Last summer I was standing in line for the twisty slide at the public pool with my little boy. Another young boy was behind me, staring at the tattoo on my shoulder with a puzzled look on his face.
“Is that a rat?” he asked.
It’ not a rat; it’s not a rodent at all, actually.
This story is embarrassing because, although I don’t want to be a redneck, it proves that I am. But if I can’t be honest and make fun of myself, what’s the point of writing at all?
My friend Jason and I were at the stockyards in the northside of Fort Worth, Texas. We’d just finished riding bulls, and not the kind controlled by motors. I’d like to make it sound better by saying “at the Stockyards Championship Rodeo in the Cowtown Coliseum,” but it was at Billy Bob’s, a bar with bulls and line-dancing.
Jason wanted a tattoo. He talked about it all evening. After a few drinks, we walked over to a shady looking parlor that might not have passed health inspection. Bars were on the windows and doors. Empty quart beer bottles in brown paper sacks and bullet holes… maybe I’m remembering it wrong.
We looked around, and then Jason wanted to leave.
“Why?” I asked.
“I don’t want one,” he replied.
“I just don’t.”
“It’s all you’ve talked about tonight.”
“I know, but I’m scared.”
This would be a reasonable response for most people, but I had a few hours earlier helped Jason get on a 2,000-pound bull with big horns, as I had many times before.
“What? You ride bulls, but you’re scared to get a tattoo?” I was smirking.
“You wouldn’t get one,” he said defensively.
“I wouldn’t, but it’s not because I’m scared to; I don’t want one. Plus, I’m not going to waste money on one.”
“I don’t believe that,” he said. “You’re scared, too.”
Being the prideful and immature boy that I was, I couldn’t let that go.
“If you paid for it, I’d get one just to prove that I’m not scared.”
“Alright,” he said, “but it has to cost less than thirty dollars.”
Thirty dollars in 1994 was more than thirty dollars today, but I still didn’t have many choices. I remember a heart, a peace sign, a smiley face, and an armadillo.
Under the influence of a few drinks, I thought the armadillo was a great choice, and compared to the heart, it was.
Considering the cost, it’s not necessary for me to say the fellow is but a small one. And I did have the foresight to plant him on my shoulder, where he would be covered by as little as a T-shirt sleeve. Occasionally, like the day I mentioned at the pool, I let him bask in the sunlight, but I generally keep him put up so as not to expose him to the insults of little boys who mistake him for a rat.
The armadillo is the official state mammal of Texas. Please don’t call him a marsupial; he is not. He is, though, related to the anteater and sloth. Mine is quite slothful. Armadillos also lack situational awareness. I once caught one with my bare hands by standing down trail from him and waiting for him to go unawares between my legs, which is exactly what he did. If you plan to catch an armadillo, beware of their long, sharp claws.
The armadillo is a peaceful animal with a shell of armor. I am a somewhat peaceful man with a different type of shell, but we still get along. Even through the years when I was embarrassed by my banded buddy, he faithfully stuck with me, and I’ve finally quit regretting our friendship. A lot of time has passed, and though we’ve both faded, our bond is as strong as ever.