Column: I bear the inky markings of one tough dude

Sailors have ’em, tough guys have ’em, bikers have ’em and I have one. Not being a sailor or a biker, by the process of elimination that means that I’m a, well, you know.

I’m talking tattoos or, as the cool kids call ’em, tats. By definition, then, I must be tough and cool. Well, we all knew that, right?

My tat came to mind earlier this week with the news that a Greenport bartender plans to open a tattoo parlor just off Main Street next spring. If I remember correctly — and for some reason that can no longer be taken for granted, go figure — Mattituck was home to just such a parlor in the late ’80s. Nowadays if you want to ink up the closest parlor is in Rocky Point.

I didn’t always bear the mark of a badass, of course. None of my siblings is so marked, nor was my dad, a ball turret gunner in an Army Air Corps B-24 during World War II. Or my maternal granddad, who served in the Navy submarine corps during World War I.

It became an extension of my midlife crisis of learning the bagpipes, wearing a kilt and all that Celtic camaraderie jazz. Well, not jazz, but you know what I mean. Some people I know think jazz would have been preferable. “What’s the definition of a gentleman? Someone who can play the bagpipes, but doesn’t.”

Many pipers and drummers have at least one tattoo, often on the thin band of exposed skin between the bottom of the kilt and the top of the wool sock. In addition to providing culturally appropriate ornamentation, it also helps cut down on the glare from chalk-white skin.

Back when me daughter was young and had yet to reach the age where being seen in public with her ol’ dad was an unendurable embarrassment, we’d often take in the Mattituck Strawberry Festival over Father’s Day weekend. There was always a booth selling temporary tattoos and I’d search for a winged fairy or other other-worldly female form in diaphanous attire. She’d be given a place of honor on the inside of my right forearm and a name. Gladys one year, Lucy another.

And by squeezing my fist I’d make her dance. She didn’t actually dance, but kind of pulsed a bit. Drove my daughter nuts. Her mother just shook her head and sighed.

Whaddaya want from me? I never crewed a clipper rounding Cape Horn or exchanged fire in the South China Sea. Did take the Staten Island Ferry once, but no one else thought that experience warranted adding a burning skull with vipers slithering out the eye sockets to my shoulder. Again, go figure.

A few years back I figured I’d go for it and get a tattoo on the outside of me right leg. After a visit to Tattoo Lou’s in Selden, I think it was, I came home with an ornate gold Celtic cross with a green shamrock in the center just below the knee. Try as I might, can’t get that to dance either. My wife just shakes her head and sighs.

Earlier this year we ran a story about the East End Seaport Museum’s exhibition on body ornamentation, “Tattoo: Art of the Sailor.”
Actually, the show highlighted the rich history of art on a sailor or, to be more precise, in a sailor. Well, the image actually resides under the sailor’s dermis, the top layer of skin, in the epidermis, the second layer.

Anyhoo, as the story was a preview, initially we didn’t have any of show’s images and so had to improvise.
Who do I know with a tattoo that we could photograph? The first name that came to mind was former Southold supervisor Josh Horton, a one-time tugboat captain with colorful images all over his arms, but he wasn’t immediately available. The second name that came to mind was, well, mine.

So I rolled up me right pant leg and snapped the shot, thinking nothing of it until some on-staff wag commenting on the website post said, “The tattoo’s OK, but what’s the deal with all those freckles?”

I think it’s time for another. Maybe the Irish and American flags crossed and underneath the words, “American by birth, Irish by the grace of God.” That would be totally awesome!

She just shakes her head and sighs.

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