Monday, May 28, 2012

Tattoos

As I was switching channels on cable TV, I chanced upon a UFC fight involving two Caucasian men kicking, clawing and punching each other—and don't they always do?1

One of the players had tattoos all over his upper body. His biceps and triceps had snakes on them. Or whether they were dragons, I couldn't be sure. On his body, too, were indelible sketches. A little above his T4 dermatome was a statement written in black Gothic letters. I wanted him to win.

I told my mother that if my biceps are big enough, I might get one of those tattoos. She looked at me angrily, for why should I tarnish my body with unnecessary decorations? She said tattoos are unbecoming of a person. "You'll look dirty," she said. 

I don't blame her, for that is an opinion shared by the majority of my friends and family—except perhaps for my rock star brother Sean who recently had a temporary henna marking on his right deltoid, a fact he wishes to conceal from my parents. I took a photo of his arm while he wasn't looking; I might use it for blackmail one of these days.

The truth is, I like tattoos. They fascinate me.

When Manong Ralph was in first grade, he used to buy colorful, plastic stickers that served as fake tattoos. He would excitedly invite me inside the bathroom to reveal his latest purchase. He'd ask that I expose my arm or thigh or neck—or whichever body part I liked—whereupon he'd wet the sticker with tap water, position it on the chosen location, let it stand for a couple of minutes, before he'd peel the plastic carefully, leaving the "tattoo" for us to marvel at. I would do the same to him. 

The tattoos were mostly characters from  X-men, our favorite Friday cartoon show. They would eventually begin to crack, then excoriate, piece by piece, the way old paint does on the roof. Our tattoos would usually last for two weeks, give or take, unless Ate Alice, our former house help, decided to scrub them off with a face towel, a gesture we strongly protested against. We felt violated. On hindsight, maybe she did that to spare us the shame of having flakes on our bodies, lest our neighbors think we have seborrheic dermatitis or some untreated skin disease.

These days I couldn't take my eyes off tattoos, especially when I visit the mall. I realize that I have to somehow curb my curiosity. Staring at people's skin, especially in certain provocative body parts, would be crude and impolite. 

There are good and bad tattoos. The good ones look artistic, well-thought out, and expertly imprinted. I especially like the huge, colorful ones, with gradients and shadings all over the intricate designs. The bad ones look amateurish, often with horrible typography and bad grammar, and are probably etched using hepatitis-infected needles.

But whatever the quality of the tattoos may be, there are stories behind them, stories of love, grief, identity, frustration, or hope. The "Indhay" or "Nhenheng"—forget the extra "h"—tattooed on a twenty-year old's ankle may remind him of his first love. A cross imprinted on a mother's back may signify her attempt at being close to God. A red, fire-breathing dragon covering the areolar complex may stand for an old man's fascination of Binondo. The point is, we will never know until we ask these people. What we know is that those tattoos exist for a reason.

I also like the idea of finality affixed with the tattooing process. While many tattoos were probably made while the skin-owner was in a state of inebriation, a number of them were done after a thorough self-examination. After all, a tattoo lasts a lifetime. Even with new technology available, removing a tattoo is a rather tedious, inconvenient, often expensive process. What led these people to choose a fish over, say, a hippopotamus? What were they thinking seconds before the first stroke was made?

I highly doubt that I will get any tattoo in this lifetime. And even if I do, the pitiful state of my biceps will limit me to designs of microscopic proportions. But my fascination for tattoos will remain, and so will my interest in figuring out the crazy stories behind them. 

Or maybe I can start with a fake mole near the left nasolabial fold, so I'll look like the male version of Nora Aunor.


1That show is a reminder that modern-day society pretty much enjoys violence they way the Romans did. The difference is that we have digital entertainment, while they had to buy tickets for the best seats in the Coliseum. But let's go back to my story. 

4 comments:

  1. I was thinking of getting a tattoo last year but ultimately decided against it. I have a history of weird allergies and skin problems, so I didn't want to risk an expensive reaction.

    This year, I also realized that I didn't want the tattoo as much as I did before. It makes me wonder, if I had gone through with it, would the tattoo now be a mark of pride or of regret?

    Then again, I sometimes look at the spot on my arm where I wanted the tattoo, and just imagining it there is enough to remind me of what I wanted to remember.

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    1. "Would the tattoo now be a mark of pride or of regret?" — Good point!

      What design/s were you thinking of?

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  2. got scared of getting a tattoo when i saw pictures of contact derm from boracay hennas. i feel sorry for them.

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    Replies
    1. Kawawa naman—at least may pulang shading konti. Ikaw na ang nag-Boracay. Haven't even gone there yet!

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