This afternoon when I arrived at the local elementary school it was 94 degrees outside. Clearly this is woeful weather for walking, but ideal for tattoo-sightings. All sorts of people whisked by -on foot, scooters, bikes, cars, even on motorcycles -and it seemed that a surprising number of them were tatoo aficionados of one sort or another. One lady had the words ‘Key West’ scrolled in two-inch cursive letters across her upper chest. Another fan sported a replica Tweety Bird fluttering right above her derriere, making me wonder where Sylvester was hiding. All over people’s glistening, sweaty skin I noted religious icons, military insignia, and more leafy botanicals than actually grew in the ground nearby.

This abundance of tattoos made me feel very old. And plain. It also brought to the surface my one unyielding fear: blindness. The order and permanence loss of sight would enforce on my life terrifies me. Normally I like my furniture switched around, my art work redone, my walls splashed with new colors monthly. I like to know that the person I am trying to converse with has an unnatural fondness for Key West, or Tweety Bird. A tattoo is fun to look at, but would never do for me personally. I wouldn’t be happy with one image, word, or idea splashed across me day after day like a walking billboard that was never re-papered. In fact, the only instance I can think of where I would actually want a tattoo would be if I did, indeed, go blind. Then I would tattoo the word ‘Blind’ across my forehead in block print, much like a cross walk sign, so everyone would understand why I was walking so slowly.

And just when I was knee-deep in these philosophical thoughts, I saw a man sporting an enormous whale tattoo. The gray beast leaped sky-ward, squirming across his shoulder and down his arm. With one shiny eye, a frothy blow-hole, even tiny crustacean-looking things dotting its spine and belly, it seemed remarkably life-like. I marvelled.  Was he a sailor? Had he named it Moby Dick? And then I thought of Lorraine.

My sister has an insane fear of whales. No one in our family has any idea why. She never fell out of a boat as a child, or had the story of Jonah and the Whale read to her ad infinitum that we know of. But to this day, if anyone mentions the word whale she will physically quiver and freeze, like a startled bunny. If you continue to talk about whales in any context, she’ll rise up in a ‘flight’ response and actually leave the room.

Our family finds this endlessly amusing. Occasionally we’ll just throw the word ‘whale’ into any random sentence, just to watch her eyes bulge out. But it’s no laughing matter to her. She is genuinely terrified of whales.

Which brought me back to this tattooed whale sweating real water droplets in front of me. I was reminded of an article I read in which scientists recently discovered that the living and breathing types of whales are now getting sunburned. Apparently it’s too hot for ocean-dwellers unless they stay under water all the time.  

Fascinated by the sweat beads glistening along the whales back, I began to think maybe those weren’t crustaceans he’d had tattooed on there at all. Maybe they were actually burn blisters from the sun, copied from a recent photo of a whale that he’d then had tattooed onto his skin. Was that crazy? Was I now dehydrated?

And then I thought of the children’s book ‘If You Give a Mouse a Cookie…” and decided that if we are collectively unconcerned that we’ve given a whale a sunburn, then we’ve all gone blind indeed.