I’m no foreigner to culture shock. It happens every time I leave my house. Not everyone grew up in a home schooled family of five, this I’ve learned. But it still surprises me.
Part of not being raised by the government means my knowledge of pop culture (often the bread & butter of modern conversations) is shockingly deficient, unless it is referencing the hip culture of days gone by. If I was any better at math than I am at pop culture trivia, I could tell you how many times conversations start with, “Heidi, I’m sure you haven’t seen this, but everyone else listen up …” Let’s just suffice it to say it happens mucho times.
My perpetual state of outsider-ness took on a new dimension when I traveled to New York City this spring. I’d been wanting to break my mom’s heart for quite some time, so I decided to get my first tattoo. For the design, I couldn’t decide between a list of previous boyfriends or my Instagram follower count because the ridiculously high numbers of each made it seem like flagrant bragging.
So I decided to go the humble route with a lovely ancient Christian cross that holds great significance for me. Plus, it would soften the blow for my mom.
My skin was already weeping under the muggy NYC air and the thought of its impending mutilation by the time I arrived at the tattoo parlor, which detracted from the cool & detached aura I was trying to achieve. As I wiped the excessive sweat from my eyes, I was immediately assaulted with fabulous decorating tips for when I start my business of redecorating morgues: paint as if black is the only available color and scatter a few choice skeletons (preferably animals) as wall art and viola! You’ve created a safe and inviting atmosphere that will encourage people to trust you with permanently changing their body.
Ever aware of manners in an increasingly discourteous age, I kindly insisted that my accompanying friend receive her tattoo first. That way, I could assess the procedure while keeping one eye on the door and make a dignified escape if the carnage got out of control. Unfortunately, she survived unscathed and I had no excuse not to proceed. As the moment of permanent transfiguration arrived, the sweating rose to tsnaumi levels and only by some divine miracle was I able to seat myself on the chair without slipping off.
But I should have known that when the actual tatooing began, I would face it with my typical inspiring courage and panache. Once there was no going back, my fear melted away like a muggy Alabama evening. My erect posture and the fearless glint in my eyes more than redeemed my sweaty, deer-in-headlights entry. It is very probable that every person in that tattoo parlor was eyeing me with breathless respect.
As my fear-induced haze lifted, I began to notice my surroundings again, particularly the music. Apparently, until this day I didn’t actually know what rap was. I always thought it was Usher and the like. But now my ears wiggled with a new sensation: their first exposure to real rap. In case you’re also fortunate enough to not know what rap is, let me explain:
1. Someone bangs on a surface to create a steady, solid beat.
2. Over that, a talented soul swears. Explicitly.
3. Repeat until all the swear words in the world have been used up
As the profanity began to drill a hole into my soul, I squeaked in astonishment, “Is this rap music??!” And just like that, my painfully-won cool status vanished. Every tattooed head in that parlor swiveled around to stare at me incredulously, their mocking eyes querying, “Where have you been your whole life??” Ummmm … listening to artists who don’t operate as if the f-bomb is a verb, adjective, noun, pronoun, adverb, preposition, article, sonnet, prayer, etc. An astounding accomplishment for a puny, four-letter word, really. Hats off to the f-bomb. You’re f#*%ing amazing.
In the end, we all got a good chuckle out of my cultural naivette, I left with a million expletives to expunge from my mind, and my mom hasn’t disowned me. Yet.