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Comments (9) Posted 06.18.11 | PERMALINK | PRINT | SINGLE PAGE

Adam Harrison Levy

A Tattoo, A Toothbrush and A Pipe


A Tattoo



It is Saturday morning at 7:15am and I’m eating breakfast with my daughter Alice. She is six and half years old. We are eating French toast that I made from scratch. On the table is fresh squeezed orange juice, real maple syrup and a bowl of blueberries. I’m a newly divorced father. I’m proud of myself.

We are discussing what we are going to do that day — farmers market, a play date with a friend in the park, lunch at our favorite diner, and then maybe a movie.

She holds up a small white square of cardboard. She unfolds it.

“It’s a tattoo!” she declares.
“That’s good. Where did you get it?”
“At Lily’s birthday party.”
She coquettishly lifts her shirt and positions it in the middle of her naked chest.
“Should I put it here?”
“That would be fine.”

I’m struggling. The tattoo is of an ornate gold Gothic cross festooned with curling snakes. At the center of the cross is a large black heart. The heart is also festooned with writhing snakes.

Should I take it away? Tell her I’m calling Lily’s parents? Lecture her on the danger of birthday parties? Or do I let her tattoo herself and thereby encourage her first steps towards what will inevitably lead to nipple piercing in her teenage years (“But Dad you let me wear that Goth tattoo when I was six.”).

How do I overwhelm a threatening object? I reach for my best weapon.

“I want to tell you a story about my friend Mark,” I say.
Alice eyes me suspiciously.
“One day he was feeling sad because of a girl. He decided get a tattoo.”
There is a flicker of interest.
“So he asked me to help him. Together we found a store underneath a railway bridge. It was raining. Inside the store was a man with a needle. The store was dirty and dark and the man was short and he walked with a limp. He asked Mark what kind of tattoo he wanted. Mark said he wanted a Native American symbol called the Medicine Wheel. He drew a picture for the man and colored it in and handed the picture to him. The man told Mark to lie down in an old dentist’s chair. Then the man then took the needle and burned the shape into Mark’s skin.”

“Did it hurt?.”
“Oh yes. It was bleeding.”
“And what did Mark do?”
“He passed out.”
“What do you mean, ‘passed out.’ ”
“He fainted.”
“Did he wake up?”
“Yes, he woke up after the man gave him some water with sugar in it. The glass had dead flies in it.”
“And then what happened?”
“The man wrapped his arm up in a bandage.”
“And?”
“And then Mark and I went to a bar and then we went home.”
“What happened next?”
“A few days later Mark unwrapped the bandage. It had scabs on it but Mark thought it looked really cool.”
“What happened next?”
“He was playing sports and another friend looked at his arm and said ‘why do you have a pie chart on your arm?’”
“What is a pie chart?”
“It’s a math thing.”
What happened next?
“Mark was embarrassed.”
“And then what?”
“A few months later Mark got a new girlfriend. He wasn’t sad anymore. But there was a problem.”
“What was that?”
“His girlfriend hated the pie chart.”
“What happened next?
“Mark wore long sleeves.”
“Did the he take the tattoo off?”
“No. That’s the problem with tattoos. They don’t come off. They last forever and ever.”

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Comments (9)   |   JUMP TO MOST RECENT COMMENT >>

I rarely comment on these things but I felt the need to say how much I actually enjoyed this one. It has such a wholesome and grounded quality about it.
James
06.18.11 at 08:44

Pipe smoking is having something of a comeback in the US among a younger generation. A friend in the cigar industry told me sales of briar pipes and tobacco actually are up for the first time in decades. It's one of those below the radar nostalgia moments.
Sam
06.18.11 at 11:58

He didn’t tell me how to live; he lived, and let me watch him do it.
~Clarence Budington Kelland.

http://thegreatquotes.com/2011/06/fathers-day/
Quotes
06.19.11 at 06:50

HAPPY FATHER'S DAY!
: ) ===>DO<=== ( :

Carl W. Smith
06.19.11 at 11:02

And what of the toothbrush and the pipe?
Dan Lewis
06.20.11 at 09:47

excellent read, this reminds me of a book by Alexandre Najjar, I believe it was called 'The School of War'.

Dan their are 3 pages to this article, the toothbrush and pipe stories are on p2 and p3.
je
06.23.11 at 02:50

Of course he could have grown up, decided to be part of age old art of skin decoration, and gone to a clean well lit friendly tattoo parlour. where he met like minded people who were talented artists and into similar stuff as he was.

when he met he his new girlfriend, perhaps there was a sense of regret – but no more than all the other things that had happened to him in his twenties.


davo
06.29.11 at 12:00

These are lovely. Mind if I file away the tattoo story in my memory for future reuse? I have a three year old son, and I dearly hope that he will never succumb to the fashion of getting himself tatted up.

Instead, I hope to instill in my son the confidence and self assurance to remain an individual, to not succumb to some superficial (yet tragically permanent) fashion trend just so he can look like everybody else. It's one thing to buy a plaid shirt when they are in fashion, but it is a whole other order of magnitude to modify your body just because that happens to be in vogue.

Alas, if the instill confidence approach doesn't work, I'm not above scaring the bejesus out of him, at the appropriate time, with a story like this.
Rob Henning
06.29.11 at 01:24

Thanks for your comments everyone.

Dan, as je mentioned, if you click on "next page" and you can read the toothbrush and the pipe.

je, I'll look up the Najjar book, thanks.

And Rob, I hope it doesn't come it, but if you feel that you need to use the story don't hesitate!
Adam Harrison Levy
07.03.11 at 08:36


Design Observer encourages comments to be short and to the point; as a general rule, they should not run longer than the original post. Comments should show a courteous regard for the presence of other voices in the discussion. We reserve the right to edit or delete comments that do not adhere to this standard.
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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Adam Harrison Levy is a writer and freelance documentary film producer and director. He specializes in the art of the interview. For the BBC he has conducted interviews with a wide range of actors, writers, musicians and film-makers including Meryl Streep, Philip Glass, and Paul Auster. He was the U.S. producer for Selling the Sixties, a cultural history of advertising in New York and Close Up, about the artist Chuck Close. He is the author of  essays for Hiroshima: Ground Zero 1945, an exhibition at the International Center for Photography, and Saul Leiter: Retrospective. He teaches at the School of Visual Arts and in the Film Studies Dept at Wesleyan University. In 2012 he was a Poynter Fellow at Yale University.


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