Photo by Edward F. Palm)

About Me

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Forest, Virginia, United States
A long time ago, my sophomore English teacher, Father William Campbell, saw something in my writing and predicted that I would someday become a newspaper columnist. He suggested the perfect title for my column--"Leaves of the Palm." Now that I have a little extra time on my hands I've decided to put Father Campbell's prediction to the test. I'm going to start using this blog site not just to reprint opinion pieces I've published elsewhere but to try to get more of my ideas and opinions out there. Feedback is welcome. To find out more about me, please check out my Web site: www.EdwardFPalm.com (Click on any of the photos below for an enlarged view.)

Saturday, October 25, 2014

My Current Column

I'm reverting to curmudgeonly type with this one.  --S/f, EFP

ED PALM | Will she regret the gargoyle?

I wish someone would tell me what today’s young people see in tattoos. I’ve been pondering the question since 2002, when I was a dean at a small private university in St. Louis.

One day, an exceptionally attractive young woman who couldn’t have been more than 18 or 19 came into my office. She needed my signature on a form permitting her to take an overload the following semester. (She was obviously a serious student.) I happened to have a few gargoyle knickknacks on my desk, and when she spied them, she spoke up: “Oh, you like gargoyles?”

“Ah, yes,” I responded.

“Oh, I love gargoyles. I have a big one tattooed on my back!” she proudly exclaimed.
This was one of those defining moments in the life of a married middle-aged dean. The wrong response could have been career ending. “That’s nice,” I said, quickly signing her form and holding it out at arm’s length, pointing her toward the door.

Regular readers of these confessions the Sun labels as a “Community Column” may recall that I began my adult life as an enlisted Marine, way back in 1965. I knew a lot of Marines who, soon after getting through boot camp, rushed to get the eagle, globe, and anchor or a Marine Corps bulldog tattooed on their arms. But I was never tempted.

I had two uncles who had gotten tattoos while in the service. The one who had the most tattoos was my Uncle Paulie, who had served in the Navy before World War II. I still remember how those tattoos looked by the time I was old enough to notice them — blurry blue lines that left the images almost unrecognizable. I could tell that one was supposed to be a topless mermaid. I was never sure what the other tattoos were supposed to represent.

In the mid-nineties, when I was a professor in West Virginia, I had occasion to describe Uncle Paulie’s tattoos to one of my students. He had several tattoos, all of which were markedly different from any I had seen up to that time. The lines were sharp, there were four or five colors, and the representations were clear and unmistakable. I asked him if he wasn’t afraid that, like my uncle’s, his tattoos would fade, blur, and become indistinct over time.

“No,” he assured me. “Today’s tattoo inks are much better than the ones they used to use.” I have no doubt that that’s true. As a lifelong amateur photographer, however, I know that all dyes can fade over time, particularly if they are exposed to harsh sunlight and heat.

But even if today’s tattoo inks are indeed colorfast, there are two other considerations I would try to impress upon any young person yearning to be “inked.”

First, aside from the fact that I’ve never much cared for needles, what always held me in check was the realization that novelty wears off. No matter how much a tattoo might appeal to me at the time, I realized that I would eventually get tired of it. And all the ways of removing a tattoo are painful, expensive, and uncertain. One enlisted Marine I knew had talked a Navy corpsman into removing the tattooed name of an ex-girlfriend from his shoulder with a scalpel — one thin slice at a time. How that turned out, I don’t know. I was transferred out of that company long before the final cut.

Second, it’s a fact of life that as we age most of us gain weight and lose muscle mass or at least see a significant redistribution of weight across our frames. We’re also likely to wrinkle and sag. The aging process is bound to distort even the best of tattoos over time. The unicorn that looked cute on the midriff of an 18-year-old girl may look more like a water buffalo when she’s 40 — not to mention the irony of sporting a mythological symbol that no longer applies.

Young women in particular must feel that tattoos add to their sex appeal. How else to explain getting full-sleeve tattoos and ones that extend into their cleavage and other intimate areas? A tattooed arm or ankle would suffice to answer the call of adolescent rebellion.

I don’t doubt that there are young men who find amply illustrated women to be appealing. But, again, we all grow up, and — along with our bodies — our tastes, interests, and concerns change. Styles also change.

What if the current tattoo mania turns out to be but a generational fad? If that’s the case, what will today’s tattooed women say when their grandchildren ask why they have those “cartoons” all over their bodies?

I have a suggestion: “It seemed like the thing to do at the time.” What else can they say?

Contact Ed Palm at efpalm@centurylink.net.

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