This last Thanksgiving I was at my wife’s family’s house when I spotted a heavily tattooed man over by the mac-and-cheese. A "heavily tattooed" man in the old days was what my mother called a friend of theirs with three tattoos that he got in the Marines. A heavily tattooed person now is when the tattoos spread up through your collared long-sleeve shirt and out onto your neck and face.

Most of the time I wouldn’t necessarily talk to someone like that, but for some reason, I was drawn to him. I found out that he was a tattoo artist and he plied his trade in a college town in Massachusetts. I was fascinated when he said he mainly worked on college kids. I have one child in college and another one in a few years. Since I was unsure when I would again talk to a tattoo artist, I peppered him with questions.

He said that the average customer he sees is three sophomore girls. Not one girl. Not two girls, but three sophomore girls. They come in together for support. He has drawn on more three sophomore girls than anything else. His average customer picks out a symbol from stock images and has it done on a side rib under their arm. That way a larger bikini can hide it. He said he does not like to do it on the side rib. "Ribs are bumpy" he said. It is a difficult place to put tattoos.

According to him, the sophomore women usually pick out a unity or yin/yang symbol, a stock Buddhist symbol, or maybe a Celtic cross or ring. All taken from the most popular stock images to show their individuality. A few years back, the popular place for 19-year-old women to get tattoo was on the center of their back right above their butt. There was a derogatory phase for those. They are not as popular now as the ribs.

He seemed kind of sad when he said used to work in a larger shop in California and made more unique designs. He seemed to yearn for larger canvases, but he headed east when his wife was accepted into grad school at the nearby college.

He also mentioned that a growing number of tattoo shops are now offering tattoo removal. I think that is a great business model. It is like McDonald’s offering liposuction. They could even use the same slogan advertising. "We put it on, and take it off your belly (or ribs)." He said the removal process is not perfect and leaves a scar.

A week after Thanksgiving, my college sophomore daughter and her friends found themselves in a tattoo parlor in their college town. My daughter said that she was just there for support. She did not get a tattoo, but her friends did. On their side ribs. My new tattoo artist/psychic friend was spot on as to what the girls would put on their ribs. One picked a Buddhist symbol. (she is not a Buddhist). The other likes to travel so she got a stock image of an airplane silhouette on her ribs.

My other daughter pulled up on social media a picture of the tattoo that the girl had broadcast to the world via the Internet. The plane reminded me of the World War II cards that the allies gave their troops to identify enemy aircraft. I Googled the images and the sophomore’s tattoo was almost identical to a WWII German transport plane.

My nephew got a tattoo recently of a Crock-pot. It was the first Crock-pot the tattoo artist had done. When we were younger my mother worked full time and she would make dinner in the Crock-pot in the morning. And when she came home dinner was ready. My mother died last year, and my sister and nephew got matching Crock-pot tattoos. The family just hopes he never ends up in prison as I don’t think the Crock-pot tattoo is going to make him look very tough. At least he didn’t get it on his ribs.

Thomas Lawlor lives in Southport with his wife and two daughters. His column appears every other Friday. He can be reached by email at Tlawlor@mcommunications.com.