Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Tattoo Machine (copy)

Not just for drunken sailors anymore, tattoos are appearing on more skin then birthmarks. What is the fascination with decorating ones’ skin? If you ran away from the doctor ready to inoculate you as a child, why sit still for multiple pricks as an adult? I get the argument that it makes one unique, but if everyone is doing it who is unique?

I picked up Jeff Johnson’s new book Tattoo Machine looking for the answer. What I got was a whole lot of fun akin to sitting around a campfire listening to horror stories.

Johnson owns a century run tattoo shop in Portland, Oregon called the Sea Tramp Tattoo Company. In his many years of customer service he has seen a variety of clientele. No two people are alike but as the sticking time approaches a couple of categories begin to emerge.

The shop has its own vocabulary for these stereotypes. The person who comes armed with pain pills is a bunny. One who loses his lunch is a chudder and an appointment that greedily downs fast food before the session is a taco valve. Customers are encouraged to eat before the needling, but isn’t the taco valve looking to chudder?!?

Among the many stories Johnson relates, one made me chuckle in agreement. In his location he has the opportunity to work on many a homesick GI. State flags are popular amongst this group as a quick display of pride. One such GI asked for the Texas state flag. Johnson explained that he did not own a book of flags and the young man should visit the library for an example. The GI shook his head and said he knew the flag by heart and began to draw it on a napkin. The following week the GI stomped into the store and yelled, “I’m Texan not Portuguese!”

In Johnson’s 18 years of artistry, he has gathered some strong opinions on fellow artist. He looks down on those who call their machine a gun. He dislikes sloppy and lazy workers who draw on their customers with a pen or toothpick dipped in ink. It is accepted if one is emulating smoke or wind; otherwise, these are “Night Hogs” in his opinion and not true artist. “Direct-to-skin drawing, at its worst, is a pressure sales tactic.”

As for the psychology of decorating ones skin, the book gives no answer, but it is packed with pure unadulterated fun. I must warn you. The author is very much in the style of celebrity chef Anthony Bourdain. He throws out the off-color jokes and slings the slang like no one’s business.

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