A brief guide to SXSW 4

South by Southwest (aka: SXSW; South By; You’re Blocking My Driveway, Asshole) the nation’s biggest music, film and interactive conference and festival just kicked off. For us Austinistas, that means parties, music and – perhaps most significantly – a week of eating at IHOP because all the good restaurants are infested with badge-wearing hipsters in white sunglasses and girl jeans. More…

Like diamonds, tattoos are forever, but they’re not always a girl’s best friend 11

This time of year I like to spend as much time as possible at the pool. It’s a great place to catch some rays and chill out, but it’s also the perfect place to people-watch. I am a keen-eyed observer of people and their ways, and the pool is a perfect opportunity to catch the latest trends and fashions.

This is particularly true in the case of tattoos. After hours of field research, I have some observations and some suggestions.

Guys, if you want to look tough, all the ink in the world isn’t going to help if you’re out of shape. It’s nearly impossible to be bad-ass when you look like you recently gave birth to twins. So, before you hit the tattoo parlor, hit the gym. Remember: the only place muffin tops look good is on muffins.

If you’re going to get a tatt, the right image is imperative. Like diamonds, tattoos are forever, so think carefully before going under the needle. Always a bad idea for a tattoo is your favorite band’s logo. Sure, you dig ’em now, but in 20 years your ardor for Insane Clown Posse will have cooled and you’ll spend the rest of your life explaining why you have an image of a dreadlocked, cleaver-wielding midget on your calf.

A very popular image, especially amongst men who think they’re hard, is barbed wire wrapped around the biceps. Guys, if you’re considering this tattoo, I have two words for you: Pamela Anderson.

Here’s another tip: “ironic” images of any sort are a really bad idea. A good rule of thumb is, if an image is too stupid for your dad to wear on a t-shirt, it’s probably too stupid to have engraved into your skin.

Deciding where on your body you’ll get your tatt is also an important consideration. It’s hard to go wrong with the classic placement on the biceps or deltoid. But unless you plan to spend your life pulling espresso shots or working at the Jiffy Lube, tatts above the collarbone are a very bad idea.

Especially bad in this category are facial tattoos. Back in the day, criminals would often be tattooed on their faces as a permanent and public record of their crimes. Today, facial tatts are a permanent and public record of your stupidity and/or substance abuse issues.

Women also need to give careful consideration to what they’re getting tattooed and where those images are placed. For a while it was common to see girls sporting ink on the back of the upper arm, directly above the elbow. Today, however, a fashionable location for lady tatts on the lower belly, with just a hint of ink peeking coyly over the waistband of the bikini bottom. While this is not inherently a bad location, the right image is key. For instance, this is not the best place for a tattoo of a fish. Trust me on this one.

“Hail to the jewel in the lotus,” or “beef with broccoli?” Your guess is as good as mine 12

I think we all reach a point in our lives – stereotypically near middle age — where we start to ask “big” questions. Why I am I here? What’s it all about? Is there any pie left?

In the face of these questions and the irreversible slog toward the void, different people act in different ways. Some are sanguine; some freak out. Some get religion; others get rid of religion. Some dump their careers and join the Peace Corps, while others dump their spouses and run off with the baby sitter. There are as many expressions of Middle-Age Crazy as there are middle-aged people.

Me? I got a tattoo.

Having recently turned 55, I had most definitely reached middle age (I’ve been crazy for a very long time, and was merely biding my time for the middle-aged part). If I wanted to go middle-age crazy, my list of possibilities was limited. One was buying a sports car. I eliminated that one because I can’t afford the insurance. How about a motorcycle? No – those scare the shit out of me (plus, I wanted crazy, not stupid). The stripper girlfriend was right out, as I am allergic to silicone. That left a tatt as my only viable outlet.

So, after more than a year of soul-searching – and a shaky OK from my wife – I got inked. It was something I had been thinking about for a long time – I’d just been unable to decide what sort of image I’d get. A naked lady was out – not my style, plus inking something pert ‘n’ perky on skin that is already on its way to Sag City is just asking for heartache. There was also the classic “Welcome to Jamaica – Have a Nice Day.” However, that one, placed where it traditionally belongs, would require type so small as to be invisible to anything short of an electron microscope

Just love that new-ink smell!

I finally decided on a Buddhist mantra, tastefully rendered in red and black in traditional Uchen script on my left deltoid. I had formally become a Buddhist abut a year ago, so a mantra wouldn’t make me a total poser. The one I chose – om mani padme hum – is only six syllables — small enough to fit on my delt and still be legible (if you read Tibetan, I mean). Most importantly, it’s by far the most ubiquitous of the mantras, so there was no danger of getting “sweet and sour pork” or “I love cock” etched indelibly into my flesh by accident.

So, about a week ago I went to Spellbound Studios and had Karen Slafter, Austin’s premiere ink-slinger, brand me forever. The procedure itself was a piece of cake, and apart from a few subsequent “what the fuck was I thinking?” moments, I haven’t looked back. The tatt looks great and I could not be happier with it (note to self: work a little harder on the non-attachment thing).

Oh, yeah — what does the mantra mean? The most accepted translation seems to be, “Hail to the jewel in the lotus.” But just to be safe, if I ever find myself in a Tibetan gay bar, I’m keeping my sleeves rolled down.