Tattoo . . .
And this wasn't some random jailhouse tatt from a ballpoint pen and a bic lighter. No-no. This was a BIG, well made, intricate, and dare I say "quality" tattoo he probably dropped some serious coin on.
This struck me as super odd. First - it is the year 2013. Two thousand and thirteen. I know there are still dudes in the south that will fly the Confederate Flag as some weird throw back to a bygone era (and they will quickly point out it was about the fight and spirit of the south - not racism (but you can quickly point out the fight and spirit was about keeping slaves which was about racism)) but I guess I just presumed the very notion of a swastika tattoo sort of missed the current tattoo trend - by about, oh, 70 years. And I guess I would presume that any tattoo artist would look at you like you were crazy if you asked for one on your forearm.
So - I did what any Jewish convert with a multi-ethnic child would do . . . I asked him about it.
ME: "So, uh, none of my business but what's up with your tattoo? Is that some sort of irony play?" (Note - before Hitler and his regime co-opted and essentially ruined the swastika forever (it is okay - there are plenty of other icons out there) the swastika had thousands of years of positive meaning - including the roots of the word which literally combine to make "Be happy.")
HIM: (smirking but straightening his posture at the same time) "What do you mean?"
ME: "I mean your swastika - that seems like a pretty extreme tattoo for a guy your age to have, no? Are you a 'neo-nazi' or 'white supremacist' or something?"
HIM: "Nah, man. Nothing like that. I just don't think we white men should have to make apologies to anyone else. I'm tired of living in a world where you can be anything but a white man and be right - you know? So I got this tattoo a few years ago (he clarified it was on his 25th birthday) after I got out of the Army and no one has screwed with me since."
ME: (slowly backing away regretting ever even asking the question) "Ah. I see. Well, uh, thank you for your service to our country and enjoy your Mtn Dew (he had a 2-liter under his arm)."
So, yeah. Swastika tattoos are a thing. Disenfranchised millennial angst is a thing. Misguided intent in the form of strange tattoos is still very much a thing (reminds me of all those stupid Asian character tattoos people have that they THINK mean "peace" or "love" but probably mean "Sweet and Sour Chicken with Egg Drop Soup" or a tramp stamp). We have gone far enough from the tyranny of the Third Reich that a dude thinks his tattoo can simply be about protest - or that he is NOT a racist and white supremacist. We have people walking among us who will permanently ink themselves with symbols co-opted by hate. People still drink full calorie sodas (that's a thing but it seems irrelevant here, right? Right.).
On behalf of white, middle-aged, middle-classed men all over our great land let me just clarify that no tattoo in the world will ever make anyone respect you any more (which is not to say they will respect you less). No angst will ever get worked out under the pressure of a needle and dye. And - in the interest of everyone learning a lesson here today - I need to stop asking strangers about their tattoos. It never, ever ends happily for me.