“Tattoos,” said the woman, the glint in her eye ensnaring me, pulling me away from my cafe quietude. I was trapped. She was beautiful, in an insane sort of way, her hair flung about as wildly as her words in the air.
“Excuse me?” I asked, though I knew she would have continued even if I’d remained silent. The Coffee Shop was bustling, a steady rotation of holiday shoppers flowing in and out of its doors, an ebb and flow dependant on local stores rather than the moon. I’d been sitting for an hour, trying to find the right frame of mind to write. I’d mostly been surfing various social networks in the hopes of finding a chuckle here or there.
“Tattoos,” she continued, “tattoos are the problem.” She was a woman of indiscriminate age, somewhere between thirty and fifty. My money would have been on the younger end, but her clothes – she wore them with the nonchalance of a throwback hippie. Her eyes got me again. They were different colors.
This was a woman I knew I could not handle.
“You see,” she said, pulling out one of the chairs at my two person table. She flipped it around, resting her arms on the chairback. “You. See. You see. But not everyone does. But you… I know you do.” She paused to wrap a lock of her hair around an index finger.
“I can tell from looking that you, you haven’t got any. Not one tattoo on your body, right?” I nodded. It was true. I’d always kind of wanted to get one, making a promise to myself to get one at eighteen, then at twenty-one, then at thirty…then at forty. The timing never seemed right. No image felt right. I liked the way well done tats looked, but never thought they’d look good on me. So I just let it go.
“Tattoos are everywhere now, all over America and they’re taking over; it’s a conspiracy.” She was chewing the tip of the twirled hair, one of those absent-minded habits that drove me crazy. In a good way. I would probably have checked out of the conversation if not for that chewing tworl she had going on. Well, that and the whole conspiracy thing. I assumed I was going to hear about government implanting radioactive tracking ink.
“I don’t mean a government conspiracy where they track people with radioactive ink,” she clarified, “I mean a conspiracy of Victorian-era prudes.”
“What?” It was all I could muster.
She stood, twisting the chair back around in a practiced, fluid motion. “Prudes!” She was not a quite person. Customers stared. She tossed her arms up, spinning herself back into the chair. “They’re all prudes. Ashamed, each and every one of them, ashamed and afraid.”
She took a sip of coffee. It took a minute before I registered that it was my coffee.
“I’m looking at you, you damned goody-goodies!” She glared at a couple at the register, twenty-somethings decked out in black leather jackets, facial piercings and intricately inked tattoos apparent at the wrist and neck lines. Twenty years ago, a person like this would have been avoided at all costs. Now they looked like discomfitted children. They scuttled quickly out of the cafe, drinks in hand.
“Listen. Really, listen. They think that they are expressing, what, individuality?” She waved an indifferent hand. “I don’t mean that kanji neck art or flying dolphins aren’t individual, even though everyone has them, I mean… I mean… NONE of them are individual.”
She drank more of my coffee.
“It doesn’t matter if you have Disney’s Aristocats on your ass or a tophat wearing, mustachioed-sporting lemur saying ‘down with aristocrats’ on your right nutsack, it’s all the same – it’s all just clothes.” Her eyes had me again, but this time, they were hoping I got it.
I just looked at her.
“No, you… I… you… they’re clothes. Really. When you get a tattoo, you’re covering up a part of your body, a real part of your body, a part of your body that will never, ever, never ever be seen again, not in its natural state. That thing on your calf, that twisted up koi dragon? Fuck it – it’s just a big sock.”
She squinched her mouth. It was cute. “Except, you know, not as warm.”
I nodded, doing a little frowny smile to show that I agreed and was in thought about what she was getting at.
She smiled. “And those people who cover themselves? You know, inked from head to sphincter to toe? Those people, who claim to live on the edge and are all sharp-witted and disdainful? Those people? They’re afraid. Fearful. Their inner children are hiding from something, and want to be cloaked forever. They will never truly be naked again.” She slammed her fist down on the table, her voice raising a notch. “I don’t care if they don’t have any clothes on – they can never be nude again, they’ve cut themselves off from that intimacy. They. Are. Prudes.”
I took a drink out of my cup. And then I realized that… well, you know.
“YES,” she was nodding as if I’d said something profound. As if I’d said something. At all. “You’re right! You’ve got it. You’d think they’ll say that they’re being even MORE intimate, but that, that’s just bullshit.”
Her hands flitted around her body like coke-enraged butterflies. “They’re showing you things that they connect with, spiritually, emotionally, historically they say, but they’re just making permanent clothes.”
I shrugged. I’d seen photoshoots where women are completely naked – except covered in bodypaint, and therefore weren’t considered nude. Not really.
She knew she had me. “So BAM. BOOM. DYNAMITE. Permanent clothing, can never truly show your body to your lover, and why not? Fear. Not just fear of intimacy, but fear of change. Tatted up folks are the ones most fearful of change… why else would they make make a permanent mark on their body? They might as well be screaming LA LA YOU CAN’T MAKE ME GROW UP AND GET OLD!”
My tablemate was screaming. Not full on, but a decent yell, enough to make a kid in a stroller cry and a dog tied up outside whimper.
“They want to be stuck in time,” she continued, “and do you know why? DO YOU FUCKING KNOW WHY?”
I did not.
“BECAUSE THE INTERNET.” She blew a strand of hair out of her face, smirking. “No, for real, the internet. Everything that’s all techy now. There’s less and less permanency on the planet, which is saying something, because there wasn’t much before. Currency is electronic, communities are virtual, friends are words… add that to needing a new tablet, a new phone, a new cyborg headpiece every six months, and you see why people are scared. Why they want something permanent. Why they want tattoos.”
She looked at me, straight into my soul. “I know this. Because I, me, I have tattoos.”
She handed me a scribbled-on napkin. “Call me. I might let you see them.”
She walked out. With my coffee.
I looked at the napkin.
Tattoos can be cool.