Fat, Body Piercing and Tattoos [2012]

I am not into body piercing and tattoos. In fact, when I sat down to write this essay I originally misspelled “tattoo,” that is how alien the whole thing is.

As for the “fat” part, as we say in the law racket, “Further deponent sayeth not.”

This weekend I drove through verdant moist warmth of a New England August and visited Canobie Lake Park. For those who do not know it, the Park is an old-fashioned amusement park that seems to have found a nostalgic niche in competition with more flamboyant and up-to-date amusement venues. There are the kinds of rides WE rode as kids. There is a water park with short safe slides, nothing – well—splashy. There are entertainment venues with impersonators of Tim McGraw, Michael Jackson, Janet Jackson and Elvis. The demise of at least half of those people seems to pass unnoticed.

You can even bowl Skee-Ball. And earn tickets for high scores, redeemable for useless trinkets. Just the way I grew up….

But there is a difference here. And it has to do with, yes, fat, body piercing and tattoos.

I hasten to observe, right up front, that although the Park seems to draw an incredible diversity of people (the population more reflects the demographics of the region, with its people of Asian and African and Latin background, than just about any other venue I can recall except perhaps Boston’s decayed Downtown Crossing), the phenomenon seems to ignore ethnicity, age, skin color, and everything else save the one common element: if you are fat, have lots of body piercing and/or are replete with tattoos, you are statistically much more likely to be at Canobie Lake Park than anywhere else – Boston City Jail only excepted.

And this is not a population gathered to make a statement. You find these people as they are in real time: skin-tight T-shirts further shrunken by a drenching in the water park or some flume ride, shorts so brief as to make leer-ers of us all, tattoos on men’s arms and shoulders and necks and legs, tattoos disappearing into fatty crevices that polite people do not describe when referring to women, iron and brass sticking out of ears and noses and tongues and, yes, in visible outline under shirts from nipples and navels.

Are these people fundamentally slovenly as a group? Well, frankly, yes they are. Not dirty, just not white suburban middle class neat, scrubbed and coordinated. In fact, the key word is “uncoordinated.” Nothing matches anything; the tattoos are blue and red, the do-rags around the head are black and white, the Celtics shirt is of course green, the shorts are striped, and the shoes are likely to be unlaced work boots on men, unlaced sneakers on women.

The kids can get away with it, but you just have to probe the adult adherents. How to sound casual?

In line for a head-jerking spinning ride, me: “Nice tattoo.” [Unspoken: does the tiger have a tail or has it lost it in a fight, the tiger’s butt has disappeared into a roll of fat sticking out of your shirt and falling down your back.] Reply, “thanks, man, got it in Iraq.” [He looks like a jerk and he defended my liberty? Oops….]

Eating a fruit cup from the one healthy vendor and turning to a sixty-ish woman dripping powdered sugar down her shirt-front from her fried dough, me: “How long have you had the, you know….” Reply, “Last year, I got it in Hampton Beach, my granddaughter and I did it together. You like?” [Oh yeah, what do I mumble now?]

Stopping an enormous woman with flabby arms, bright tattoos of snakes and a bar through her nose and with what seems like forty children under the age of seven in tow: “Excuse me, are all those children yours?” Reply, “No, I got them in that booth there, if you break a balloon with a dart they give you one.” [Whoops, a regular Mae West on steroids.]

There is no rhyme, reason or predictor except, here they all are. In a ten minute “experiment” I find that 15% of all adults I see have tattoos, about 10% of the men have earnings, and fully half are what might be classified as “obese.” Not chunky. Not full-bodied. Not overweight. Just plain really really fat.

So what can you buy to eat, here at the Park? I will spare you the litany, you can imagine. One pushcart has fruit cups; one stand has salads in plastic. No signage for either. Advertising for all that is not good abounds (the signs for onion rings, fries, soft-serve ice cream and dough are ubiquitous).

The kids don’t care; they don’t see it, or it does not register. They are at that lucky early stage where passing judgment on people with a different personal style is ahead of them (although from what I hear about Middle Schools, not all that far ahead). For us button-down types in crisp khaki shorts and collared shirts and our backpacks with sun screen and deet-laden bug spray, it is an exercise in self-control and unrestrain-able snobbish moments.

On the way home we stop in an ice cream shop in our neighborhood in Newton. The shirts have polo players or logos from golf clubs. Even though these people are buying an ice cream, they are trim, their shirts tucked neatly into crisp shorts, proper golf skirts. Not a tattoo in sight. No body ornaments except for those lovely small seashell gold earnings, and those are all on the women. As for body fat – these people, even the pudgiest, are in the minor leagues of lard.
Ahhh—safely at home in the trim, neat suburbs. We have survived our August walk on the wild side.