Wednesday, June 04, 2008

Fannie Flamingo Forever


For any of you brave enough to return here after last week’s lame posting (about the dentist, no less) I want to apologize. I’ve been preoccupied with yet another risk. I’ve flirted with the idea of taking all the essays I’ve written since 1999 about mission trips I’ve been on and turning them into a book. Things got serious last year when a publisher literally came up to me in church and told me I could do this.

I’ve been toying with the words like an old familiar doll that you’ve played with until it’s limp and tattered. But once I started seeing it not as my own story but God’s story that gave new weight to it. And when I saw it as another risk to cross off my list, I was freed up to get serious, and if I failed, just grin over it and keep going. There is an overriding certainty that the minute it hits the bookstores I will think of a brilliant paragraph and want to rewrite the whole thing. I’ll never know until I try. I’ve been madly typing for the last 2 or 3 weeks. I think by the time I got to last week's blog postings I just ran out of words. Plus, my hands were sore.

But here you are today back at my blog risking your own precious time and giving me another chance to say something interesting.

So it’s probably time to tell you about how I got my flamingo tattoo.

It could be boiled down to the simple fact that there’s really not much to do in Cleveland. And I was stone cold sober. In fact, my daughters talked me into it.

We were on a family vacation to visit Em and Steve and the girls back when they were living in Ohio. Elizabeth came with Beaven and myself. We went to the Rock and Roll Museum. We took the girls to an amusement park. We even went to a Rib Cook-off. And then we ran out of stuff to do.

Emily and Elizabeth went into town to a mall and somehow passed a billboard advertising tattoos. Emily already had a smallish tattoo of what she hopes is the Chinese character for “shy.” Lord knows what it really says. Neither of us speaks or reads Chinese. I think she got this just minutes after her 18th birthday. She was in the market for another one. And now her sister wanted one, too. So they got off the freeway and went into the shop. Then came back to get me insisting I should join them.

You can imagine my initial reaction. But they had an ace up their sleeves. “Mom, they have one of a flamingo.” I had had a long-standing affection for flamingos by then, falling in love with them at the first church youth group fundraiser. I had written a long series of stories about the first flock. Fannie and her friends brought me many laughs and to tell the truth, my daughters were jealous of her. But they thought it would be just super cool to go get a tattoo with their mom. So I went.

We decided to go in order of who would be most inclined to chicken out so I was first. The minute we walked into the shop we should have turned around and run. It was in the run down part of town in an old building. There was a very dead plant next to where I sat to wait. The guy who did the it was named Scar or Scab or something equally scary. He went to great lengths to explain how they sterilized everything but half-way through I heard a loud string of profanities from the hall, announcing that the autoclave broke again. Did we turn and leave? No. My girls had spent the last week discussing their “gut feelings” and declared they felt in their guts that this would be OK. Over in the corner we saw a stuffed rat. Yes, a stuffed rat. Think about that one for a minute. But they felt in their gut that this would be OK. The guy got a phone call in the middle of everything and proceeded to spit out cusswords beyond what I’d ever heard. The girls’ guts were OK with that. Every clue that spelled disaster in bold capital letters was cast aside after they checked with their inner feelings.

When it came time to actually get the tattoo I knew immediately where I wanted it--on my butt. My favorite flamingo character, Fannie would insist on this, I knew. Plus it would always be covered no matter what I wore. No one would ever know. Except me. Well, yes, Beaven would have to see it the rest of my life, and I had to listen to what he had to say. Surprisingly, he didn’t say much. There’s not much to say when you’re dealing with permanent markings on your butt.

There’s something very freeing about doing something really stupid, something you will have to live with the rest of your life. I have to say that I’ve never regretted it, not a moment. Fannie Flamingo has never let me down. And I now have a reminder of our friendship that will last me the rest of my life. Even beyond, given an good embalming job.

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