By MIKE BRASSFIELD
© St. Petersburg Times,
Millions of Americans are wearing their patriotism on their sleeves these days, but a select few are wearing it just beneath.
They're getting patriotic tattoos.
In a sign of the times, an increasing number of people are marching into Tampa Bay area tattoo shops to have star-spangled banners or fierce-looking eagles inked onto their biceps and backs.
They plunk down $60 or so, they endure the buzz and sting of the needle, and they walk out with a permanent reminder of Sept. 11.
"Nobody can buy a flag now (because they are selling out), but they can get something that's forever. Now they can't forget," said Brent Cox, manager of a tattoo studio called Dynamite Dermagraphics in Crystal River. "This is the only thing that people can't take away from you. You can't lose it. It's not going to break. You take it to your grave."
At Tattoo Emporium in downtown St. Petersburg, artists with names such as Cherokee and Evil Don and Frankie D typically engrave customers' limbs with jagged black tribal designs or twisty Japanese power symbols.
The 13 days since the terrorist attacks have been different for tattoo parlors. Now they're doing "U.S.A." tattoos, flags, the occasional warplane, the date 9-11-01, and lots of slogans: Don't Tread on Me. Home of the Brave. These Colors Don't Run. United We Stand. One Nation Under God. Still Free.
"We've had dozens in the past couple of days," said Blake Russell, manager of the Blue Devil Tattoo Gallery in Ybor City. "Some people are actually getting full chest tattoos, a flag or an eagle with a teardrop, or '9-11' real big on their back, or the towers on fire on their calves."
Most customers are young men like Shawn Oliver, 28, a kitchen manager at the Friendly Fisherman restaurant in Madeira Beach who had "Made in the USA" tattooed on the back of his neck. But tattooers are also drawing stars and stripes on some women and older customers, especially military veterans.
Of course, getting a tattoo means that you can't give blood, the other popular patriotic move of the moment. Blood centers follow federal rules that say anyone who gets a tattoo or piercing (other than in the ear) can't donate blood for a year. The intent is to keep the blood supply free of infections.
"But most people getting these tattoos have already been tattooed in the last year," said Jason Minauro, tattoo artist at Monique's Body Essentials in Clearwater. "They keep walking in here and saying, 'What do you have that's patriotic?' "
Flags and eagles predominate, but customers keep dreaming up variations on the theme. Tattoos are about displaying one's individuality. Customers come up with their own designs colored in red, flesh and blue.
"People like the personal touch," said Lou Debiase of Lou's Tattoos in St. Petersburg.
At Wild Side Tattoo in Madeira Beach, one man got an elaborate tattoo of the date 9-11. The "9" had stars, the "11" had stripes, and the second "1" had an antenna on top like the World Trade Center.
Aces and Eights in Pinellas Park did a large, intricate tattoo on a man's back: an American flag superimposed on an eagle's head, with stars for eyes and rippling fabric for feathers.
Artistic Assault of St. Petersburg is doing "mostly American flags and praying hands, and a lot of Jesus portraits," said owner Mike Westwood. One dedicated 70-year-old got a big flag on his forearm; the forearm tattoos hurt more.
Ink & Steel on Indian Rocks Beach keeps getting requests for tattoos with the initials "WTC" for World Trade Center.
And at a St. Petersburg piercing-and-tattoo business called Balls of Steel, one customer got a confederate flag tattoo with the motto "Southern Fried Pride" because he was feeling patriotic.
Tattoo shops haven't seen a boom like this since Dale Earnhardt died, and people wanted the number 3 and "Intimidator" scrawled on their bodies.
One New Port Richey shop, Forbidden Images, is even planning a tattoo fundraiser on Oct. 11, the one-month anniversary of the attacks.
Tattoos have enjoyed a resurgence in recent years. Once associated with sailors, prisoners and bikers, they're now part of the youth culture. The tattoo industry holds conventions. The St. Petersburg Yellow Pages alone lists 34 tattoo studios and four tattoo removal services.
In downtown St. Petersburg, South Central Tattoo Studio is offering 25 percent off patriotic tattoos. The manager, Robby Gill, had an interesting customer the other day -- a U.S. Army special forces sniper about to head overseas.
The sniper's brand-new tattoo features a skull centered inside rifle sights, accompanied by a slogan:
"Run and you'll die tired."
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