This was something new to Head; he knew little of life beyond the narrow confines of his private school education. Not being the intellectual in the family had narrowed the school choices for his parents; they rightly reasoned that exposing their second son to the multiple stimuli of a public school curriculum would have caused confusion and prevented him from retaining the fundamentals. As it was, the prep school environment in which Head found himself was challenging enough for his limited brain nodes and weak circuitry.
Head’s elders had frowned upon tattoos; they declared it a sport in which only drunken sailors had participated. Head had gone along peacefully with that premise, not wanting to draw unnecessary attention to himself by challenging the pundits of polite society.
His time in the Navy reinforced this premise. There, Head had known many drunken sailors; some may have even confused Head with being one of them. Most were clean skinned. Like his comrades, Head felt secure in his failure to find an apropos saying or picture to adorn his body. He left the Navy content that he had learned all there was to a tattooing course.
The tattoo studio next door, however, offered Head an insider’s lesson on the process and culture. Even then, Head moved slowly as was fitting for his limited intellect. If it hadn’t been for his trusty Nikon needing colorful subjects to photograph, it’s doubtful Head would have enrolled. But he did and this is what he learned.
Tattooers come in all sizes and shapes with vastly differing talents. There’s Shanghai Kate, an elder of great renown and one of the few females of note; she apprenticed with Sailor Jerry, the deceased godfather of the American branch. When Kate comes to Washington, she works out of the shop next door. Paul Loh, the owner of the studio, represents the third generation down from Sailor Jerry. Certainly, there are other linages of importance; but this one is the Ivy League of tattooers.
The good ones are artists, folk artists to be more precise. And like many artists, there’s a counter culture, an “out there” nature to their persona. Drugs, sex, and rock-n-roll are the hot topics in the parlors. It may be just a marketing ploy, but it is one that is real. Paul, who started his sin filled journey by playing cards and gambling, is no exception.
His work is intense and long. There’s the initial drawings done on paper; once approved, the artist sizes the drawing, makes a stencil, and transfers the lines to the body. He then spends hours (and some times days) bent over his client with the tattooer’s needles outlining, shading, and coloring his painting; there’s no erasing a mistake. The good ones manage the needle’s depth with precision much like an artist using various brush strokes; they inflict the least damage to the skin.
And then there are the shysters who personify the counter culture shtick but whose drug addled minds can’t concentrate, draw, or much less paint with a tattoo needle. They drill the needle deep, even to the bone causing great pain, bleeding, infection, and permanent scaring; kindergarten art is executed better than the resulting tattoos.
As a city council friend once explained to Head, “Not everything painted on a wall is art.” That certainly holds true with the body art in the wild west world of tattoo land. Real artists like Paul are left to deal with pleading tattooees and must spend half of their time cleaning up or camouflaging the muddled scratchings left by the shysters.
Without tattooees, though, there would be no tattooers. Now that the drunken sailor stigma has receded into the past, more and more young people are sporting the art, providing an interesting time and opportunity for Head to further his education.
Despite tattoo’s expanding acceptance, Head is still unable to think of an apropros statement or picture to adorn his now sagging skin. The answer remains beyond the capacity of his aging brain nodes and rapidly deteriorating circuitry.
The reader can get a better picture of Paul Loh’s 407 Tattoo & Piercing Studio here. You’ll need your earphones to enjoy the accompanying music.