Last night I was at a craft beer joint in Hollywood. The man sitting next to me was a nice guy. We had been carrying on about movies and had already had an in-depth debate over who was a better Bond, and whether Daniel Craig could truly reinvigorate the franchise, when he looked at my right hand inquisitively. I knew it was only a matter of seconds before the subject would change to the tribal sea animal so gracefully and permanently placed along my wrist and hand. As he squinted I could almost hear him thinking to himself, “Is that an octopus? Perhaps it’s a squid?” It’s neither.
“What is that?” he managed to ask out lout.
“It’s a starfish actually.” A brittle star to be more specific.
“What does it mean?”
If you have tattoos you know that I’m about to go off on a bitter rant right now, and if you don’t have tattoos you should be informed I’m about to go off on a bitter rant right now. And it’s one you need to hear, so put on your suit of thicker skin and perhaps bring a sewing kit, because I’m about to rip you a new asshole.
People absolutely hate having to describe their tattoo’s meaning to anyone! Yes that includes you my friend. I know you think because you can see it that it’s your business, but it’s not. I know you think that I got tattooed because I’m dying for attention and I’m aching for you to ask me about them, but I’m not. In fact I can barely stand it, when people say anything about them at all. My Tattoo’s are none of your fucking business. I did not get them for you. I did not get them because I have low self-esteem and want attention. I did not get them so people could think I’m tough, or badass or a gangster.
I got tattoos because I wanted art. Art that is just for me. And art is meant to be admired in one’s own mind.
You wouldn’t dare walk up to Salvador Dali or Picasso and ask him to explain to you in depth, in full detail, every single brush stroke he made, why he made it and what it is suppose to mean. “What’s the story being your blue period/ why a melt-y face?”
But when you ask me what my tattoos “mean” that is exactly what you are doing. Sure there is meaning behind them, but why am I obligated to tell you? Why can’t you just look at them, nod your head and move on? Like you would at an art gallery.
I wanted to yell all of this at the nice man at the bar, but we’d had such a lovely conversation and the mood was so cheerful between us, I couldn’t bear being mean to him, and in public to boot. So, instead I explained to him for thirty minutes the “meaning” of my tattoo as he asked question after question about every single small detail involved in my starfish. He then asked what was on my finger.
“An Om sign.”
“What’s an Om sign?”
“Like the meditative symbol, vibration of the universe?”
“Oh like Hindi?”
“Actually it’s Sanskrit."
“And what’s that? Those numbers there.”
“Those are dates.”
“Dates for what?”
“It’s my Dad’s birth date and death date.”
Do you see what I mean? It’s like dealing with an ignorant a four year old who doesn’t know what the word annoying means yet. I was just lucky I was wearing pants and a sweater, because I have a large back piece, a half sleeve, stomach tattoos and most of my left foot covered in a very ornate and intricate tribal fish.
Sure, some of the tattoos have cool stories behind the experience. And I don’t mind telling people where I got them; Florida, Hawaii, Tahiti, LA, on the side of my friend’s pool table. That information is not personal. Who is the Artist? Also not personal.
But please for the love of humanity don’t ever ask what a person’s tattoo means. And for the love of fucking Christ, Buddha and Mohammad, not a total fucking stranger.
To be honest, had I known that I’d have to spend hours of my life trying to explain the extremely personal motivation behind my tattoos' design, only to have it trivialized by the look on people’s faces when my answers don’t fully satisfy their curiosity, I wouldn’t have ever gotten them in the first place. But since they are there, and I love them so dearly, I settle for a long-sleeve shirt.