The real danger of getting body pictures is that it merely illustrates your stupidity to everyone who has the misfortune to be forced to look at your self mutilation. Further, it makes obvious a fact you may have been able to keep hidden before you got your first tattoo. That is: you’re a blithering idiot!
My first and only personal experience with tattoos was after I graduated from Navy boot camp nearly 65 years ago. I was a somewhat brainless 17-year-old kid who looked forward to some glorious war adventures and the chance to earn a chest full of medals. A lot of the other ex-boots with the same ideas were assigned as deck crew on our newly-commissioned APA, Navy attack transport. As we began our onboard menial tasks of dishwashing, swabbing and head (toilet) duties, we felt we were going to be as salty as anyone who had ever sailed the seven seas.
We were moored at the Navy’s Treasure Island docks, and except for some sea tests, we spent a month there. We were fortunate then, before we went off for months to the Pacific war, to be able to have frequent shore liberty in the wonderful city of San Francisco. Other young Reservists and I on the deck gang were ordered around by old Regular Navy guys … some must have been at the advanced dotage of 29 or so … who had been in the Navy for a decade or more. Many had tattoos, some small ones on an arm, while others with intricate illustrations covering lots of skin. Wow, were we impressed!
Of course, because we looked up to anyone who had as much as a stripe on their uniform and a loud voice, we thought tattoos were the way to go to make us full-fledged swabbies. So, the second thing (can you guess the first?) we did whenever we went ashore was to look up tattoo parlors to check out the designs. Since most of us were no more than 18, we couldn’t drink legally. Of course, that never stopped us then, as it never does today, and we showed how really grown up we were by getting blotto every chance we had.
On $54 a month, a booze budget doesn’t go very far, especially if you need the money for incidentals like toiletries, pogy bait (candy) and malteds at the gedunk (ship’s soda fountain), as well as some $10 for a dinner-and-movie dates with a local San Francisco V-girl. Old WW2ers will remember those as underage ladies who wanted to do their all for victory.
To show off our salty sides to those girls by getting our tattoos, most of us decided we needed to be very drunk before we’d be stupid enough to have our skins illustrated. So, one night, three other guys and I, with the help of one fake ID, bought a bottle of liquor and proceeded to prepare for the ordeal. Several hours later, we staggered into a tattoo parlor, gritted through the pain and had the job done. Fortunately for me, I was feeling just a bit patriotic and all I got was a modest Navy emblem on one shoulder. Anyhow, I only had $5 left until payday, and I couldn’t afford anything more illustrative.
After getting back to the ship and sobering up some hours later, and was on my way for a shower, I looked at my shoulder. It was swollen, red and throbbing like mad. The sharp emblem picture now dripped with blood and the obvious fluid of an infection. Thinking it was just a normal part of the healing, I scrubbed it thoroughly in the shower and staggered off to my bunk. When I awoke the next morning it felt as if someone was pounding my shoulder with a sledge hammer. The swelling and discoloration were much worse, and when I tried to stand, I fell back on the bunk. A couple of the other guys helped me down to the ship’s sick bay. When the pharmacist’s mate looked at it, he shook his head. I had a raging infection and needed immediate emergency treatment.
The outcome was that I rode a stretcher and ambulance to a Navy hospital, went into surgery and then spent three weeks there fighting off the effects of the infection. Maybe today, 65 years later, some antibiotics could have stopped the poison from spreading so quickly through my system, but the best they had then was penicillin, and I’m thankful it worked. I’m sure it saved my life, but it was touch and go for awhile.
Of course, most tattoo parlors today practice higher sanitary standards, and are monitored by city health agencies. Although they still occur, infections are relatively rare. Maybe I’m prejudiced by my own experience, but I can’t understand why mutilating your body and risking infection in such a way makes any sense.