I was sneaking a French fry from my granddaughter’s Happy Meal in Andalusia, Alabama, when I saw the tattoo. It was high up on the forearm, about where I always wanted mine to be. The owner was an older gentleman, a farmer for sure. His overalls and work boots had the authentic stamp on them. He nodded as he passed, completely oblivious to the trip he was sending me on.
Only two things kept me from getting a tattoo back in my high school days. They cost money and we didn’t have a tattoo parlor in town. Daddy might have been a third reason but the first two made the latter unnecessary!
I tried. We’d take a ball point pen in study hall in the ninth grade and draw crossbones on our arms. The sinking ship was out because Mrs. Ingram wouldn’t let you take your shirt off in the library. And neither me, Hollis or Ricky Lynn could draw a snake or a snorting bull worth a hoot. We were reduced to coming up with slogans or cool sayings to dash across the skin.
I experimented with “Eat My Dust”, “East of Eden” and “You Ain’t Nothing But A Hound Dog”. But my favorite, then and now, was always “Momma, You’re The Most!”
I inked on several that freshman year. But permanent ink ain’t too permanent on your left forearm, especially if you have football or basketball practice right after school. By the time we got home in the evening it would mostly be a faded mess. You couldn’t even impress your little brother, much less Bonnie, Ann Carol or Susie Cozart with convoluted bluish streaks across your arm!
Brewer said we might be able to get a tattoo in the back room of Ed Newball’s Recreation Center. I thought he was kidding. But he insisted that you could get anything you wanted back there. “Recreation Center” was a fancy name for pool hall. And I never went in the place for two reasons. It cost money to play and I wasn’t tough enough to hang around in there. My Daddy might have been a third reason but the first two……..
A tattooed baseball bat in motion with a ball careening over the left field wall would have been special. Alfred E. Neuman’s oversized head with “What, Me Worry?” underneath was kicked around by all of us. A favorite coon dog barking up a tree would have been a winner. Flowers or two headed monsters were not so high up on our list. And inking on your best girlfriend’s name would have been very risky at our age.
The Andalusia farmer got his own fries and steered his way over to a booth near us. I finished my drink, waited patiently for Addison to chew the last of her apples, and pondered deeply on exactly when, why and how my new friend came to tattoo “Born to Lose” on his arm.
This wasn’t no study hall drawing. It was professionally done with red and green curly cues running around the distressed message. Me and Hollis would never have thought of something like that! Maybe “Born to Win”, “Born to be Wild”, “Born Happy”, “Lucky to be Born”, “Born to grow up and marry Mary Hadley Hayden”…….Life was just too endearing, even to little high school punks, to toss it off with such a depressing slogan.
Life is full of twists and turns. And some heartbreak, I will admit. But to start out thinking you don’t have a chance would be giving up before the horses got to the starting gate. I know about that glass half full and/or half empty thing. But to stick “Born to Lose” in way past permanent ink on your arm was not seeing any water at all! Or hope. Or light. Or much of a future……
A Ray Cunningham fastball drilled me in the left shoulder in my first ever Little League game. It almost killed me! He struck me out the next two at bats. I lost a fly ball in the lights and threw to the wrong base on the only other hit out to right field. We got beat ten to nothing! I was dejected. Sad. Mad. Embarrassed. But it never crossed my eight year old mind that I was “Born to Lose”. I was just proud to be in the game. And as Daddy said, “Son, your career can only go up from here”.
Listen, I dated a girl back in my college days whose father owned miles and miles of rich bottomland. They lived in a near ’bout castle! And, as a special added attraction, this girl was beautiful. I was majoring in “marrying” right up to the semester where she told me to “get lost”. I was going to have to work for the rest of my life! I was down…..but not out! Maybe I could find a girl with a rich grandfather who was feeling poorly!
I have never considered my birth as a detriment to my life. My heart went out to this man I’d never met. He missed something along the way.
And I gave Addison’s beautiful little hand a reassuring squeeze as we crossed the parking lot toward our car.