“Tell me again how old I have to be to get my nose pierced?” Mini Me said.
She snarled her face. “Same for a tattoo?”
“Oh, baby. You don’t want one of those.”
“Uh. Yeah, I do.”
I patted the sofa. “Sit. Let me tell you a story.”
There we were. In the third floor bathroom. Me and my co-worker. She’d worked in the advertising department of our Washington, D.C. publishing company for a year plus. I was the office newbie with six months on the job. She and I, and another girl, who had pale green eyes that tilted like a cat’s, did everything together. The three of us, and the guys we hung out with? We were friends way before Monica, Phoebe, Ross, and the rest of the gang ever set foot in Central Perk.
She looked at my reflection as we washed our hands.
“Hey. I’m going to backpack through Europe with one of my high school friends this summer. Want to go with us?”
I pumped soap into my palms. “Did you ask Laurie?”
“Naw. She’s too pretty. She’d steal all the guys. Plus she’s moody. Moods are dangerous when you travel.”
“Ask me again,” I said.
She squinted. “What?”
“Ask me to go to Europe with you again.”
She rolled her eyes and shook her head. “You. Okay. Do you want to go to Europe for the summer with Heather and me?”
I jumped up and down. Water went everywhere.
“Do I? Do I?”
Don’t say it. Don’t even open your mouth.
“I probably shouldn’t say this, but I’m gonna.”
It was Super Bowl Sunday and my co-worker and I were preparing a stuffet of staggering proportions.
“Boyfriends will come and boyfriends will go, but guy friends and girlfriends are forever.”
She paused mid-avocado-mash. “What’re you saying?”
I kept cutting carrots. “We’re sick of it, all of us. Ever since I introduced you to him, you all are love hermits. I mean, you never come out of the bedroom. Ever. ‘Cept to eat and pee.”
She huffed. I paused. Took my left foot out of my mouth and inserted my right.
“I know he’s really cute. And an engineer. That’s why I introduced you all, but for crying out loud, you never play with us anymore. You don’t go to happy hour. You won’t go dancing with us.”
She put the smasher down. Went over and washed her hands.
“What if you break up?” I said to her back. “What if he’s not the one?”
This isn’t going well. That thought occurred to me one night as I sat on the top bunk in the girls’ dormitory of a hostel in Brugges, Belgium.
We’d flown into Heathrow two weeks ago. Spent a week scamping around London. I looked around. Nobody here but me.
“Actually, they sedately toured,” I said to the ceiling. “I scamped along behind them.”
Then we took the really cool hovercraft thingy to Paris. J’aime Paris. Beaucoup. My first tiny cup of French coffee kept me up ‘til four in the morning. And standing under the Arc De Triomphe? It was awesome! Man, did the traffic zoom, zoom, zoom, or what? It was like the city was a cat--always purring. I loved the Louvre. The Mona Lisa? If I’d had enough time with her, I swear, I could’ve made her bust a gut.
Things got really crazy the night we rendez-voused with our friend, Dave. He was a flight attendant on layover, and he let us stay in his really fancy hotel room. We bought a couple baguettes, some wine, some cheese. Then we left the hotel and-- Why did the police make us leave the Eiffel Tower grounds? Oh, yeah. We built a pyramid down below, in the grasss. I got to be on top ‘cause I was the smallest. Parisian cops are so mean. I couldn’t make ‘em crack a smile to save my life. Apparently, they take that green space in front of their precious landmark very seriously.
I threw my pillow up in the air. “If it wasn’t for me, we never would’ve met those guys in the change bank. Which means we wouldn’t have eaten in that restaurant that dated back to 15 hundred something. Where you filled your wine pitcher from a wooden cask. And that steak? I’m pretty sure I heard it moo, but I’m telling you what. It was the best piece of meat I’ve ever tasted. Ever.”
I think they’re shunning me. I dug in my backpack for my journal. Gotta write that down.
“June 15. Epiphany. Thing One and Thing Two are shunning me.
They don’t talk to me. Much. They plan. I follow. I meet people.
The two things pretend to like me while we have cool adventures
with our new international friends. Once new people leave, they
put me back in my closet of silence. Something’s got to change. \
Suddenly a tiny young girl bounced into the room. She couldn’t see me up on my bunk. I stuck my head over the side.
She jumped. Squealed. Turned around. Grinned up at me.
“Oh, hello up there.”
Within fifteen minutes, I knew everything about her. Almost. Charlottesville, Virginia was her hometown. That was her natural hair color. She just graduated college. This trip to Europe was a graduation present from her wealthy grandmother.
"And you're traveling all by your wee, little self?"
She gave me the high and low lights of her trip. Warned me that some people on Greek beaches go topless and bottomless. Told me how a thief snatched her passport in Spain, but the embassy got her a new one in a few days. She threw her arms up in the air and twirled around in the middle of the room.
“I am having so much fun!”
“Wow,” I said. “You're way younger than me and half my size. If you can travel Europe alone, I suppose I can too.”
"Sure you can!" she said. “And the bonus is, you meet a lot more people when you travel solo.”
The next day at breakfast I said, “See you, wouldn’t want to be you,” to my travel partners. Well, that’s not really what I said. But seriously, there was no way I wanted to be them because let’s face it, the life of the party, that would be me, was leaving. The expressions on their faces? Bug eyes, mouths gaping? I liked it. Liked it a lot.
So there I was. Alone in Europe. I headed south ‘cause my travel Bible, Let’s Go Europe, said I should. Pretty soon I paired up with a girl named Kim. She was from California. She’d run away from a guy who never got around to popping the question.
Kim told me on more than one occasion, “Let me tell you one thing. If a guy doesn’t ask you to marry him in three years, he never will.”
I didn’t tell her I was engaged. I’d left my ring at home after I heard sometimes thieves’ll cut off your fingers to get your rings.
Kim and I eventually wound up in the little German town of Baden Baden, on the edge of the Black Forest. I wasn’t impressed with the food in Germany. It was meat, meat, and more meat. Kim, however, was a big time carnivore. She loved German food. One night she talked me into sharing a wild game platter. Thank goodness there was German beer, lots of it, to wash down the seared bear and boar, lots of it.
“Okay,” Kim said. “I’ve read up on Baden Baden in Let’s Go. Did you know there’s a spa here?” she said in between bites of hasenpfeffer. “It only costs fifteen American dollars on Tuesdays.”
“Sounds like a plan,” I said.
She proceeded to read the list of spa services included in the surprisingly affordable price.
“That sounds awesome,” I said. “I’ve never been pampered before.”
The next day it became quite clear why the spa was only fifteen American dollars on Tuesdays. Tuesday was co-ed day at the Baden Baden Day Spa. Every other day of the week, only one gender at a time was admitted. As a result, on Tuesdays, all the old men in Baden Baden came to the spa to see all the young tourist girls in the buff. I wasn’t too freaked out by the situation. I was pretty sure I’d never see any of these people again, even Kim. There weren’t any cute guys there either, just really old German men. I wanted to ask them, “Do your wives know you’re here?” but Ich spreche kein Deutsch. I mean, I don’t speak German.
Our fifteen American dollars bought an extensive array of spa services. We steamed and saunaed. We got scotch sprayed which entails getting drenched with a fire hose by a burly fraulein. Next we were supposed to dip briefly into a vat of ice water so as to be energized. I opted out of that activity. I was pretty sure it’d give me a heart attack. Then, we were directed to a giant swimming pool of mineral water. You could float and/or swim as long as you wanted. As long as you could stand the rotten egg smell. It was there I saw what would make me never want to get a tattoo.
Have you ever seen the buttocks of a seventy year old man? I have. Once I went to Baden Baden, I knew what the front and back of a nakey old man looks like. Gravity is not kind. I won’t talk about the fronts of those men, but I will talk about the backs.
I’ve worked for an interior designer. I know what swagged window treatments look like. Every time I think of the buttocks of the old men in the Baden Baden spa, I think of swagged drapery treatments. The skin on each buttock does a swoopy thing. It starts high on the left hip and swoops down and then comes back up again to attach to the tailbone. It does the same thing on the right side. It kinda looks like the golden arches of McDonald’s if they were a) pastey pink and b) upside down. Or, if you’re familiar with the work of Salvador Dali, imagine if he’d painted old men’s naked heinies instead of clocks.
Given this experience, I can only imagine what a tattoo would do as the body ages. The once taut and firm skin canvas would soften and succumb to gravity. The mermaid, the anchor, the first wife’s name? I doubt they’d be recognizable a few decades after their creation. They'd be like the wicked witch in the Wizard of Oz after Dorothy throws water on her. “I’m melting . . .”
I turned to my daughter. “And that, sweetie, is why I’ll never get a tattoo.”
“But I still want one, Mom,” she said. “Can I get one if I promise not to get it on my butt?”