Excerpted from

Under the Skin

By Mark Maynard

If I’d gotten a tattoo as a husky ten year old, it would have been of a hushpuppy and a can of Coke. If I’d waited until fifteen, it would have been a picture of either Malcolm X, Abbie Hoffman or Kurt Vonnegut. At eighteen I would have had to choose between Peter Falk as Columbo and Joey Ramone. The point I’m trying to make is, life changes so quickly and so much, it’s difficult to commit yourself. That is what I thought about people with tattoos, until I got one. I thought they were stupid for tying themselves to a specific point in history, one which would undoubtedly change drastically.

When I got old enough to think seriously about getting a tattoo, it was during a less optimistic and much darker time in my life, when I wasn’t dreaming of hushpuppies. I was thinking that people might be out to get me. Because of this, I thought of getting the word “conspiracy” tattooed very small, somewhere like in my armpit, where no one would know it was there but me. I can’t quite see the logic in it now, but at the time I thought it was very clever. I think it had something to do with my paranoid fears of brainwashing and body snatching. With this tattoo, you see, I’d be able to check all of the time and see if I was really myself or if I’d been replaced. (Like I’ve said before, I wasn’t making a whole lot of sense.)

Sure, I like old men with tattoos from World War II, with things like torpedo-spitting sharks and busty mermaids surrounded by fuzzy, dark blue words that you can’t quite make out, but everything else is pretty stupid. Not too long ago I saw a kid who was about sixteen walking down the sidewalk toward me. The entire left side of his face was tattooed. I almost died laughing. It was a riot, these big, thick stripes reaching around his face, like a giant hand pulling his head down into his collar. That pretty much summed it up for me–Tattoos are for stupid people who are incapable of comprehending there is such a thing as change.

As a kid, I didn’t know anyone with a tattoo. My sister’s boyfriend in high school had a Tweety bird on his butt, but I never saw it. Maybe lots of guys had them on their butts, and I just didn’t know it. I’ve never been much of one to stare at men’s butts. In the high school locker room, I tried not to even make eye contact. I just stared down at my feet. I remember once some guy looked at somebody the wrong way or something and he got dragged out into the hallway and handcuffed to a locker in his underwear. I just kept repeating, “Don’t draw attention to yourself” to myself. For all I know, they might have all had cartoon characters on their asses.

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