands and country singers travel around in.  There was a front lounge, a back lounge, and the center had 12 separate bunks where we slept.

We did what we call a “shower and leave” more often than not.  It was usually around 1 in the morning or so when we’d be back on the road.  We’d hit a truck stop early to lay in provisions and then we were on our way to Pensacola, or Amarillo, or Dayton, or wherever.   Because the coach driver didn’t smoke, the front lounge was where us non-smokers could hang out when it got to be too much in the back, which was of course the designated party lounge.

Tanq and Tonic Tuesday was usually followed by WTF Wednesday.

Every night, and in all honesty I can’t remember a night there wasn’t, there would be refreshments of the alcoholic and herbal varieties while we wound down.  We had the occasional theme drink days.  “Tanq and Tonic Tuesday” is the only one I can remember now, much to my own chagrin.  There’d be drinking and smoking until the wee small hours when one by one we’d all fade into our racks and let the bus rock us off to a drunken sleep.  I always woke up before the bus stopped because my body could feel when we got into a town.  There were more stops and starts, turns, idling at lights.  And when we arrived, we’d roll out, put our shoes on, and start it all again.

Once in awhile the two cities we were scheduled to play would be just a bit too far apart to make in one hop so we’d have a travel day.  We’d drive all night, stay up drinking and partying, crash during the day at the hotel, do laundry, go shopping, watch TV, call home…all that stuff we didn’t get to do on show days.

And sometimes, someone would get a tattoo.

It’s not like every time I was on tour someone got a tattoo.  It’s more that almost everyone I was on the crew with had a tattoo.  Of course, me not being a champion friend-maker and wanting to fit in, I very seriously considered getting one.  I don’t know why my lonely desperation didn’t make me more endearing?  Weird.

Anyway, the Seattle grunge music revolution was picking up a full head of steam so tattooed people were becoming more mainstream and tattoo parlors were flourishing everywhere.  Not that any roadie was really into grunge music.  Our parties were soundtracked by The Grateful Dead and Jimmy Buffett.  In other words, Music To Get High To.

I’d like to say that I hesitated because the lesson my mother taught of the double-pierced ears and how things like that come in and out of fashion stuck with me.  In truth, the only thing that held me back was that I was having a hard time figuring out exactly what I’d like to have permanently inked onto my skin.

My mother was, as you can imagine, vehemently opposed to me getting a tattoo and swore she’d search me at the airport and if I was sporting any ink she was never going to buy me another birthday or Christmas present.

To this day, I remain uninked.  And like the ear holes, I no longer feel the need to embrace the trend.  Besides which, what would I get?  I never did figure it out.  I suppose the threat of having no more pressies saved me from doing something horrific like combining my love of Star Wars and Winnie-the-Pooh.

WTF can you say about this? Other than "How can I best combine my love of Star Wars and Winnie-the-Pooh?"

My mother, for some reason I can’t understand, thinks to this day that my plan was to get an anklet type of tattoo.  I mean, I think I know more women my age with wreaths of flowers around their ankles than I do women that don’t.  I thought the ankle was as good a place as any to put a tattoo.  You can hide it with hosiery and it’s not likely to sag out of shape when you get old or full of stretch marks.  Or both.

Go ahead and try to tell me that with my love of all things cupcake that I wouldnt have wound up with this on my leg. My tasty, tasty leg.

I like to think that hesitating to get that tattoo back when I wanted to be super-cool kept me from doing something that would be truly cringe-worthy here in my 40’s and world away from who I was at 23.  Like have a line from a show (or a show tune) or a bit of a Very Deep Poem etched into my skin to show how literary I am.  Or heaven forbid, the comedy/tragedy masks so that everyone would know that I was in The Theater.  *shudders*

WTF? Tell my why I shouldnt kick you in the vagina, you emo tool.

I didn’t pay homage to any singer or band, no matter how cool they were, are, or ever shall be world without end, amen.  Because while some of us know it’s a Cheeseburger in Paradise, 97% of people looking at this are going to think it’s a McDLT.

While I do I like mine with lettuce and tomato, Heinz 57 and french fried potatoes, I also like to keep the hot side hot and the cool side cool.

Oh, in the world of tattoos, the WTF quotient is high.  The possibility for things to go wrong are without number, and it’s not like you can just erase a mistake.

Though in my case, after three kids this tattoo would be pretty much unreadable anyway. Especially if Im lying on my back.

In the end, I’m glad I didn’t get any tattoos.  At this stage in the game I’m far too confident in who I am to think a bit of ink will make me any cooler or more popular with anyone else.  It’s a crazy thing: now that I’m long past caring if people like me or not, I make friends pretty readily.  Go figure.

Tattoos are a statement.  Maybe it’s just a private statement to yourself about who you are and what you stand for.  And then maybe it’s your message to the world.  I say the lack of tattoos can be a statement too.  Whatever way you roll, just be careful that you’re sending the message you want the world to see…




1. Penny Karma - February 4, 2011

I believe the plural of Orange Julius is Orange Julii.

2. Stephanie - February 4, 2011

I can’t remember which comedian commented on young women who get butterflies tattooed on their breasts – looks great in your twenties, but after 30 years and a few kids – look out kiddies, Momma’s got a pterodactyl on her chest!

My mom forbade the third ear piercing at the mall too. She forgot to remove all the needles and ice cubes from the house. It actually took her over a year to notice the new hole in my head.

3. Karen - February 4, 2011

Love your description of life on tour. When I was 50, I got a call offering me a Bus and Truck of “Funny Girl”. I told the producer I was a little old to be on a bus partying with 25-year-old guys who think drinking until you puke is fun.

Both my sons have multiple holes in their ears — somewhere around 6 in each ear — and one has holes on the rest of his body. Neither of them wears earrings any more. They did the holes, then told me. I’ve got 2 in each ear, only wear one earring an ear these days except for rare instances.

4. knitorious drivel - February 4, 2011

Very interesting!

My son’s fiance got our last name tatooed on her wrist (her idea, not his). Two months later she broke off the engagement. It was in script, so I suppose she might be able to turn it into flowers or something. Or just claim she’s a big fan of one of our late presidents. 8-(

5. Jack P. Lasterer - June 3, 2014

My love of Winnie the Pooh and Star Wars is a little stronger, just saying.

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