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"Whether one chooses to run a marathon to reach an endorphin high or chooses to get tattoos, it probably has more to do with who you are and what your friends are doing," Schuster says.
Carmichael doesn't doubt Schuster's theory about endorphins and the role they play in his obsession. But he says he doesn't care.
"I've been to a therapist and we did talk about, among other things, my tattoos," Carmichael says. "I've talked to a lot of people that are heavily tattooed and some of them agree that it is an addiction. But nobody is looking for a way to stop. I have yet to run into somebody that says, 'Please help me. Start a 12-step program.'"
Carmichael doesn't deny he was looking for attention when he got his first tattoo. Nor does he deny that the same desire carried him back to the tattoo chair. But he says his motives for continuing to get tattooed run deeper.
For Carmichael, tattoos are a means of escape - despite that his tattoos have long caused unease among those closest to him. His wife has voiced her opposition. His daughter from his second marriage, now living in London and working for a legal publishing company, doesn't like his tattoos any more than her mother does. She hasn't seen her father's face since it's been tattooed, and she says she doesn't want to.
Carmichael's son from his first marriage also joined the Navy, but he didn't get any tattoos. Carmichael says his son never mentions the ink that has taken over his father's body.
"I don't imagine he cares one way or another," Carmichael says, "though he hasn't seen my face. When he sees it, he may very well say something."
Carmichael is checking out his newest tattoo in the full-length mirror on the wall behind the artist's station at Holy Mother. His face is swollen and sore. His earlobes, which are stretched out by 1-and-a-half inch plugs, wiggle as he turns from side to side, admiring his new face.A branch with red-orange leaves runs along Carmichael's hairline; another branch curls from the bottom of his jaw up toward his chin. One stray red leaf is suspended in the middle of his forehead, while smaller green leaves run above and below his right eye and down his jaw.
Even for a guy like Carmichael, who is covered in ink, a face tattoo is a big deal. Hiding that ink is going to be a lot more complicated than putting on a turtleneck. In the future, Carmichael will wear a thick layer of makeup, called Dermablend, whenever he visits his mother or daughter, or goes to a business meeting or formal social function.
He says he regrets that his tattoos displease his family, but the decision to continue getting inked has been something he feels he has to do - for himself. It has come down to his love for the process and his desire to pursue that love, regardless of anyone's opinion.
"I guess I just decided I had to quit worrying about what other people think about it," Carmichael says. "It's not immoral. It's something for me, something that I want to do. It's like making a fairly radical change in the way you wear your hair.
"Except this won't grow out."
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