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A cautious grown-up goes out on a whim

The new patrons of Ybor City are not, as Ybor's old hands had hoped, attending art shows and patronizing creative endeavors. Neither, to the apparent surprise of city officials, are they attending lectures on temperance. Instead they gather by the thousands in neon-lit fern bars for the drinking of beer. Some of them then stagger into alleys for beer-related purposes, while others simply sway down Seventh Avenue to the next establishment.

I feel old and young when I am there, out of place but secretly in my element. Old because I clearly am beyond the music, the dress and the language of the teens and twentysomethings who move endlessly along the sidewalks. Young because I am there at all.

On this Friday night, a hint of cool autumn was in the air. I was with a group of old Ybor friends, feeling a little awkward, like an impostor, a man trying to have his life both ways. We moved in the Seventh Avenue slipstream awhile and then took a side street heading north.

We went to a large, open-air Oktoberfest tent on Eighth Avenue. Some of the men wore those shorts-and-suspenders outfits, and some of the women wore billowing dresses. You would have figured the band would be a bunch of fat guys with accordions, but there was a blues band. The early evening crowd was sparse, but the beer, brewed for the occasion and served in 24-ounce (!) cups, was crisp and tasty.

In the courtyard behind the tent, a man was selling temporary tattoos.

This man gave me his business card. "Fantasy on Flesh Temporary Tattooing," it said. "A Removable Expression of Your Uniqueness."

I had never in my life, not even for a passing second, considered the possibility that I needed an Expression of My Uniqueness, removable or otherwise. But he had an impressive array of designs, and the idea of it intrigued me. The tattoos were displayed on large poster boards in front of his tent _ small, $2 ones across the top rows, moving down to impressive, multicolored designs for $8 or $10 in the bottom rows that I suppose were intended for backs and chests and other broad expanses of skin.

I had no particular desire to have a big dragon or skeleton tattoo, even on a temporary basis. But one little one up in the $2 row caught my eye, and on impulse I had the man put it on my arm.

It was Felix the Cat.

Felix the Cat,

What a wonderful, wonderful cat . . .

I admired my new appearance. I liked the of idea of being in Ybor City on a cool Friday night, drinking tasty 24-ounce beers and hanging out in a courtyard with a tattoo, not worried, for the moment, about Bush and Chiles, about voter turnout, about office turmoil, about painting my house. The cartoon cat was carefree. My Ybor friends admired it.

I cannot tell you exactly how the subject of making it permanent came up. But at once I was consumed with it. They took me back to Seventh Avenue to who they said was Ybor's best artist, but he was booked. My heart sank. They took me to another shop across the street.

I am the most cautious of people. I make lists of what to do on vacation. I balance my checkbook to a penny. But there, at that hour, I did not care what happened to me in the slightest.

Annette the tattoo (and tattooed, and tongue-pierced) artist made me sign a form, opened a sealed envelope of sterilized needles and gave me a piece of Bazooka Joe, which proved to be the perfect aid for getting tattooed. Imagine a half-hour bee sting.

"Don't worry, the fill hurts less than the outline," my friends told me. Here is some advice: No, it doesn't.

The shop was filled with two kinds: the truly tattooed and pierced, and the yuppie browsers, the latter of whom stopped and gawked at me as Annette's needle hummed against my right arm. I felt alive and in control.

Do you know what I liked about it most? I liked the idea of making a permanent, lifelong decision on complete whim, with no thought for the consequences. I am a serious adult and am tired of it.

The next morning I woke up panicked for an instant but asked myself: Will having Felix the Cat tattooed on your arm be one of the great regrets of your life? I said no, and knew it was true. I pictured myself interviewing future governors and presidents with Felix lurking secretly under my sleeve. I laughed out loud.

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