I’m sitting in Sabrina’s Cafe, in Philadelphia. It’s one of those cozy, old charm establishments with the air of individuality most often found in the city. I’m there for an early lunch. It’s not a big place. It’s not tiny, but just big enough that it doesn’t lose its identity. It’s a mixed crowd. There are a couple of men in suits, sitting at the breakfast bar with their laptops out. There are younger men and women, presumably from the local college, having a late breakfast and chatting up about movies. A group of four or five women are engaged in conversation. There are couples, there are small groups and there are other lone diners enjoying a moment of peace, seating for one please. Sabrina’s is probably about 60% filled.
I order the meatloaf parm sandwich, topped with cheese and peppers and other delicious things that simply must have been grown in heaven’s garden. It came with a side of the tastiest parmesan french fries I have ever tasted. Ok, the first parmesan fries I have ever tasted, but man they were good. I sipped my iced tea and, as I usually do, I began to record. My eyes swept the room, my ears tuned into conversations. The giant film reels in my brain began to spin, capturing whatever details could be retained for future clips in some future story at some future time.
My eyes locked on the tattoo around the ankle of the woman who resembled my son’s first grade teacher. Part of a shoulder tattoo escaped the short sleeve of the man a few tables over. My waitress wore a big smile and a low cut blouse, showing off the tattoo right in the center of her chest. I began to scan table to table, waitress to waitress. They were everywhere. Another waitress went by, same blouse, tattoo in same location. The waitress working the breakfast bar, discussing stray cats and art exhibits with a group of people, had her inner forearm done, as well as her chest. Ok, not that I was looking, but dark ink on pale skin in the center of the torso, exposed above a low cut shirt is not accidental. (Side note: either this was pure coincidence, a trend amongst friends, a job prerequisite, or some diabolical cult intent on enslaving the palates of hungry diners).
I ripped out my notebook and began to record my observations. I’ve been reading, researching, blogging and interviewing about tattoos for weeks now. I have tattoos on the brain (and, yes, on my skin) but this was not some research induced projection. I was witnessing a slice of life example of how far tattoos have come, of how common they have become. I had just interviewed Brad Kingett, Risen Industries, the day before and we had discussed how many people were getting or had tattoos. We both agreed that it would never be 100% accepted, as there are too many generations still growing up with an adversity to ink, handed down from parent to child and so on down the line. But here I was, sitting and observing a variety of collective strangers, a majority of which displayed some visible ink.
I also think about Brad’s reference to “our own subculture.” That there is an air of comfort afforded those of us who share this common bond. It is a point of common ground. It is an experience and acceptance of a practice some would be quick to judge in poor light. It is something you can strike up a conversation about if you find yourself feeling awkward in the midst of a party where you know no one. We, who wear our tattoos proudly, are linked in some small fashion. On the beach, we Sneetches have stars on our bellies.
In between servings I try to catch a glimpse of her work, appreciating the art on her skin, without trying to appear as if I am staring down her shirt. She put it there for a reason. She wore a shirt that showcased it for a reason. This tattoo is for her, but it is also meant to be shared. All of the tattoos that I see throughout the room are parts of a walking exhibit. All pieces of art in this living exhibit.
And when the bill comes, the total is $12.90. The sun is smiling, Spring is coming. The food was delicious, the service was friendly. There are people in Japan trying to recover their lives. We share a bond through ink, my server and I. We are part of our own subculture. Brad was right. I leave a $20 and tell her I don’t need change. I have to take care of my own kind.