How to Pick the Perfect Tattoo, as Explained by Bob Odenkirk
'Breaking Bad' and 'Better Call Saul' star Bob Odenkirk offers his quirky wisdom about choosing a meaningful tattoo you won't regret.
Nishant Choksi for Reader's Digest
First, pause! A tattoo, drawn in permanent ink, will stay on your body forever, so you need to make the RIGHT CHOICE. You need time to think about the possibilities, contemplate what has meaning for you, and consider how the image will age with you. With this in mind, we have the three criteria you should follow for tattoo hunting:
1. Do not be in a hurry.
2. Do not be drunk.
3. Do not be drunk and in a hurry.
These are simple directives, but if you cannot follow them, we understand. It’s very common for these simple rules to be discarded in the face of the notion of getting a permanent tattoo permanently drilled into your skin forever and ever.
So you’re set on it, are you? You are getting a tattoo, and you’re drunk, and you have to do it right now? Fine. Glad I made that first list. Onward.
Step one: You need to make a list of things you love. These cannot be things you love today, or this week, or even this year. These must be things you’ve loved for a long, long time. Below is an example list. This is not necessarily the list you would make, but it’s close enough so that you can use it, since you’re drunk and in a hurry.
Example tattoo list:
1. Mom (yours)
2. Favorite movie (e.g., The Big Lebowski)
3. Favorite rock band (e.g., Rush)
4. Favorite album/year (e.g., 2112)
5. Celtic/yin-yang design
6. Something you like, have always liked, and will always like (e.g., a piece of chocolate cake)
Let’s look closer at your list.
First of all, “Mom,” the classic, made popular by men who’d spent time in the trenches of World War I and its sequel, World War II. These men made wise choices, getting tattoos that reminded them of their mothers—the only women who truly loved them. Keep in mind, this was the early part of last century, so these were stay-at-home moms. Nowadays, Mom has to work to keep the family in two cars and wireless devices (and a house), so we justifiably feel far less affection for her. Scratch Mom off the list.
The second one—favorite movie. Here you might choose to get the name of the movie tattooed or the likeness of a character—like the popular character of the Dude from The Big Lebowski. This will always remind you of a lazy stoner guy who made you smile whenever he was on the screen. Here’s the rub: If you get this tattoo, then people will always be playing this movie for you—at every birthday, at your bachelor or bachelorette party, on Mother’s Day or Father’s Day. No movie can withstand this kind of scrutiny; believe me. I know a guy with an image of Napoleon Dynamite on his forearm, and he’s constantly asked if he “still loves that movie,” to which he always grins and says, “Leave me alone.”
This same logic can be applied to the next two tattoo possibilities on your list: your favorite rock band and/or album. Your taste will change as you grow older. You may even stop listening to music completely as you turn fifty and become enamored of talk radio and the rantings of your favorite pundit, or when your “favorite” band reunites for “one last tour” and you pay too much to see them and they just sound like garbage, and Neil Peart looks like the angry neighbor who called the cops on you when you were a teenager. I promise you will get sick of your favorite music, no matter how much you like it. However, you can always get a tattoo of “Weird Al” Yankovic, as he’s a “perennial”—and thanks to his ironic dimension, he remains relevant forever.
Do not get a Celtic symbol or a yin-yang design. Either will just become wallpaper. People won’t even ask you about it. What good is a tattoo if it evokes nothing from people around you? It has to be a statement of some kind. You’re not that drunk, are you?
Finally, something you love, always have loved, and always will love. A piece of chocolate cake. Is this a legit tattoo? I’ve never seen it done, but here’s what I know: Everyone likes chocolate, and everyone likes cake. People like chocolate cake even if they’ve just finished eating a piece of chocolate cake. Children like it, alienated teenagers like it, and old people love it. Wherever you are, people will see your tattoo and immediately feel connected to you!
Meanwhile, every time you look in the mirror and see it, you will ask yourself, “Why did I get this? Oh, right—I LOVE chocolate cake! I should get a piece right now! Thanks, tattoo!”
So it’s settled, then. You are getting a tattoo of either “Weird Al” Yankovic or the words A PIECE OF CHOCOLATE CAKE.