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Jefferson-WeaverI was always drawn to those “nickel toy” vending machines when I was a little kid.

Of course, they were a quarter or more by the time I came along, but some folks still called them nickel toys. You still find a surprising number of them in the entryways of retail stores these days, along with their companions peddling huge gumballs and the like, but the price has risen, like everything else.

The concept is still the same, however — a child carefully places a coin in the slot, turns the ratchety handle, and a plastic bubble (or egg, or sphere) holding the prize rolls down the chute to an excited little hand. The good stuff was always the hardest to get. I’m old enough to recall when cheap knockoffs of Zippo lighters, functioning pocketknives, and similar politically incorrect weapons of mass societal destruction were available in the machines that demanded three quarters instead of one.

I rarely pay much attention to said machines nowadays, although on more than one occasion I’ve secretly helped subvert parental authority by stealthily handing a handful of quarters to a dreamy-eyed little adventurer staring into the machines touting “Mystery Dinosaur!” or “Fashion Jewelry!” I’d rather they were buying pocketknives, toy guns or knockoff Zippos, but that’s neither here nor there.

I received a shock when I happened to glance at one of those machines the other day, and I realized we definitely ain’t in Kansas anymore, Toto.

I’d stepped to the side the other day in my favorite grocery store, so a rather harried mom could make it out the door (her kids were attacking the promised popsicles before the ink on the receipt was dry) and my bad knee chose that moment to misbehave. Rather than crumple to the floor and cause a first-of-the-month Friday traffic jam, I balanced myself against one of those prize vendors, grumbling again about my bad judgment from 15, 20, or 30 years ago that resulted in the aforementioned crumple. I made it to somewhere around the eye-level of an average eight year old.

As I straightened up, I was shocked to find myself looking at a photo of a rather comely young woman in a string bikini top, smiling over her shoulder – and showing off the tattoo just above her “discipline target.” In her case, I think her mom must have been a little soft about target practice, elsewise she might not have been wearing something so small to advertise something so trashy to customers so little they can’t go on every ride at the fair.

Yes, ladies and gentlemen – you and your children can now buy temporary “lower back” tattoos in vending machines.

Now, before you start firing up the torches and sharpening the pitchforks, I softened my opinion on “personal ink” years ago. Yes, I grew up in a time where the only people with tattoos were military veterans, men with dangerous physical occupations, bikers, and women who had long since lost the right to the honorific “lady”. Some folks I love and respect have helped take the hard edge off my perspective over the years. I do think too many people go overboard, but it’s their choice. Some body art – a lot of it, actually – is incredibly detailed, and deserving of the term art.

I am not condemning ladies with tattoos, men with tattoos, or tattoos in general.

“Getting inked” is just not for me.

By the same token, I am still enough of a Calvinistic curmudgeon to be uncomfortable that so many ladies apparently have tattoos in places that require fairly serious décolleté, if not determined dishabille, to be created – much less seen.

As if the female of the species wasn’t confusing enough to most men – I find it safer, when in doubt, to always speak in calming tones and back slowly away, never making eye contact – some women who get the most intricate tattoos are offended when people spend too much time looking at them. To me, that’s like a peacock getting snippy because someone looks at his fan.

A rather attractive young woman who’s an acquaintance of a friend of mine went on a profanity-laced tired on social media a while back about this very thing. She wore her very new, very revealing bathing suit to the beach, and even posted how well the colors of the top coordinated with the new design that goes from armpit to armpit. Having been raised a gentleman, I won’t be more descriptive than that. I will say that the picture accompanying her friend request didn’t meet my litmus test, so we still aren’t even digitally acquainted. That being said – she wore the suit very well, considering how tiny it was.

Apparently a number of other people found her body art admirable as well, since she blanked this and blanked that due to blanking people staring at her blank, as well as other “tats” that were exposed on her blank.

Well, I reckon so.

Keep in mind, that this young lady (I am still giving her the benefit of the doubt) has permanent tattoos – not temporary decals, like those I noticed in the vending machine, but ink that is forcibly injected into the skin with the intent to create an image that cannot be easily removed without significant surgery and scarring.

I have no idea if she is friends or acquainted with another young woman I know, who has on several occasions asked friends if they wanted to go out and have a few drinks, then get some new ink on a weekend … again.

Not to belabor a point, but allowing a near-stranger to use an air-driven needle to punch repeated holes and lines in your skin, followed by the injection of ink, doesn’t strike me as a recreational activity one should engage in after several drinks. At the risk of being indelicate, the latter young lady also has inked designs that are, err, accentuated, by low-cut tops. She also fusses about guys staring at her, but with a decidedly more creative and less R-rated vocabulary than her aforementioned contemporary.

I am not one of those club-swinging Bible-thumping scripture-twisting cave-dwellers who think women should wander meekly around swathed in floor-length baggy clothing. I’m a guy, and I appreciate an attractive woman, albeit in a purely aesthetic manner. The only woman I cast moon-eyes at is the one who is most beautiful of all of them, namely my wife, so if you don’t like your physical beauty being compared to the grace of a good horse, your eyes to a field of flowers or your lines to those of a classic sailboat with a bone in its teeth and a for’sail taut with a following wind – well, I’m sorry.

   At least you can be assured I won’t be staring at your cleavage, wondering if your tattoo came from a vending machine, and whether it’s real or permanent, the Mystery Dinosaur might have been a better investment.

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