Tattoos’ meanings not always obvious

By Grant McGee: Local columnist

It was surreal, but in a good way — and kind of spooky.

It came as an attachment to an e-mail the other day — my mother’s face, a portrait of her as a young woman.

Thing is, it was a tattoo, a very good one, on the arm of my son Hunter. He loves his grandma.

He had found a tattoo artist with obvious talent to do the inking. The new work joined others on his arm.

Tattoos were a mysterious, exotic thing to me as a kid. My dad wouldn’t hire people who had visible tattoos. No reason was given, that’s just the way it was with my father. To him, everything was black and white, no gray areas. He’d make rules and pronouncements about stuff like he was Moses strolling down from The Mount with The Tablets slung over his shoulder.

Now tattoos seem to be everywhere. I don’t have a problem with them; to me they’re artistic or cultural expressions. Many folks follow that “below the neckline and above the wrist” rule, though, because there are those who have problems with tattoos (many are employers).

For instance, there was that woman I wanted to hire at a radio station in another state. She was a topnotch announcer, energetic and knew her music. She had colorful, striking tattoos running up her arm from her wrist to her shoulder. Red and yellow flames flying from the mouth of a stunning green dragon wrapped around one arm and an army of fairies flew up the other.

She showed up for the interview conservatively dressed; no one would have known her arms were exploding with color.

But my boss remembered a picture of her in an article where she was showing off her tattoos. She didn’t get the job because he was worried what advertisers might think if they ever saw her artwork.

I’ve seen tattoos on folks who obviously knew they weren’t going to manage the branch of a bank, be a television news anchor or run for governor.

Late one night at a supermarket in Albuquerque I turned around and found myself looking at the face of a man who had a red devil tattooed on each of his cheeks and little electric sparks around his eyes. He smiled and was missing most of his teeth.

I wondered what kind of job he had. Maybe he was a professional wrestler.

Another time I was at a buffet restaurant. While in line waiting to pay for my meal I turned to the guy behind me. Tattooed above his right eyebrow was a two-word phrase containing a four-letter word that basically proclaimed he really didn’t care what anyone thought of him. That’s all I’m gonna say about that.

Then there was that dude without a shirt I saw walking into a Dallas truck stop with the lightning bolt tattoo. This thing wasn’t small; it took up his whole right side, tapered up, around his arm, over his shoulder, up his neck and ended at his eye.

Everybody has a reason for getting tattooed or not. I figure it’s your body, your canvas, do as you please.

I’m reminded of an old saying, though: “In life you can do anything you want. There are consequences, however.”

Maybe someday I’ll get that white buffalo tattoo I’ve always wanted for my left shoulder. I’m reminded of another old saying: “If not now, when?”

Grant McGee hosts the weekday morning show on KTQM-FM in Clovis. Contact him at: