Saddam Hussein has been on the minds of many Americans, and now he is showing up on their rear ends.
A Saddam tattoo -- an image of the Iraqi leader being clawed by an American eagle -- is a hot new seller in the suddenly booming tattoo business.
"From eyebrows to butts, and from butts to ankles, people are putting Saddam," said Joseph "Spider Webb" O'Sullivan, president of the 10,000-member Tattoo Club of America and owner of Spider Webb Tattoo Studio in Derby, Conn.
Joseph MacFarlane, a pre-law student at Fordham University in New York City, said he paid $400 for his new, 6-by-8-inch Saddam tattoo to show solidarity with U.S. troops.
"When I get older, my kids will ask, 'What's that?' " MacFarlane said, referring to the American eagle on his left shoulder blade clawing the Iraqi leader. "And I'll explain about the gulf war."
In the last two weeks, people have lined up at tattoo shops across the country to have permanent patriotic symbols put on their bodies. Many of the tattoos cost $200 to $500.
"We are definitely seeing more people coming in and asking for flags or eagles or military insignias," O'Sullivan said. "These tattoos are a very personal way of identifying with the war and our boys over there."
At shops near U.S. military bases, including those in the Norfolk area, tattooers said they can't remember when so many civilians requested tattoos, and so many people wanted red-white-and-blue designs.
"Before, it was butterflies and unicorns. Now it's eagles and American flags and things that represent the good old U.S.A.," said J.D. Crow, owner of the Ancient Art Tattoo Studio in Yorktown, Va., near the Norfolk Naval Base. "There's been quite an increase, probably about 100 percent."
Mick Beasley, an owner of Dragon Moon Tattoo Studio in Glen Burnie, had to design a whole new line of American eagles to meet the demand. "We've had a whole slew of people come in, and they want traditional American symbols," he said.
Freddie L. Beall, a plumber from Odenton, yesterday had a two-inch U.S. flag needled into his upper left arm. "With the war going on and all, I'd like to support the country any way I can," Beall said in a telephone interview from Charley & Sandy's Great Southern Tattoo Co. in College Park.
"We do a lot of three-piece-suit guys, older people, a real cross-section," said owner Sandy Parsons.
In addition to tattooing patriotic symbols, Parsons said she is doing something she has never done before in 11 years in business: tattooing dog tag numbers on soldiers. They asked for the tattoos so they could be identified if their tags were lost. "The majority were scared to death," she said.
Tattoos, permanent artwork on the body made by puncturing the skin with a needle and inserting indelible colors, have long been associated with sailors and soldiers, who often got them in port cities around the world.
In recent times, tattoo parlors have been banned in many communities, including New York City, because of concern about transmitting diseases through the needles.
Department of Defense spokesman Ken Satterfield said there is no military regulation specifically addressing tattoos. But if a tattoo is located in a place on a person's body that distracts from the "overall, uniform military appearance," it may be prohibited, he said.
"I'm getting ready to go to war," said Pfc. Joseph M. Sciacca, an Annapolis resident who just got a Marine bulldog insignia on his left shoulder. "It's for pride of being a Marine."
The Saddam tattoos, the Tattoo Club's O'Sullivan said, will be in vogue long after combat stops.
"Tattooing seems to always reflect the times," said O'Sullivan, who said Richard Nixon's likeness was among the many tattoos that were briefly popular.
"Who I feel sorry for is the people with Ollie North on their chest."