As is the case with thousands across the globe, I have a shitty tattoo. When I was 20 and at the peak of my hyper-libertarian phase, the part of my brain that was the least developed told me that getting the Gadsden flag tattooed on my left calf was not just a great idea, but one that I had to act upon immediately.
Within 24 hours of whatever cruel deity planting this idea into my brain, I was at a run-down-yet-fully licensed tattoo parlour near Berri-UQAM metro in Montreal. This would be my first tattoo, and it was much more nerve-wracking than I’d originally imagined. After walking in without an appointment and shifting around the front lobby for about 3 minutes, flipping through the shop’s mediocre template book, someone working at the shop asked me if I needed any help.
Having been relatively new to Quebec still, I responded to the artist, only saying one word: “Tattoo?” I’ll never forget the way I said it, because despite the fact that the tattoo artist had addressed me in perfect English, I’d made the split-second decision to put a strange emphasis on the “o’s” in “tattoo,” making it sound more like “tatu,” which didn’t make me sound any more like a native French speaker, but rather made it all the more obvious to the artist that I was an absolute dork with no business being there.
I showed the Gadsden design to the artist, and like the badass I was trying to be, said to her: “This, but can you add the text ‘DON’T TREAD ON ME’ underneath?”
Yes, I, who had only held the empty shell of a bullet and not once a gun in his life, was getting the libertarian business card etched onto his skin for life.
As I laid down on the tattoo artist’s chair for her to work on my leg, nerves set in. Specifically, the feeling that my stomach had become a vat of acid with waves that could’ve made Lake Gitche Gumee herself jealous.
The voice inside my head was doing its best to justify my decision to get the tattoo to myself, but the defence was making a very good case for this being an awful idea from the get-go. After an agonizing hour and a half of getting pricked with a pin while holding in my farts, my tattoo was finished.
I got up, went to the mirror, and took a gander at my bloodied calf. For 80 bucks, it actually wasn’t half bad. Looked how I’d hoped, but I still felt like a bit of a dingus.
Walking down the street with my leg wrapped in plastic, admittedly, made me feel like a bit of a “badass,” if you will. I’d wanted to get a tattoo for years, though getting this particular tattoo had broken a rule that I’d made for myself when getting a tattoo: think of a design and sit on it for three years.
While there were better designs that I’d wanted for much longer than the time set in place by my own law, this would be my first, and certainly, already, my least favourite.
The timing of the tattoo was also poor. Only weeks after getting the pro-gun logo stamped on my leg, dozens of concert-goers were mowed down in Las Vegas. Conversations about the tattoo were often awkward, but what was I gonna do? Pussy out and apologize for the tattoo? Nope.
After many a fortnight, the tattoo became more of a joke than any hint of hateful symbolism (as one roommate once implied to me, citing this article). I’d sometimes look down at my leg and laugh at what a poor decision it was to get it. “Can you believe I have the fuckin’ Gadsden flag tattooed on me?” was a question I’d throw out there on occasion, typically being met with mild laughter and head shaking.
Months went on, and my attitude towards the thing had barely shifted. Ol’ ‘no step on snek’ was still on my leg, bold as ever. Politically, the symbol meant absolutely nothing to me, as I now think libertarians tend to be more spineless than the rest of the political compass. This apathy did shift a bit, though, when at an event called MINDS I had a couple of beers with a fella named Count Dankula.
Dankula, a fighter for free speech made known to the public for his allegedly nazi-sympathizing pug, got chatting to me about one of the tattoos on his arm, of which there were many. Eventually, I brought up that I had some ink myself.
After showing him, he laughed and said something along the lines of. “Oh, that’s nothing,” revealing a massive fucking hammer and sickle on his peck. The former UKIP candidate had me beat.
Do I regret getting this tattoo? Part of me wants to, but most of me is totally cool with it being there. Though there is this weird pressure I’ve put on myself to get another tattoo, just so that the Gadsden flag isn’t the only one on my body. All I’m certain of is that I’m really thankful the tattoo lady talked me out of getting a klansman making out with Hitler.