tattoos, children, and 16,705 days

by tobias crabtree


 his name is Blue. he’s standing in my lap with both hands on the wheel of my 1970 jeep. the dirt road is empty except for my rig and whatever time is ticking off on some clock makes absolutely no difference to me nor my little compadre. Blue is maybe 5 years old and a complete wonder to behold.

there he stands, his legs are planted and his shoulders shrugged. “you got the wheel, Blue. you ready?”


“i’m gonna go slow, but you gotta steer. now, you ready?”

“uh huh.”

i let the clutch out and the old engine torques us forward. the jeep has a great granny gear, so it’s slow. as we begin to cover ground, Blue is just hanging on. i have him by the waist, keeping him steady. he’s gripping the wheel but not steering. he has never done this and so does not fully understand the power at his disposal. as we begin to veer to the edge of the road lined with joshua trees and yuccas i speak. i tell him he must steer us to the safety of the middle of the road. as he turns the wheel and the jeep responds, he becomes aware of his responsibility. now he is working! now he is over-correcting and frantically turning each way with his little tongue sticking out of his mouth from the massive amounts of concentration. as we come toward Blue’s parents i can see them laughing. they laugh at their little wild man because they see his wild eyes, his wild heart. they see his innerness glowing out and lighting the spaces all around.

when we are done, Blue climbs down and looks at me. he looks at me anew and the reason is because i showed him his power and allowed him to use it. so i was seen and the power was given back in a more pure form. it’s like how a bee turns nectar to honey and allows us to taste nature in it’s wildest, sweetest form. they help us with our immunities and our allergies and our deficiencies. Blue is like a bee; he transforms something simple that i’ve given him, into something far more universal, then he gives it back. i am nourished. i am better than before.

i have a secret. i’m in good with the children. i’ve seen parents look at me and shy away. i’m maybe a little scary, depending on the demographics. i must be patient in the communities that are not used to a person who lives outside of the usual accepted boundaries. i am tattooed. i smell like woodsmoke from the fire that i use to make me warm. i don’t have any particular hair-do; it’s whatever it is when i come in from the wind. my folks taught me love by giving me excessive amounts, so much, in fact, that i have yet to run low on the precious commodity. and so it is that the kids eventually discover me.

i guess it’s been about 12 years since i first started the long process of learning to tattoo. needles, machines, ink, terms, techniques, blood-born pathogens, flash, stencils, tracing paper, tradition, appointments, cancelations, ridiculous desires, vanity, memorials, deposits, waivers, misnomers, and every imaginable desire to be represented in some way upon the body…this is tattooing. i have seen the art form change even in the twelve years i’ve paid attention. i can’t even imagine what the old artists have seen. grand changes! i’ve seen the amazement in the eyes of my costumers. people walk different when a tattoo is exactly what they wanted. it is an interesting perspective, this way of the tattooer.

i hear people say quite often, “yeah, but it’s forever!” when referring to tattoos. i understand what they mean, but i must disagree. tattooing is far from being forever; in truth, it is quite similar to what the buddhists practice when they draw beautiful pictures with colored sand. when they walk away, the wind blows and the drawings that took amazing skill and many man-hours are blown away. tattoos go away when life ends. if you were to draw on a piece of paper and put it in a sealed box, it might last several hundred years. make no mistake, we are here for but a moment. we are like beautiful lines of colored sand before the wind.

sometimes, i’ll take colored markers and set up shop at a music festival. i draw on the kids. i don’t take money. the kids ask their ma and pa and then they give me the nod. there are favorites of course. flowers and butterflies and dragons. i have many photos of the look on some little punkin’s face as i draw on their arm. it is really quite amazing how much it makes me feel like a rock star. the children. my goodness, they can swarm! i never knew how it feels to be famous until the children. i have been in the middle of a mass of giggling, wild-ones as they clamor over their dreams and desires. i become the instrument. it is waaaay bigger than me. it is the feeling of immortality. it is a higher power.

there was a day, 16,705 days ago, when i was born. it was in the morning; a sunday. my mama held me and my pa looked on as i breathed the air of the world outside of the womb. my mama gave me the necessary bacteria to be equipped for survival. they named me tobias and kept me in their world that was full up with love and teaching. i was a little kid and wild and running. time went by, i think it was minutes, and then it was today.  what of this spectacle we have labeled “life”?  if i may, i will tell you my goal for this carcass that my soul inhabits. i would like to be good at being human. this human animal with complicated thoughts and grand schemes is a child of the sun. and down here, on the surface of the world, i think i’ll nurture the things that are simple.  my heaven is being wonderful in the eyes of the kids.