A big day for little me!

September 19, 2011

In my time as a tattooer, I can point to some career highlights that I will always look back at as milestones: my first sleeve, my first backpiece, my first puker, my first fainter, etc.  And at the Boston Tattoo Convention this year, I had an amazing highlight- maybe the highlight of my humble career.

I tattoo many clients from the greater Boston area, and one of these clients, Matt, is an apprentice at a tattoo shop in Boston.  Matt’s a swell guy- upstanding, kind, and all-around solid mensch- the kind of guy you’d want to introduce to your sister if he doesn’t mind my saying so.

At the Boston Convention this year, Matt was working with Gomineko Books at their booth.  Crystal, the owner of Gomineko Books, lives and works in Japan, importing and publishing Japanese reference books for tattooers and tattoo collectors.  With her fluency in Japanese and Japanese culture, she has access to parts of Japan that few gaijin ever see.

For this year’s Boston Convention, Crystal also brought Horimasa, who tattooed at the convention and gave seminars on tebori (traditional Japanese hand-tattooing).  Horimasa was also signing copies of his book if you purchased a copy at the show, so of course, I got in line to get a personally signed copy for myself.

Here’s the story:

As I clutch my copy of the book and start walking away, Matt calls over to Horimasa.  “Master Horimasa, that’s Phuc- he’s the one who’s been tattooing my arm.”  Horimasa stops what he’s doing and motions for me to come over to him and Matt. 

I poop my pants.

Horimasa takes Matt’s forearm (I tattooed a baku on it) and looks at it stoically.  “You tattoo?” he says, holding Matt’s forearm and slowly turning it over  from side to side to inspect it.

“Yes,” I say, as poop continues filling my pants.

There is a long pause. “Strong face,” he says.  Another long pause.  “Very good,” he says.

Holy crap.  Horimasa just looked at a tattoo that I did and said, “Very good.”  (Incidentally, his English is not very good.)  I am over the moon, barely muster a thank you, bow politely to him, and run away.  I see Sue at the photocopier and relay the whole thing to her as I poop my pants some more.

A few hours later, Matt comes over to my booth says, “Horimasa wants to look at your portfolio.”

I poop my pants.

I lean over to Sue and tell her to pull a few pages out of my portfolio- older tattoos that just aren’t representative of my work.  She yanks them out just as Horimasa comes over.  I stop what I’m doing and greet Horimasa.  He looks at my work for about fifteen minutes, smiles a bit, doesn’t say much, and says goodbye.  I bow politely again and poop my pants because a Japanese master has just perused my portfolio.

I go back to working, and in the early evening, Matt comes over again.  “Horimasa wants to watch you tattoo.”  ARE YOU KIDDING ME?  I poop my pants as Horimasa comes over to watch me tattoo an octopus.

“Ah- tako,” he says, which is just Japanese for octopus.

“Yes, tako,” I say, sounding like an idiot.  He watches me work for about ten minutes while I tattoo and poop my pants at the same time.

That night over dinner, Sue and I recount the surreality of having Horimasa inspecting my work and watching me tattoo.  I am feeling incredibly humbled and honored.

On Monday- the final day of the convention- Sue and I are strolling into the convetion hall, coffee in hands and bleary eyed.  Crystal, from Gomineko Books, comes up to me.

“Horimasa would like you to tattoo him.”


“We’re all getting souvenir tattoos at the convention, and I asked Horimasa if there was anyone that he wanted to get tattooed by, and he said you.”

“Can you talk him out of it?”  I really said this.

“No- it’ll be fine.”

“Okay- well, what does he want?”

“It’s easy- a skull, but without the bottom jaw”

“Oh.  Okay- that sounds easy enough.  Where does he want it?”

“On his neck, behind his ear.”

“Oh no.”  I poop my pants and throw up a little in my mouth.

I think I may have done a little Wayne’s World type I’m-not-worthy begging, but it is a no-go.  The man wants what he wants.

We figure out that I can tattoo him at 6pm when I finish my last appointment.  Of course the day crawls by, and when 6pm comes, the stencil machine breaks, so I can’t make a stencil of the little skull that I’ve drawn.  Plan B: draw a hand stencil and get to it.

Horimasa couldn’t have been nicer- he’s eating a lollipop when he comes over, smiling, and he says, “Nervous.” 

I laugh, point at myself, and say, “More nervous.”

And there you go- 20 minutes later, Horimasa has a brand new behind the ear skull, and I have pants full of poop again.  Most important, I have had the amazing honor to tattoo Shodai Horimasa.  Thank you!

Thank you so much for following our photo essay of this year’s Boston Tattoo Convention. Keep your eyes peeled for an actual post (with words!) once we’ve had a chance to get a good night’s rest – or three.