Join us at the 5th Maine Regiment Museum on Peaks Island this Thursday, August 21st, at 6:30pm for TATTOO PARLOR CONFESSIONAL. We promise to answer ALL of your questions and maybe tell a story or two…


Inappropriation behavior

March 26, 2014

A few weeks ago, there was quite a hullaballoo on the internets because a woman of Middle Eastern descent posted an article on entitled “Why I Can’t Stand White Belly Dancers.” A piece of obviously incendiary journalism that was meant to foment controversy more than to facilitate dialogue or understanding, the article hinged its high-kick directly into the balls of cultural appropriation. Earlier in the fall, Katy Perry was also at the center of a media shitstorm (is there really any other kind?) because she performed at the AMA’s dressed as a geisha (the performance was a mish-mash of nods to Japonisme, Chinoiserie, and Orientalism).  Detractors and Katy-haters cried foul, citing among other things, cultural appropriation. 

Here’s the wikipedia definition of cultural appropriation:

Cultural appropriation is the adoption of some specific elements of one culture by a different cultural group. It describes acculturation or assimilation, but can imply a negative view towards acculturation from a minority culture by a dominant culture.

There’s a long and great article about it here.  The short version is, I suppose, when do people of dominant culture (read white and/or male) get to use/take things from marginalized culture for entertainment and gain? Never?  Sometimes?  All the time?  Does personal adornment and beautification fall into that category?

It’s a sticky subject for sure, and while there may not be a clear line (the delineations in these sorts of issues are zig-zaggy and blurred for sure – just ask Robin Thicke), it’s important to discuss.  I’m not a fan of pointing out every little micro-agression or insensitive remark. It’s exhausting, and frankly, it doesn’t usually lead to better communication – just to hurt feelings and deeper, cultural Maginot trenches.  Let’s drive the tanks of understanding around these fortifications, right?  (WWII is so yesterday.) 

Let me also say that this crappy blog entry is, by no means, the final word on this topic. I’m sure lots of ivory tower eggheads have poured hard-earned printer cartridge ink over this topic in their various dissertations.

So this got me thinking: is there cultural appropriation in tattooing?  Is there a dominant culture that is taking from a marginalized culture?  Let me put it another way:  if you’re not Japanese/Polynesian/Native American, can you wear Japanese/Polynesian/Native American tattoos?  Does one need to be part of a particular culture to partake in it? 

Why is this even an important conversation for us to have?  For me, I think the question of appropriation is pinned on respect and authenticity, in particular the latter.  Am I really who I am presenting myself to be, and are you? Can I trust that you are who you say you are?  In the same way that temporary tattoos make me cringe (because of their inherently inauthentic nature), I think that we can still appropriate/adopt cultural posturings that align ourselves instantly with one group or another.  To put it another way, the appropriation conversation is in the same continuum with the conversation about being a poser or being a real part of a scene or subgroup.  If you buy a leather jacket and  a pair of Doc Marten’s (no, not THAT Doc Martin), are you all of a sudden a punk rocker ?  If you get tattoos, are you suddenly a tough guy/gal?  If you own a motorcycle, are you suddenly a biker? I know some burly bikers who would strongly disabuse you of those Harley d(avidson)elusions.

My friend Autumn (who is a “white belly dancer”) wrote a passionate, thoughtful response to the initial Salon article.  It was easy enough to find fault with the article, and there are so many other things that need addressing in that article (body image issues, assumptions about class, assumptions about the reality of Middle Eastern dancing in the Middle East, etc.).

So back to the first question:  Do you need to be Japanese to have Japanese tattoos?  I’m going to say no.  BUT, there is a spirit of respect and education that I think you should undertake if you’re going to wear Japanese tattoos (or tattoos that have a strong or significant cultural tie).  You should have some understanding of what it means, even if it means that you’re choosing to counter the original intent of the tattoo or design.  I usually call upon the Hegelian dialectic as my defense for such decisions. You Kant win them all, amiright? If you belong to dominant culture and you’re getting a koi or a dragon or a peony but you have no idea of or interest in its meaning, I think you’ll be opening yourself up to a lot of criticism.  Does this mean that you need to subscribe to all the connotations that your tattoos might have? No (see my old blog about aesthetic versus semantic tattoos), but at least have your decision come from a place of information and not ignorance.

21st century America means, for better or worse, that we have access to too much design aesthetic and information.  The beauty of this is that we can present our beauty as whatever authentic vision we believe it to be, from things as simple as facial hair to things as complicated as gender.

More than ever before, we can become who we really are. I hope we can have that be a thoughtful, beautiful choice. 


A message from Amie…

March 6, 2014

It has taken me some time to write this note because I have struggled to find the adequate words to express my gratitude for all of you. You wonderful, generous humans who participated in the Tsunami Tattoo “Buffy Milo: Cancer Slayer” fund raiser, truly blow my mind. Do you have any idea what you have done for me and my family? You have helped to make it possible for my husband to stay home and take care of me and our son during the toughest parts of my treatment and recovery. That makes us a very lucky family. You have lifted me up and assured me that I am not alone in this. You have shown me the depths of human connection without reservation. Many of you, I don’t even know, and you came through for me. Do you know how amazing you are? Your kindness feels like magic, to me. It is spectacular.

My friends, my incredible homies, you always come through. Somehow, I have been fortunate enough to make bonds with some of the most wonderful, generous, loyal, genuine, talented, loving humans on this planet, and I want you to all know how very much I love you. May I never take my huge family of friends for granted. What Phuc, Sue, Cyndi, Mike, Chris, and Hannah created is love in it’s purest form. Totally selfless generosity. Friends from near and far, lifelong and new, thank you for loving me and making it clear that I will never have to face life’s challenges alone.

Thank you, thank you, thank you.


And more!

February 17, 2014

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Benefit Eve Update

February 15, 2014

Sue, here. We’re super excited about tomorrow’s Tattoo Benefit for Amie. I went out this morning and stocked up on paper towels, A&D, spray bottles, and beverages for our tattooers in anticipation of the 40 people we’re scheduled to tattoo. Rest assured, Cyndi Lou, Chris, Phuc, and Mike will all be getting a good night’s sleep tonight! With this weekend’s weather, we do anticipate a few last-minute cancellations, so I definitely encourage locals who want to come in for a last-minute benefit tattoo tomorrow to give us a call early in the day – we may still be able to get you in!

To sweeten the deal even more, our friends at Ponomo have designed a special, limited edition Lucky Number leather wrist bands in Amie’s honor. Not only will Ponomo founder and designer Hannah Tarkinson be on hand at the shop to sell them, she’ll be happy to custom stamp your lucky number while you wait. All proceeds from the bands will go to Amie as well!


Available with or without Fuck Cancer message.


Not your mama’s cancer riboon.


Definitely not your mama’s cancer ribbon!

We’re hoping to do a bit of live blogging for those of you who can’t be here in person tomorrow. Also, for those of you “from away,” as we Mainers say, we’ve set up a special Gofundme in Amie’s honor.

Thank you all and please wish us luck!


Most people in our little city probably know and love our dear friend and client Amie (Lavway) Milo. Whether it’s through her therapeutic massage practice, the Tsunami Tattoo 10th Anniversary video, the events she’s hosted, her tattoos, or her dance moves at the White Heart, you know her. Amie is what we natives call “Portland Famous.”

Just before the holidays, Amie received the difficult news that she had a cancerous tumor in her right breast. Aggressive treatment was required, and Amie bravely underwent a double mastectomy just after the new year. She is now facing several months of treatment.

On Sunday, February 16th, starting at 9AM, we will be hosting a benefit to raise money for Amie to help support her family as they weather the difficult days ahead. A fellow small business owner who, like us, must be physically able to earn her living (let’s face it, none of you would be comfortable having Sue tattoo you if Phuc was out with a cold… am I right?), Amie will need to take time off from her practice to heal. We want to help in the best way we know how: tattooing!

Therefore, on the 16th, Phuc, Cyndi Lou, and special guest star Chris Dingwell will be offering a small array of tattoos (lucky numbers, cherry blossoms, and possibly a few FUCK CANCER banners) at $150 a pop to thirty lucky friends and well-wishers. All proceeds will go to Amie.

Since this is about raising money, tattoo sessions will be limited to one hour each, and the tattooers each have 10 slots available. We announced this benefit on Facebook late last night, and the slots are already filling up fast. To book yours, please e-mail Sue at the shop (using the form below) as soon as possible. Please specify an artist and general time of day, and Sue will follow-up regarding availability.

Amie 1


Better Laich Than Never

February 2, 2014

Happy New Year AND rabbit, rabbit!  The year of the Horse and the first of a new month…  it’s a capital day.  I tried as hard as I could to get this out in January, but damn it if it hasn’t been a busy month.  I’ll update with new work from me in a new post soon, but I’ve been sitting on this interview with my friend Rus Laich since Thanksgiving.  He was in the midst of moving from Boston to Los Angeles, so we held off on releasing it until the dust settled a bit.  Like I said, better Laich than never.

Phuc:  Hey!

Rus:  Hey, homeboy.

 P:  Thanks for taking the time to do this.  It worked out that you’re bedridden. [Rus had an emergency appendectomy two days prior.]  And I’ll fix typos in the editing, so don’t worry about them.


 R:  I’m also slightly medicated, so if there was ever a chance of my being entertaining, now is it.  Please correct all my spelling – none of that [sic] shit that makes me sound like an idiot.

P:  Hahaha-  I was going to say that we should turn down the sarcasm a notch as much as I appreciate your sarcasm.

 R:  Ha, I’ll be fine.

P:  So from time to time, I interview tattooers for our blog, and I thought we could talk a little about tattooing and also the process of getting tattooed, etc., since you’re a tattooer and a collector.  And I think you’re an interesting example of someone whose second act is their tattooing career (like Bob Tyrell who didn’t start tattooing until his mid 30’s).  Actually, what’s funny is that we don’t talk that much about tattooing when we’re hanging out tattooing you.

R:  Tattooing is a bit boring in comparison to the circus of our lives, I think.  Also, it’s a bit like preaching to the choir.  Neither of us seems to be the type that just wants to be agreed with, so why waste our time saying things just to be told ‘yes’?

P:  Right! It’s  one of the dirty secrets that the general public doesn’t know.  It’s kind of like how I like to think that all my favorite musicians sit around and talk about music all day.  But I can’t imagine that they do.  (Puts loaded gun to head…)

 R:  Ha. Well, I cant speak for you, but I also know for myself that I have such a wide range of interests, tattooing is just a facet of that. It’s my job, and it’s something I care deeply about, but it’s not the only thing in my life.


 P:  So tell us (the faceless public) what else occupies your time?  I think that I really enjoyed that aspect of our sessions.  The conversation ranged from your dog, to motorcycles, to Buddhism, to porn, to hip-hop, to your work in the music business, etc.  In no particular order, what makes you psyched to wake up in the morning?

 R:  Oh man. It sounds a bit simple and cliché perhaps, but it’s just the experience of life – enjoying the moments as they come to you. I’ve been fortunate enough to have lived what feels like five different lifetimes already. I’ve done and experienced so much, with none of it really following any linear path. Knowing that the day could literally take me anywhere is I guess what I’m most excited about.   That and my dog, of course.

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 P:  Not cliché – very Kerouac of you.  So would you say that you try not to overthink things? I ask this because I think you tend to over think things – hahaha – like tattoos, motorcycles, music, etc.

 R:  Ha. I absolutely overthink things. My brain is constantly spinning and processing. It’s something I know I need to work on but it’s difficult. Amusingly – and even more difficult – it’s also not quite that simple. On one hand I obsess and overthink, yet at the same time I’m very relaxed and easy going. It’s some weird schism that i’m constantly trying to bridge (all the while knowing I should just give it up).


 P:  So is that true with tattoos that you get?  It seems not, and I think that your way of NOT overthinking things is so counter to how much meaning people want to shove into the tattoos that they get (hence all the writing and lettering that’s happening in tattoos right now).  When we tattooed your back, you were pretty chill about it. 

R:  I definitely obsess and overthink tattoos.  It’s why I thankfully have so few bad ones. I’ve gotten better though. At this point I’ve just learned to find someone I want work from, give them some direction, and let it happen. Generally that works out. It’s different for me than your average customer though. I have the majority of my body covered, so each individual piece is far less meaningful than the girl who gets just a butterfly on her ankle.


 P:   It’s a good point you bring up about the value of something versus how much of it you have.  One tattoo is more meaningful than one tattoo when you have 100 other tattoos.

What’s the threshold?  At what point does having too much shit devalue everything you have?  And is this what’s behind the monastic style of living?  Like a “yo, I’m gonna throw ALL MY SHIT AWAY” so that what few things I have will be inherently more valuable.

Even with the tattoo on your leg (which I didn’t do) even though it didn’t come out the way that you wanted it to, it’s not like you’re super bummed about it.  That’s actually a funny story – maybe you should tell it.

 R: Long story short is: I got a tattoo from a guy I respected a ton. He pretty much ignored half of what I said, did the complete opposite of what I asked for on the other half, and in the end I have a very well done tattoo that in a picture I would think ‘wow, that thing looks great, but I wouldn’t want it on me’. However it’s on me, but what can you do? Ultimately I look at it as a reminder that the tattoos I do are not about me or my vision. They’re about what the customer wants. Just ‘cause I think something is bitchin’, if it’s not their thing, they’re not gonna be happy. You have to find that middle ground where you try and include as much of their (sometimes dumb-ass) idea as possible, while applying it in a way that will still look good both technically and stylisticaly in 30 years.

 P:  Hahaha- good reminder.  Tattoo “artists” often forget this. But I think you and I don’t consider ourselves “artists.”  We’re here to find some middle ground with the client – realize the clients’ vision in a way that will still have integrity as a tattoo.

R:  Yeah, I’ll never call myself an artist. Maybe it’s an inferiority complex, I don’t know, but I consider myself a craftsman. People hire me to do a service. Sometimes I get more freedom than others to express my ideas, but at the end of the day, I have little use for artists. Too much pretentiousness that piques my own insecurities.

 Going back to what you said earlier, I’d say that it depends somewhat on the quality of the “shit” you have, but it’s a very valid idea, one that I think we’ll start to explore more and more as everything becomes even more accessible. Quick example: recently I was looking at tasteful nudes on the internet. The pictures were great, but there were hundreds of them, so it immediately went from ‘wow, that’s beautiful’ to ‘I don’t even care anymore’. Ten years ago you had to hunt for photos like that. Now they’re selling Sprite and Altoids and shit. Can’t get away from them, and despite what Liberace would have us believe, too much of a good thing can indeed be too much. You need some variety. Like guys with amazing body suits: I respect the artistry, but I’d rather see great tattoos interspersed with shitty tattoos that have good stories. Life can’t be all beauty.

P:  Interesting.  So there’s the yin-yang, you-need-the-bad-to-appreciate-the-good kind of outlook?  I totally agree with you about the nude pictures thing.  We’re all so numb to it now.  Which means that everything has to be ratcheted up to get our attention.  More violence.  More swearing.  More boobs.

R:  I don’t think you need to puprosefully seek out bad.  Badness is all around.  I guess what I mean is that things don’t work out/get fucked up/go sour all the time IN SPITE of all my best efforts.  It’s the universe’s way of keeping everything in check.  So I think even if you had an amazing bodysuit that was jaw-dropping, there’s gonna be other stuff in your life that will function as the antithesis to the perfection of the bodysuit.


 We’re living in a very interesting, challenging time, what with instant gratification and constant bombardment. The human condition is not really suited – or at least it has no training – for an experience like this. The advances in every field just since I’ve been alive.   it’s going to be interesting to look back in 20 years and see how we’re coping with it as a species.

P:  So let’s take this over to a motorcycle analogy.  When I upgraded from scooters to motorcycles, I was like “Fuck, this is so fast”.  And now I’m eyeballing 900cc bikes like a total dick.  Psychologists call this “habituation” – it basically means that we, as human beings, re-set our baselines for what is normal.  So, for example, if you’re married to a pornstar, it’s going to be awesome for the first three months or whatever, and then you get used to it (it becomes the norm) and then you start thinking that being married to a pornstar is dull and that there must be something better out there.

 R:  There’s a quote I’ve always liked – something to the effect of “For every beautiful woman, there’s a man who’s bored of fucking her.” That’s so American, I can’t even take it.


 P:  But that’s not even about having a 100 women.  It’s just the one.  How do we look in the mirror every day and be thankful instead of thinking “I wish my nose were straighter and my boobs were bigger and my skin were smoother.”  That dissatisfaction starts deep.  I blame advertising.

 R:  I agree absolutely, and I blame people’s inherent insecurity with their place in the universe. I think advertising just takes advantage of it. I remember my first few times on my bike, 35mph felt FAST. Now i’m doing 85mph and don’t even realize it. However i think there is a point where that levels out, because i know that even after a few years, 100mph still feels faster than I need to go. I’m comfortable with where I’m at and don’t feel a need to push it further.

P:  Okay, I gotta wrap this up.  parting words?

R:  So soon?

P:  We’re at the mercy of people’s short attention spans!

R:  Ha, I know. Hmmm… we’ve barely scratched the surface of our normal conversations. If I’ve learned anything about life, it’s the importance of being honest with yourself. Until you can really look at who you are and what you’re facing, you can never hope to change anything.

God, that sounds fucking corny. Also, thank you to my friends who have supported and loved me. Without you guys, I wouldn’t have anything.


 P:  Thanks again, pal. 

If you’re in the Los Angeles area, give Rus a call/email.  Follow him on instagram: crushrus; or check out his website: .

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