I was on the way home from the city yesterday, riding the M train over the Williamsburg bridge and I was looking at all of the people in the seats opposite. A lot of us read books, or newspapers or look at our phones on the subway, I know my wife always asks me if I have something to read when we travel together, but I like to look at people. People are the best entertainment.
There were six sitting across from me; the whole row of seats was full. Two men and four women. And as I looked at them, I noticed the first woman from my right; a young Puerto Rican woman had a tattoo on the top of her foot. The person sitting next to her, a young bearded hipster guy in shorts also had a tattoo on the top of his foot, the one right next to her right foot. He had little stars on his instep. I decided to inspect each person, see how many had tattoos.
There was an older woman sitting next to hipster guy, a Polish woman about 60 with an ample bosom, which peeked out of her low-cut top. And there, on her right breast, I could see the top part of a very faded tattoo she’d gotten when young, I couldn’t even make out what it was, but it was a tattoo.
Next to her was another older woman, also around 60, with glasses and carefully coiffed blond hair wearing office type clothes. I looked at her and said: “Nahh.”
But I was wrong! On closer examination, she had a small Ankh tattooed on her right ring finger, and by it’s sharpness I would have to say it was pretty new.
Next to her was another young Williamsburg white hipster kid, this guy had on shorts, a tee shirt, and no tattoos at all. At least none that I could see; but he was one you would expect to see tattoos on, unlike the older white ladies sitting to his left.
And lastly, next to him, was another young Latina woman, in jeans and flip-flops, reading a book; one of those ghetto girl porn books that are very popular on the J and M trains. She had a very large tattoo on her left forearm, Anthony written in a very fancy cursive script.
Wow, five out of six people of different races and cultural backgrounds, and they all had tattoos.
I have a few myself, I guess that’s why I look at them on others. I got my first one in the Army when I was 25, a small sword on my chest from a guy they called poison John in Fayetteville, N.C. Over the years I added a few more, some I like, some I wish I hadn’t thought of. There’s one on my left forearm, though, that I did think about a little when I got it. I got it when I was divorcing my first wife, and when the girl who was tattooing me showed me her book for suggestions, I came across a design that looked very much like a painting my ex-wife had done.
It was a wonderful painting of a swimmer suspended in bright blue water. It was her, my ex-wife. Of course it wasn’t like super-realism where it looked like a photograph; rather more expressionistic, where just the gesture of the swimming body told me it was her swimming toward something I hope she finds someday.
My tattoo could be such a swimmer; it does look rather frog-like. It also looks like a woman on fire, and when people asked me what it was I would jokingly reply that it was my ex-wife burning in hell. I stopped saying that a few years ago, and now I prefer to say it’s someone swimming to freedom.