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Spare Parts: Blank canvas

By Ernie Copper

As a child of the 60’s I collected a lot of decals. In fact, it was a pastime at age 9 or 10 and with at least nine gas stations in the neighborhood and several independent auto parts stores, we could hardly pass one without being tempted to stop in and pick up a few decals. Champion, Gulf and, of course, the perennial favorite, STP, are only a few of the ones I remember.

One of the odd things about this decal collecting was that at age 10, you have very few places to display such a collection. Several ended up on the mirror in my bedroom with more than one of the STP stickers ending up on my bike’s banana seat. Just having a STP sticker on your bike meant speed by association. Mario Andretti and Richard Petty were both sponsored by the mysterious oil additive also known as “The Racer’s Edge,” and if big stickers made their race cars fast, surely smaller ones would do the trick on our bicycles. The only real difference was that neither of those legends ended up with adhesive on their backsides all summer.

Today, I still like decals and, ironically, I still struggle for a place to put them. More often than not they end up on my battery charger or tool chest. Once you start to cover an area with them it’s hard to stop. If you put the traditional AMC red, white and blue number one on the left side of the tool chest, it leads to putting the more contemporary Dark Custom number one on the right side in the name of symmetry. Even if you don’t specifically like it, you know it has to be done.

Getting patches on my leather jacket or vest presents the same dilemma. After patches are in all the logical places, both shoulders, back and both breast pockets, I feel like I’m deciding which of the places left looks the least offensive. Having replaced my jacket in the last few years, I can say that I would add patches almost indiscriminately to my old jacket while I have yet to add one to my “new” jacket.

Which, in a roundabout way, leads to why I don’t have any tattoos. If I got one, it would need to be really awesome looking in every respect. Not just nice artwork; rather, spectacular artwork representing something of the utmost significance in my life. My theory: If you’re going to modify the factory finish, it needs to represent something significant—a commitment, an achievement, a loss; that sort of thing.

The problem hasn’t really been a lack of achievement in life, but it isn’t really an issue of which achievement to choose either. Family seems to make ample tattoo fodder. One friend has the name of each of his two boys tattooed on his forearms. That’s way cooler than one of those stick figure decal families on the back window of your minivan. But he’s married too. I’m not sure he has her name anywhere. How do you do that?

Another friend recently had an attractive eagle painted on his bike’s tank sides to commemorate his son’s graduation from Army boot camp. I’m sure he put more thought into that eagle than many people put into a tattoo.

Another young friend also enlisted, moved on to Airborne Rangers, Afghanistan, then West Point. His tattoos, now two in number, have absolutely nothing to do with any of that or his multiple athletic achievements in civilian life. He doesn’t sleep much. His next tat should probably be an alarm clock.

Like most of you, I’ve got a scar or two and most days they remind us of something stupid or unpleasant. I wouldn’t want a tattoo that made me feel like that.

I appreciate good artwork of any kind and have seen some awesome ink work that certainly qualifies as great art and, even more to the point, represents a spirituality. I just haven’t been able to figure out how I would define myself by adding just one tattoo that would satisfy me until I was ready to build it out. I think you need a plan for such things and I clearly don’t have one yet. It isn’t as easy as adding a patch to your new jacket, and I can’t even do that yet. Clearly, I’m not ready for this.

Maybe, for now, I’ll just define myself by losing a few pounds instead.


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