In college my roommates and I would congregate around the breakfast table, well north of noon, to take inventory of our various UPIs. Not to be confused with UTIs, unidentified party injuries are the bumps and bruises sustained during the previous night’s bacchanalia. Long after short-term memory, reason, and fine motor skills have shut down in the brain, the body soldiers on like a graceless zombie, lumbering through the festivities with little regard for its own well-being. Once dawn breaks and the mind-body connection is reestablished, you’re left to ponder the provenance of the Indiana-shaped bruise covering your shin.
But the beauty of bruises is that they fade, the UPI eventually dissolving into the mist of memory along with the night it was created. As far as I know, there’s no nifty little acronym for waking up with ink plunged indelibly into your dermis. I’d like to propose one—FIGAT. It stands for “Fuck, I got a tattoo.”
Twice I have FIGATed. Waking up a few years back with the traditional hallmarks of a hangover—dry mouth, pounding headache, vague sense of shame—I noticed that my right forearm was inexplicably encased in gauze. That’s curious, I thought before fragments of memory began to appear like sunlight dappling the wall. Tribal bands and tramp stamps, needles and autoclaves, my signature on a form testifying that I was of sound and sober mind.
I lay in bed like a kid on some sort of upside down Christmas, visions of dolphins and butterflies dancing through my head, unwrapping my arm with a creeping sense of dread. There, in small, tasteful script were the words “Il faut imaginer Sisyphe heureux”—a quote from Camus that translates to “One must imagine Sisyphus happy.” It’s a little existentialist reminder to embrace the absurdity of the human condition. Nice!, I thought, perfectly happy with the gift that my drunk self had bestowed. But as my headache subsided and my vision cleared, I noticed the transposition of a p and h—then a u and r. Nooooo! screamed my inner editor as I realized my tattoo actually read “Il faut imaginer Sisyhpe herueux”: two of five words misspelled.
After the aspirin kicked in, I headed back to the tattoo parlor—a mere zombie’s stumble away from the nexus of regret that is Milwaukee, North, and Damen—and sheepishly presented my arm to the guy at the desk. “There’s nothing we can do,” he said with a weary disgust that told me this wasn’t his first rodeo. “Wait until it heals and then cover it up with some flowers.”
Flowers? The thought of trying to conceal my mistake was somehow more shameful than being permanently inscribed with misspelled words. So I lived with it, figuring no one would even realize the tattoo was misspelled. And no one ever did. The biggest problem I ran into was people mishearing Sisyphus as syphilis when they asked what it said. But something still didn’t feel right. It was better than hiding behind flowers, but it was still a lie of omission.
Then one morning I woke up with another headache, a right arm encased in gauze, and the hazy memory of googling the hours of Jade Dragon Tattoo. FIGAT, part deux. I unwrapped my arm to find the two misspelled words marked with a line, as if struck through by the pen of an unsympathetic teacher. Two grammatical carets pointed to the correctly spelled words inked above. Yet another gift from my drunken self—a constant and indelible reminder to embrace the absurdity of the human condition. v