Day 21: The Boy with the Dragon Tattoo

When I was 17, I made a bet with my dad. I had just graduated from high school and was on my way to becoming a wild, sex-crazed, alcoholic—in other words, a college student. Realizing this at an early stage, my dad tried to capitalize. Despite my gripes about tattoos and piercings in the past, my dad bet that before I turned 21, I would have already succumbed to getting some kind of permanent fixture on my body. To make a long story short, his $50 went a long way towards buying alcohol for my wild rager of a 21st birthday party. But even though the thought of actually getting a tattoo hadn't ever seriously crossed my mind, like most people, I still imagined what it would be. I thought about a short stanza of poetry or some small homage or allusion to a favorite novel or piece of music. It behooves me, then, at the ripe age of 23 to consider getting a tattoo of another sort entirely—namely, an enormous dragon across my upper arm.

Me, proudly brandishing my dragon tat, with Daisy, one of my former students (photo courtesy of Alexandra Sterman).

Allow me to explain. For this year's Halloween party, we needed to up the ante. Halloween last year came right in the cross-hairs of the H1N1 crisis and our planned dancing spectacle was canned by the administration. In the year since, the AV room which previously housed such events had been demolished, making that too an impossibility. So, we decided, we would hold a soiree in my house, not too dissimilar from our bi-monthly dance parties. The only difference was that this time we would be in costume.

James, dressed as a visually-impaired ghost (he didn't want to cut holes in his only bed-sheet), alongside our candle-lit jack-o-lanterns (photo courtesy of Alexandra Sterman).

After the usual ritual of messaging friends, chaos-proofing the house to the best of my abilities, and buying a couple cases of beer, the only thing left was to get in costume myself. As I scoured my closet for costume ideas, I was getting discouraged. I brought so few clothes with me to China that there was little room for anything particularly fun or outrageous. Eventually, I settled on my Cleveland Cavaliers basketball jersey—and if there was one thing I knew about professional basketball players, it was that they had an enormous assemblage of tattoos. Alexandra helped to create a pink heart with the word “Mom” embellished on my left arm, while Ray drew free-hand the coiling dragon from an image we found online. I wasn't the only one to come in costume though. Friends came dressed as ninjas, mummies, superstars, soldiers, cowboys, and cats. But none was more creative than my Chinese tutor Francis, who showed up in drag, painted face and make-up, bejeweled bandana, and a mask.

One of Ray's carved pumpkins, after sitting out on her porch for three months.

The week leading up to the Halloween bonanza was met with an appropriate amount of holiday cheer. Like last year, I did pumpkin carving in class with my students and I bought small bundles of candy to give to my English majors when they came over to trick-or-treat. Ray did pumpkin carving with some of her students too and the carved jack-o-lanterns adorned her porch well after Halloween and into the new year. When we came back from winter break, they were still there, their scary faces warped and rotted with age. When you think about it, pumpkins make a pretty good metaphor for human existence—when we are young, our faces are waxy and tight, and as we age, the skin starts to sag, we sprout wrinkles, gums get mushy, teeth get swallowed up, we grow bulbous, our faces decompress. Perhaps a similar thing can be said of arms too. Maybe I'll have to start second-guessing that dragon tattoo sooner than I thought.