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Meet Frank

"I like what I can see of your back tattoo," said the old man sitting at a table with his buddies. I had stopped in at a small diner that is located in the back of a general store in a rural community in the north of my county. I had just finished up a sunny day of kayaking and exploring the forest at a nearby lake.

"Well thank you," I said turning around to face my tattoo admirer.

"Do you have any?" I asked.

I hoped that he would say yes for I have learned about myself that I absolutely appreciate an old tattoo on mature and aging skin. It is like an antique, a relic of history. It is a rare work of living art on a living, breathing museum of a human. I once gasped when I worked at the hospital as a patient food server and one of my patients had stunning and very aged tattoos on his wrinkled arms. I impulsively blurted out, "Can I take a picture of your tattoos?"

The patient stared at me in utter disbelief while I quickly came to my senses.

"Oh, I'm sorry... I ought not to have asked that. Your tattoos are just so wonderful....I'll go get you some jello..." and I backed out of the room as fast as I could and brought him back not one but two jellos and a pudding to help him forget that I had just trampled on his privacy and nearly violated federal HIPPA laws.

But this man in the diner was a different story.

"Yes, I have tattoos. Wanna see 'em?"

He unbuttoned his dress shirt while his friends smiled and stared at me in my tank top with all of my arm tattoos blazing loud like neon signs on the Vegas Strip. The old man had a t-shirt on under his button down. I quietly applauded myself for not making a saucy joke about him taking his shirt off before I'd even taken him out to dinner or liquored him up. I was rather proud of my self-control.

He showed me tattoos on both of his arms. The mermaid is the one that has held up best over time.

"I got these tattoos in 1956 from a fella named Doc Webb down in Vallejo, California while I was in the Navy," he said. "And then the Navy transferred me to San Diego the following year and I decided I wanted another tattoo and went into a tattoo parlor and there he was. Doc Webb!"

Turns out Doc Webb left Vallejo to follow the Navy boys who were getting stationed in San Diego. Doc Webb had an illustrious career that spanned 40 years and remains a respected historical figure in the world of tattooing. He died back in 1986.

The tattooed man in the diner, whose name is Frank, told me he was 91 years old.

"My tattoos are over seventy years old," he said as he emphasized the longevity of his tattoos more than his life. I was wowed by all points.

"This tattoo cost me six dollars," he said pointing to the mermaid.

I told him that the going rate for a good tattoo artist today is $125 an hour on up. He shook his head hearing that.

"May I take your picture and post it?" I asked.

"Sure!" he said with great enthusiasm. He seemed pleased as a peacock that I would ask to photograph his tattoos.

This time I did not have to back pedal and involve jello.

Random encounters like this is the magic stuff of my life. I just love it. LOVE IT. I often daydream about traveling and writing about all the fascinating people I tend to meet wherever I go (I still need to write the story about the cop and his family I met in a pub in a coastal village in Scotland last spring... )

Even in my own backyard there are just so many interesting people with rich stories of lived experiences. I'm so glad I met Frank and his antique tattoo artworks.

Now I want a mermaid tattoo.



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