Only the Strong Servive


About a month ago, I engaged in a Facebook spat with an old acquaintance. He ended up defriending me and I blocking him. An acquaintanceship officially ended in 21st century style. I wonder at what point we are going to include lawyers in these disagreements.

While this was unfortunate, I regret neither the escalation of the situation nor its result. I haven’t given the “loss” of this “friendship” one consideration in the last month. But not a week goes by when I don’t edit my final comment to him. And every time I mentally edit it the comment gets more brilliant, more poignant, more cleverly volatile, and, each time, more perfect.

This is an occupational hazard for someone who writes for a living in some form. The constant tweaking of a sentence or a phrase, the true deliberation over a word. I return to a piece in the middle of the night, touching up a sentence whose rhythm bothered me in bed. A Facebook post can take thirty minutes to compose, a Tweet is a nightmare. Emails take me far longer to write than one would expect for someone fluent in the language. To be frank, writing an email in Czech takes less time. Anyone who writes and edits fully commiserates.

I was thinking about all of this Saturday afternoon as I rode a tram into the city. Since the weather has  become hot and touristy, it awards us locals a chance to ride the tram with an Italian tourist stuck in our colons, to hear an American wax poetic about Europe’s cultural superiority, or to enjoy the slurred singing of drunken German people. And really, who doesn’t?

Depending on your experience, you consider any number of tattoos totally clichéd. Someone might love their lower back dolphin, and another might consider it nothing more than a tramp stamp. A bro might think his tribal tattoo makes his bicep rock out, while another might point out that his “tribe” inhabits Pittsburgh’s North Hills. A guy might think the spider tattoo on his neck makes him look like a badass, while someone else might dismiss it as dedicated posturing. Yours truly is secretly decorated with a comic strip character he finds endearing, but surely it could be labeled as stereotypical college boy tattoo numero uno.

Today, the man across from me on the tram is covered in tattoos featuring literal clichés: quotes, platitudes, phrases. As my trip is too short to employ reading material, I am passing the time reading his body.

His forearm advises me to Dream as if I’ll Live Forever, his left thigh stepping up the poignancy of that by suggesting that I Live as if I’ll Die Today. His right forearm tells me in Latin to seize the day, which frankly seems superfluous to his other appendages. His right bicep informs me that Only the Strong Servive (sic).

Though I teach English, I am no grammar nazi. I don’t correct spellings or grammatical miscues unless I am being paid to do so. Secondly, I could care less what art or quote or animal people get permanently inked onto their body. I am not judging him and I do not care.

I am stunned that people are comfortable getting quotes on their body. Aside from literally wearing a misspelled word for the rest of your life, what about the point and the words?

How could I possibly be sure that I will always believe that people should seize their day? What if I decide in my later years that they should be more careful and restrained? The strong being the only to survive is enormously arguable. In terms of physicality, sometimes the fast and the smart survive. Philosophically, sometimes it’s the malleable or the weak-minded who make it through. I’d be haunted, living out the rest of my days disagreeing with my own body.

A friend told me that after a period of depression she was about to get I can See Clearly Now, the Rain is Gone tattooed on her back. Before she could, a friend asked “Well, before you do this, can you see clearly now? Is the rain gone?” Having considered this from different angles, she decided against the tattoo.

Even more terrifying than meaning is the wording. I can’t stop mentally rewriting a Facebook comment from four weeks ago, what if a week after getting the tattoo, I think of a better way to reword or rephrase it? I can forget a Facebook comment by stowing it into the same area of the brain that houses trigonometry and my neighbor’s names. But a quote on my own body would be a nightmare. I’d spend my life editing it in my head, perhaps using markers to tweak it on my body. Eventually I would crack and have it edited by an artist. Then probably again. Then again. Then again. Essentially I would draft my body until I was a final draft, then I’d try to get it published before eventually just throwing the whole thing out.

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