How I Got My Tattoo
By Chad Olsen
“I have to go to the bathroom.” “Are we there yet?” “I’m hungry.” “Stop hitting me!” I’m sure you have heard this during long trips with the kids—anything over an hour was long to them. To keep from going crazy, or hurting someone, I would tell tall tales of adventures in the Navy. I told them I was in the Office of Naval Intelligence; the CID—stands for the Counter Intelligence Division.
My stories would often place me in the jungle. They would ask questions like, “What was the Navy doing in the jungle?” I would have to come up with something quick (I was a lot quicker then). “We were on a mission to rescue Navy Seals,” I would respond.
“What do Navy Seals do?” they would ask. “They sometimes have to blow up enemy headquarters,” I would explain.
“Why would the Navy do something like that?”
Eventually I found it far easier to talk about my “assignments” rather than try to answer their endless questions. The stories would go something like this: I’m in the jungle staking out enemy camps when a big poisonous snake starts crawling toward me. I can’t make any noise or run off and leave my buddies, so I throw a plug of chewing tobacco in my mouth and spit in the snake’s eye from 10 feet away. I was chewing “Star” plug tobacco at the time so it was somewhat believable. My two younger kids were entertained; the older sons just rolled their eyes.
One of the stories they liked the best was about a tattoo. CID agents needed a positive way to identify each other, I told them, so we all have the exact same small fly tattoo. If we met someone claiming to be a CID agent, we could make him (all males in those days) prove it, without having to dispatch him.
“Let me see your tattoo,” my daughter is asking. “Where is it?” another wants to know. “Let me see it.”
I told them I could get into real trouble even telling them about it and I couldn’t show anyone except another CID agent. They would all laugh in a disbelieving way, but a little later one of them would say, “Come on, dad, show us your tattoo.”
This went on for years and eventually I had to make up another reason I couldn’t show them: I told them it was on my backside. This got to be a family joke: no one believed it any more.
Many years later, retired and living in Mexico, we are going to have our first ever “family reunion” and as a joke I decide to actually get the tattoo!
Ajijic had no places at the time to get a tattoo and there were only a few shops in Guadalajara. The first is the “tattoo parlor” with garish signage and questionable sanitary practices. The second is a “tattoo art studio.” These people consider your skin their canvas: they call it skin art and it is “by-appointment only.”
The “skin artist” sounds right to me and I show up for my appointment. I pick a small colorful fly tattoo out of a giant catalogue. She brings out some tracing paper and traces the design of the fly onto my skin—so much for the artistry part. The tattoo will be on the belt line and she starts to work. I am surprised at how much it hurts—like a constant bee sting! “Where is the tequila for the pain,” I ask. She shakes her head and instead hands me a towel to bite on to keep from screaming. I wonder (too late) if the tattoo parlor would have provided tequila. Everything goes well, but I wear “high-water pants” for a couple of weeks, to the questioning looks of my friends.
About a month later, the reunion is going strong and we are on the terrace overlooking Lake Chapala with my sons and daughter having margaritas. I have worked it out with my wife to direct the conversation toward my fabled CID exploits. They have heard it all before and just aren’t too interested. In our effort to convince them that it wasn’t all made up, my daughter says (as we hoped), “OK then: show us your tattoo.”
After a little proper reluctance, I lower my pants a little, just enough to show my newly-minted tattoo. The fact that the tattoo should have been 50 years old and faded didn’t seem to register. They were so flabbergasted I felt guilty for the deception. I later told my sons the truth, but to this day my daughter isn’t quite sure what to believe.