31
Aug
11

Tattoos as Colorful Scars

I realized after I was burned that tattoos are actually just scars with color in them.

I was among the first of my friends to get a tattoo. I was 17 years old. My friend Scott and I drove to Camden, NJ in search of Sailor Eddie Evan’s tattoo parlor. I had been to Camden as a child with my father (he was born in Camden and we had family that still lived there), but not on my own. Our lack of familiarity with Camden and maybe a few too many beers landed us in Jack Dracula’s tattoo parlor instead of Sailor Eddie’s. Jack was a very intimidating fellow; probably 6′ 2″ or 6′ 3″ and tattooed from head to toe! He was a former sideshow freak at Coney Island back in the day and he wasn’t a very nice man. As if that weren’t enough, there was a sign on the wall that read, “You came in for a tattoo and you are leaving with one.” It worked. We were too scared to leave. Both of us grew up in rural southern New Jersey (aka “the sticks”), and we were way out of our element. I left Jack’s with a hideous tattoo of a snake and dagger on my right forearm. Scott had an executioner on his shoulder! I don’t know about Scott’s folks, but my mom wasn’t very happy.

Thus was the beginning of my love affair with body art. I was getting tattooed when tattoos were considered anti-social. Most people equated them with criminals, drunken sailors, motorcycle gangs and assorted other unsavory fringe-of-society type characters and groups. Probably the most negative connotation attached to tattoos is their use by the Nazis during WWII to mark concentration camp prisoners. It was said that Adolph Hitler even had a lampshade made from human skin with a tattoo on it. Yikes! Today tattoos are mainstream and more socially acceptable because so many people have them. People who don’t look like criminals or drunken sailors either. I’m not sure they have any significance except to the people who have them. For some, the only significance may be the statement having a tattoo can make — rebellion, FTW, I got drunk and ended up with a tattoo, I look cool, you’re not the boss of me, etc.

Some folks might assume I’m trying to hide my scars with tattoos. Not true. I actually struggled with the thought of not seeing my scars as clearly because of the tattoos. I’m proud of my scars in a weird kind of way. They are a testimony to the journey I’ve been on thus far. They say in no uncertain terms that I know and understand pain. They say I am a survivor. My first tattoos were about fitting in and being cool and macho. My oldest brother had a couple and I thought he was really cool! But later, especially after my run-in with Jack Dracula and my burns, tattoos became a form of self-expression.

I lost something in the fire that most people wouldn’t think about. I lost certain natural ways to express myself. I cannot grow a beard or mustache, for instance. This is something I totally missed out on, as I had never grown one before the accident. It may not seem that important, but it’s still something I missed.  Because of the scars on my face and around my neck, I have lost some of my ability to form certain facial expressions. Since I lost both ears, I can’t wear an earring anymore, which I had done since I was 16. I also lost all of my tattoos. They were burned away.

I never realized how these were forms of self-expression until much later in my life. Now my tattoos or body art make up for other forms of self-expression I have lost. My hair is rather long too. Another form of self-expression. I’ve found that my woodworking serves me in the same way. They all bring to the physical world what we have in our spirit, in the unseen world inside. My tattoos do have meaning to me. They tell a story and show what is important to me — my family, relationships, principles, spirituality, nature, freedom and love. I chose them for myself and they are a part of me. I don’t ask that you like my tattoos or even that you like me. I’m just being who I am. And because I can be who I am and accept who I am today, I can do the same for you. And that’s pretty cool.


3 Responses to “Tattoos as Colorful Scars”


  1. May 30, 2016 at 6:42 pm

    Same exact scenario happened to me and 3 friends. We ended up at Jack Dracula’s except he was closed. We were banging on a metal gate and a guy came out of a bar. He told us where Sailor Eddie was. Thank God!
    Doc

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  3. January 16, 2013 at 12:06 pm

    Got my first ink from Sailor Eddie and his wife back in 1971, a black panther’s head on one arm and hearts and flowers with wife’s name on the other. Eddie did the black lines and shading and his wife filled in the color. If I remember, the two tats combined cost me less than $70. After 40 years, they still looked good, but were starting to fade enough that I had them covered.


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Beyond Recognition

An intimate view of a burn survivor's life and recovery

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