by Mary Beth Polley
photos by Jennifer Taylor
You never know what people
are hiding. Time was, you could tell by someone's motorcycle jacket whether he
had a tattoo. But today tattoos are as mainstream as earrings, and nearly as
common; Joe Kaplan of the Empire State Tattoo Club of America estimates that
seven out of 10 people under the age of 35 have at least one. That sounds a
little high, especially here in tattoo-unfriendly Massachusetts, but we didn't
have much trouble finding ink on a recent Friday afternoon outside Tower
Records on Newbury Street. People were surprisingly willing to talk about (and
show off) their tattoos -- and, as we discovered, not everyone crossed state
lines to get them.
Valerie Monteiro, 21
"I got two in New Hampshire and I got one at a tattoo party in
Massachusetts. I just did it 'cause I liked it. It gets very addictive. The one
on my shoulder is a rose, on my back it's my daughter's and my name, and
there's this one of me and my husband's name.
"This one [the rose] means nothing. I wanted my name, but the guy wouldn't
do it 'cause he won't do nothing on girls where it shows. So I regret this one
because it don't mean anything.
"I don't know why it's illegal. I think it's dumb. It's your body. Why do we
have to go to New Hampshire?"
Jonathan Starp, 38
"I just always wanted one, but you won't be able to be buried in a Jewish
cemetery. In Judaism you're not allowed to get your body pierced or tattooed.
And then one day someone said to me, `Do you care more about how you lived or
how you died?'
"So I went and did it. Actually, I saw this woman outside of Tower Records
with tattoos that I liked, so I asked her where she got them, and she actually
had done them herself in Malden. So once she knew that I was cool -- you know,
not a cop or anything -- she did it. It's a tree with branches growing from it,
because I wanted it to represent that you can have really strong roots in life,
a really strong foundation, and you can grow from those roots.
"I think it should be legal. If it's legal then the shops would be regulated,
and if the shops were regulated it would be safe. And it would stop people from
going half an hour away at night, speeding to Rhode Island before the tattoo
shops close, and then driving back at three in the morning, which I don't think
is very safe."
Also, pushing ink and
two new efforts to legalize tattooing
Sean Berte, 22
"I got a few. It's an art form I found interesting. I got 'em done in
Boston, New Hampshire, Hawaii, North Carolina. I got a Marine Corps tattoo when
I was shitfaced. I got a tattoo in Boston 'cause that's where I was born and
"There's no other reason [I got tattooed] except being stabbed with a gun.
That's what it is. It's a good pain -- no, pleasure. Pleasure with pain. It
doesn't really matter [if they're illegal]. You can find it anywhere in Boston.
If you don't know anyone well, that sucks -- then you gotta go to New
Hampshire. I don't see any reason for it."
Andrew Bock, 22
Supervisor, Tower Records
"I got them 'cause I like them. This one [the Chinese character] I live by.
That one means true, real, sincere. The dragon I got, well, 'cause no one fucks
with the dragon. I got 'em in Providence. I got 'em done on the spur of the
moment. I went down with my friends, sat in the chair. It was pretty painful.
It should be legal 'cause it's freedom of expression. There's no reason for it
not to be. It's an art form, too."
Amber Palazola, 18
Student, Boston University
"It's of a panda bear, because I like panda bears. I got it in North
Carolina. I was sober. I was on spring break and thought I wanted one, and my
friends -- they were in South Carolina -- didn't want to drive, so I went
alone. I think it's stupid [for tattoos to be illegal]. You can just drive to
New Hampshire, which is like a 30-, 40-minute drive. People are just going to
get them anyway."
Lisa Grandy, 20
Student, Boston College
"It was my 19th-birthday present to myself. I don't know. I love sunflowers,
and it's in an awesome spot where no one sees it unless I want them to. I got
it for a bunch of different reasons. Because my friends were there. I got it
done in New Hampshire, at Hobo's. It's just always been my favorite flower.
It's bright, alive, you know. It's happy. I don't know any reason for it being
illegal. I think it's stupid, because people just drive to the next state."