Four old white geezers, ages ranging from about 62 to about 75, were sitting in the hot tub at the YMCA, soaking up warmth after their swims has drained the heat from their slowly declining circulatory systems. Knowing what I know of the clientele, we were middle and upper class folks, several retired, the others on extended lunch breaks or in semi-retirement with afternoons free. One was working a sore knee in front of one of the whirlpool jets.
Two young men in their late 20s or early 30s sauntered up to the whirlpool with a casual rolling gait; both were extremely muscular with a hardness to their bodies that was in decided contrast to the comfortable pudginess of the old white guys already in the whirlpool.
A slight but obvious nervous tension appeared in several of the old white guys. The newcomers were men of color, and appeared to be of mixed ethnic background—I took them to be Hispanic and African American. This is not where the nervousness in the white guys arose, but rather in the fact that the newcomers were liberally tattooed with images that might lead one to believe that they might have some present or past affiliation with gang life. One young man had blue teardrops tattooed below one eye, as well as several intricate and aggressive tattoos on his arms and legs.
The other young man had a huge tattoo of a crucifix on his chest and belly. The scrollwork on the cross was intricate and complicated, reflecting a good deal of time and skill by the tattoo artist. The cross-arm of the crucifix ran fully across the young man's nipples and the vertical post of the crucifix started just below his chin then ran south to disappear beneath the waistline of his swim trunks toward his pubic area. On each side of the crucifix, just below the cross member, was a large word that together read "Suffer, Jesus," the words separated by the vertical post of the crucifix.
I found myself puzzling the presence of that comma, and reflected on the difference that it would make for that comma to be missing. "Suffer Jesus" might be interpreted liturgically as "Allow Jesus into your life," while "Suffer, Jesus" wanted to be read grammatically as an imperative, a rebellious order telling Jesus that he should suffer.
Either way, it was a slightly shocking tattoo in this environment, and I think the palpable nervousness of the old white guys was mostly because of this single tattoo and wondering what it implied about this pair of powerful young men of color.
I was expecting the scene to play out in uncomfortable silence for several minutes as, one-by-one, the old white guys slipped out of the hot tub and scurried into the nearby shower room. Instead, though, one of the old guys said "Hey, where did you get the bottled water? Is it sold here?" I hadn't noticed that the young man wearing the crucifix tattoo had entered the hot-tub holding two ice-cold bottles of water. "
"No, man," said crucifix man. "I buy them at Munch and Pump for $.45 each."
"They sell bottled water upstairs," the other young man said, "But it's highway robbery at $2.50 a bottle, and they are really small bottles."
"I know," said another of the old white guys, unheard until now. "How in the world do they justify that much money for simple water?"
Several minutes of relieved sports-related pleasantry now passed between everybody in the hot tub, then the young tattooed men stood to exit the whirlpool. "Here man," said crucifix man to the old guy who had first asked about the water, handing him one of the bottles. "I've got two, and you look hot."
The old guy accepted the bottle of water, and started to make noises about paying the young man back.
"No sweat," said crucifix man. "It's just four bits." As the two young men headed for the locker room, the other one turned back with a pleased and slightly surprised smile on his face "Have a good day, dog."