Last night, I had a dream I’d just gotten half my torso covered with a tattoo. I immediately regretted this, because in my dream I also had a huge back piece, possibly of a caged tiger, and this was all a bit much. The newest regrettable tattoo was of jazz saxophonist Coleman Hawkins, a titan of the instrument, to be sure, but not really one to inspire body art. He’s no John Coltrane (nor, judging from the linked art, rapper Jay-Z). Hawkins is one of those guys that you kind of have to be a true jazz buff to know much about; I’m more than a casual fan of the genre, and all I know is “Body and Soul.” But, I’d felt compelled to have Hawkins blowing his horn permanently etched into my body, the edges of the image morphing into stylized leaves and flowers along my ribs up into my armpit. Strangely enough, the first link on YouTube that I dug up features Coleman Hawkins inexplicably dissolving into someone’s tomato plants in a roof-top garden. Clearly, I am main-lining inspiration from the collective unconscious. Well, now that it’s too late, I am.
In my waking life, I have the world’s least-inspired tattoo. Or, well, a bartender at Mellow Mushroom Pizza and I share the world’s least remarkable tattoo. Not in the way that Snake Eyes and Storm Shadow, arch-frenemies in the GI Joe universe, share the same ninja tattoo. Ninja tattoos are pretty serious business. But, the young lady who poured my beer and I have the same undistinguished piece of flash: a blue nautical star, which I understand to be popular with both sailors and lesbians. I didn’t automatically assume my tattoo-doppelgänger to be either, although you never can tell with sailors. I pointed out our connection, and she laughed it off. “Oh, I just wanted to get a tattoo when I turned 18.”
I could have given her a wise smile to indicate a learned patience with youthful folly, or I might have shaken my head in silent judgment. But, I think I just said, “cool,” or something similarly lame. Ostensibly, I got this thing on the inside of my arm for my blue-eyed daughter, Stella, and my inspiration just happened to align perfectly with something to be found in what amounts to the bargain bin of the tattoo shop. But, when I’m being honest, I’ll admit that I’d considered any number of tattoos before I discovered a reason seemingly lofty enough to justify one to family and colleagues. “Oh, I just turned 35 and I felt like outwardly manifesting the symptom of a midlife crisis,” lacks a certain romance.
Thankfully, my kid is still buying the original story. Early one winter evening when she was three, we were looking at the first stars to appear in the sky. I told her that Stella meant “star,” and that’s why I had one on my arm.
“I’ll get one when I get older?” she asked.
“It’s getting dark. We better get inside!” I replied, thinking, “In your dreams, young lady.”