Sunday, August 26, 2007

Inkless in Key West

In 1966, an apparently-not-so-astute Naval Commander insisted that Key West prohibit tattoo parlors from its island paradise. Why? Because they were "too accessible" for drunken sailors.

Where do I even begin on this one? First, thank God (or Allah or Jimmy Buffett or Hemingway - depending on your spiritual swing) that it only took 40 years for someone to conclude that it was unconstitutional for a city to ban a practice permitted by the sovereign state of which it's a part, especially at the behest of a DoD employee. Oddly, the US military is constitutionally prohibited from taking any form of police or law enforcement action on US soil, yet a commander can tell a city to ban an entire industry because said commander cannot control his own charges.

Let's peel another layer off this onion, shall we? A sailor in the US Navy gets drunk and gets inked - and apparently this happens with some frequency. Really, who hasn't seen some surly old guy greeting you at Wal*Mart or staggering out of the package store with some blurry image of a pin-up girl, neatly covered with liver spots and gray arm hair? It would seem that such behavior was relatively ubiquitous "back in the day" regardless of what our grandparents would like us to think. So, to keep this from happening, an officer of the US military tells a city what it can, or in this case, CANNOT do. Granted, there are countless reasons why the culture of Key West might make one think twice about being a tattoo artist or getting inked in that particular locale, but drunken sailors on shore-leave shouldn't be among them.

Instead, this commander (or heck, the entire US Navy) should take better control of those sailors which it otherwise considers to be property. Here's a few simple rules that shouldn't be too hard to execute if you are a good custodian of your enlisted personnel:
1) You will not get intoxicated off-base.
2) You will not get tattoos in form or any place on your body without written permission.
3) You will not disgrace the US Navy by wandering the streets of cities, American or otherwise, in a drunken stupor.
4) Doing any of the above will result in disciplinary action up to and including dishonorable discharge.

It took forty years for common sense to prevail and only after litigation. Why just Key West? Why not New Orleans? Jacksonville Beach? Tokyo? Ho Chi Minh? Pensacola? Miramar?

Yet again, I am amazed that the US government got away with this action and a local government wasn't smart enough to prevent it, yet a bunch of artists were able to demonstrate the inanity of it all. But while I am amazed, I am not surprised . . . after all, look at all the rocket surgeons and brain scientists we re-elect.

Gotta run, Miami Ink is coming on! Soon to be followed by American Chopper - nothing like a loud bike to wake up that surly Wal*Mart former-party-boy greeter.

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