The Great Tattoo Protest of 2011

An inky situation; Weekly World News; Farewell to Cornell
By RUDY CHEEKS  |  May 18, 2011

Last Saturday was just another typical day in the Cool, Cool World. Joe Kernan, the features editor and author of the best police log reports in the Biggest Little for the Beacon Communications string of newspapers, was coming to my place to do an interview about the impending Memorial Day weekend Young Adults/Phoebe Legere & Sir George Leonard concerts at the Met in Pawtucket. (I haven't been keeping count on the Phoebe plugs, but toss another log on the blazing pyre, folks. I missed a couple of weeks.)

Joe pulled up in his Joe-mobile — a classic print reporter's car full of all manner of detritus that would indicate he's actually living in the car and not in a house or apartment — and immediately blurted out, "Hey Rudy, do you think that tattoos are a civil rights issue?" While I am certain that the late Mohandas Gandhi and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. never spoke out about the relationship between the struggle for human dignity and tinted body parts, I was still uncertain about the answer to Joe's philosophical query.

Joe explained that he had just cruised by Hoxie Four Corners, one of Warwick's busiest intersections, and witnessed a crowd of about one score young ragamuffins carrying placards and a giant flag — i.e., doin' some protestin'. Neither Joe nor I were strangers to protestin', but Joe seemed a bit miffed that one of the protesters was carrying a placard, referring to a tattooed cohort, that read: "This man was fired for the color of his skin."

Joe's observation was certainly logical: "The guy voluntarily colored his own skin. That's hardly a civil rights issue."

I suggested we hop into the Joe-mobile and head back to Hoxie Four Corners to talk to the dissidents. When we arrived, there was a noisy throng of twenty-somethings causing a stir outside the Walgreens drug store. Drivers were alternately beeping their horns or rubbernecking at the demonstration, a regular guerilla theater scene that spoke to my aging '60s heart like a visit from Eddie Haskell. I approached the guy wielding the large flag sporting the word "Tattoos." He also happened to be the most heavily inked of the crowd, something on the order of Rod Steiger in The Illustrated Man. A natural leader to be sure.

His name was Nathan Hardisty and Nathan was the reason for the protest. He explained that the powers-that-be at Walgreens had recently given him an ultimatum: get rid of the tattoos or you lose your job. He said that he'd been a manager at the store for two-and-a-half years and there was never any discussion about there being a problem with the tattoos. Nathan felt that he was being discriminated against and that it wasn't fair.

That is when he told me about the most ridiculous part of the whole tale. Nathan said management at the Walgreens said it would provide him with "make-up" that would cover his tattoos. Would this be something like full-body whiteface, used as a base by classical mime performers, or full-body blackface, a la Al Jolson and Bing Crosby and his friends? I couldn't imagine any sort of over-the-counter "make-up" available at Walgreens that would cover these tattoos.

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