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Wednesday, Jan 16, 2019
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The State You’re In: A Florida love story (with tattoos)

This is a Florida love story.

It involves tattoos, of course.

Tattoos, along with citrus and sunburns, are modern Florida’s most popular products. Ink, you might say, is in our blood. That’s because, with our constantly warm weather, we tend to expose a lot of our skin here, so lots of people like to augment their epidermis with art.

When Florida cops look for distinguishing characteristics among their suspects, they can often count on distinctive ink to help them find the perps. There was the suspect who got his head tattooed to look like Tom Brady’s football helmet (and boy howdy is he probably disappointed with that Super Bowl score). Then there was the guy whose tattoo transformed his face into a something resembling The Joker. Incidentally, he listed his profession as "tattoo model." In 2012, St. Petersburg police were able to track down a bank robber because he had the words "MOST WANTED" tattooed on his arms.

Tats are so identified with Florida culture that when author Lynn Waddell put together a book called Fringe Florida all about the Sunshine State’s nudist resorts, UFO fans and exotic wildlife breeders, the cover featured the title tattooed across a woman’s back, along with a pair of pistols.

Is it any wonder that the National Tattoo Association holds its annual conventions in Orlando?

But now we’ve got some good news about a Florida woman and her tattoos. The Guinness Book of World Records recently named her the Most Tattooed Woman Alive (that last word is an important distinction).

No, her name is not "Lydia". It’s Charlotte Guttenberg. She’s 69, a fifth-generation Floridian now living in Melbourne. According to Guinness, she’s covered 98.75% of her figure with designs, leaving only her face and a part of her hands untouched by the needle.

Until she was 56, she didn’t have a single tattoo. Her husband wouldn’t allow it, she said. He had tattoos himself, but didn’t think they belonged on ladies.

A few years after he died, she finally got her first tattoo. She also saw a painting of someone with an entire body full of tattoos, and said, "That’s what I want."

Her second visit, she got a detailed tattoo of a rose garden, four inches wide, that wrapped around her thigh. Creating it required her spending hours dealing with the pain. The tattooist asked a regular customer named Chuck Helmke to sit with her and help her get through it. He held her hand and talked to her for hours.

Afterward they talked and talked on the phone. Helmke’s wife had died, so he was alone too. The next time he saw her, he took her in his arms and gave her a big, bend-over-backwards kiss.

"He’s a pretty good kisser," Guttenberg said. "That sealed the deal."

The pair have been together for more than a decade. Helmke, 76, now holds a Guinness record as well, as the Most Tattooed Senior Citizen (Male). Last year they were declared the Most Tattooed Senior Citizen Couple, which I like to think of as the "Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night Award." Incidentally, Ms. Guttenberg’s Linkedin account lists her occupation as "Writer; Lifestyle Coach; Weapons Trainer/Range Safety Officer at The American Police Academy, Hypnotist." She’s penned a series of novels in which, she says, tattoos play a major role.

A UPI dispatch notes that the couple "also each hold an additional record as Guttenberg has the most feathers tattooed on the body with 216 and Helmke has the most skulls tattooed on the body at 376."

When I asked her what had kept them together, though, Guttenberg said, "Not tattoos! That’s just a fraction of our lives. We’re together because we love each other."

In case you’re wondering, though, neither of them has a tattoo that matches one on the other’s body. Each of them is unique.

Contact Craig Pittman at craig@tampabay.com. Follow @craigtimes.

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