...or so the song goes, but it ain’t that easy! Tattooing has always been a “Closed Profession”, cloaked in secrecy, and somewhat shunned by ordinary society. They guarded their trade secrets like Houdini. They barely tolerated each other, let alone some wannabe from the outside. You could get hurt asking the wrong questions at a Tattoo Joint. Tattooists are like whores, they don’t like it when some new trollop shows up on their street, so they’ll do anything they can to dissuade you from trying your hand at it.
Even though I grew up for the most part in San Antonio, Texas, where there were four Air Force Bases, and Ft. Sam Houston, there hadn’t been any Tattoo Shops in San Antonio after the city ran Five Star Jack out of town in the early 50’s. If you wanted a tattoo, you had to go to Houston, Corpus Christie, or Killeen to get one, or go to prison, or do it yourself. I started fooling around with “hand-poke” tattooing in 1964. I wrapped blanket thread to hold the ink around a small modeling brush with a couple of needles tied on it. “Fooling around” is the right word for it! If I thought I knew what I was doin’, I was just foolin’ myself. I inherited a pair of old, brass Percy Waters machines, along with an old Lionel Train transformer to run them, and three jars of pigment, (green, red, yellow), when a Biker Brother was murdered by an off-duty Deputy Constable on Pearl Harbor Day, 1967. Now I had “the SHIT”! “Great God Almighty/Jesus H. “Tap-dancing’”, I was in the “Big Time” now! The fact that I didn’t know Jack Shit about what I was doin’ not withstanding, I was determined to make his acquaintance.
Being a motorcycle Patch Holder, as well as a Carnie, I had a veritable Wall of Human Flesh to work on. However, any real knowledge of the Craft was virtually non-existent. As I said, ask a leading question at another slinger’s joint, and he’d let it be known that if something unfortunate were to happen to you, that it would make his day, and would be grateful to whoever might be responsible. As to becoming an Apprentice, now “Such a Deal we got for You!” It was easier to Prospect for an MC Patch. First, you had to “hang-out” around the shop, and befriend the guys that worked there, be a “Go-Fer”, draw designs when everybody else was busy, or just didn’t feel like doin’ it themselves. If the guy liked you, and you had a little talent, after 6-8 months, he might ask you if you’d ever thought about being an Apprentice. If you said, “Yes”, then he’d hit you with the Price of your Education, usually $5000-$10,000, in advance, and that was a lot of Jack in those days! If you could come to terms with the man, then you got a couple of more years of the same old shit, only now it was your Job, and if you didn’t do it to his satisfaction, the it was your Ass! You also got to clean, and service the needle bars, (when, and if, he did change them), make needle bars to replace the ones that ripped up more skin than they put in ink. If you were a good Boy, after a year, or so, you got to tattoo on Mr. Potatoes Head. And, while all this shit was goin’ down, you also had a Quota of Design Sheets, Flash, to deliver to his Massa, unsigned, of course, which he would go through and steal for himself. He got all he could out of you, before he gave you anything you could use to compete with him. You might get to tattoo for money in 5-10 years. “Such a Deal!”