The Illustrated Man

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My interest in tattoos was stimulated, as is sadly the case with many soldiers, by copious quantities of alcoholic beverages. A fellow Huey pilot’s father owned a tattoo shop. We got tanked up one night and went over to his dad’s store front to have a look around. I’d never been inside a tattoo parlour before.

Well, wouldn’t you know it, my friend said he needed some practice and offered me a free tattoo. In my stupor it didn’t occur to me to ask him about his qualifications. At least it was painless. I walked out at about four in the morning with a poorly rendered black widow spider on my shoulder. It looked like something you’d get at Folsom Prison.

What does a tattoo look like up close?

I’m about to show you:

Up-close tattoo

There, that wasn’t so bad, was it? That’s a little corner of a maple leaf from my O Canada  tattoo.

My daughter-in-law, Tamara, has designed nearly all of my tattoos, despite the fact that she loathes tattoos. She is a talented artist. Her book illustrations are truly beautiful. She insisted that, if I were to get tattoos, they should be good art.

Here are the four designs that she offered to me for my Dancing Dolphins  tattoo that completely encircles my left upper arm:

 Dancing Dolphins A

Dancing Dolphins B
Dancing Dolphins C
 Dancing Dolphins D

And here is the original art for my Happy Zen Fish  on my left shoulder. It was my second tattoo – designed to cover up the black widow spider. Many first tattoos end up being covered over by something less obnoxious:

Happy Zen Fish

My request was simple. I said that I wanted something Yin-Yangy, an oriental sea motif with a fish in it, and it had make me feel happy every time I would see it in the mirror. Well, maybe not so simple. Her first offer was perfect. I couldn’t think of a thing that I wanted to change.

I’ll also show you the original art for my Turtle Totem  tattoo. It’s on my bum, which is becoming more elephantinely wrinkled year by year, so I’ll spare you the indignity of viewing the turtle where it lives:

Turtle Totem

You’ve already seen the Twin Triggerfish  on my back, so I won’t repeat them here.

But, the tattoo that I love the most is on my right upper arm. It’s based on this photo:

Eunice Messersmith

I took this shot as I was testing a new camera. Eunie had just turned twenty-one. We’d been married a few months. She was sitting on the couch sewing. I pointed the camera at her and said, “Hey, babe.”

From a technical standpoint, this frame is pretty awful. Yet, way down deep inside, it defines me as a photographer. It’s easily the most important photograph that I’ve ever taken, and I have little hope of ever topping it. Ah, serendipity.

I remember clearly the very sad day when I realized that I had lost the negative. I have but one original print left which I protect as the treasure it is to me.

Every photographer strives to create images that provoke an emotional response in the viewer. After all, what good is an image which, when you look at it, you feel nothing?

Here’s a photo by Lina, a friend who was with us up at Blueblood one Sunday. Lina wanted a photo showing Eunie and her doppelganger  on my arm:

Eunie and Me

Yes, my hat does have a story, and I will tell it to you soon, but I need to wrap this up so as not to keep you too long.

But, I have one last story about the tattoo of Eunie.

During CWA Quiz Nights, there are many prizes awarded for silly things – it’s a tradition. One night Brian Lusmore was presiding and he offered a prize to the first man to bring him a picture of his wife. As a few men were reaching for their wallets, I leapt from my seat and ran to the front, rolling up my sleeve as I went. I arrived first as the crowd erupted in giggles and guffaws.

I won the prize.

But, of course, I had won a much finer prize in 1964.

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7 Responses to “The Illustrated Man”

  1. A Feast for My Camera | Madang - Ples Bilong Mi Says:

    I’ll show you a lovely tattoo on a lovely Spanish lady.

  2. Brandi Says:

    How fun Jan – as many differences as we have… I’m finding similarities all the time. My tat is of Ying-Yang dolphins…. wish I could say it was an original design, but sadly – it came off the wall at a shop outside of Camp Lejeune, SC. I did look for a few weeks before I decided on mine from all the pathetically unoriginal choices. Also sadly – of my father’s 5 children – I am the only one with truly fair skin, brown – not almost black hair, blue eyes… and absolutely NO artistic talent…. ah well… I try to make up for it with my imagined brain power.

  3. MadDog Says:

    There’s no shame in having ‘flash’ as long as you like it. My first tattoo was flash of a black widow spider. It got covered over by my second tattoo. Cover ups work nicely most of the time. Give it a while.

    I have no artistic talent either. Photography, no matter how fancy you want to make it, is just copying. Writing is just putting down on paper what bit of crazy stuff is going on in your head – again, just copying. Sometimes I wonder if there really is anything called art. I think we just made it up. Maybe you have something there. Maybe imagination is the only true art.

  4. larian Says:

    this is just sooo romantic it made me wont to cry……..not many men feel this way about the women in their life….. I have never had it. good luck to you both and let it happen till you are over 100

  5. MadDog Says:

    Well, Larian, now you’re getting me all watery. I just don’t think about it much. It seems the most natural thing in life. Mating is such a crap-shoot. If you think about it, it’s a miracle that anybody ever meets the “right person”. However, I do believe that we’re made to be very flexible in that way. We accomodate to “less than perfect”. There’s been a whole lot of accomodation, acceptance and forgiveness between myself and my wife over the years. Sometimes people see us as “the perfect couple”. What a joke! We’re simply perfectly accepting of each others’ imperfections.

  6. phlegmfatale Says:

    What a lovely tribute to a lovely lady!

  7. MadDog Says:

    Thanks, Fatale Abstraction. She’s the glue that hold me on the planet. Otherwise, I’d just fly off into space. By the way, you have a very cool blog. Keep it up!

    Is there really an Elsewhere in Texas?