We Baby Boomers aren’t as into body adornment as millennials. We’re the ones who see a guy with big, inked-up arms and make the tired observation, “That’s not going to look so hot when he’s 70.” Then we snicker with self-approval. Secretly, though, some of us think that dude’s arms look pretty cool. I mean, who wouldn’t mind looking like Adam Levine with those badass tigers? But I digress.
Until about 10 years ago, I mostly associated tattoos with guys I knew from working construction in the 1980s. One of them would reach out to grab a hammer and you’d see a blob on his forearm—perhaps once a delicate heart with his girlfriend’s name on it, now reduced to a blue-green amoeba. Aside from viewing most tattoos as butt-ugly, I also associated them with rough characters—guys with brown Skoal teeth who had been married seven times. So, no thank you to tattoos—at least back then.
Things We Say With Skin
Around 2007, I hired a guy at McMurry, Inc., who had this spectacular Mayan calendar tattoo on the inside of his forearm. I was mesmerized by that damn thing. And he was understandably proud of it, dutifully bathing it in sunscreen every day. Now, tattoos suited this guy—I mean, he had a soul patch and earrings, so the whole presentation came together. The same goes for one of my wife’s colleagues, a documentary filmmaker with a goal of getting 15 tattoos by the time he turns 50. He has gray hair like me, but it’s long and mane-like, and he wears King Baby skull rings and vintage jackets. His tattoos all have special meaning to him, which he described in loving detail one night over a lot of Jack Daniels. I particularly admired his willingness to whip off his shirt right there at the bar so we could see his latest: a gorgeous coat of arms on his left shoulder blade.
Do either of these guys give a shit whether I approve of their tattoos? I doubt it. And do they worry how they’ll look 20 years from now? I doubt that, too. What I’ve come to appreciate about tattoos and other forms of body adornment is that they are generally very personal statements of pride or allegiance or love. It’s not so different from wearing a special locket on a necklace or a meaningful charm bracelet, but it’s even more intimate, more durable—an expression so personal you inscribe it on your own flesh. Actually, it’s kind of stirring when you think about it. Of course, I’m assuming a certain level of intentionality here. I’m not talking about the dufus who gets his ass tattooed with the name of a stripper he met one night in Vegas. I’m also not a fan of people who get “tentative” tattoos because they’re not owning the whole body art thing. You know, like the tiny rose tattoo hidden behind a woman’s right ear. And, if I’m being totally honest, it also bugs me when someone whose entire identity screams mainstream gets a lame-ass barbed wire tattoo around the biceps. You might as well just buy “camo” Dockers and call it a day.
So consider me a reformed fan of body art—with certain notable dislikes. Those dislikes prevented me from ever getting a tattoo. I don’t have the nerve to go big or go home, which is what I respect the most when it comes to ink. Plus, one of the benefits of getting older is that your skin develops an artistry of its own, proudly presenting you with new bumps, blobs, and spots every day. I don’t know, maybe Boomers who think “That’s going to look bad when he’s 70,” already have too good a sense of what 70 looks like. Maybe they realize, with tinge of regret, that the time for Mayan calendars has long passed.