Dear Cecil: As a Barry Goldwater fan from way back, I have long been intrigued by the tattoo he sports on the underside of his left hand. It’s small but impressive, creating a very subtle effect--macho, yet refined. What’s the story behind it? Does Barry wear it only to impress his male constituency, or does it have a deeper meaning? Where did he get one, and can I get one too? Ronald Reagan, Washington, D.C.
Barry’s tattoo is the trademark of the Smoki People, a group that operates out of Prescott, Arizona, and apparently functions as a sort of Boy Scouts for grownups, dedicated to “perpetuating the dances and songs of Southwestern Indians.” Clearly, you need not be an Indian to apply.
The tattoo consists of a line of four dots capped by a half circle. Naturally, the design is fraught with symbolism. The first two dots are given after the member participates in his first tribal dance; the third and fourth are given after his next two performances. Apparently fearful of turning their members into giant human pincushions, the Smoki People have set an upper limit of four dots per person. The half-circle is given to “chiefs,” but since Barry is only an honorary chief, his half circle has been placed on the high end of the row of dots, rather than the lower end, where it belongs.
Goldwater had the first two dots etched on when he was in India during the war (the Big One, that is); the second two were acquired in a Los Angeles tattoo parlor, and the half-circle was applied by the legendary Bruno of Paris. If you really want a set of your own, I’m sure a local needle jockey will be happy to oblige you.
Bear in mind, however, that should you tire of your tattoo, getting rid of it won’t be easy. A superficial tattoo can be abraded away by a dermatologist, but a big, deep one will have to be cut away, a painful and expensive process. If you’re not ready for that kind of commitment, make like a punk rocker from the suburbs and use Magic Markers.
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