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Regrettable Tattoos

I believe that tattoos are and always should be not only about pain, but more importantly, regret. So please don’t waste your time agonizing over picking that perfect, precious tattoo that you will love forever and never spend a moment’s time feeling...

(Photo by Bruce LaBruce)

If you’re languishing in the doldrums of late summer and don’t feel like taxing your brain too much, like me, maybe a sequel to my favorite tattoos column is in order. After a long absence from being inked, I recently went under the needle again, and it really made me realize something that I’d somehow forgotten: It fucking hurts! Or maybe I’m just becoming more of a pussy as I get older. But there’s one thing that hasn’t changed: My belief that tattoos are and always should be not only about pain—after all, that’s what makes at least some people think twice about getting them—but more importantly, regret.


Please don’t waste your time agonizing over picking that perfect, precious tattoo that you will love forever and never spend a moment’s time feeling remorseful about permanently defacing your body with. Just get one that means something to you at the time, and be hopeful and thankful that over the years you won’t remain such a simpleton that you will not change or evolve one iota and still love and adore all the things you did when you were an impetuous, clueless youth. (This sentiment does not apply to ass antlers, which are always a mistake.) If you’re such a compulsive romantic that you’ve had a lover’s name tattooed on your body, don’t have it removed when you inevitably break up. Just have your tattooist put a line or an “X” over it to remind you of your rank stupidity. Let the world be witness to your bad judgment. However, getting a tattoo while drunk, like drunk tweeting, should always be avoided.

One good exercise I’ve tried is to go into a tattoo shop without any preconceived idea about what you want to get and just pick something off the wall or from a book. Impulsiveness can sometimes lead to inspiration. My crossed sharks tattoo, picked out of a book of Russian prison tattoos while waiting for a friend getting inked, remains one of my favorites.

Sometimes a bad tattoo isn’t entirely your fault. A friend of mine who’s a tattoo artist had a colleague once who inked so many people when he was drunk and high that my friend now spends a portion of his precious tattooing time trying to fix or cover up the bad work of his former partner. (Personally, I had several tattoos done by the drunken tattooist in question, and I kind of appreciate their wonkiness.) Cover-ups, by the way, are not always a good idea, as they can result in muddy or blocky, indistinct tattoos. If the offending tat is on one of your limbs, consider having the limb removed instead.


Finally, if you’re regretfully planning on having your tattoo or tattoos removed, you might think twice. According to most sources, it’s quite painful (this site compares the feeling of laser removal to being splattered with hot grease) and expensive (according to the same site, having a large, professional, color tattoo removed can cost thousands of dollars). Plus, in many cases it will still leave some scarring, and generally not the kind that looks very cool. Living with your shame forever is sometimes preferable to aesthetic disaster.

So with that in mind, here’s my second portfolio of some of my favorite tattoos—regrettable or not.

A photo I took back in the day of Terry “T-Bone” Richardson’s first tattoos. He has tons more now, some of which I’m sure he regrets, like maybe the American flag one, although he’s such a redneck at heart I guess he pulls it off. The very worst tattoos, as witnessed by the Olympics, are flag tattoos (getting a maple leaf if you’re Canadian is the worst), and especially the Olympic rings. Tired! Read my lips: tattoos should be antiestablishmentarian. Terry’s old SSA tattoo stands for Signal Street Alcoholics, an old gang he was in, and even though he’s been sober for many years, he still wears it proudly. That’s what I’m talking about!

“Silence is the only friend that shall never betray You.” Prescriptivist grammarians will tell you that this is grammatically incorrect. It should be “will,” not “shall,” and the “y” in “You” should be lowercase. But generally I approve of misspelling or grammatical errors in written tattoos. You spend a lot of time regretting them.


Not sure what this means, but getting a tattoo on your ass must be really painful, so I approve.

Not sure what this muddy old tattoo is supposed to be, but that’s why I like it. It doesn’t hurt that it’s fellow Peres Projects artist Dan Attoe, who has really sexy legs.

Dan’s other sexy leg.

Dan Attoe’s “Paintallica” tattoo. You can check out his awesome work here.

Not many people could live up to these tattoos, but sexy Lexi Tronic, Toronto tranny extraordinaire, does so with ease.

The tattoo of my tattooist, the great Daniel Innes of the traditional tattoo parlor Pearl Harbor Gift Shop in Toronto’s Kensington Market. He’s very Zen.

My friend, gnarly artist Brad Phillips, is the owner of some of my favorite tattoos, many also done by Mr. Innes. You can never go wrong with a smoking puss.

Detail: Brad Phillips. Heavy old school.

Brad Phillips’ back. I love the mixture of old school sailor and the Richard Pryor stencil.

I’m always a sucker for skeleton tattoos, because tattoos are also about the impermanence of the body and life itself. Plus, they scare people away.

The Little Prince tattoo. The fact that it’s somewhat badly drawn makes it all the more charming.

Is this a flaming chicken? Whatever it is, full points for maximalism.

Chained to the bowl. This boy could have an actual toilet tattooed on his face and he’d still be sexy.

Fuck the tattoos (although they’re lovely), this Montreal filmmaker and bartender is smoking hot!

I recently had my old, faded, black-and-white Popeye tattoo from the 80s colored in. I have mixed feelings about getting old tattoos updated. Some of them are better left faded, others look nice spruced up a little bit. You really have to take it on a case-by-case basis.

Previously - Skating in Monterrey