A VIEW FROM THE BAR
NATIONAL TATTOO ASSOCIATION TATTOO CONVENTION
Coming from an extensive six-week couch tour across the east coast, the thought of hotel beds and showers that work was quite appealing. Arriving by bus form New York, I was welcomed into Philadelphia by Don Juan, one of the tattooists from Philly’s own Body Graphics Tattoo. While taking a little walk down Fourth Street and visiting the surrounding tattoo shops, which are all conveniently located on the same block, I ran into Cap Szumski, his lovely wife Bethra and their daughter Jasmine. I then grabbed an airport shuttle with my booth-mate and old friend Emerson Forth of Miami’s Tattoo Circus and Joel Long of South Beach Tattoo. Whisked away to the Adams Mark Hotel, I got my first tour of the surrounding city. “Old world” would be too light of a term for this area. You can really feel the history in this town. As far as American cities that still hold dearly to their roots, Philly has to be one of the top ten. Unfortunately, my ride to the hotel was pretty much the last I really saw of the town until the after-party that was put together by Bill Funk who was frantically trying to refund my money that I paid to register for this event. (Thanks for the valiant effort Bill, but it ain’t no big deal.)
After finding the hotel room and relaxing for a bit, I made my way down to the banquet room to see who had arrived. Now. if you are expecting me to produce the usual convention banter about who won the Best Overall Male Tattoo Contest, or which one of the French guys’ airbrushed flash was the coolest, forget it. I neither went to any of these functions nor do I give a crap. I go to these conventions for one reason (and it ain’t the one you are thinning of): I go to see old friends, make new ones and get as drunk as possible. So, with this in mind, I set out to conquer yet another understaffed hotel bar. Note: Of all the countless conventions I have attended I have noticed one thing always seems to be the same--over-priced drinks and a bar staffed with employees who can’t cut it. Hotels never seem to be fully aware of the type of people that come to a tattoo convention. I am quite sure that they believe we are the same as any other group of conventioneers, but what they don’t realize is that, as a whole, tattooed people will drink everything that gets in their way. I can’t even begin to remember how many times we have dried up all the alcohol on the first night of the party. I truly believe that it should be written into the contracts of all tattoo conventions that the bar should be double-stocked and double-staffed! Aaaahhhh, what a perfect world that would be. Fortunately, the powers-that-be who put this little shindig together were well-versed in the ways of the heavily inked partygoers. The people of NTA have been doing this for a long time and had made arrangements for the larger, more convention-friendly Quincie’s Tavern to be opened up for our celebrating. It was here that I met up with my trusted photographic engineer, Lisa Martino, who by the way, did a stunning job making sense out of all the madness surrounding her-especially when it came to following me around the floor from booth to booth while I yelped instructions of whom to capture on film.
After making a loose plan of attack for the following two days, it was time to commerce with the hard drinking and even harder socializing. The first night of any convention usually entails the searching out of familiar faces and likely candidates for the prerequisite convention shenanigans. This event was definitely no exception. And with the addition of the guys from Psycho City Tattoo and their crew, my first night was off to a good start, although the leader of this Lancaster-based collection of deviants, Mike Pike, was nowhere to be found. (He was probably busy mentally reviewing his extensive collection of Mexican film posters from the ‘70s.) I did, however, hook up with the incomparably hilarious Jo Jo Ackerman, Doughboy and the rest of the kids. I will be completely honest with you when I tell you that I don’t really remember much after that.
THE NEXT MORNING
Awakened early by the sound of the telephone ringing all too close to my hypersensitive ears, I dragged myself to a sitting position on my bed and commenced with the morning ritual of trying to remember what the hell happened and what damn fool left the air-conditioning on all friggin’ night. When my moment of clarity finally came, it was already time for us to be setting up the booth. I believe the only intelligible words I uttered all the way down to the convention floor were, “I got hammered.” After some improvisational art hanging (due to the lack of a banner), getting our tools set up and our portfolios on the table, it was definitely time to boogie. Emerson and I both had the pleasure of being able to work this convention in absolute style, thanks to the gracious and lovely Winona Martin and the exquisite Miss Anna who helped us in all the ways a proper young woman of her stature would, what with her ability to get people to talk and to make sure that the “boys at the booth” got everything they needed. Oh yeah, one more thing about Miss Anna: Fellas, this woman is not only hot, but she can really put down one solid tattoo.
THE SURPRISE PARTY
I worked pretty much through that first day and saw very little of what else was going on throughout the different rooms and such. I do believe I missed one of the seminars that I was planning to go to. Hey, whatever. The end of the day arrived and I was ready to start again, as my enormous hangover from earlier that morning had subsided. I was thinking of gathering up a group to head into the city, when someone took me to the side and told me that they were planning a surprise birthday present for my friend and sometimes boss, Michelle Cameron, owner of the Tattoos by Lou empire in Miami, Florida. The festivities were going to be held in the bar later that evening. Now, anytime I can be a part of anybody’s surprise party I usually say, “Hell, no!” But this was going to be even better than I had expected. Everything seemed to be going kinda slow at first, but it definitely gained momentum as a bald gentleman with a rather large belly (aptly named “Fabio”) began to pull the incredulous 90-pound ball of fire, Michelle, up to the stage area. While trying to convince her to sit still and keep her from darting out of the room, an even larger group of onlookers began to crowd around. Finally, realizing that escape was futile when her own husband, Ken Cameron of South Beach Tattoo, grabbed her and put her back on the chair, Michelle gamely witnessed the slow and frightening striptease of the 380-pound Fabio. With everyone having a good laugh at someone else’s expense, the rest of the night took on a whole new face. Yours truly was no exception. I was in the mode to hang and find out what kind of trouble I could get myself into. Although I did lose some of my cohorts from the previous night, I did get to do a little more socializing, and after hanging out with Lisa and her engagingly cute photo assistant Maria Aponte, I got the scoop, and we agreed to do some shots on the convention floor the next day. This turned out to be a good idea, since somewhere later that evening, I ended up injuring my thumb, leaving me unable to tattoo.
WRAPPING IT UP
The final day of the convention was filled with last-minute plans and frantic picture-taking. Dragging Lisa and Maria all over the floor and trying to get everybody from Gill Montie to the ever-elusive Deano Cook to hold still long enough for a photo was a task in itself. After helping me tear down the booth at the end of the day, Emerson and our neighbors from the room adjoining ours, Cindy Burmiester of Tattoos by Lou and her friend Sue, decided to get some dinner and prepare ourselves for the after-party that was to be held at the Trocadero nightclub. So, after a less than smooth trip and totally missing the tattoo art show that we heard about that day, we finally arrived at the bar with no time to spare. After-parties on the whole are one of my most favorite parts of conventions, due to the fact that everyone has now gotten a chance to unwind and not worry about making it to his booth on time the next day. The vibe at a party like this is always a lot more relaxed than the convention itself. I finally had a chance to say hi to some great people, including the very talented Eric Levy, Jeff Kohl, and Jeff Gemma of Body Graphics, plus a slew of others.
Although I initially arrived already tired from my previous days on the road, I felt invigorated by the action, and needless to say, I left Philly completely satisfied. I’m really looking forward to hanging out with everyone I came in contact with during those 72 hours of utter chaos and unbelievable fun. Thanks to everyone who made it all possible.