While I’m on the subject of motorbikes, I was musing recently that it’s been nearly a year since I’ve driven a car. Not in itself an earth-shattering piece of news, I know, but it’s one of those little things that you catch yourself missing every once in a while, along with such things as convenience store hot dogs, American football (to the rest of the world, “football” means only one thing, and the NFL doesn’t enter into it), un-subtitled Hollywood movies, and non-smoking sections.
That got me thinking that I’ve got an anniversary of sorts coming up – it was on August 14, almost one year ago, that I landed in Narita Airport in Tokyo and began doing whatever it is I’ve been doing with my life since I’ve been in Asia. It’s a pretty significant milestone. One whole year. That’s longer than some people spend in prison, or getting a master’s degree, or married. So I was thinking that I need to do something significant to acknowledge it. Not just throw a party or bake a cake or go to Bangkok and spend a memorable evening trying not to contract Hepatitis C, but something more lasting. (Yes, smartass, Hepatitis C would fit into the “lasting” category, but I’d prefer something I could share with my grandchildren, thanks very much.)
So I’ve almost convinced myself that I’m going to get a tattoo.
Yes, go ahead, make another Hepatatis crack. I’ll wait.
Got it out of your system? Good. And while you’re at it, ask yourself this: Is Hepatitis really something you want to joke about? I’d be knocking on wood if I were you.
Back to the tattoo. For starters, I don’t have any others. I was never really a tattoo kind of person. Back when I was a kid, they were the sure sign of somebody who was not to be messed with, someone who had probably been to prison, drove a loud motorcycle, ate glass shards with bourbon for breakfast, and looked for fights in which he could headbutt his opponent. I didn’t want to be mistaken for that guy. Then, later, when I was an adult and tattoos became trendy and ubiquitous … well, you can see the problem. Tattoos were trendy and ubiquitous. I didn’t want to be mistaken for that guy, either. So it just went on like this all of my life, with me never really regretting not getting a tattoo, never feeling like I was in desperate need of something that, when I was old, would look like there were melted crayons running down the folds of the skin on my back.
So were I to actually get one, it would be my first and, presumably, my only. I can’t really see one small tattoo becoming an addiction to ink or a gateway drug to multiple body piercings and suspending myself from hooks. On the other hand, I bet people who suspend themselves from hooks said the same thing once.
There’s also the issue of what kind of artwork I’d choose. Something traditional? Something “tribal”? My name translated into Asian characters? Could be risky. I heard from too many Japanese people who’d seen Americans walking around with magnificent kanji characters encircling their neck or bicep that translated as “TOILET DRINKER” or “PLAY MYSELF ALWAYS” or “BELLY BUTTON KING.”
And of course, joking aside, I really, really don’t want to catch a blood borne disease that will remain with me for probably as long as the tattoo. Here in Southeast Asia, hygiene is often a difficult concept for common individuals to grasp, to say nothing of restaurant workers. Extrapolating from this, I’m guessing medical-level sterility is an abstraction on a level with quantum electrodynamics.
The upshot is it’s still just an idea I’m toying with. Part of me hates the idea of joining the ranks of millions of brainless, attention-seeking fraternity dickheads, even if I’m not sporting “sleeves” and never, ever call it a “tat.” But I’ve got to do something to mark a year as a stranger in a strange land. One day, I want to be kicking back with my grandkids – or more likely, my sisters’ grandkids – take off my shirt, and watch them gape. “What’s that on your back, grandpa?” they’ll ask in hushed voices.
“What, that old thing?” I’ll ask, casually flexing my arms and watching their eyes pop. “That’s a memento of mine, a little something from when I was a young man and I spent a year in Asia.”
“Really?” they’ll say, agog. “What’s it say?”
“It says, ‘REMEMBER YOUR ANTIVIRAL DRUGS.'”