Wednesday, December 28, 2011

The Long Story About a Small Tattoo, or, Megan Massacre's Golden Touch

Tonight on TLC, New York Ink premieres its second season. For those of you who may have blinked, I got about six seconds of quality screen time in season 1, episode 7, at the tail end of the show. I figured I'd share my experience here, in conjunction with the premiere of the show's sophomore run.

Ever since news broke earlier this year that Ami James, formerly of TLC’s Miami Ink, was opening up shop in New York City, and developing NY Ink, people within and on the periphery of the tattoo industry were waiting to see how it would play up.

Bits and pieces of news fragments floated about during the spring, in the blogosphere, and in the print media. This piece, in New York magazine really caught my attention.

So, a few weeks before the series was set to premiere on TLC during the first week of June, I was excited to see, on one of my favorite sites, Tattoo Snob, this blurb:

New York Ink’s $50 rooster deal

Wooster Street Social Club (A.K.A. the home of New York Ink) will be hosting/shooting a $50 rooster tattoo event on Friday, May 20th. The event starts at 11am, and will air at the end of Season 1 of New York Ink.

Send an RSVP email today to with the subject: RSVP ROOSTER. Be sure to include your name, phone number and email address and you’ll be put on the VIP list.
Well, as you would imagine, my interest was piqued, so I dashed off an email and crossed my fingers. I then asked for Friday off, anticipating that I could get down there, thinking they were going to do one of those Friday-the-13th-like events, tattooing hundreds of roosters on adoring fans. Surely, I thought, I was fast enough out of the gate to make the list.

Unfortunately, that night I got an email from NY Ink breaking it to me that I wasn’t selected, but I was more than welcome to come down and be an extra.

Not really interested in missing work to not get a tattoo, I chalked it up to experience and BBM’d my boss and told him I’d be in Friday, after all.

“Never mind about Friday,” I messaged, “just got an email saying they were booked solid.”

“That sucks,” he wrote back.

“I could go, but no guarantee,” I messaged back, “not worth it.”

He tried to console me, “At least you won’t have a dumb rooster on you for the rest of your life.”

That was one way of looking at it.

The next day, I had just returned from lunch when the following e-mail hit my BlackBerry:

Exciting news! We have added 5 more spots to the guaranteed rooster tattoo list for tomorrow. If you are still interested in the $50 tattoo event tomorrow, and 100% want to get the tattoo please reply to this email by 2pm today with the subject line "100% rooster." Please note we need you to arrive by 11 AM sharp, and do not have an end time for the shoot. You need to be able to commit fully to the day in order to be involved.

The first 5 people to reply to this email will be added to the guaranteed rooster tattoo list. You will receive a confirmation email and phone call if you are chosen. Anyone we do not respond to is still more than welcome to attend the event but cannot be guaranteed a rooster tattoo.

Thanks and good luck! 
NY Ink Casting

I responded immediately and things looked promising when I got this message:

Hi Bill-

What is your phone number?


Moments after sending my number, I got the call. I was in! The production team sent me the logistics and I was good to go.

I got completely razzed by my boss, but he gave me the day off.

With my mother's birthday approaching, I thought it would be fun to dedicate the rooster tattoo to her late "pet" Golden, memorialized here. In addition, I thought that the personal side of this story would make my rooster tattoo stand out among all the others being inked. It was a decent strategy, I thought. Just to show I wasn't making this up, I brought a picture of Golden along with me to the shoot.

I arrived early, about 30 minutes or so ahead of the call time, bemoaning the fact that I was arriving much later than I anticipated, thinking they were going to be inking a ton of roosters. I was the only one there, but the crowd quickly grew to a few dozen. Still, I thought, much less than I anticipated.

I even spotted a Tattoosday contributor Liz in line and wondered who else I would see. It was a bit of a blur, as people filled out forms, had photos taken, and mingled. I met a guy named Roy, who saw I had checked in on Facebook, and he friended me as we stood in line. He had driven up from Philadelphia for the occasion.

A light rain had started to fall, and we huddled under a construction scaffold across the street from the shop.

I was still puzzled by the small group of people present, considering the call for volunteers. When one producer asked “those getting rooster tattoos” to come up on a landing above the sidewalk where we were all standing, I was even further shocked by the small group of us that broke off of the main group. I asked the producer how many of us were getting tattoos and my heart jumped when she looked at her clipboard and said, “There’s only ten of you.” I was stunned, I thought we’d be vying for airtime with dozens of people, based on the instructions we should be expected to stay “all day, into the evening”. It would certainly be easier to stand out with only nine other people getting inked.

Cut to us being ferried across the street for some exterior shots in front of the shop. Slight drizzle still falling. It was then that I noticed, maybe forty feet away, Corey Miller standing under a tree watching us. I had just met him the night before (recounted here) and 24 hours later here he was again! There was a slight buzz as a few of us recognized him and wondered, would we be getting a rooster tattoo from Corey Miller?

Time sped up as the moment of truth arrived. After an unknown person, who we later learn is Floor Manager, Robear, does a rooster-costumed warm-up in the light rain, Ami James opens the door and yells “who wants a fifty dollar cock?”

That’s our cue to file in and I am number five, or last, in the first group. A woman named Jessica, the shop manager, gives us paperwork as the cameras roll. I watch with envy as I see Tim Hendricks pick a client, then Ami James, then Tommy Montoya, and Roy, who knows Megan Massacre from Philly, gets paired up with her. Who’s left? I don’t see Chris Torres, but there are people running around everywhere, and the shop looks amazing. Huge, spacious, covered with art.

I chat with Jessica and discover she knows Marisa and Brian, from Needles and Sins. I show her my picture of Golden, the famous Hawaiian rooster, and she hands me a post-it with the number five on it.

Golden, photo courtesy Diane Ferreira

The next five sign in at the desk and the other folks from the line sit in the waiting area, as human background. I stand around, eschewing a seat, figuring I will be more visible and not overlooked. When the show finally airs, I am prominently lurking in many of the shots, maroon Tommy Bahama shirt sticking out like a sore thumb.

Tattoo machines whir and Jessica comes up to me telling me she’s going to set me up with Ami. This brings me great joy. The flash for the roosters is a little disappointing, five versions of small tribal cocks, in various positions, crowing, strutting, with various color schemes. Black. Black fading to red. Black fading to blue. Black fading to green. If I am going to get a small, unimpressive rooster silhouette, let it be from Ami James, I think.

I do an on-camera interview with the producers, plugging Tattoosday and sharing the story of Golden, my mother’s deceased Hawaiian rooster. I know it’s not likely that much of it will air, but I figure it’s good for something.

The second wave of clients get tattooed. I pay my $50, including a $10 tip. I am keeping an eye on Ami but he doesn’t seem to be gearing up for another client. I start to get a sinking feeling about the likelihood of his getting to tattoo me. I am standing around nervously, imagining how this could be going wrong, with a worst-case scenario playing out in my head, as they give me my money back and apologize.

Of course, that doesn’t happen. Jessica approaches me, biting her lip and saying, apologetically, “Ami’s not doing any more tattoos, but I’ve set you up with Megan. She’s really good.” I don’t doubt what she’s saying, but the disappointment clearly made itself known on my face.

There’s only a few clients left in the shop. Most of the “background” people have taken off. I observe the goings-on about the shop with keen interest. I always knew that these reality shows relied on orchestration and staging, but I am struck by how much of the show seems staged for the cameras.

In the mean time, Megan is ready for me. She is sweet as sugar and much better looking than Ami, so I start thinking that this might not be so terrible after all. But then, much to my surprise, Megan Massacre makes me a fan for life by going completely outside the box.

I show her the picture of Golden that I brought along for inspiration, and she asks which design I want. I show her the silhouette and she asks if I mind if she tries something a little different, with some color, to make him more like my mom’s rooster. I give her full artistic license and she starts tattooing. I ask for it on my inner right arm and she uncannily picks a spot and orientation that matches my Friday the 13th Anchor tattoo.

I want to be surprised so I don’t watch much. Tommy Montoya and Tim Hendricks swing by to check out Megan’s work. Everyone else is done and people are cleaning up their stations. Tim whistles and exclaims, “Megan, are you trying to show us up?” I consider this a good sign. Tommy makes some crude remarks, “Megan, you’re making his cock bleed.” I laugh and say “Hey, my kids watch this show!” Tommy later proclaims that Megan just might get the award for “Cock of the Day”.

When Megan finishes, I get a good look at her handiwork and I’m stunned. I was expecting a solid tribal rooster and I got this instead:

I am astonished at what she has done with colors to give my rooster a dusty brown and gold appearance. Compare this to the type of rooster others received:

Photo by Roy Chapman
I know for certain, Ami would never have done that for me, and I doubt that Tommy, Tim, or Billy would have done that. I didn’t even ask for it. Megan just went with it and hit it out of the park.

Three days later, on my mother’s birthday, we called her on Skype in Hawaii, and I showed her the Golden tattoo. She was thrilled that their old rooster was immortalized on my flesh.

The show aired on July 21, 2011. I was excited to see a glimpse of me the previous week in the preview at the end of episode 6. Of course, shortly thereafter, the huge controversy surrounding TLC’s one-off Tattoo School blew up on Facebook and it seemed like most of my tattoo artist FB friends had "Boycott TLC" profile pictures. So, I gathered, not that many artists watch the ink-based “reality” shows on TLC, but there were likely fewer watching than normal. Such is life.

When the show aired, the Rooster event was left for the final five minutes of the episode. I pop up in the background quite a bit, and wham! There I am “William” talking about how Ami is going to tattoo my rooster, dedicated to Golden, whose picture I show on camera. But that’s all of me. No blog mention, as I gathered, but I was a little disappointed because, they showed quite a few of the finished rooster tattoos, but they didn’t show Megan’s effort which I think, all personal bias aside, was the finest one of the day.

Thanks to Megan Massacre for giving me a remarkable tattoo when she could have just given me the standard rooster everyone else was getting. I still look at it and marvel at how well she did with such a tiny piece, and I continue to receive compliments on it.

This entry is ©2011 Tattoosday.

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