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Tattoo or not tattoo

David Epps's picture

I am currently tattoo free. I realize that it is unusual to be both a biker and a Marine Corps veteran and have no tattoos adorning my body somewhere but that’s the situation.

When I was a child my late grandfather, Charles Daniel Duckett, had several blue and faded tattoos on his forearms. When I would stare at them, usually when he and I were on a fishing trip, he would say, “Son, don’t ever get one of these. You’ll be sorry if you do.” So I never did.

Oh, I started to when I was stationed at Fort Lee, Va., back in 1970. In fact, I was going to head out one morning, but the night before I was supposed to visit the tattoo parlor, a fellow Marine groaned and puked his way through the night, his bicep a festering mass of blood, swelling, and pus — all from an infected tattoo needle.

I skipped the tattoo session.

After that, I never really thought about it until years later. My sons all have tattoos. In fact, 25 percent of all American adults now sport tattoos, some in hidden places, others in locations so blatant they cannot be missed.

Some look like works of art while others look like someone had a nightmare or a bad drug trip and had it etched in skin forever.

My wife is not a fan of tattoos. While at an event earlier this summer, as a joke, I paid for a $10 fake tattoo that was on sale for $5. As the day went on, I forgot about it.

Later that evening when I was home and pulling off my shirt, my wife looked at my left upper arm and, with wide eyes and a horrified look, exclaimed, “What did you do?
What DID you DO!?” As I said, she is not a fan.

Sometimes I think about it anyway. The problem is several fold:

(1) I do not know what I would put on my body forever. Nothing excites or inspires me. Maybe a Marine Corps tattoo but it seems a little late for that.

(2) These things aren’t cheap and I am. Seems like a lot of money for a little bit of art.

(3) There are needles involved. I am not a fan of needles.

If all that weren’t enough, the Associated Press recently reported that an outbreak of infected tattoos occurred around the country. Health officials reported seeing an increase in cases of a nasty skin infection in which tattoo patrons wound up with bubbly rashes on their new tattoos.

These most recent infections cause itchy and painful pus-filled blisters that can take months to clear up and involve harsh antibiotics with unpleasant side effects.

Of course, as my young compadre learned in 1970, infections are nothing new when it comes to tattoos. However, great strides have been made in sanitation over the years. Now, many tattoo artists use disposable gloves and sterilize their instruments.

The cause of this more recent outbreak was the ink. The infections were tied to ink or water used to dilute the ink. The ink has since been recalled.

There is also the matter of outdated tattoos. Occasionally I see people my age with tattoos and I can only wonder, “What were they thinking?” I mean, did that guy who, when 19 years old, got a Yosemite Sam or a Road Runner tattoo even think of what it would look like on his old 78-year-old body?

I suspect that a lot of younger tattooed people will have buyer’s remorse down the road when their children and grandchildren shake their heads in wonder.

So, for now at age 61, I am ink free. Among Marine vets and bikers, I am probably an anomaly. Tattoo or not tattoo? That is the question.

Maybe I’ll get one for my upcoming 41st wedding anniversary and surprise my wife!

[David Epps is the pastor of the Cathedral of Christ the King, 4881 Hwy. 34 E., Sharpsburg, GA 30277. Services are held Sundays at 8:30 and 10 a.m. ( He is the bishop of the Mid-South Diocese which includes Georgia and Tennessee ( He may be contacted at]


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