By - Steve Mezo
Every time I wear my logo I always get the question of "Do you do tattoos?" And the answer is a big old "NOPE!" I've never owned a tattoo machine and never plan on owning one. I just have a lot of them, and the nickname was given to me by a friend in Monmouth Mall New Jersey back in 1991 to differentiate between another friend of ours named Steve and me.
Now let's go way back to when I was on a bus going from Union Beach to Keansburg New Jersey with my Aunt Vera. "Why?" you ask. Well that's where I saw one up close.
Nobody in my family had any and I don't remember seeing any on their friends that early on in my life.
But there was this man who had to have been in the beginning of WWII at least and he had a Hula Dancer on the top of his forearm.
It was pretty close to this one.
The man saw me starring at it and asked me if I liked it and I gave an emphatic nod and a big old YES! Then he asked me if I wanted to see her hula. I said yes again, then he held his wrist flexed his forearm muscle and made her hips move. After seeing that I new right then and there that I had to have a tattoo!
I was obsessed with them and covered my arms with just about every free one that came in a Cracker Jack box and Bazooka Gum wrapper. And then one night on the old "Real People" Television show they had shown how they were done back in the 70's.
It was so wild because the early flash were done with plastic templates (Stencils) that were acetate sheets with the designs etched into them with a sewing needle. I read on tattooarchive.com that this job was done by shop apprentices.
Then charcoal dust would be set into the etchings then Vaseline would be put onto the persons skin. Then the Vaseline would absorb the charcoal from the acetate to transfer the design to be tattooed. That's a long way from the Thermofax stencils used now.
And that's also when I saw what a tattoo machine was and how they worked. And my mom couldn't wait to say "See it uses a needle to make a tattoo." Now I haaaaate getting needles... But if it meant that was the only way I was getting one and my mom thought she had one over on me, they could have done it with a broken bottle and poster paint!!!
Jump ahead to 1981 and I found myself at the door of "Tony's Tattoo" when he still had his shop on the Union Beach side of Highway 36.
There I was with my best friend Chris Letts back when we were eleven years old. We walked in and "Pirate Tony" was sitting there looking like every old school tattoo artist ever. He could have easily told us to get the **** out of his shop, but he was one of the nicest people I ever met. He looked over his readers and asked us what we wanted and I told him "Tattoos on our shoulders!" The regulars got a good laugh from that and he took two transfers out of a drawer in his desk.
These weren't the ones from Bazooka Gum they were big with high detail and had to be applied with rubbing alcohol. Mine was a skull that covered my entire shoulder, and Chris had a dragon that went down to his bicep. We asked him how much we owed him and he said just wear the shirts he was giving us and tell people where we got them.
Man I wore that poor shirt till it was nothing but threads.
Fast forward to 1986 when I was in high school with my friends Eddie and Kurt, Eddie walked in with a tattoo of Woody Woodpecker on his arm. I was like "Now Way!!!" and Kurt thought it was cool too. We asked him where he got it from and he said Tony's Tattoo. Kurt went the next night and got his and that left Friday night for me.
They told me that they would meet me there and they were a no show that night...
So I walked in and Tony asked me what I wanted, I pointed to a wizard (The 80's standard) and since I had a full mustache then he only asked if I was eighteen. Okay before everybody gets all in a tizzy, tattoos weren't the Mall Crowd standard yet and it was a completely different time period. So anybody getting their first were
usually eighteen. But I lied to the man and got my first at sixteen.
"What did my mom think of it?" Well she didn't see it till two years later after I got it. I didn't go anywhere without a t-shirt at any time, and then on the day of my high school graduation my mom finally saw it when she made me change my dress shirt.
Man she was not happy about that and she yelled that it better be my last one.
I think she forgot about my Cracker Jack and Bazooka Gum days and you know it wasn't the last.
Now the rest came from Tony and his son working a lot with barter. Tattooing wasn't as huge as it is now back then, so I did a lot of apprentice duties that didn't involve any kind of tattoo work.
I would run the Autoclave and the sonic cleaners, arrange the flash and keep the shop as straightened up as I could ,keep the stations cleaned and stocked. And then I would get paid in ink, or if it was a real slow day I would be told to pick something off the wall so they could try out new inks or machines.
Yeah a lot of my work from back then isn't all TV Show style ink, but I don't care because every one of them means something to me. And it connects me to people of the 70's and 80's that smile the second I say "Pirate Tony's" name. And only they know who "Yack, Yack Cacalinski" is or how the "Fitsimmons pin connects to a Fergison bar".
But most of all it makes me "Tattooed Steve"