The Tattoo of The Picture of Dorian Gray


The last thing he remembered from that night was drinking flaming Shanghai Nipple Twists with a beautiful young woman named Sybil at the Hosiery on Belmont.

Sybil was an actress — he could remember that, because she mentioned it just about every other sentence, insinuating it into conversation at every conceivable turn, things like, as an actress I really shouldn’t drink so many of these Shanghai Nipple Twists, or even though I spend most of my time at the theatre in rehearsal for the shows I’m acting in, I know people from all walks of life.

She needed a script writer to hold the attention of the audience, but he liked looking at her, and so he went the distance through three rounds of battle with the bright red cocktail without taking any damage. But then Sybil, who, as an actress, didn’t make that much money, convinced him to order a fourth round.

He forgot to extinguish the flames on the fourth Nipple Twist and burned off the five-o’clock shadow on his first sip, but he didn’t even feel it. His face was number than a snowman’s carrot.

They discussed late nineteenth century British playwrights who had published only one novel, and he groaned internally. It was the third time that week alone that the subject had arisen, and frankly he was tired of discussing Victorian-era aestheticism in literature.

Just the day before he had been in a department meeting about quarterly revenue projections, and no sooner had someone risen their hand to ask if the Operations Department would be shipping the new product line on time than the topic of producing literature for refined sensuous pleasure, rather than to convey moral or sentimental messages, arose.

But if the price of admission into Sybil the chatty actress’ boudoir was another discussion of Oscar Wilde, then so be it.

He remained unsure if he succeeded in that endeavor as he awoke alone except for a massive hangover and a throbbing pain on his backside.

“Oh no!” he said, leaping from the bed terrified of what he might have done the night before. Closer examination proved his worst fear had been realized.

He had gotten a tattoo of The Picture of Dorian Gray on his ass.

He had promised himself it would never happen: a big yellow Tweety Bird, a posing Betty Paige, a Chinese curse — these he would have gladly had tattooed on his face. But never a tattoo of The Picture of Dorian Gray.

Now everyone would ask to see it, and he would be compelled to drop his trousers and endure countless discussions about life imitating art and the disillusionment with societal norms in favor of decadent self-indulgence.

Dejected, he pulled on a pair of draw-string pants so at least he wouldn’t have to fumble with buckles and zippers all day at the office when he would show his co-workers his fiery red ass inflamed by his tattoo of The Picture of Dorian Gray.

“I would sell my soul if I could get rid of this tattoo,” he announced to the traffic jam around him.

At that moment the car radio played an advertisement with zippy calliope music.

Thinking of selling your soul due to an unwanted tattoo? Don’t make a deal with the devil! Make a date with Nate! Nate’s Gentle Tattoo Erase Parlor.

The ad and its uncanny timing proved that marketing is one of the universe’s few beneficial forces, like the power of Grayskull and He-Man.

He immediately called to make an appointment for that very afternoon and then continued on to his workplace for a day-long drawer drop and Oscar Wilde show-and-tell session.

Finally his appointment with Nate the tattoo eraser arrived. Nate violated his own No Questions Asked signage when he saw the tattoo.

“What in the hell where you thinking?” Nate asked. “Were you trying to be ironic?”

“I really don’t remember what I was thinking. Can you just remove it, please?”

“You got it. This is going to hurt like hell.”

Nate pumped a pedal with his foot and wielded something along the line of a dental drill.

“Aren’t you just going to use some chemical that breaks down the ink to make it fade?”

“That’s for wusses. You’re not a wuss, are you? No, here we use flesh-colored ink and just tattoo right over the old one.”

“But this place is called Nate’s Gentle Erase Tattoo Parlor. Where’s the gentle erase part then?”

“You don’t know much about business, do you? It wouldn’t be very bright to call it Nate’s This Is Going to Hurt Like Hell and Possibly Give You an Infection place.”

Nate leaned in to begin the painful process but then jerked away.

“Oh my god!”

“What’s wrong?”

“The tattoo of The Picture of Dorian Gray on your ass just tried to bite me.” He shook his head. “I think its expressing its disdain for authoritative control mechanisms meant to suppress the full expression of individuality, but frankly, it strikes me simply as self-centered hedonism.”

“Oh, here we go again!”

Nate set down his drill and said that he wouldn’t remove the tattoo.

“Look, I’d like to help you, but art is primarily about the elevation of taste and the pure pursuit of beauty. If I tattoo over The Picture of Dorian Gray, how would you face yourself tomorrow knowing that the arts should be judged on the basis of form rather than morality? Your ass will be sore, you’ll probably get an infection and you’ll have lost the the sensual qualities of art and the sheer pleasure they provide.”

“Could you at least draw a mustache on it?”

“Why a mustache?”

“If you must, know a mustache would maintain the energy and creativity of the tattoo’s aestheticism and keep the shorthand way of expressing the fears about alternative views of morality in art, but at least I could tell people its satire when I have to show them my ass.”

“That makes sense, but I can’t do it.”

“Why not?”

“I only have flesh-colored ink, remember? It wouldn’t do to have a flesh-colored mustache, unless we want to dabble in negative space, but that would really blur the lines between forms. You think you’ve got problems now.”

Later, thanks to a black Sharpie marker stolen from the office supply closet, The Picture of Dorian Gray tattoo received a mustache — jaunty with curled ends, but it immediately faded from his ass and reappeared on his upper lip. The same thing happened when he drew an eye patch, blacked out teeth, and added a surgical scar. Soon his own face looked as if he had fallen asleep at a fraternity beer bust.

Over the years, the tattoo of The Picture of Dorian Gray never faded even as he grew older. He simply had to learn to live with the fact that literary aestheticism shocked the Victorian establishment by challenging traditional values, foregrounding sensuality and promoting artistic, sexual and political experimentation.

But at least it never tried to bite anyone again.