Peering into the lives of the tattooed.

Years ago, I interviewed someone for a job who looked at first glance like the perfect candidate. She said all of the right things, acted appropriately interested in the job, and wore the requisite interview clothing. But as she sat down in our conference room, I noticed that tucked between her hairline and her collar was a tattoo. And not just any tattoo, but what looked to be a two-inch-by-four-inch bar code.

I didn’t ask her about the bar code (somehow, that didn’t seem like an appropriate interview question), but I was curious. There was a story attached to that tattoo, and I wanted to know what it was. But we didn’t reconnect, so I didn’t have another chance to ask her about it.

Then not too long ago, a co-worker and I were talking about a TV documentary she saw outlining the stories behind peoples’ tattoos. She’s not a tattoo person herself (not that I know of anyway), but she enjoyed learning the reasons why these people permanently decorated their bodies.

Her reaction to the documentary led to a discussion, and that discussion led to another: What about our neighbors’ tattoos? Surely, there are more tattoos lurking on ankles and shoulders than we might suspect, and there must be a story behind each one.

The result is this month’s cover story.

Finding neighbors to talk about their tattoos wasn’t overly difficult, although we encountered resistance from a few people who said they didn’t want to read about tattoos in their neighborhood magazine. And there was a fair amount of trepidation when it came to identifying neighbors with tattoos or even volunteering themselves — some weren’t so sure they wanted their neighbors to know they had decorated their bodies, regardless of the reason.

This story isn’t an attempt to glorify tattoos or encourage people to get one (or two or three…). Nor are we trying to scare people away from tattoos. Neither decision is any of our business.

But we think it’s interesting to know there’s a story behind every tattoo, and we thought you would be interested in hearing some of our neighbors’ stories.

To this day, I still wonder about that job applicant’s bar code tattoo and the story behind it. Given another chance, I would ask about it.

Since most of us can’t or won’t ask someone about their tattoo, this story is our chance to pull back a collar or pull up a pants leg and find out a little something about a neighbor.

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