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Tattoos at Animalia

Posted: February 7, 2014, 11:00 a.m. EDT


By Elizabeth Creith

We see a lot of tattoos at Animalia. We don't care, as long as they're fit for kids to see. Although neither David nor I have a tattoo, some of our staff have them, and many of our customers do, too. Those private art galleries are an education, I tell you. A local college student had a gorgeous koi on his left forearm, which I thought that might be worth the pain and expense, but most of them are mediocre or worse. Sometimes we ask where people got their work done, usually so we can avoid the place, should either of us ever want to get a little ink on the skin.

Is it true that a tear tattooed on the cheek means you've killed someone? Yikes! I see quite a few. Sault Ste Marie is a smallish Northern Ontario city. I'm pretty sure the murder rate isn't that high. One guy who came in for a bag of dog food had three, all in a row down his left cheek. He must have been just passing through because I never saw him again, thank goodness.

One customer has "breath” tattooed on her wrist. She told me it was supposed to be "breathe”, but at the time she had the tattoo done, neither she nor the tattoo artist had been sure of the spelling. With that kind of thing happening in one's native tongue, I wonder why so many people have Chinese calligraphy tattoos, things they couldn't check on. You might think you had some Zen koan blazoned across your lower spine, but maybe it's really "When I'm eighty, this will look weird and wrinkly”. I mean, how could you tell?

Koi Tattoo
Koi fish make classy tattoos. Shutterstock 

I wonder sometimes how people will feel about their choices in twenty years. It's not like a poster on the wall in your dorm room – you're living with this work for life. The retirement homes are going to be interesting in fifty years, with people moving their skin flaps to show you their "Death Before Dishonour”. Tattoo a sun around your navel at twenty when you have that cute, flat little stomach and in forty years it'll have gone nova.

Matt was the customer who really surprised me. He's a slender, quiet young man, pleasant and knowledgeable, conservative-looking in a scruffy sort of way and I never suspected him of being into tattoos at all. One day last summer he came in to buy crickets, wearing a tank top, and with his arms covered in swirls and dragons from wrist to shoulder. After my first stunned look, I think I succeeded in not staring.

I completely failed three days later, when he returned with arms on which nothing whatsoever was tattooed, painted, embroidered or scrawled in magic marker.

"What happened to your tattoos?” I asked, and he laughed out loud.

"I was thinking of getting one,” he said. "So I bought these sleeves that make your arms look tattooed and wore them for a few days. People really look at you differently, you know? I'm not going to do it after all.”

I think that's a brilliant idea. Maybe everyone who wants a tattoo should start with a temporary one, the kind you put on with water and take off with baby oil. Test out that Zen koan in Chinese calligraphy with the temporary one. Wear it in front of someone who reads the language.

If they fall down laughing, you have a couple of choices: learn to read Chinese so you can get your own tattoo, or just have that koan done in English. Oh, yeah, and check the spelling.

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