Friday, August 20, 2010

Tattoo U.

Tattoos mean a lot of things to a lot of people. To my friend Caolin, they mean self-expression and freedom. To ancient Egyptian women, they meant protection during childbirth. To my brother, they mean the girl he was considering dating might have hepatitis.

Here in SoCal, tattoos are considered a part of the culture, just like wine and boob jobs. Hit any beach at any hour of the day and you will see men, women, children, and maybe even pets covered in tattoos. Names, places, faces, and terrible mistakes are all commemorated, with varying degrees of artistry, on the skin of the beautiful.

Smithsonian Magazine ran an article several years ago about the varied and lengthy history of tattoos. In Western cultures, they were generally used to stigmatize criminals and slaves (the word “stigma” actually comes from the Roman practice of inking social undesirables and inductees into Gladiator schools). In Eastern cultures, including Japanese and Polynesian/Maori, tattoos were status symbols and warrior marks. Jewish tradition explicitly forbids tattoos on the Chosen, though, ironically, many modern Christians try to express their devotion to Old Testament values by getting Hebrew letters and words needled into their necks.

When I was younger, and grunge was cool for the first time, I was pretty sure I wanted tattoos galore. The only thing that stopped me was my own indecisiveness about what symbols to get where. I quickly realized that very indecisiveness would mean a lifetime of regret were I ever to follow through on that idiotic idea.

Then I moved to San Diego. And was even more convinced of the complete idiocy of getting myself tattooed. In my not-particularly-discriminating dating experience in this land of plenty, men have refused to date me because I don’t have tattoos, they have put me on a pedestal because I don’t have tattoos, and a few have even apologized in advance for their White Supremacist tattoos. “I was really angry when I was younger and now I can’t afford to have them removed.” Okey doke. No date for you, because you’re both racist and poor. Talk about your double negatives.

At one point, I was with a gentleman who was a few years younger than me and had done a great job of hiding his Napoleon Syndrome. We had moved beyond dating to an intimate relationship (I always have to clarify between the two, since out here, “dating” usually means “having sex with,” whereas in my prudish, outdated vocabulary, it means “going out in public with to determine whether I want to have sex with my date). Several months into our relationship, he began talking about marriage and the future. He also daily began making pointed jokes about nipple pumps (what the hell ARE those, anyway—no, don’t tell me. I don’t want to know) and bondage and how much he loved Suicide Girls. He began to question how I spent my money, how I was training my dog, and what I was doing at every moment of the day. He was particularly interested in my online meanderings for reasons I could not grasp. He would say things like, “You don’t have to know what you want. I’ll guide you.”

It was such ridiculous behavior, and so far from his usual self, I used to laugh at him. He would laugh with me, and then return to normalcy for a while, until the next comment would come out at random, something like, “A lot of women get hymen reconstruction surgery before they get married to show their husbands how much they love them. Isn’t that romantic?”

One evening, after too many Maker’s Manhattans and a lengthy romp, he was feeling particularly relaxed and expressive. Holding me to his chest, he rambled on about our glorious future together and how wonderful it would be to be married. “You’ll belong to me completely,” he said, with a too-intense look in his green eyes.

“I don’t really think that’s what marriage is about in this day and age,” I said, realizing at that moment just how strongly he believed the opposite, despite having patiently bided his time before revealing his true thoughts to me. “To me, marriage is about having an equal partner in life.”

“It can be about whatever you want it to be about,” he said, with the patronizing tone of a father to a misguided child. “Hey—let’s get you a tattoo.” He tried to make it sound like a spur-of-the-moment idea, but it was a little too nonchalant.

“Why the hell would I get a tattoo, especially at this point in my life?”

“For me. To prove you’re mine. We’ll put it somewhere no one else will ever see it. I’ll be the only one who even knows about it.”

Needless to say, my interest in that relationship died a quick, ugly death following that little exchange. Possession is the worst thing anyone could ever offer me. But the little bastard wouldn’t take no for an answer. “Fine, no tattoos, no nipple pumps, I’ll never bring any of it up again, I promise!”

The next time he stopped by, I was ready. I had posted a fictitious ad on Craigslist Casual Encounters asking for regular Thursday night NSA fun, since he always stayed home on Thursday nights. He arrived, and I went into the kitchen, leaving my computer open to the page verifying my posting—I figured I’d make the most of his jealous interest in what I might be doing online when he wasn’t around.

Five minutes later, I came out of the kitchen to a blissfully empty apartment.

After that odd relationship, I discovered it is not terribly uncommon in certain sexual communities to “mark” a submissive or slave with a tattoo chosen by his or her “master.” According to an article from Associated Content, “There is nothing like the thrill of knowing that your submissive is carrying some form of mark somewhere on his or her body to proudly show your ownership.” I even found a “Life List” on from someone whose handle is “slave2jlb” that includes items such as “Get my GED,” “Learn to swallow all of it,” “Save more money,” and “Get a submissive’s tattoo.” (On a blog called “A Submissive’s Musings,” one woman has a similar list, which includes the seemingly dichotomous “Bottle-feed a lamb,” and “Learn to tolerate the wooden pony better.”) 10 other people on 43things also listed getting a submissive’s tattoo as a life goal.

Well, hey nonny nonny. Have I found the man for you!

The concept of the ownership or submissive’s tattoo clearly dates back to earlier Western traditions of similarly marking slaves and criminals. I regard myself as neither (though my employer may beg to differ on one or both counts), and would be royally pissed off if my significant other regarded me as either one. I’d feel a little like a member of a numbered Auschwitz herd. Being ordered around by a Nazi guard is not my idea of a loving relationship.

I now look around me at SoCal’s innumerable tattooed crowds, knowing they are slaves to fashion, if not to something darker.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

A Magic Kingdom. Of Swingers.

There are lots of things to do at Disneyland. From children’s parties to weddings to business meetings, The Magic Kingdom is an American institution—fake, overpriced, and possessed of a perverse undercurrent among its throngs of chubby attendees. It’s like Vegas for kids, the young-at-heart, and Furries.

For a married Boomer couple from Seattle, a trip to Disneyland is a chance to enjoy time with their blended family of teenaged children, and to pick up other couples for swingin’ good times at the Anaheim Motel 6 (no offense meant to Motel 6).

The fearless leader of his family—we’ll call him Peter (for both Pan and for the body part which rules his life), approaches men and women the same way.

“Want to see my Tinkerbell tattoo?”

It’s about a foot long and covers his flabby upper left thigh, giving him the excuse to roll up his baggy shorts nearly to the twig-and-berries. The unsuspecting victim of his attempt to lure in the other Peters—and Wendys—of the Kingdom will also notice his carefully pedicured toenails, painted peacock blue, with tiny Tink decals applied for the occasion.

The whole family—Peter, his wife “Wendy,” and their seventeen-year-old sons included—is too quick to move in for a hug with everyone they meet. It’s no perfunctory greeting. It’s a full-body standing cuddle during which breasts and genitals receive as near to a dry-hump as possible without inviting assault charges.

Wendy, on the other hand, has no tattoos to recommend her to potential swingees. She’s a badly dressed, obese, middle-aged Fundamentalist-cum-Wiccan. She relies not on her physical charms—there are none—but on her skills as both an R.N. and a disturbingly hands-on mother to appeal to the damaged inner child that apparently exists in all who swing.

Both these exceptional people are quick to engage anyone and everyone in a discussion of swinging, threesomes, foursomes, orgies, and open relationships. They maintain that having multiple partners is natural, that it displays a superior level of “evolvement,” and that by the gods, it’s fun. They disregard the fallacy in their argument that something which is natural because it has ostensibly been practiced since before the dawn of the dyad negates the idea that it can also be called evolved.

Being married Boomers, they also disregard things like the rising rate of HIV infection in their demographic and the return of syphilis as an epidemic. It’s as if the only thing their marriage certificate might be good for is prophylaxis. And getting a family rate at Disneyland, a swinger’s paradise.

My experience with them began innocently enough. Along with being perverse creepazoids, they are high school friends of one of my Boomer relatives, who for some reason feels duty-bound to remain friendly with them despite their constant attempts to make her the filling for their high-fat sandwich. (For my part, once a friend, no matter how hallowed our glory days may have been, asks me to lick a body part—any body part—I cut the cord.)

Being a poor neglected para-human from the practical and anti-vacation Midwest, my first trip to Disneyland was at age thirty-one, just after I had moved to Southern California from Chicago. It was on this trip, amid whirling teacups, heavily made-up fairy princesses, and the sound of toddlers screaming in fright at giant mice, that Peter and Wendy first graced me with their teat-smashing hugs and displays of sagging Boomer flesh—and tired Boomer sexual philosophy. I was trying to pretend I was a child so I could enjoy—or at least ignore—the bad food, long lines, and horrifying waste of water and electricity that make the Kingdom so Magic. It was working fairly well, although from time to time someone would come up and ask me what I was doing in a stroller.

I bought a Jack Skellington pill box for my Prozac and a keychain that read “It’s a small world, after all” for the guy I was dating at the time. I thought it might help him come to terms with his size. The rest of my morning at Disneyland was spent trying on mouse ears, re-applying sunscreen, and seeking the smoking areas, hoping to run into a renegade New Yorker so we could mock everything.

At noon our little party was to meet by the area Jedi knights gave light-saber lessons to little kids in borrowed brown robes. I got there early to enjoy the shade (and because I hoped to watch one of the geeky little bastards trip on his robe and end up ass-over-teakettle). The next to show was Peter, who came up close behind me—like, half-hard peter-to-crack close—and said, “Aren’t children amazing beings? So free. Totally open. You should experience parenthood one day.”

“Great,” I thought, “Even the fucking swingers want to knock me up.”

Out loud, I said, “I hate children. I didn’t even like myself when I was one.”

The skanky old perv had the nerve to shoot me a patronizing “the poor woman doesn’t know what she’s missing out on” look.

“I sense a great veil of repression about you,” he said, maintaining his pitying look. “I used to be repressed too. Then I evolved. It’s a lot like learning to use “The Force” in Star Wars.”

“If you’re evolved, Prince Leia, I’d rather be Jabba the god-damned Hut.” (I was going to say something about how I’d rather just stay anal, but didn’t want to give him the opening. So to speak.)

Thankfully, my dear relative—let’s call her Muffy—appeared across the square. I knocked down an old man with a walker in my mad dash to reach her. (I thought it was an old man with a walker—turns out it was Darth Vader with a torn meniscus, leaning on a light-saber.)

To my relief, Wendy and the Lost Boys showed up and convinced Peter to go with them to the line for Space Mountain instead of eating lunch. (Not before the teenaged boys treated me to body-to-body gropes that admittedly were far more appealing than those their love-spell-spouting weather-beaten mother forced on me.)

I sat with Muffy, eating processed cheese food and its usual accoutrements, wondering what was the best illness to feign in order to avoid going to dinner and hanging out in the hotel with her dear, dear friends.

“Your friends are a little too nice,” I said.

“I know,” she said, pulling a face. “I don’t want you go to dinner with them tonight. We’ll tell them we need family bonding time.”

“Thank Christ. They’re creepy. Peter showed me his Tinkerbell tattoo and made sure I could see his ball hair. Wendy showed me her tits in the ladies’ room because she was trying to convince me that going braless for thirty years was a good idea. And Little Peter told me he needed tutoring in his Human Sexuality class, but he could afford to pay me only in hugs.”

“You don’t know the half of it,” she said, laughing through a mouthful of soft pretzel. “Outside Pirates of the Caribbean, Peter and Wendy—in front of the boys—asked me if I thought you’d be interested in becoming one of their regular party guests.”

The thought of becoming a fixture in the sex life of a couple of disturbed Boomer fucktards gave me a feeling in the pit of my stomach I can only describe as lactose-intolerance-meets-hot-PBR. My face was no doubt contorted into a mask of pure disgust as I tried to keep my lunch down.

Now shrieking with laughter, Muffy choked out, “So what should I tell them your answer is?”

I stabbed a plastic knife through a leftover link of Mickey’s Special Sausage and said, “I fucking love Disneyland.”