Tuesday, February 22, 2011


I wouldn't believe her until she showed me the tattoo herself. Yanking me into the light, she proudly rolled her shirt, barrito style, up her body. Spreading across her lower back in the traditional "tramp-stamp" way was a messy tangle of green vines meant to spell out peace, or love, or somebody’s name. Either she was a lot thinner when she had turned twenty-one or the tattoo artist was no artist.

"Whadya think?" She asked, holding her shirt up far enough for me to see the hot pink bra strap cutting into the thick folds of her back.

"Ummm, well, is it, uh, supposed to be all green like that around it?" I asked, moving to touch the surface, as if the greenish tint spreading from the tattoo would rub off like chalk dust, but deciding against it.

"Isn't it weird!" she yelled as she spun around, having to face me as she continued, "So, after I got the tat it was like that. And I was like, heel no, I better not have some disease or somethin from your dirty fucking needles!"

"You should get it checked out." I said, stepping away slightly, enough so I wouldn't be contaminated by the green taint, but not too far to cause offense.

"I already did. The doctor said I was fine and that it just happens sometimes."

Now, I have seen many tattoos of many different hues while living in Portland, the tattoo capital of the Universe. There is more ink than clothing covering people's skin here. But the thing is, I have never ever seen anyone whose tattoo had permanently changed the shade of their white skin to an off green color all around it. She thought it was funny. I thought gangreen.

She had apparently got it when she turned twenty-one. In her own words, “I was so drunk that night. Sheet, I never been so drunk before. We partied at my house since my parents were out o’ town and my friend, he does tats, he did it, like a birthday gift. Luckily I was so ducking funk I didn’t feel a thing till the next day.”

Yes, that was her being clever... ducking funk... think about it.

“But the one thing I do remember!” she says as she glowers with anger, “My fraking ex!”

His name is Blu. Like the color. He had recently been released from a mental health facility. Before that he had recently been released from jail. Before that he and Brandy had been engaged. But it wasn’t because of the jailtime or the crazy that she left him. No it was because of the night of her twenty-first birthday.

“I was still sober and couldn’t find him even though it was time for jello shots and he always has to have the first one. Then I was like, aw sheet, where is my cousin!”

Her cousin is a nice girl. Pierced lip. Tattoos in places she can’t show at work. Pierced tongue... for undisclosed reasons. And she wears a thong that can be clearly seen whenever she bends over. Hot pink, or lime green, depending on the day. The worst day is laundry day, because then she doesn’t wear anything at all. And we can all tell. But at least she’s friendly. Some say, a bit too friendly.

“I walked into the upstairs bathroom and there he was, on the floor, f-ing my cousin!” she says cocking her head forward like an angry chicken might. “That son of a beeotch! I told him right then and there. We are thru!”

“Aren’t you upset at your cousin too?” I ask, raising an eyebrow.

“Well, you know what they say, about blood and whiskey.” she turns, her shirt still rolled up to her midrift, green tattoo smear staring back at me.

“Ummm.... don’t you mean... never mind.”

The problem is that I really can’t look down at her low-brow party. Yes, she went out in the woods in her pick-up with her friends and shot at the trees. Yes, she got a tattoo that says either the name of her dead sister or her ex-fiance. Yes, she may have drunk so much that she can’t remember half the things she said or did that night. But at least she did something.

Me? Well, I did do something when I turned twenty-one. I did laundry. I separated my darks from my lights (not because I am a white South African but because its the right thing to do). I laundered them on the ecological friendly setting, using cold water and decomposable detergent. Then I dried them with the clothes turned inside out, to avoid fading my jeans and loosing my screen printed shirts. It was a pretty eventful night.

But thats not what I tell people when they ask me what I did when I turned twenty-one. Over the years, the story of what I did that night has grown, but I have taken special care to limit its direction depending on the crowd.

When I talk to my Christian, Mormon, Muslim, or gay friends the story is always the same. I got together with some of my old friends, we went bowling, we went and saw a sucky remake of a 1980s movie, we went to coffee. No, I did not drink drink.

When I talk to my uber-conservative, super-liberal, Deaf, or Catholic friends they get a very different story. It was wild. I can hardly remember the night. I went out into the woods with my friends. We shot at trees. I almost got tattooed by a naked chick, but then she realized I wasn’t really drunk yet. Then I drank so much I can’t really even remember the night. No, I did not find my fiance on the bathroom floor with my cousin.

But when I talk to my grandparents, my parents, prospective employers, college admission officers, or my girlfriend, I tell them the truth. About the lights and the darks and the cold laundry water. Of the three coming of age stories I tell, only this last one ever gets questioning looks of disbelief from my audience. This is the only one I have to provide evidence and pictures of. Luckily, I have the pictures to prove it. Which is even sadder still.

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