By Susan Jaffe

I have no tattoos, not even one that is tiny and pretty and discreet. But I see plenty of them as the city warms up.

It is May. Flowers, trees, and shrubs are blossoming everywhere. The soft green adds to the fabulous architecture of the city and enhances many neighborhoods. When the warm weather arrives, the clothes disappear.

Guys and gals of a certain age, mostly 30 and under, are covered like the budding trees. No face, neck, arm is unadorned. A walk in the city means seeing all kinds of tattoos, and many aren't tiny or pretty or discreet.

I decided to go online to see what I could find out about tattoos. There are hundreds of websites. You can read about the history of tattoos, which goes back thousands of years. You can check out the meaning, the calligraphy, and the artists who do the work and more. The bottom line is that, throughout the years, tattoos say something about the person who has the tattoo.

I don't really have a problem with making a statement. The actor Johnny Depp has said that his body is his journal and his tattoos are his story; I prefer paper or the computer for my stories. Henry David Thoreau also had something to say on the subject. He wrote, "Comparatively, tattooing is not the hideous custom which it is called. It is not barbarous merely because the printing is skin-deep and unalterable."

But the problem is the permanence of a tattoo, the unalterable nature of it. Even the spring blossoms grow into leaves, the colors turn, and then they are gone, only to begin the cycle again. If only that cycle could be mimicked with a tattoo. I know that some body art eventually wears off, and I think that's fine. But a lifetime commitment? What if you break up with your girlfriend or boyfriend? What happens as the body starts to age? Does the design sag? Or expand? Or who knows what?

Depp supposedly had Winona Ryder's name tattooed on his body when they dated. After they parted ways, he changed "Winona forever" to "Wino forever." He could have done "Win Forever" or "On Forever," but nothing is ever forever (except, alas, tattoos). Nonetheless, he seems OK with that restatement, and it is his story.

For my part, I plan to enjoy the weather and the inevitable changes it brings, including bodies covered in tattoos.

Susan Jaffe served on the Philadelphia Zoning Board of Adjustment for 14 years, as a board member and chairwoman. E-mail her at sojaffe@aol.com.