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D.C. Wants To Make Sure You Truly Want That Tattoo

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Washington, D.C., is famed for delays: in Congress, traffic, and now, tattoos.

The District of Columbia Health Department has proposed a 24-hour waiting period before anyone can be adorned with what the draft regulation calls "body art."

That language is inked inside a 66-page package of proposed provisions, most of which pertain to using fresh needles, safe inks and clean gloves. All of which may make you wonder: "Haven't they been doing that?"

But Najma Roberts, a Health Department spokeswoman, says the waiting period is proposed to deter people from getting emblazoned at midnight with a phrase or image — like, say, a heart with Anthony Weiner's name inside — that they may regret the next day.

"We're making sure when that decision is made that you're in the right frame of mind," said Roberts. "And you don't wake up in the morning saying, 'Oh my God, what happened?' "

Washington would be the largest city in the country to mandate a tattoo waiting period, and tattoo artists are alarmed. They say they already avoid putting the needle into customers who are clearly drunk or on drugs. But a lot of their business comes from people who walk in and want to leave with a dragon on their shoulder.

I don't know the tattooees' frame of mind. But I have observed that if you go to a great seaport town, like Seattle or Charleston, S.C., the tattoo parlors seem to be next to bars, not Starbucks.

Every few weeks, our daughters bring home the kind of tattoo you can rub on with a wet sponge, usually cats, flowers or princesses; they wash off in the bath. There are even public radio tattoos — using soybean-based ink, of course! — for sale at the NPR Shop, though I doubt that a sailor who lifts a sleeve to reveal an All Things Considered tattoo would intimidate a bar lout.

For many, the whole appeal of tattoos is that they are painful and permanent. People may wince years later to see evidence of past loves and allegiances so everlastingly inscribed over their hearts or triceps. But they are indelible markers of youthful passion and undying commitment, even when — maybe especially when — the tattoo lasts longer.

But body art may have received a boost this week when Miss Kansas, Theresa Vail, became the first Miss America contestant with a visible tattoo. It's the Serenity Prayer. Maybe instead of a new regulation, D.C.'s Health Department might want to post a version in tattoo parlors:

"God grant me the wisdom to know that the tattoo I'm so sure I want to get now will be on my body for the rest of my life, so maybe I should just get a cup of coffee and think about it."

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