Wednesday, April 1, 2015

The Tattoos They Wear

When my dad was a kid, the only time he’d see tattooed people showing off their ink was at the circus or the waterfront. When tiki restaurants passed for the exotic. Times may have changed, but sailors are still sailors. Richard Henry Dana wrote about the spray-soaked life of sailors on wooden ships in his 1840’s book “Two Years Before the Mast”. The dawn of the steel-built steamship literally took some salt of the occupation, but enabled a sailor to visit more ports of call in a career. Today, containerization cut down on port time, and placed ships miles from the city. Some would say the “professionalization” of the seafaring occupation- recognizing the shipboard workplace for the industrial environment that it is- affected the culture onboard ships. Indeed, increased training requirements meant that your shipmates were more likely family men and women looking to pay bills than young men pursuing exotic adventures. We will call the bygone time the “pre-Valdez era”; or what some older sailors call the “golden days”. I got to know many tattooed sailors. In one case, a full-body tattoo; in other cases, tattoos gotten under impaired judgment, and a lot of Sailor Jerry images. I don’t have any ink, but here are some guidelines for young sailors interested in the art: Faux Pas -Landlubbing plebes should not have anchors or compasses. Prior Navy and avid sailboatmen have earned the privilege. -Do not get a tattoo with your class year, because it could change (You might as well call it a jinx). -Swim class is a two-trimester requirement. Get a good artist. -Hangers and rubber stamps are for hanging and marking clothes, respectively. Do not use them as branding irons. It won’t make a cool story, either. Most common tattoos? Compass Rose Anchor Quotes from famous soldiers Family Crest Meat Tag (random selection of torso tattoos, often started in high school). Least popular tattoos? Tribal tattoos. Take up prime skin on biceps better used for nautical ink. Wisecrack tattoos. Even sailors know that jokes get old. Mom-in-a-heart tattoos. Mothers prefer a phone call. Saltiest element? Forgetting where the shirt sleeves end. Academy and Navy regulations do not allow tattoos to be visible in short sleeves. Solution? Wear a bigger shirt. Ink that is visible through white uniform. With two months to graduation, my classmates and I are grappling with what type of sea career each of us desires: More time to be with family Stateside, or more time in foreign ports? 25-year pensions or sea stories? Smaller crew with more responsibility, or larger crew with a less hectic pace? These decisions can change. Tattoos from Saesabo, Japan? In some way or another, they last forever.

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