Just a Jew. Named Mitch. Writing about his feelings.

Flaming Tricycle Tattoo

Posted by JewMitch on June 19, 2009

my leg

If anyone has ever seen me in shorts (something my parents haven’t seen in six years), you may have noticed that I have a large flaming tricycle tattoo on my right calf. I guess because most people have never seen a tattoo of a flaming tricycle before, the initial conversation usually goes something like this:

“Is that a bike?”

“No,” I say. “It’s a tricycle.”

“Is it on fire?”


“You have a tattoo of a flaming tricycle on your leg?”


“Interesting… Why?”

They always want to hear the story. There are two stories behind the tattoo, the real story and the fake story. The fake story involves a sexual position that I made up called the “Flaming Tricycle,” where two guys have sex with a girl from both sides, during which one of them lights her pubic hair on fire, and then they both try to hold on and ride the “Flaming Tricycle” for as long as they can. This is the story I usually tell people. When they ask if I’ve ever participated in a “Flaming Tricycle,” I just point to my leg and say, “I have the tattoo, don’t I?” My friends and I even went as far as to add this phrase to at one point.

However, the real story couldn’t be further than from that. I was about to recap the whole thing on this blog, but then I realized that I had actually written an essay about the tattoo in college, entitled “Apparently Tattoos Don’t Come Off in the Shower.” And because I’m lazy, I’m just going to cut and paste it here. Enjoy:

About two weeks ago, my two best friends in the world told me to put on my coat, we were going out.

“Where?” I asked.

“It’s a surprise,” they told me.

“Do I need anything? Am I dressed okay?”

“You’re fine, don’t worry. C’mon, we’re going to be late.”

It was the day before my twenty-first birthday, so I knew we weren’t just going to the mall. But I honestly had no clue where they were taking me. The cab sped past the familiar restaurants and shops of Georgetown and stopped just short of 32nd and M Street.

“We’re not going there,” my friend Dan said as he pointed at a Chinese food restaurant. “We’re going here.” He then proceeded to walk into a tattoo parlor.

Caught completely off guard, I followed my friends into the house of ink and needles. Apparently, the two of them had been planning this for months.

“I know you’re not afraid of the pain or needles, so you’re doing this,” Dan said.

The tattoo artist had sketched an image of a flaming tricycle. It was an old joke that the three of us had been making since freshman year. We had once decided that our clique needed a name, so we decided to call ourselves the tricycle club. Our slogan was that “we don’t need no fourth wheel.”

Julie and Dan smiled at the design. It was exactly what they had in mind when they had spoken to the tattoo artist over the phone. I, on the other hand, had been left in the dark. They figured they had the best chance of getting me to go through with it if I was given the least amount of time to consider it. They studied my face as I inspected the design.

“C’mon. We’re not letting you go off to law school without this.”

I looked at the tricycle again. There it was on a piece of paper; and my friends wanted me to put it on my body for the rest of my life. Is that possible? Can you just take a design and sketch it onto skin like that? I knew you could, but it didn’t seem like a plausible idea at the time. What does forever even mean anymore? Ten years? Twenty years? I really could not imagine myself more than thirty years old, and that wasn’t such a long time. So sure, I decided to get a tattoo. Rico and the Roughnecks did it in Starship Troopers. This is what friends do when they are getting ready to go off in different directions or fight intergalactic space wars.

“He’s going to do it,” Dan said. “He’s actually going to do it.”

I watched the woman behind the counter swipe Dan and Julie’s credit cards. “There’s no backing out now,” they said.

Dan and Julie were getting their tattoos on their stomach. Looking down at my less-than-hard abs and thinking of my dad’s pot belly, I decided to get the tattoo on my calf. I rationalized that the calf is an area that is almost always covered by pants. No matter what professional situation I’ll ever find myself in later in life, I would be wearing pants. Even if I have to play golf with the boss, golfers usually wear pants. It would be okay. [JewMitch note – I did not consider the possibility of law firm softball games at this time].

But, the one thing that they never tell you about tattoo parlors is that they are dreadfully boring places. Depending on the size of the tattoo, it can take anywhere from thirty minutes to several hours. Julie went first, so Dan and I were left to look at the walls for an hour. The walls of the tattoo parlor were covered with suggested designs that most of the tattoo artists knew how to ink. The majority of the designs were complete clichés: decks of cards, knives, revolvers, half-naked women, lots of daggers stuck in hearts.

Aside from staring at the wall or watching the tattoo artist carve up your friend’s skin, there is nothing else to do in a tattoo parlor. Unlike the place where I get my oil changed, they did not even have a TV. So after a while, I grew restless and walked down the street to buy some newspapers. Wanting the most amount of text for the cheapest price, I picked up a copy of The New York Times and The Washington Post. The total was less than two dollars.

When I returned to the tattoo parlor, I could not help feeling the irony of the situation. I was reading a newspaper, one of the most transient objects in today’s society, in a tattoo parlor. I love newspapers because I can pick them up for almost nothing and throw them away as soon as I am done with them. And here I am getting a tattoo.

Except for the people who already have tattoos, most of my friends are shocked when I tell them what I did. “Wow,” they say. “Is that real?” Most of them feel the need to touch my calf, to authenticate the fact that there is something inked on my skin for eternity. I look at my leg and realize that this tricycle will outlast me. I will die and this thing will still be on my leg. It is a strange feeling.

My girlfriend looked at me completely differently the day after I got inked. It was almost that same look that people give you when you get a radical new haircut, but more intense. She looked at me like I was no longer the same person.

“I’m still the same,” I said. “My leg is just a bit more colorful.” She didn’t get it.

“You can’t have a tattoo,” she said. “You like watching romantic comedies and getting Chinese food delivered. You told your parents that you wanted a subscription to The New York Times and a coffee maker for your birthday. You’re probably going to law school next year. You’re too conservative to have a tattoo.”

“It’s too late, it’s already on me.”

Aside from the pain and the needles, I think the main reason most people are afraid of tattoos is the commitment. You have to make a choice and stick with it for the rest of your life. There is no changing your mind. It is not like your furniture or your clothes. You might have to look at these things everyday, but if you decide that you made a bad decision, you can throw them away and buy new stuff. You cannot really do that with a tattoo. What is done is done.

Our society has become so transient that we really do not really have anything else like that. People get married, they get divorced. People can choose religions by converting to other religions or simply losing their faith. People even change their names at will. I guess people have kids and get stuck with them for the rest of their lives, but that is not the same type of choice. You do not get to pick the color of the kid, or how big it is going to be, or how much it is going to cost. Kids just sort of happen.

The nice thing about tattoos is that even though they will last forever, they require very little effort on my part. Aside from applying Neosporin and lotion for the first two weeks, I do not have to do anything to it. I do not have to continually show affection towards my tattoo, nor renew my faith. My tattoo never gets lonely, and never runs out on me to sleep with my best friend. I can go out and get completely trashed, break a few windows and curse out everyone I know, and my tattoo will still be there for me.

Of course, I can always get it removed. Tattoo removal surgery is a fairly recent invention. I think it is funny that we decided to create this escape for ourselves, as if the concept of forever was too much to bear. But the fact that the tattoo’s removal requires surgery says something about it. In order to get rid of it, I will have to remove a part of myself as well. It is my skin now. And I know I will never be able to be that guy. The guy who used to be cool, and now has a scar because his wife thought that his tattoo did not go well with khaki shorts and polo shirt.

In reflection, I think it is strange that more people do not have tattoos. It seems that most people today are always looking for something to cling onto. From significant others to religions, it seems that people are anxious to find that special something that will always be there for them. Yet the fear of commitment remains. We want to be able to pick up and go at any point and leave our entire lives behind.

But I think it is good to bring some of that baggage with us because you can never really leave it all behind. And personally, I always want to remember the good times Dan, Julie and I had through college. Even if things turn sour and we lose touch, I will always have something to remember them by. And you need that sometimes. Those little reminders which help you recall a time when you were once loved and accepted. And I think a tattoo is a hell of a lot better than a string of photos that was taken in a black-and-white photo booth. I cannot lose this. And that is important. I tend to lose things a lot.

[Author’s Note:  I am pretty sure that my parents still don’t know about the tattoo. I just wear pants whenever I see them. Because why break a Jewish mother’s heart?]


2 Responses to “Flaming Tricycle Tattoo”

  1. Josh said

    I think my favorite was when you called me, nervous, the day of my 25th birthday party, asking me to prep my parents on the tattoo situation.

  2. kiki said

    my friend recommended another possible story line for the tattoo. if you want to end the conversation quickly say “my little sister died on a flaming tricycle when we were children.” keep a straight face!

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