Today a gentleman in tight fitting shorts walked over to the monkey bars where I hung entangled in my music box’s cables. I was resting, catching my breath in between sets, and I thought he was there to ask me how much longer I was going to take with the bars. Instead, he paused to ask me about my tattoo. He wanted to know where I got it, what it meant, and how much it hurt to stamp it onto my skin. I complimented him on his X-ray vision, since the shirt I was wearing covered that part of my arm.
“I noticed it while you were stretching,” he said, flashing me a picaro smile. “I was doing sit ups next to you.”
I told him the tattoo was my own design. I used to be a graphic designer and it was my attempt at drawing together different spiritual thoughts, ideas, and beliefs I had at the time.
It is the OM sign inside a lotus, I told him. It’s not a 30, as in when I had my 30th birthday. It is my personal interpretation of the mantra: OM mani padme hum, or the “Jewel in the lotus of the heart,” which I chant while I meditate or when Miami traffic stops to a constipated standstill.
“That’s cute,” he said. “Are you Buddhist?”
I told him I was a practicing Buddhist—of sorts—and recovering Catholic, like many. I hadn’t quite gotten the hang of both and was trying not to stray too far from either. Just in case, you know? Who can say which religion is right until it’s too late. For my part, I study and read what I can about all religions, and work into my life what feels right and works from each.
“So you’re spiritual,” the gentleman said.
Yes, I am, but you don’t want to say spiritual to a Cuban. It brings up a whole messy side you don’t want to know about.
“Oh, so you’re into that too,” the man wanted to know. “You’re into that santeria stuff!”
His eyes lit up; he was interested now. He was probably envisioning profane rituals performed in back alleys somewhere in South Beach, chicken carcasses strewn all over a dimly lit room, women and men dancing as if possessed by the devil, orishas spewing prophesies through the mouths of priests, all the while the sound of drums beating on through the night.
Not quite, I said to him. I’ve dabbled and seen enough strange things to respect it and keep clear of it, I said. Not every Cuban is into that stuff. Personally, I prefer something more laid back and closer to the heart.
I told him about the tattoo, the parlor I got it in New York. I said it didn’t hurt as much as it annoyed. Sitting still for two hours while someone scraped my skin was not a lot of fun. I told him I was thinking of getting a second one to go on my chest, but I was still thinking about the design. It had to be simple because I didn’t want to have to endure hours of scraping again, but I wanted it to be good too.
At that point, his workout partner walked up to us looking a little rattled. I was introduced and the tattoo admired. The workout partner seemed eager to break up the impromptu religious and art conversation, stressing that if they did not hurry, they would miss happy hour at a local neighborhood bar and the party they were invited to afterward.
The gentleman smiled, shook my hand, and wished me a good weekend. I finished my set, disentangled myself from my headset and proceeded to my last exercise before heading to the locker room.
Headphones secured and back in place, I pushed play and continued my workout, while Celia and Gloria crooned their Spanish duet salsa hit, Tres Gotas de Agua Bendita, or Three Drops of Holy Water, in my ears, which oddly enough, seemed fitting at the time.