Skin Deep

by Sarah Erlebach

Drunken young sailors recline in dirty, plastic chairs. Barefoot men holding needles walk through the darkened room. A gopher runs to buy someone beer—he gets to keep the change—and another group of sailors reels in, pointing at patterns on the walls and laughing.

Colin Howser spent more than his fair share of time in Filipino tattoo parlors. He didn’t mind when he was a 21-year-old sailor, but today he shudders, recalling the conditions of the shops.

“No gloves, no breaking the needles out of the pack. They would boil them, I saw them boil them, but...” he paused, “Just a dirty shop. They don’t have as many sanitation rules there, or rules about being sober.”

Howser said he never had second thoughts about getting any tattoo, until he sobered up.

“I was drunk every time,” he smiled ruefully, “There was always that twinge. I would think afterwards, ‘Maybe I shouldn’t have gotten that.’”

Determined to get five of his six tattoos removed, Howser chalks his about face up to maturity. He will keep his Popeye tattoo, as a reminder of his Navy days, but the rest must go.

“The death ones, I want off. What am I going to be, a 40-year-old professional man with a bunch of skulls on me? No. I’ve outgrown it. I’m no longer that person.”

“A lot of people in the Navy have tattoos,” he said. “The only Navy tattoo I figured I’d get is Popeye. He’s fighting.”

He admitted it is not a given that a sailor will get tattooed, but, as he put it, many young men think it represents a coming-of-age ritual. They feel they must join in.

“I compare it to getting a brand-new poster. You buy it, you put it up on your wall, and for awhile you keep looking up at it, enjoying it,” Howser explained. “You do the same thing with a tattoo. You look down at your arm and think it’s cool. But when you get sick of the poster you can take it down.”

“There are a lot of things you can put behind you,” he said thoughtfully, “You forget, or nobody knows, but a tattoo is permanent.”

Howser is fortunate. He kept his body art confined to areas he can cover.


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copyright 1998 Klipsun Magazine
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