Where's Benjamin H. Grumbles when you need him?

I mean, how do you call him? Does his have his own bat-signal? Does a handlebar mustache appear in the sky when he's needed?

Because, really, I can't help think that Benjamin H. Grumbles would have done a much, much better job than Richard Cohen if anyone was going to write a, "Why, in my day" column about Kids Today And Their Tattoos:
Tattoos are the emblems of our age. They bristle from the biceps of men in summer shirts, from the lower backs of women as they ascend stairs, from the shoulders of basketball players as they drive toward the basket, and from every inch of certain celebrities. The tattoo is the battle flag of today in its war with tomorrow. It is carried by sure losers.

About 40 percent of younger Americans (26 to 40) have tattoos. About 100 percent of these have clothes they once loved but now hate. How can anyone who knows how fickle fashion is, how times change, how their own tastes have "improved," decorate their body in a way that's nearly permanent? I don't get it.
Why, in my day, only sailors, bikers and whores had tattoos! And while men with tattoos can be more than sailors and whores these days, the women are still whores!

It's a pretty standard-issue Crotchety Old Bastard rant, clucking about the Kids Today and what losers and sheep they are, how ugly and tacky the tatoos are, the pitfalls of getting Winona's or Billy Bob's name tattooed onto you (duh; that's why a lot of reputable artists will do names only if they're your children or blood relatives), and These Kids Today Don't Understand Permanence. Mind you, his definition of "kids today" is people 26-40, so some of us in that group are hardly spring chickens anymore. Besides, that's quite a reversal of the mantra of Cohen's own youth, "Don't trust anyone over 30."

Of course, he then undercuts his whole premise by mentioning two high-powered men he knew with tattoos, or at least rumored to have tattoos: the Executive Editor of the Post, and George Shultz, former Secretary of State, who was rumored to have a Princeton tiger tattoo.

If the column were only the finger-wagging of a civility-troll Boomer at the younger generations, it wouldn't be worth writing about. After all, I'm a Gen X'er and thus have grown quite accustomed, thank you, to being dismissed as a slacker, etc. And, sure, while I'll go so far as to agree that there are some damn ugly tattoos out there that people should have thought twice about (for example, the other day I saw a guy with an APPLE LOGO TATTOOED ONTO HIS ARM), there are some that are quite beautiful. But ultimately, it's the body of the person with the ink to do with as he or she will. If you don't like it, don't look.

However.

After all the predictable whining about Amy Winehouse and Angelina Jolie, Cohen throws in a curveball:
I asked a college professor what she thought of tattoos, and she said that for young people, they represent permanence in an ever-changing world. But how is that possible? Anyone old enough and smart enough to get into college knows that only impermanence is permanent. Everything changes -- including, sweetie, that tight tummy with its "look at me!" tattoo. Time will turn it into false advertising.

The permanence of the moment -- the conviction that now is forever -- explains what has happened to the American economy. We are, as a people, deeply in debt. We are, as a nation, deeply in debt. The average American household owes more than its yearly income. We save almost nothing (0.4 percent of disposable income) and spend almost everything (99.6 percent of disposable income) in the hope that tomorrow will be a lot like today. We bought homes we could not afford and took out mortgages we could not pay and whipped out the plastic on everything else. Debts would be due in the future, but, with any luck, the future would remain in the future.

Here and there the occasional scold warned that all this was unsustainable. Social Security is underfunded. The government ought to -- just occasionally -- balance its books. But for a long time, the unsustainable seemed sustainable. The immutable rules were mutable. Virtually the entire political establishment insisted that tomorrow would never come. Republicans joined with Democrats in never calling in a loan. Who says bipartisanship is dead? Not when it comes to fiscal irresponsibility.
Wow. I wasn't expecting that. So the collapse of the economy is due to young people getting tattooed?

Gosh, what a revelation! That means my grandma must have been totally inked up under her housedress, because she was a young adult during the Depression. And the Boomers must be hiding something, because they were young adults during the '70s with its stagflation.

Oh, and the idea that the Republicans were the fiscally responsible ones, and that Social Security needs more than a few tweaks lest it collapse -- Richard, you've got to stop reading your own paper.

Seems to me that the people we might be looking to for their role in the collapse of the economy might be the sort of Wall Street speculators and government regulators with oversight who are quite unlikely to be heavily tattooed young people of 26 to 40 years of age. Countrywide didn't burn out because the inked-up kids were in charge, nor did Bear, Stearns and Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac run aground because of a surfeit of young people with visible tattoos in charge of the financial decisions. And if there's a Social Security crisis (which there isn't), it's not because of the people 26 to 40, tattooed or not. It's because there's an enormous number of Baby Boomers -- many of whom did not save adequately for their own retirement (what was that about the future staying in the future again?) -- who will be drawing on the system in the next couple of decades, all out of proportion to the number of workers (that would be those who are now 26-40 years of age) paying into the system.

It's something he can't quite get away from in his column -- because he *does* give figures for average household savings rate and the like. And there's no way to think about those figures without realizing that they encompass the enormous Boomer generation as well as those 40% of people aged 26-40 who have tattoos that are sending Cohen to the fainting couch. Which, again, undercuts his point -- Gee, Richard, if "anyone old enough and smart enough to get into college" could understand that "only impermanence is permanent," then why aren't the people in your own cohort saving more?

And why are you blaming it on younger people?

I'd so much rather see Grumbles do this column. At least I'd get a laugh out of it.

Oh, and for those considering being tattooed, especially because they really, really want one or have a big birthday coming up: my friend Nancy gave me probably the best advice on this I've heard. Take your time. Find the design you really, truly want. Select a spot on your body that won't move too much with age or weight changes or pregnancy. Choose your artist carefully.

And then put the design in a drawer for a year. After a year, if you still want it, book the appointment for the artist. Hell, you may need that year to save up for it, anyway.

Also, I read recently in NY Magazine's tattoo special that there's a new tattoo ink under development that has a few advantages over the old inks. 1) It's vegetable-based and non-toxic and can be absorbed by the body (it's based on surgical inks); 2) Because it can be absorbed by the body, it's micro-encapsulated. The micro-beads can be easily dissolved by a laser, but not by the body; 3) While it's easier to remove, the micro-encapsulation means that the colors stay truer for a much longer time. I'm waiting for that stuff to come out, because the black ink I have causes a reaction every now and again.


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