The prospect of turning 40 has a way of making people crazy. That’s the only excuse I can offer for my uncharacteristic decision, with the Big 4-0 breathing down my neck, to get a tattoo.
At the ripe old age of 39, I looked in the mirror and realized (with, okay, perhaps just a smidge of hysteria) that my youth was gone. A quick glance at my once-perky body confirmed that hell yeah, gravity was winning that particular battle. I could no longer ignore the fish tails (the Chinese term for crow’s feet) around my eyes, and all I can say about my “laugh lines” is this: nothing is that funny.
I’m not quite sure how being reminded of my own mortality translated into a desire for dermal ink (“paging Dr. Freud!”) but there you have it. I wanted a tattoo. Of a gecko.
You’re familiar with geckos, yes? They come in many varieties, but I’m talking about the small house lizards which are native to Southeast Asia and found in tropical and subtropical areas around the world. I first came across them when I lived in Australia many years ago. I’m not going to lie: I don’t like crawly things, and it took a while to get used to the idea of reptiles roaming freely in the house. But I grew to love watching the geckos scurry across the walls and listening to their distinctive ch-chak ch-chak ch-chak song. Finding them in my home in Singapore was like reconnecting with long-lost friends.
Not everyone shared my enthusiasm. One of my neighbours was traumatized when she stepped on a gecko during a midnight bathroom visit. Her face scrunched up as she told me the story, unconsciously mirroring the way the hapless gecko had scrunched under her bare foot. I was a bit squeamish about nocturnal wanderings after that.
Another acquaintance confessed she vacuumed them up if they dared to show themselves while she was doing her housework. That was a bit heavy-handed, I thought. Geckos earn their keep by eating mosquitoes — a noble job in places like Singapore, where mosquito-borne diseases can be deadly. Washing lizard poop off the walls seems a small price to pay for improved public health.
One night, as I was heading upstairs to bed, I found a tail-less gecko on my carpet. (This is a cool defense mechanism: a threatened gecko will detach its tail, which will then wriggle around on the ground to distract the predator while the gecko escapes.) I woke up in the middle of the night wondering where he’d stashed his missing body part. I never did find it. Probably just as well — I doubt the sight of a decomposing tail would do much to brighten my day.
So this is why I wanted a gecko on my skin: as a permanent souvenir of the home away from home I loved so much. I started checking out tattoo parlours, but although they all offered some version of the lizard tat, I couldn’t find exactly what I wanted. If my body was about to become a canvas, I didn’t want the resulting image to be a cartoon. I was looking for something stylized, with elegant lines — as befitting someone of my mature age.
As I was leaving yet another body modification establishment after yet another fruitless search, I happened to spot a guy with a comb-over and a paunch getting out of a red sports car. In that instant I recognized my desire for what it was: a classic mid-life crisis. The realization deterred me more than the thought of pain or the risk of infection ever could, and my dream of a gecko tattoo died on the spot.
The story doesn’t end there, however. Some time later I noticed that Chef Boyardee (who’s been known to dabble in ink himself) had a new tattoo. That’s a photo of it at the top of the post. It may not be as chic as the one I envisioned, but it still tickles me that I managed to get my permanent Singapore souvenir after all.