Scars: The Real Man’s Tattoos


I don’t have any tattoos, so now you know where I stand on tattoos. What I do have is a growing collection of scars. The real man’s tattoos.

These permanent bookmarks in the story of our lives accumulate over the years, and by the time we hit middle age (especially for someone with a, um, checkered past), they can tell quite a tale.

This comes to mind as I added another deliberate one yesterday, with some outpatient surgery. A little crescent incision below my navel that will make my belly look like a smiling cyclops. Well, a smiling cyclops with a vertical scar on his cheek (spinal fusion, went in through the front).

Surgery scars usually make for a pretty boring story: “Oh, yeah, then on the eighth visit to the doctor I told him how my urine was bloody and lumpy…” People act like they are interested, just to be polite. Or, they’re waiting patiently to tell their boring surgery story.

So I’m not going to bore you with the boring story of my boring rotator cuff (2009, 3 scars), multiple sinus polyp removals (hell, the only people who can see those scars are TSA agents), or the spinal fusion (it’s been well-documented).

The interesting scars almost always come from emergency surgery. The most cringe-inducing scar is one I don’t show to anyone, not even TSA agents. Imagine the exit wound from a high-caliber slug that goes through-and-through. A perfectly round, puckered dent of plum-colored flesh. Now imagine a urologist who swears he’s done 15,000 vasectomies and has never had an incision do this before. Now imagine…

Okay, I think you get the picture. Let’s move farther south, shall we? Every time I shower, when I wash my feet I see the 3-inch beauty that goes right across the instep of my right foot. Casper, Wyoming, circa 1981. After a night of drinking and shooting fireworks at the drive-in theater screen with some college friends I was visiting, we decided to take our party down to the North Platte River. I was broke. Somebody bet me $20 I wouldn’t swim across the river. On the way back across, a quarter mile downstream, I walked in the muddy bottom toward the bank, wearing nothing but boxers, and stepped on broken glass. My foot was badly sliced. They managed to get me to the ER, and now I have this thin, white scar telling me I should have worn shoes. I never even got my $20.


I’ll bet Matthew McConaughey deals with this all the time.

There’s a thin scar on the back of my left hand, where I got nailed by a 300-yard drive at Larchmont golf course in 2007. Snapped the metacarpal. Good thing I had a golf glove on, or the ball would have gone clean through, and the guy would have been chipping for eagle. That one required some hardware and a two-month break from the guitar.

That same left hand also bears a small scar from a terrifying case of Bongo Pinky. It’s a rare condition that comes from playing bongos too hard with bad technique, causing a mass to form on the outside of the pinky. When the mass got big enough to get in the way of playing Chuck Berry licks on the guitar, action had to be taken. The bongo lumpectomy was performed by the same surgeon who did the hand and the shoulder. He is methodically rebuilding my left arm. They have the technology.

Not that my right hand doesn’t have its share of scars. The oldest mark is a visible bit of graphite embedded in my palm, from a grade school lunch room incident. I stabbed a pencil through a milk carton to impress my friends. It went into my hand. They were impressed with my stupidity.


It was only a few weeks after this that I was back to wearing a beret and reciting beatnik poetry.

There’s a half-circle around one of my knuckles resulting from a foosball-related incident. We had a table in the frat house, and there was foosball going on night and day. I had a front-line pull shot that was so good it would make you weak in the knees. On the night in question I became agitated and put my fist through a small window near the table. After applying whiskey internally for anesthetic effect, we found the actual wrinkled knuckle skin that had been sliced cleanly off (“Oh, man, I think I can see bone!” “Here, have some more anesthetic!”). I dropped it into the pocket of my Hawaiian shirt—I swear to god—and we went to the ER where some intrepid doctor was able to sew it back on. The wrinkles even face the right way.

Another, less evident scar is probably my oldest. It’s on the back of my head, under the hair, but when I get my summer crewcut you can plainly see the inch-long, horizontal crater. Yes, another fun trip to the ER. I was seven or eight, probably still living at home, and I rode a hippity-hop ball off the edge of a neighbor’s cinderblock-walled yard a couple of feet down onto the sidewalk. Well, as their name implies, hippity-hop balls bounce. Mine bounced backward toward the cinderblock wall, and my head hit the edge of the top brick. On the corner, of course. I recall running across the street to my house, trailed by half a dozen horrified kids, blood soaking the back of my t-shirt. Mom rushed me to the ER, where I presume they X-rayed my noggin (no lasting damage, but I remember thinking Paul Lynde was funny for a while) and they stitched me up. This was back in the day when they used silk sutures, and two weeks later my dad said he’d take the stitches out himself. I don’t recall much about the whole episode, but I thought it was cool that he just snipped off the stitches with nail clippers. No big deal.

Scars are generally viewed as disfiguring features, unfortunate anomalies that spoil an otherwise smooth surface. I disagree. A scar is sometimes a small reminder of an interesting story, sometimes a big, bold symbol of how close you came to death or the desperate measures that were taken to keep you alive. Our scars help define us, they provide signposts along our journey. They are earned, not bought.

Like this little one on my cheek, just below my left eye. You can see it when I squint. It makes me remember her. But that’s another story.

   Check out all of Bob Wire’s posts in his blog archive.


Have an off-white Christmas with Bob Wire.Think of it as Gonzo meets Hee Haw: Missoula honky tonker Bob Wire holds forth on a unique life filled with music, parenthood, drinking, sports, working, marriage, drinking, and just navigating the twisted wreckage of American culture. Plus occasional grooming tips. Like the best humor, it’s not for everyone. Sometimes silly, sometimes surreal, sometimes savage, Bob Wire demands that you possess a good sense of humor and an open mind.

Bob Wire has written more than 500 humor columns for a regional website over the last five years, and his writing has appeared in the Missoulian, the Missoula Independent, Montana Magazine, and his own Bob Wire Has a Point Blog. He is a prolific songwriter, and has recorded three CDs of original material with his Montana band, the Magnificent Bastards. His previous band, the Fencemenders, was a popular fixture at area clubs. They were voted Best Local Band twice by the Missoula Independent readers poll. Bob was voted the Trail 103.3/Missoulian Entertainer of the Year in 2007.

You can hear his music on his website, or download it at iTunes, Amazon, and other online music providers. Follow @Bob_Wire on Twitter.


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