Until this past week, it seemed the only remarkable thing about Great Bend was that it was one of the few big towns (population 16,000) on one of the only roads in western Kansas that do not run exactly north-south or east-west.
The road cuts through those monotonous landscapes at an angle, from southwest to northeast, which made it quicker to get back to Interstate 70 during a decidedly unhappy and aborted skiing road trip.
A terrible storm had closed I-70 in Colorado, and I drove all the way to Oklahoma looking for another way to get to Vail, or even Telluride. No luck, and I finally gave up and headed for home. I remember the Great Bend area mostly for the bad mood I was in.
Now Great Bend is in the news all over America because of a tattoo, and the story is embarrassing to Pennsylvanians because it shows how far behind Kansas we are when it comes to the regulation of the sleazy tattoo industry. It is especially mortifying for me, because, on occasion, I've said uncomplimentary things about that state.
According to a story that first appeared in The Great Bend Tribune, Jeffrey Wade Chapman would rather not have a jury see his huge garish neck tattoo when he goes on trial in Barton County Court on a charge of first-degree murder. The tattoo spells out "murder" in reverse, in big capital letters, no doubt inspired by the "REDRUM" scene in the movie "The Shining."
Chapman wants the county jail to allow a professional tattoo artist to remove or change the tattoo so it does not convey that message. "Mr. Chapman has secured a licensed tattoo artist from Hays who is willing to go to the jail," said a motion by his defense attorney, who said the tattoo proclaiming an endorsement of murder would be "extremely prejudicial."
Kansas law, however, says "tattoo artists shall not practice at any location other than a licensed facility." That's to prevent the known dangers of unregulated tattooing.
(Tattooing involves gouging into the skin with metal tools and the U.S Food and Drug Administration says tattooing can pose serious health risks.)
In any case, the old meanies at the Barton County jail will not let Chapman's tattoo artist come fix his REDRUM tattoo and Sheriff Brian Bellendir opposed Chapman's request to be turned loose to get it done.
What a pickle! How would you like it if you had to face a jury on murder charges with a big tattoo indicating you are in favor of murder? You can see Chapman's point.
Such a problem could not occur in Pennsylvania, where there is no meaningful regulation of tattooing, and the heaviest concentrations of tattoos, based on my observations of the type of people most likely to have them, are done in prisons.
If you are like Chapman, you should be concerned about a cruel piece of legislation now before the Pennsylvania Legislature.
State Rep. Rosemary Brown, R-Monroe and Pike, is the sponsor of House Bill 1249, which would, for the first time, establish regulations for tattooing, body piercing and other forms of commercial mutilation.
She introduced the measure last year, but it died in committee. In Harrisburg, it often is very hard to move legislation not pushed by the generous lobbyists representing big and wealthy special interest groups.
HB 1249 is alive again this year, however, and it would require the state Department of Health to license and regulate tattoo joints on the basis of "health, sanitation, sterilization and safety standards."
The license fee would be $100 a year and there would be "training requirements" for commercial tattoo gougers, who would have to be free of "all bloodborne diseases." Also, commercial tattooing could not be done on children without parental consent.
Such licensing is now required in Pennsylvania for everything from heart surgery to braiding hair. (I swear I'm not making that up. You need a license in Pennsylvania to braid hair, apply makeup, be an auctioneer or help people with speech therapy — but not if you get paid to perform surgery with unwashed metal gizmos that pierce the skin to inject unsterilized ink.)
"Many individuals incorrectly assume these establishments are licensed because they use needles," said Rep. Brown, but she stressed that Pennsylvania has no such requirement. "There is a real concern that tattoos and body piercings may be occurring in less than sterile environments."
By the way, I talked to Dale Hogg, managing editor of the Great Bend Tribune, and he said his town does not have just one famous accused killer in its history.
"Bonnie and Clyde stayed here one time, too," he said, and Great Bend is also where Perry Smith and Dick Hickock, of "In Cold Blood" fame, had dinner before they went on their murderous Kansas rampage.
When it comes to accused Kansas criminals like Chapman, they must now be aware of the tattoo regulations there, so they'll want to shift operations to Pennsylvania, where there will be no cruel rules on tattooing or tattoo modification as long as Brown's bill remains mired in committee.
Paul Carpenter's commentary appears Sundays, Wednesdays and FridaysCopyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun