BROWNSVILLE, Texas - Susan Navarro always wanted something colorful on her lower back, something beautiful, is how she put it as she sat inside a tattoo parlor here the other day. Her older brother had one on his upper left arm, but that one was what she called a plain 'Ol heart with an arrow and his girlfriend's cursived name forming a semi-circle under it. She wanted something special.
"My boyfriend's been raggin' me to get one for months," she was saying as the tattoo artist worked on a huge hydra-headed serpent some heavyset guy apparently needed across his back. "So, I'm here, waiting and nervous."
The 32-year-old hairstylist would wait another hour before the tattoo dude would motion over to his station. They talked about it a bit, before he asked her to climb atop a small table and lower her blue jeans. Susan Navarro looked at me, made an "Oh, well" face and proceeded to do something that, well, comes natural for women. Shortly, the inking began and I could see she was taking it well. The artist said something about the coloring of the design she had picked and she would answer in short replies.
The tatoo she wanted was a design she'd seen on the artist's booklet of possibilities. It seemed something like the pin Navy submariners get upon completion of their indoctrination tour, although there was something romantic about this one, perhaps because pink loomed as the primary color. I could see her boyfriend lining up behind it and saying something like, "Too cute..."
Young women in the Rio Grande Valley of Texas wear tattoos in the same way their mother's wore deep-red lipstick - bravely and out in the open. The booklet at this particular parlor included designs as basic as a bloody axe and as fancy as a full-back American bald eagle. It hit me that perhaps a spiderweb down my right leg might serve me well with the local chicks. It was something to think about.
As I left the place, another woman ambled in to ask about a tattoo for her privates. I'd not seen anything in the booklet about that, so I stayed to see what they'd tell her. "We can do it," said the tattoo parlor manager. "But you have to tell us what it is you want on there..."
"A pair of small cherries," she replied quickly. "...in bright-red."
"No problem," she was told as the appointment was made.
I had to ask: "So, what's the weirdest tattoo you've done?"
The guy tattooing Susan Navarro's naked lower back stopped working, looked over to where I was standing and said, matter-of-factly, "Willie Nelson on a shrimper's dick."
That one I could live without seeing. I split the joint, thinking there is a place for tattoos in this world. I just didn't get the Willie Nelson thing, although they say it gets damned lonely in the middle of the Gulf of Mexico, and that, yeah, country music is big out there...