When I was 19, I walked into a tattoo parlor, picked out the Japanese word for "madman" and slapped 60 bucks down on the counter. Soon, I found myself in a back room with an affable fellow who told me all about his power pop band as he applied the indelible reminder of my impulse-control problems on my left arm.
"There you go," he said as he finished. "You have it for life."
I think he realized that I had just asked for and been granted a stupid tattoo. Bear in mind, I did this before every Dave Matthew's Band fan had the Japanese words for "Peace, Strength, Harmony and Honor" inked next to their tribal pattern.
A few years later, I took a job as a writing tutor and showed my arm to a Japanese woman studying English, and she confirmed that it does, in fact, say "madman" and not "random Japanese word" or "udon special." But it's still a pretty lame tattoo. (When I was 25, I impulsively had a sheep tattooed on my right arm. But it makes me laugh whenever I see it in the mirror. So no harm, no foul on that one.)
I don't know any Japanese people, and I don't speak Japanese. I have no Japanese ancestry as far as I know. There is no plausible reason for me to have such a tattoo. Every time I see it, I mumble, "You are such a douche bag for getting that tattoo."
I've considered having it covered up. But with what? Truth be told, I don't reallly want more tattoos nor do I tend to be flush with tattoo money. Of course, I could have it surgically removed, but whenever I consider this option, I recall the immortal words of the tattoo artist: You have it for life. Asshole.
So I guess I'm keeping it. Maybe I'll burn it off some day, but probably not. I'm trying to think about it philosophically. When I was 19, I drowned my emotional issues in a sea of alcohol, drugs and women with misspelled first names. Although I gave up booze when I was 24, I drove drunk quite frequently and fell into a near coma more times than I'd like to remember.
I have a natural curiosity that has served me well as a journalist but probably should have gotten me murdered and buried in the desert in years past. For example, I've partied with a roofer named Cobra and watched with equal wonder and horror as he snorted enormous piles of methamphetamine off a card table. The drug was pink because the cook had used generic Sudafed with the red coating.
Anyway, as I gaze upon this stupid tattoo every morning, I've arrived at the conclusion that if the only permanent damage I sustained from that period in my life is a douchey tattoo, I was lucky. Deal with it, John.