Tattoo Machine

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  • Format: Trade Paper
  • Copyright: 6/8/2010
  • Publisher: Spiegel & Grau
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As the proprietor of the legendary Sea Tramp Tattoo Company, in Portland, Oregon, Jeff Johnson has inked gangbangers, age-defying moms, and sociopaths; hers"s defused brawls and tended delicate egos. InTattoo Machine,Johnson illuminates a world where art, drama, and commerce come together in highly entertaining theater. A tattoo shop is no longer a den of outcasts and degenerates, but a place where committed and schooled artists who paint on living canvases develop close bonds and bitter rivalries, where tattoo legends and innovators are equally revered, and where the potential for disaster lurks in every corner.

Author Biography

Jeff Johnson has been tattooing professionally for eighteen years and is the co-owner of the Sea Tramp Tattoo Company, the oldest tattoo shop in Portland, Oregon. This is his first book.

From the Hardcover edition.


Chapter One

Friday Is Monday

From the outside at 9:00 am the tattoo shop always reminds me of a fun-house curio shack lifted out of an old Eastern European circus. The inside is dark behind the permanently lit neon in the windows. There’s a sort of crouched, architectural discontinuity about the place, like an enormous mechanical bullfrog or a giant that just lumbered out of the fog. It seems truly weird just sitting there.

Like a lot of tattoo artists, I work weekends, so Friday is my Monday. I unlock the back door (the keys to the front were lost in the distant past and for purely superstitious reasons never replaced) and go in, careful not to spill my coffee into my bulging art bag, as I have so many times. After flicking on the overhead lights, I make my initial survey.

I can tell most of what transpired the night before without reading any of the notes left for me or looking through the incident log. The flash on the wall looks slightly out of place. My eyes wander over the surface and gradually focus on two slightly crooked sheets. That would be Neal’s work. I make a mental note to bitch him out later, the first on the day’s list. When the list grows to five, I usually start writing.

It’s a summer Friday, and the morning is already warm and bright, with only a high smear of cloud to give the sky some character. A total bloodbath is imminent. I glance at the clock and then go into the back to check the list Billy Jack no doubt left last night.

Billy generally takes stock at the end of his shift, as does Patrick. No matter how tired they are when they’re finally done, at the end of their shift (often four or five in the morning) they usually glance over the supplies so that I don’t encounter any surprises. I find that we’re well stocked, but there are some long-range-forecast items I need to deal with. Medium ink caps, thermo fax paper, and the hand wipes Patrick prefers. We must have had a run of fat people this week, because Billy has noted that we need to place an order for another two dozen XXL T-shirts. Our current screen-printing guy is good in that he lets me place orders of this size and delivers a quality product, but bad in that it often takes him a long time and many reminders to get him off his ass. Calling him is the first thing I do.

Next is my schedule, a red leather-bound book in my art bag. I fish it out and sit down at the desk to look it over. Booked solid. First up is this cryptic notation: “11:00 two girls, they have art, sm, 20, Kim(?).” Translation: two females between eighteen and twenty-one who already have their designs, which both described as “small,” although people generally have varying definitions of size, so I have to be prepared for anything. One of them left a twenty-dollar deposit at some point, and “Kim” may have had a fresh tongue piercing, a crappy cell phone, or a lisp, because there is some question as to whether it’s actually her name. It’s also possible that they were referred by a customer named Kim.

Next is one-thirty. Good. Time to ram down some food in there somewhere so I can drink when I get home. The one-thirty is Dan, the marine dude with the demolition sleeve. All the hard stuff is done on this one, and I’m just putting in the gray wash in the background. There is a notation, “11,” next to his name: the size of the shader I plan on using. So no huge planes left. So far so good.

Last appointment up, after the three hours slotted for Dan’s arm, is a bummer for two reasons. The day seems a little less bright. Notation: “4:30 Lindsey, finish, pd, rst.” This woman is a real crab cake, as I recall. I’m coloring in something that has already been paid for and can be certain of getting stiffed on the tip. The tattoo is also on her wrist. I try never to book similar body parts b

Excerpted from Tattoo Machine: Tall Tales, True Stories, and My Life in Ink by Jeff Johnson
All rights reserved by the original copyright owners. Excerpts are provided for display purposes only and may not be reproduced, reprinted or distributed without the written permission of the publisher.

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