This Mans Army and the Tainted Tattoo



This Man’s Army and the Tainted Tattoo


Poor William's lament. Photo by The Delta Bohemian

Poor William's lament. Photo by The Delta Bohemian

What say ye Poor William, a tainted tattoo? What do you mean, kind sir?

The power of the “almost permanent” can have long-term ramifications. New Year’s Day 1983 was the day Poor William decided to permanently mark his then thin frame. It was a cold day in Schwetzingen, Germany, where the burgeoning Boheme was stationed during the Cold War.

Poor William had experienced a lonely Christmas just days prior. He had been beat up and down the hall of his barracks by a street kid from Detroit. The younger soldier had put the word out that he would beat Poor William’s ass, so as soon as Poor William finished throwing typewriters at the Bolsheviks that day, he knocked on the barracks door of the Detroit Flash.

After asking the lad if he did indeed say he would beat the ass of one Poor William and ascertaining that he would, Poor William knocked him the f*** back into his locker, no less than 10 feet away. Poor William made a mistake when he did not follow up the incredible haymaker with several more.

Long story short, the Detroit Flash came out of the room eventually, and commenced to beat the living hell out of Poor William. When one of the hall full of bystanders saw a knife in the Flash’s hand, Poor William ran for the baseball bat. With weapons in the hands of both combatants, détente was established.

But, being Roundman’s son, Poor William found a way to get him shipped to a front line unit in a cold-ass region of Northern Germany. Poor William played craps with the First Sergeant on weekends at the NCO Club, and “rolling bones” and talking shit meant more than fair play back in the day.

Let’s get back to the tainted tattoo. Well, just one more bunny trail if I may. Christmas night, with a shining black eye, saw Poor William lonely, outside an NCO club in Heidelberg, Germany trying to sleep off a buzz under a bony tree, in the cold, while waiting on a ride back to town. Things were not looking good for the Even-Poorer William then. It was a rough couple of weeks for the Southern soldier boy.

He had been contemplating for some time (at least a day or two) whether to get an earring–left ear folks, left ear. During the 70’s and 80’s, an earring in the left ear meant you were just rebellious and anti-establishment, the right ear meant you were gay. Today, hell, they put them in both ears, gay or straight, rebellious or not.

Poor William, who had previously been a perfectly good “college boy,” had finally realized he was never really an academic college boy, though he made a damn good “frat boy.” He also now knew that he was not “good” either. Upon arriving at basic training at Fort Knox, Kentucky, Poor William thought, “Damn, what is wrong with all these folks? There is something seriously wrong with all of them.” Then he realized, “Damn, I am as messed up as they are, and likely more so!” With that realization began the real fun. Poor William always loved an adventure.

If he was going to be stuck in the military for two years, then by damn he was going to suck the marrow out of the Army and the chance to live overseas. In fact, he loved it so much, he almost signed up for more so he could go to Korea; I think he just liked the fact that you could have the same someone cook for you, clean for you, and give you some lovin’ for next to nothing on the Asian front. Hmmm, maybe it was a good thing he decided not to re-up!

Poor William knew he was heading back to Ole Miss and the land of Justin Bieber–he wasn’t born yet, but surely the Southern boys “generationally-constant” hairdo was a “Justin Bieber” even back then–haircuts. But, he was going back to the land of milk and honey as a grown-ass soldier man, who wasn’t going to take shit off nobody, unless they were bigger than him, of course, or was a fine-ass co-ed with a Farrah Fawcett body and head of hair.

Damn the Six-Million Dollar Man’s old lady was fine! What Partidge Family era boy doesn’t remember the rust-colored one-piece bathing suit with the hard right nipple, the thin gold chain, and the smile that could melt tungsten steel! Shameful–sorta!

Seriously, he wanted some lasting remembrance of his time in a life that was outside his proverbial Southern box. So, either a tattoo or an earring would have to suffice. He decided on the tattoo, only months later writing a hand-written letter home to Martha Jane and Billy, which included in the fine print, “Did I mention I got a tasteful little tattoo?”

The ironic thing is what he chose–a rebel flag with the word rebel underneath it. There were NO racist overtones or undertones in the choice. He wanted an American flag, but he figured it would be disrespectful, and he sure didn’t want any of the grim reaper “tats” that were prevalent at the time.

He had not been drinking–well one German beer–and the tattoo artists in downtown Heidelberg had a large rottweiler sitting beneath Poor William’s feet, so payment was not an issue.

He unwittingly chose a symbol that would lead to much controversy in the South and America at-large. He chose a symbol expressing his love for the South and at the same time representing his rebellion against much of what the South represented. Poor William did not have enough foresight to know how the flag could cause offense in the future.

When Poor William became a Christian in the mid-eighties, he became aware that marking one’s body was not seen favorably in scripture. Being always the zealot, he wanted to follow his newfound faith with gusto, but he lacked the funds and the pain tolerance to have it removed through a grinding process reported to be excruciating. His mother just said, “Be a rebel for Jesus.” It made sense to him and he avoided the pain.

However, almost thirty years later, Poor William never sees the tattoo on his arm; it is as much a part of him as his hair. The only time he thinks of it is if his shirt is off and he is around African-Americans. He does not want to cause offense to anyone, and for that reason wishes it no longer rested on his shoulder.

Is the confederate flag–known as the Stars and Bars behind the levee–inherently evil? No, but Poor William wants to cause no offense. So, as one sees more and more of Mr. WHATEVER MONTH barely clothed on the DELTA BOHMEMIAN, please know that he is egalitarian, loves the South deeply and dearly, but also recognizes that the rebel flag represents and is a reminder for many of the South’s not-so-finest hour. Yet it remains.

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  1. Lord Chuck says:

    So true. The decisions we make often have lasting consequences. I find myself in situations where I purposefully avoid wearing my favorite shorts in order to keep my “hooligan” tattoo under wraps. However, since I have begun to inculcate myself in the field of psychology; I have begun to realize that I am a culmination of my experiences. I spent a portion of my life being a hooligan. Poor William is a good person, he is a great friend, and in no way racially insensitive. Anyone who judges William by his tattoo is losing out on getting to know a bad mama jama. At the end of the day, we only have ourselves to lie down with, and we can only hope we have done the best we could by others. I think Petie would agree

  2. Well stated Lord Chuck, “I am a culmination of my experiences.” Damn I miss yo philosophical ass!

  3. P.W.—-Anyone who takes that “Final Step” and allows some tooed-up X-Hippie to permantely place a lifelong symbol on his/her body, has or should have, thought long and hard about this eternal Brand on one’s body. I do not believe, under any circumstance,you should “Ever” apologize for “The Confederate Flag”. History confirms that this was a legitimate “Battle Flag of Our Nation/State in Succession and War” and “Not” some ‘Racist Symbol” that regretably both Southern and Mid-Western, ‘White Trash Red -Necks”, would later “Disgrace” as their symbol of choice for their very “Bigoted Agenda”.

    You, my friend are “Not” a racist. Therefore, Please do not apologize for choosing to forever wear a symbol on your broad shoulders ,that our Ancestors died for. We both know that sacrifice was not for slavery, but States rights.

  4. Billy, looks like you could use a “Good Nap”. Stop and Take a “Damn Nap”. Shit!

  5. William, sounds like you are carrying the world on your shoulders. Life is way too short to spend valuable time dwelling on the stupid stuff we all did at one time. And lord knows, I too have done some epic stupid things, including offending a person or fifty along the way. Hell, ask the Swamp Rat about his rotting leg one day. (No regrets there. I lied)

    This Yankee is not offended by the Stars and Bars. And I hardly think of myself as a racist. I also refuse to buy into all that PC “code word” nonsense that’s so de rigueur these days. A man is judged by his actions and how he treats his fellow man. You, my friend, are one of the good guys.

    Now quit worrying about offending people and carpe the Jim Beam. Just cover your arm. Hahaha

  6. E’ Tu. ld. I still do (offend some) from time to time & often intentionally. One of my Dad’s favorite phrases has always been ” I don’t care if it Hair-lips every S.O.B. in Tallahatchie County”(Insert your invironment in place of Tallahatchie County). W.P.H. is indeed “One of the Good Guys” and I will always Have His Back.

    Fortunately, everything else around here has taken a back seat to “The Great Flood of 2011”.

  7. Charles Evans says:

    With just a little work, that Stars & Bars on your shoulder could look just like the Australian flag flying next to the Mississippi state flag on Bubba’s bank building!

    With that task completed, we could probably get you appointed the Australian Ambassador to Clarksdale before the next Aussie Day in April 2012.

    • I am afraid the Aussie’s would say I drink too little beer mate! BUT, vodka, that is a different story! Maybe ambassador to Russia! 🙂 Cheers! Poor William

  8. Yeah!!! Stolie!!! P.W. —Russian Ambassador! Break out The V-8, Donald Duck Grapefruit Juice, O.J. & Tonic.

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