Two Tattoos

I passed a guy on the sidewalk today who had several prominent tattoos, as indeed so many people do these days. I was thinking idly about how much things have changed, and how 25 or 30 years ago I knew very few people with even one tat on a shoulder, and now I know people with full-sleeve and even in a few cases full-body tattoos.

And I suddenly flashed on a stage direction from some play from at least a couple decades ago, about being wary of a man with two tattoos. The stage direction seemed so striking and funny to me at the time that I could remember just about the whole thing, except for what play it was from and what the character’s name was. Thinking back on it now, though, the stage direction seems rather quaint and small-minded. But the sharp way it’s phrased still made me chuckle to think back on it.

Yay for the Internet. Took me fifteen seconds to discover that it’s from Larry Shue’s brilliantly funny farce The Foreigner, which I saw the premiere of in New York City in the late 1980s. I remember it got poor reviews, but it was playing at a small off-Broadway theater (at the Astor Place Theatre I’m pretty sure), and thanks to some extra capital it could afford to run for a month or so to poor houses while hoping for good word of mouth to spread. Which it did and became a nice success, running for over a year if I’m remembering.

I saw the play twice, the first time when the houses were still poor and then again several months later. I bought a copy to read a few years later, which is when I found out the play had funny stage directions, too. Here’s the stage direction that accompanies the entrance of the creepy thug Owen Musser:

(Psychologists tell us to beware the man with two tattoos. One, he may have gotten on a drunk or a dare. But two means he went back. Owen is a two-tattoo man.)

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