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Work of Art: Tattoos don’t just wash off

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By Art Trujillo

On visits to the Abe Montoya Recreation Center, I easily get my fill of tattoo art. Some patrons enter with a mish-mash of strange, multi-colored drawings on their arms, legs and backs. And as for the men, well they have even more to show off.

The practice of having tattoos applied on one’s body has grown over the years. It used to be that self-applied artwork came from a needle and a bottle of India ink. I recall that even in the ‘50s, when I was in school, some of the students would self-apply tattoos, usually in the shape of a cross, with radiating lines made to look like sun rays.

I drove a school bus to Los Alamos, a village between Sapello and Watrous, when I was in college. On my route I met a student who’d taken the India ink routine a step farther: Not only did my passenger have the customary cross on the hand, but one on the forehead as well.

Tattoos don’t wash off with the next shower, and erasing a tattoo is expensive and, we hear, possibly painful.

The users generally applied them on the back of the hand, in the soft spot where the pointer finger and thumb meet.

Others placed them inconspicuously on their ankles. Except for some military veterans, it was rare to see a professionally applied tattoo, usually with the word “Mother,” or a flag or an eagle.

Sports Illustrated recently featured a photo page of an unusual commodity: an NBA recruit who bore no body artwork.

All that reminded me of an old comic strip, “Beetle Bailey,” which featured Beetle, Cosmos, Killer, Zero, Sgt. Snorkel and others. My appreciation of observing certain protocols in the use of tattoos came alive in a comic strip that showed Sarge returning from a night out and asking the troops for comments.

It turns out Sarge had had a girlfriend, “Rita,” whose name adorned the man’s chest. But now, Sarge had found another love-interest. And it was about the new flame that he asked others’ opinion. He bared his chest to show that he’d paid a tattooist to change “Rita” to “Margarita.” The spacing had become a problem, and the person applying the tattoo needed to make some extreme adjustments, with “Marga” having to be inserted in front of “Rita.”

The comic strip ends with Sarge asking, “Do you think Margarita will notice?”

A huge array of tattoos appears on a web site called “Tattoo Fails.” It shows numerous misspellings and misuses of the language. Even attempts at citing scripture fail, as some of the words from the Bible get mangled. The web site shows, among other things, “Only God will juge me.” A woman displays her forearm with the words, “Living is the stronges drug.”

Another, which begs for a proofreader, botches an attempt to quote from the Book of Ecclesiastes: “When I was a child I spoke and thought and reason as a child but when I grew up I put away childish things away.”

One grateful offspring had the following tattoo on her body: “thenks mather.” And others carry various messages: “Live you’re life,” “Ledgends live on,” “Belife makes things real,” and “Regret nohing.”

And two other popular messages read, “I’m awsome” and “I could really use a wish right know.”

To this we ask, without juging, “Is there know body who can do a bit of proofreading for these awsome beings and put away the typos away?”

• • •

Last week’s Work of Art, regarding war news that dominated the pages of a 1943 issue of the Optic, referred to a gas shortage. It listed types of engines that received a higher priority, such as emergency vehicles.

On the list were “stationary engines.” I admitted in my column not having the foggiest notion what such engines might be. Las Vegan Richard Lindeborg hereby attempts to clear up the confusion. He emailed:

“They are engines that do their work in a fixed location, such as running large irrigation systems, giant sump pumps for mines, and generating electricity. They are a big issue in small circles in Washington because their fuel is taxed differently than the fuel in vehicles. . . . If I remember correctly, PNM had a back-up electricity generation facility on the west side of Las Vegas that involved a stationary engine or two.”

In typical Lindeborg fashion, he helps us see the difference between two words that are pronounced the same but differ slightly in spelling.

Lindeborg adds, “But what about stationery engines? (Are they used in paper mills?)?  

• • •

Apparently, people from here can’t stay away very long. The 50th reunion for Robertson High School drew at least one person with vivid memories of the Meadow City.

And it’s fitting that I met this woman during a tour of the Castañeda Hotel at Heritage Week. The reunioneer is Patsy Ann Romero, a member of the RHS class of 1964. The special memory for Patsy is the Sweet 16 birthday party her parents threw for her. Where? The Castañeda, of course.

Patsy lives in Laguna Beach, Calif., where she taught sixth grade. Her brother Leo was dean of the UNM Law School.

Their parents, Mike and Celia Romero, lived on Dalbey Drive. Mike was a school administrator for West Las Vegas Schools, and Celia taught at Paul D. Henry School.

As she introduced herself, Patsy may have been standing on the spot where her Sweet 16 dance was held. Speculating as to how much the dollar has inflated over the 50 years since the dance party, I asked Patsy if she had any idea how much her parents had paid for the event.

“Remember, it was a surprise party, so I never found out,” she said.

Art Trujillo is a copy editor at the Optic and a contributing member of the newspaper’s Editorial Board. He may be reached by calling 425-6796 or by e-mail to atrujillo@lasvegasoptic.com or art@rezio.net.