Tattoo Blog

Art that adorns the flesh…

On a Deadman’s Chest

November 19th, 2008 by

“Oh, the games people play now;
Every night and every day, now.”

In case you haven’t guessed by now, I’m a rather old fart, and I tend to be a bit crotchety at times. I do like quite a bit of the newer music, Nickelback, Ben’s Brother, etc,etc. Like most old timers I still tend to listen to the old stand by’s that I grew up with, though. That old Mac Davis hit for one, and it brought back a bit of the past for me.

As some of you know, most tattoo artists tend to have a rather wicked sense of humor. Probably because it goes with the territory. After putting up with whiners, people who want a tattoo, but don’t know what they want permanently engraved on their skin, and the inevitable goof who let some scratcher buddy of his practice on half his arm then wants you to cover it up for less than the price of your smallest piece of flash. Well, you either develop a sense of humor, or you become a mean son of a bitch. Considering the humor of tattoo artists, it’s most likely a bit of both.

Naturally artists tend to check out their history. We love this business and get rather deeply involved in every aspect of it we can. My own collection of books contains “Stony Can Do It”, “Sailor Jerry”, and the original printing of “Spider Web”, just to name a few. Many enthusiasts can claim just as extensive collection of reading material, but I noticed over the years that it is usually the artists who dive in a bit deeper. So some of you might know the original story that led to this slightly different display of my own warped sense of humor.

At a shop I worked at in Pennsylvania we had accepted an apprentice. The kid could draw well, and was doing a stand up job of all the other duties such as making needles, maintaining the machines and serialization procedures. Tattoo area and instruments. He did, however, have the apprentice disease of constantly asking when he could do his first tat.

Now most of the time this is just overlooked, or brushed off with a, “As soon as we think your ready.”, or, “As soon as you can find someone dumb enough to let you practice on them.” Another option is, of course to have the apprentice practice on his own legs. Putting a design on yourself, upside down, is great in many ways. It gets you use to learning just how much pressure to apply to the work, and doing a piece of flash upside down gets you use to really concentrating on what the hell you are doing.

He was almost ready for us to spring that little bit of obviousness on him when fate took a hand and a little devilish light bulb went off in my head. A female friend of mine, who’s father owned a funeral parlor, was wanting her first tattoo. When she came in to ask me about it I remembered a little story from one of my books about the old days of tattooing. I don’t recall exactly who told it first, and I had always put it down to a tall tale, but now I saw an opportunity to bring it to life.

I offered to do her tattoo for free if she could get us into her dad’s morgue late one night. I laid out my plan to her and after she finally stopped laughing and told me I was a mean bastard, she agreed. She snuck one of her dad’s keys out to me, and with the promise that we would make certain that nothing else was disturbed, left me to my plan.

I got ahold of another friend of ours and offered a free tat to him if he would help us out. He readily agreed and the stage was set. We told our eager apprentice that we had found a way for him to get his desperately desired practice. We filled his head with old wives’ tales about how the old timers would practice on the dead, and that we had offered my friend a free tat to get into her dad’s parlor and get him some practice. When he asked if anyone would notice a fresh tat on a dead guy we told him the guy already had some tattoos, so one more wouldn’t likely be noticed.

Just like the original story we had him all set up and as soon as he nervously took ahold of the “corpse’s” arm to begin the piece of flash he had chosen, the “dead” guy sat up and shouted, “What the fuck do you think your doing?!!!” In the original story the apprentice ran out of the room as fast as he could. Our apprentice? He promptly passed out and shit himself. Literally.

After the three of us stopped laughing we got everything cleaned up, except our smelly apprentice, and got the hell out of there. We took the poor guy, who was none to happy with us home, got him cleaned up, then took him out to get him drunk off his ass.

The next day when he showed up for work we looked up and grinned. I smiled and said, “Man, I have to admit, that first tattoo was the shit.”

You can guess what he said.

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