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From Issue #57 December 4, 2014

Ghostbusters, Ink

Don’t cross the streams if you can’t swim the tide.

By Jamie Frevele Twitter icon 

I commission art based on what’s important to me. I’ve collected over 30 pieces that commemorate different aspects of my life, whether it’s something to motivate, honor, or remind me Memento-style. This art is inked all over my body, and every fall, when others perk up at pumpkin spice, I think about my next tattoo.

For years, I’ve tried to find not a place, but a shape, for a missing piece. It may sound improbable, but I need the perfect tattoo to pay tribute to the movie that shaped my entire sense of humor: Ghostbusters.

Knock, knock

I liked a lot of movies when I was a kid, but encountering Ghostbusters 2 and then its predecessor was like finding religion. That was my path. That was my destiny. I had found the exact location of my most receptive comedy circuits.

And, yes, I’m not ashamed that I saw the sequel first; it was one of the first non-Disney movies I remember seeing in a theater. While I’m a Disney fan to the core (cf., my Mickey Mouse tattoo), finding movies outside of that magical, animated cinematic realm that pressed a certain combination of emotional and psychological buttons in my pleasure center was not easy.

But there was something about these Ghostbusters — Venkman, Stanz, Zeddemore, and Spengler — that was special. I was used to broad, cartoonish comedy. These guys told jokes that were rooted in subtle, simple things. (“You’re right. No human being would stack books like this.”) Sometimes they didn’t even have to say a word. (“Doh!” “Ray!” “Egon!”)

Ghostbusters introduced me to the core of the kind of humor I’ve liked ever since. It doesn’t arise from being “special” or even unique, but from being smart, clever, and honest. And what does a cold, hard case of the truth often cause? Discomfort. The most successful comedians have a subversive desire to push buttons in people by amplifying unspoken or uncomfortable topics. No one likes to hear unpleasant things about themselves, like that they’re incompetent or a fraud. But strong people embrace mistakes and failures rather than try to save themselves by lying or running away.

The Ghostbusters’ story inspired me, because they were branded frauds and fired from cushy academic jobs for thinking outside of what is normal — literally accepting the paranormal. This thinking helped them build their ghostbusting business and find ways to trap and contain the undead spirits of New York, and ultimately save the world from the apocalypse. They crossed the streams of their proton packs in a way that should have killed them, but they had no other choice.

Hesitating at the Rubicon

I haven’t always lived up to the Ghostbusters’ approach to life; I haven’t always crossed the streams when they needed to be crossed. I’ve always hated confrontation and preferred to avert threats by lowering my standards or quitting. But lately, I’ve learned that this kind of behavior doesn’t pay off. I’ve had to learn how to adapt to a lot of things over which I have no control: being fired, dealing with grief and heartache, unrequited love, financial issues, illness — life.

You can’t control what happens in your life, but you can shape how you deal with it. Even when the Ghostbusters thought they had a handle on everything, it got way out of hand, not even counting the EPA’s obstruction. But you know what? They said “Screw it — let’s cross the streams.”

Living the Ghostbusters lifestyle goes beyond catching and containing ghosts while cracking jokes about the great city, county, and state of New York. A true Ghostbuster must stop trying to predict the future. I had to live life as if it was a super long-form improvisation, whether it involves my career, my romantic life, my morning commute, my kickboxing class, or even my creative writing and the way I put on my makeup in the morning. Life should be about telling your brain to shut up, stop thinking, and just go for it — cross the streams.

Excuse me, Egon. You said crossing the streams was bad. All life as you know it stopping instantaneously, every molecule in your body exploding at the speed of light. Total protonic reversal. But there’s definitely a very slim chance that we’ll survive. You know what? That should be enough, especially when the stakes are lower than having to save the entire world from destruction.

Once I realized that, I realized what my Ghostbusters tattoo had to be.

Not the most harmless thing

I couldn’t just slap the well-known anti-ghost image on myself. First of all, too obvious. Second, it’s just not pretty enough for me. All of my tattoos are pretty! Girly, swirly, curvy, delicate. There is nothing girly, swirly, curvy, or delicate about the Ghostbusters symbol, as much as I might love it. It’s a circle with a cartoon ghost inside and exactly three colors. I hate to say this, but as a tattoo, it’s just boring.

I have Clara Bow as Rough House Rosie to remind me there’s a fighter on my side. I have forget-me-nots on my right wrist as a note to people to remember me. I have a ladybug in honor of New York State — it’s the state bug — and plumerias on my shoulder in honor of my grandparents. If it’s not a literal girl, it’s something girly.

Once I save my pennies, I’ll be talking to my artist, who says I overthink my ink, to present the idea of two particle throwers, drawn in the old-school style, streams emerging, with a banner reading Cross the Streams or See You On the Other Side. I’ll put it on the inside of my left upper arm so it can be close to my heart and I can remember to live as dangerously as the best, as the beautiful Ghostbusters.

Illustration by Caty Bartholomew.

Jamie Frevele has appeared in The Daily Banter, The Maude, Mental Floss, Boing Boing, and The Mary Sue. She also writes and performs fictional things on camera and on stages from time to time. Don't ask her to see the tattoos that you can't already see.

You can purchase our complete archives, almost 300 articles, as a DRM-free ebook in PDF, EPUB, and MOBI formats. We ceased publication of new work on December 18, 2014.
You can purchase our complete archives, almost 300 articles, as a DRM-free ebook in PDF, EPUB, and MOBI formats.
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