I love tattoos. Having them, seeing them, watching shows about them. I guess you could say it's a guilty pleasure, though the stigma surrounding skin art is being lasered away a little more every day it seems. When I first started collecting ink, it was still more of an underground thing, and that was just 15 or so years ago.
TV listings weren't littered with competition shows and most shops were located in seedy parts of town or in alleyways. In fact, that's where I got my first piece: in an alley. In Florence, Italy. Using my meal money. Hey, we could see the place from out our hotel window, so it had to be kosher, right? After all, it was right across from a Mexican bar that had a 2-hour happy hour each day.
That's right. I was at the tail end of a three-week stay in the center of the Italian Rennaissance, home of the Uffizi Gallery and countless works of world-class art, and I was scrounging together the 100,000 Lire minimum ($50; the conversion rate could be WAY off, but seem to remember it being around 2,000 Lire to $1) to sit in a plastic chaise lounge and have a woman who spoke no English permanently mark my fraternity letters (ΣΧ) on my right ankle.
The whole process took only a few minutes and the work was very small, maybe 1" x 2", but I felt like a rebellious bad-ass walking around Italy after that. It would be seven years before I'd go under the needle again, this time with a stylized version of my daughter's name inside by right bicep. I've since added work representing my son, wife, faith, paternal grandparents, and breast cancer awareness.
I've had nods to the Cubs in a few pieces (my kids' names are Addison and Ryne, after all) but I hadn't actually gone blatantly Cubbish until a couple years ago. A childhood friend of mine, Mr. Bill Allen, was working as a tattoo artist in Chicago at the time and, being a big Cubs fan, he agreed to cut me a deal if I wanted a team-themed piece.
So it was that I walked into his shop after a Cubs loss, to the White Sox no less, and had EAMUS CATULI written on the back of my right calf. I'm far from alone when it comes to representing my fanaticism through ink though. While in Denver last year to see the Cubs take on the Rockies, I ran into a guy who had a "Sweet Home Chicago" scene covering one calf and Harry Caray's portrait on the other.
Nothing like bonding with someone over a shared appreciation for tattoos and Cubs baseball a thousand miles from the Friendly Confines, spilling your beer as you show off your ink. Of course, you can't go to a game at Wrigley without seeing a few tribute pieces either, some of which easily pre-date my first one.
If you've never experienced it, getting a tattoo is not exactly a fun process. If someone tells you it doesn't hurt, they're either a liar or a sadist. Or both. But as uncomfortable a sensation as it is having needles pushing ink into your dermis over 100 times per second, at least it's temporary. But that pales in comparison to, say, a lifetime of losing baseball.
Even with the team mired in the Rickettsian doldrums, many Cubs fans continue to brand themselves, to make their outsides display the love already etched invisibly on their souls. In other words, they're putting the "ink" in stink. So who are these people, these fanatics who are loyal, or lunatic, enough to decorate their temples with wearable art that won't wash off with anything less than light amplification by stimulated emission of radiation (or maybe Nair for Men and the rough side of the sponge that comes with it; not that I know anything about that, but there was this guy I know)?
Well, one of the nice things about social media is that you can get in touch with all kinds of folks you've never actually met. So I put the word out that I was looking for some folks who weren't shy about sharing their Cubs tattoos. Here's what I found:
— B.Wilson (@CubWilson72) April 6, 2014
I love this. Getting a caricature of yourself is equal parts ballsy, egomaniacal, and drunk.
Mr. Wilson apparently just happened upon the concept of photography in the last decade or so. But seriously, I admire the cojones and, dare I say, mad genius of any man willing to tattoo himself on himself. As a Cubs bobblehead. Money.
— Devin Wilburn (@GetWilly) April 11, 2014
Devin explained the reason for his ink thusly:
I got my tattoo the summer I turned sixteen years old. The story behind the tattoo is that growing up in a baseball crazed family, I was fed the sport from the time I could hold a baseball. I was a pitcher from little league all the way up through my playing days at Ball State University. My dad always told me before every game, and sometimes during the game to "be a bulldog," hence the bulldog on the pitching rubber.
We are big Cubs fans so it was only fitting that my bulldog be wearing a Cubs uniform. I would probably never get another Cubs tattoo because the meaning in the one I have is special. The only thing I may do is add the World Series year in which the win at the bottom of it. I've been a Cubs fan my whole life and was born into it and I wouldn't change a single thing about it.
Not quite as literal as the earlier entry, but still a version of the wearer, if just a more anthropomorphic one. The dual meaning is really great, something that won't fade or falter, even as the ink, and Devin's favorite team, may do with time.
And speaking of anthropomorphic, here's a look at how I had my son's name indelibly incorporated in ink (that's a lot of "in" words). The RYNE rhino below and the ADDISON piece above are the work of Chris Taylor, owner of @Inktherapy1 and a great guy, despite being a New York Jets fan. This is perhaps a bit more subtle, but still tied to the Cubs nonetheless...
— Evan Altman (@DEvanAltman) April 28, 2014
I know there are countless other examples out there and I'd love to find more. So if you, or someone you know, has some Cubs ink you'd like to share, drop me a line in the comments or tweet me a picture. I'll be compiling any additional pictures for a future edition of ODO.
Follow me on Twitter: @DEvanAltman
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