Duck Soup: The Real Skinny

Remember when a factory outlet was exactly what it pretended to be? It was a retail shop established by a manufacturer to unload overstocked, damaged or second rate merchandise. Quality varied, and a shopping trip could yield a satisfying bargain or disappointment, but the low prices were an incentive to return.Those days are long gone, of course. Advertising has turned the low cost reputation to advantage and created outlet malls in which twenty, fifty or even one hundred name-brand stores peddle their company line. Outlet villages have become tourist destinations and the tour busses line up four deep at adjoining fast food restaurants and motels. Vacations have morphed into discount shopping sprees. There are doubtless even outlet outlets selling electrical fixtures and inlet outlets for the yachting crowd, outback outlets in the Australian bush and inward outlets catering to introspective Zen shoppers.The other day I passed an outfit which called itself the "Tattoo Outlet." After my initial derisive snort, I choked on my words as I realized the error of my cynicism.The "Tattoo Outlet" is a return to basics! What retail sale could possibly go more directly from factory to consumer than a tattoo? But then I wondered, is it really a traditional outlet? Are there days when a customer is inkily needled with skin designs that are too large or small, contain tiny defects or misspelled words? Maybe you can't always choose colors. Perhaps the artist sometimes insists on repeating a pattern over and over despite your stated preference. You really want a '34 roadster emblazoned on your chest and end up with a Grateful Dead skull with a long stemmed rose clenched in its grinning teeth.."Attention shoppers! For the next fifteen minutes we have a Blue Light special on skulls and roses."Still, there's no denying it, a tattoo outlet completely eliminates the middleman. I mean, there couldn't be a middle man, could there? Whoever heard of a second-hand tattoo?Well, I called an organ bank just to be sure, and son of a gun, skin is a transplantable organ! Normally this might be done following extensive burns or other severe skin damage. But it sure got me to thinking. Look around. A whole slew of folks are getting epidermally etched these days. Tattoo parlours are as ubiquitous as body piercing emporia. Everywhere you turn there are ankles, wrists, cheeks, tummies and thighs embossed with inky art. Low necklines, short-shorts and swimsuits reveal the trailing edges of designs that disappear into less public places. There are tattoo beauty contests with big cash prizes and folks spend a whole lot of money on epidermal decor."Honey, I just can't make up my mind. Will it be an all-over tattoo or that three bedroom home in the burbs?"How long can it be before an enterprising financier begins to offer mortgages? Soon elaborate full body designs would be seen as an investment akin to collecting Picassos. Bankruptcy might have interesting ramifications. Finally, as mortgagees began to trip over actuarial tables and die, a market would blossom in used tattoos. "Christy's" would have some really weird auctions."Our next item is a royal crest from the right hand of a deposed European monarch who prefers posthumous anonymity. Bidding will begin at twenty-five thousand."Loan sharking would take on a whole new meaning. You could lose more than your shirt playing strip poker. "Take it off. Take it all off."With the market flooded in used tattoos, discount stores would start to catch on. Medical experts displaced by HMOs would find jobs in the burgeoning field of art transplant surgery."Hey Babe, that design on your arm is terrif!" "I picked it up for a song at Dr. Bob's Repeat Rack. It used to belong to the drummer from Motley Crue!""Dig it. And check out the rose on my cheek. You'll never guess which famous actress wore it on her thigh!"Seems to me, the "Tattoo Outlet" better watch its fanny. When resale competition heats up, somebody is liable to get skinned.

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