"One of the things that consistently surprises me about our clientele is the number of people who come here for another reason—maybe to go to a baseball game or if they're in town for a convention—who end up coming in here and getting tattooed. I'm always amazed by that. I wasn't prepared for that. I really wasn't. They're different from the people who plot and plan and really think for a long time about it. You never really know what somebody's thinking. Somebody might walk in here and go, 'You know what? I was in town. I figured I'd get a souvenir.'
People just get everything. People get what they're exposed to and what they connect with. I think that's what tattooing's always been about. People get cartoon characters or they get animals because they identify with those animals or attributes that those cartoon characters have. Our influences are everything. It's who we're around, and it's what we read, and it's what we take time to do when we're not doing what makes us a living.
A lot of tattooing is about self-identity, of course, but we also live in a culture that doesn't have a set path to adulthood. We don't have a specific rite of initiation that makes us a man or a woman in our culture. We're kind of left out in the woods. Is it when you drink? Have sex? Get a driver's license? When you have a child? Is it when you can join the service? Is it when you can vote? Or is it when you get a tattoo? In the end, we figure out that it's none of those, but somewhere in that whole mess we figure it out for ourselves.
I had an interest in the history of tattooing long before I became a tattooer. My grandfather had tattoos and I thought they were cool, but he always kind of made it sound like he just woke up one day with a bad hangover and this thing on his arm, you know? I liked trying to figure out what they were. He had two tattoos, neither of which he was proud of at all. I think that for a lot of people who got tattooed a long time ago, it was easier to say, 'I was drunk and I woke up with it,' than take responsibility for walking into a place and going 'That's what I want.'
I got [my first tattoo] when I was 21. I got it on my arm at a little shop on Howard Street by the old bus station. It's this little demon head that the guy drew for me. I just thought, 'That's kinda cool. If I don't like it when I'm 80, I'll just look back and be like, 'Well, that's what I was into at the time.'
I want to be better at this every day. I've only been doing this for ten years. Maybe in ten more years I'll know something. I'm anxious to keep working and to learn from the people who know more than me and are better at things than me. I'm just humbled by tattooing.
I get to do what I love in the city I love. I love that culturally and geographically [Baltimore is] the median of the East Coast. It's not as fast as New York, but it's not as slow as Raleigh. I like it, man. This town has charm. I think that if you can surround yourself with creative people, you'll enjoy yourself. Maybe the argument could be made that you can do that anywhere, but I live here and I love it. Plus, we have Fort McHenry—one of the nicest walks you can have on a warm day. Just take a walk around the sea wall, man. Easily one of my favorite places to go.
I'm pro Baltimore and I'm pro tattoo. And if that means I gotta sit here and get my picture taken, that's all right. I don't really seek that thing out. I'm grateful to be here.
People react differently to [tattooing]. It's a really physical, intimate thing. Some people are better mentally and physically prepared for it, and some people are not. You just never know what you're gonna get, and it's part of what keeps this job interesting. Because you don't know who's gonna pass out. Tattooing brings a lot of surprises. You get to meet a lot of nice people from all walks of life. You certainly meet more people doing this than any number of other things. And it's interesting. Sometimes you hear some things you don't want to hear. Really personal stuff. Because people come here when they're in love, and people come here when they're upset, and people come here when they just wanna get a tattoo. In the end, our job is to make 'em happy and that's it. We want people to feel better when they leave here than when they got here. Even if they were in a great mood. That's our job."