Category: Art

Channeling My Inner Nerd

spider700When I was six years old I became a HUGE comic book and Spiderman fan. In fact, I’ve still got the huge collection of comics I amassed as a youth stored securely away in boxes that I hope will one day fund my retirement (or at least supply me with a few months worth of Polident). Back then, if a comic had a Spider, a Hulk or a guy on a flaming motorcycle on it, I bought it.

In the early eighties, my friend and I would make weekly pilgrimages to the downtown district to purchase the latest tales of Spiderman, Incredible Hulk and Ghost Rider (among others). This place was one of those cigarette shops that sold lottery tickets and magazines but also had a few swiveling metal racks with comic books on them. It was in front of those racks where he and I would have deep discussions about the important issues of the day: like why we thought Spiderman could beat the Incredible Hulk if the two of them ever got into a fight.

Even into the early 90’s (when I was still a major geek), I’d drive to comic book shops every Friday where new issues had been reserved for me. What was cool about it was comic books at the time cost $1 each. So for a ten-spot, you’d have plenty of superhero whoop ass to last you for quite a while.

I’m not exactly sure when it ended, but I gradually began to lose interest in buying comic books. Looking back, I think the signs may have started when I began noticing that there were no hot chicks in the comic book stores. I mean let’s face it, regardless of what other’s might say; comic books (for the most part) are chick repellant.

Recently though, the current rage of hit movies bringing these heroes to life on the big screen began to pique my interest in comic books again. I had even heard a rumor that the latest issue of Spiderman (#700) was going to be a milestone issue. It didn’t take long for me to decide to channel my inner nerd and go roam the halls of a comic book store again and so yesterday, I made the trip.

Brick and mortar comic stores are quickly going the way of the dinosaur, but thankfully there are still a few in my area. As I walked inside, there was an immediate feeling of deja vu. Walls and walls of old comics, graphic novels and action figures greeted me and a feeling of giddiness washed over this now forty-something year old kid.

I noticed that a group of young individuals (all male – go figure) were blocking the middle of the room and making conversation with each other. Under their arms, each held their weekly fix of comic and I kindly asked them to move out-of-the-way so I could make my way over to where the latest issues were. I have to admit, I loved the feeling that this was going to be the first time I purchased an actual comic book in at least twenty years. A rush of euphoria came over me and I felt kind of, well… nerdy about it!

Sitting there on the rack was the object of my quest: Amazing Spiderman #700. I quickly picked it up and held it in my hands. The number of pages appeared to be less than I remember for a comic book and the artwork had changed quite a bit from the style I was used to from the late 80’s.

And then it happened.

I peered down and noticed that the price of the comic was no longer the dollar I had once enjoyed. In fact, it was far from it. The latest issue of Spiderman was now almost eight dollars!

And that was the moment when “Fiscal Jim” put “Nerdy Jim” in a headlock and made him put the comic back down in the rack. When a comic book costs as much as a Playboy, something is wrong (not that I would know how much a Playboy costs mind you). But you can keep your comics, I’ll just stick with watching the movies.

On my way out of the store, I passed by the gaggle of guys standing around with their comic book bounty again. They were in deep discussion with each other about the conditions required for Bruce Banner to turn into the Incredible Hulk. I laughed to myself because thirty years ago, that was me pondering that same question.

At least some things never change.

Jessica Gahring Is Making Her Mark

Jessica Gahring has unleashed her full potential.

From the moment I first met her, I knew it was only a matter of time before the artist, actress, model and Mom put down the moniker of “Shop Manager” of NY INK, pick up her own tattoo machine and open Ms. Dixie’s Tattoo & Pin Up Parlour in Troy, New York.

With the unique shop layout that reflects the 1950′s and her love of pin-ups, Jessica is about to make her own mark on the business.

Her love of art began at a very young age and was nurtured by family and through education. On the television show, she may have been portrayed as a person with limited experience in the art of tattooing. In reality, quite the opposite is true. Jessica is already gaining notoriety for her work from people all over.

I had the chance to speak with Jessica as she prepares to open the doors to her shop for the very first time. She may have butted heads with Ami James for entertainment purposes, but in “real life” Jessica Gahring is making her dreams come true.

goJimmygo (gJg): Jessica, it’s so great speaking with you. Congratulations!

Jessica Gahring (JG): Thank you! This was definitely a long time coming.

gJg: How are you doing?

JG: I’m doing great. I’m tattooing full-time now, which was a given. I have people who want to travel and come see me!

gJg: Did you always have the dream of opening your own shop?

JG: That was always the plan. Even when I worked with my friend Lydia years ago we almost bought a studio together. It didn’t end up happening at the time, so we decided to wait. I went into banking to get more into the business side of things. I knew I wasn’t going to be there long.

gJg: Why did NY Ink choose not to showcase your talent?

JG:  The producers didn’t think it would make much of story. Even though I was already working with Lydia, they didn’t want to reveal that I had any sort of real background in the industry.

The truth is, we play characters in a “reality-type” show. The public wants confrontation and that’s what sells. But the person they showed in the first season is not who I really am as an individual.

gJg: What makes Ms. Dixie’s different from your typical tattoo shop?

JG: I’ve got a pin-up modeling theme; with a 1950′s, vintage feel to it. It looks like it belongs way back when.  It’s classy and something completely different from all other tattoo parlors. I’ll be tattooing full-time at one of three stations. I never wanted to have a huge studio. I wanted something that felt like home when people walk in and I think I’ve accomplished that. It’s very true to what I imagined it to be. 

gJg: Do you have anyone else helping you in this endeavor?

JG: Yes, my boyfriend Christian is my business partner and he’ll be scheduling and managing appointments for the shop. He’s the one that holds it all together.

gJg: Do you have any other artists lined up to work with you?

JG: I have an amazing artist, Jon Abbott, who will be working with me. He’s a traditional style artist. The third slot I’m going to leave open for guest artists until someone else comes along. I’m not sure what will happen down the road but I am really excited about where I am at right now!

gJg: Where did your love of art begin?

JG: I’ve always loved art even as a child. My Dad painted and drew pictures and even from a young age I was amazed that you could actually look at something and put what you saw down on paper.

I have art awards from elementary school and graduated high-school with a fine arts degree. Even when I went to college; I studied sociology but still took art classes. Art has always been a huge part of my life.

gJg: Where did your interest in tattooing begin?

I grew up in a very conservative family where tattoos were sort of taboo and something that was untouchable. I think because of that, it made me want to understand it more.

During high school and college, I would often design tattoos for other people. To me, tattooing is art on the ultimate canvas: the skin. I think that’s very cool!

gJg: What’s one thing everyone needs to know about getting tattoos?

JG: Be knowledgeable. My first tattoo was a butterfly on my upper back that I got right after high school. Unfortunately, it was done poorly and I ended up covering it up.

Most people between the ages of 18-21 usually either hate their first tattoo or end up covering it, so it’s really important to understand what makes a good tattoo and the health and safety aspects of getting one.

gJg: Which of your tattoos is your favorite?

JG: I really don’t have a personal favorite; all of them mean something to me. I have some that represent my daughter that are very special and the very first tattoo I ever did was on myself, so that has importance as well.

gJg: When is your official grand opening?

JG: We are open for business right now but we’re having our huge grand opening the week of Aug 11th. That’s where we’ll have the ribbon-cutting, balloons and prizes. I will be tattooing two radio DJs live on-air during the Grand Opening week: one from Jamz 96.3 and the other from our local country radio station, 104.9 The Cat.

I also happen to turn thirty on August 12th, so it’s perfect timing.

I figure, if I’m going to do thirty, what better way than by opening a tattoo shop?

For information on Ms Dixies Tattoo Pin-Up Parlour  Click Here

Article first published as Jessica Gahring Is Making Her Mark on Technorati.

New York Groove: My NY Ink Story

The Stencil For My Tattoo

It was a bright sunny day in August. I remember it well because I was in my upstairs bathroom shaking like a leaf. It was around 3 pm and I was getting ready to head over to South Bethlehem for sound check.

It was the summer of 2004 and my band was going to be the opening act for Clay Aiken at Musikfest. On the biggest stage of them all. The fastest sellout in the festival’s history – 6,500 people. We had the greatest female singer ever in our arsenal that got us there. But I was a nervous wreck.

I had dreamed about this forever. Since the first day I picked up my grandmother’s hand held potato slicer and pretended it was a guitar (true story). The callused fingers, the long walks downtown to Ken Brader and Son’s music store for lessons on brutal summer days. The countless number of  hours spent practicing after school.

While other kids went out and played sports or hung with friends I was trying to figure out how Eddie Van Halen got his kung-fu. I even used to write journal entries in high school of what my life was going to be like after I “made it”.

And now here I was, sitting in my bathroom next to the bowl for fear of losing my lunch. I’m still not sure how I held it together.

But somehow my “Rock Star Moment” was here. And I wasn’t about to let it slip away.

Ironically, it was being part of a country band that gave me this opportunity. The last thing you’d probably ever expect from a guy who grew up playing Survivor, Bon Jovi, Ozzy and AC/DC .And yet it was because our singer had won a regional vocal competition that we were invited to be the opening act.

So, a METAL head in a COUNTRY band gets to open for POP star. Musical irony.

Imagine the day in the life of your favorite chart topping artist as they arrive at a venue to perform. That was me that day.

Megan Massacre

All the crew members doing whatever it takes to make you comfortable so you could ready yourself for a night of great music. Ushering you off away from the adoring public. Ok, so this “public” was there to see Clay Aiken but this was my “moment” so I could think what ever I wanted.

Clay had just placed second in season two of American Idol but was almost on the same level as Justin Bieber is today. People were going bonkers for him.

Surreal.

This was the story that I told Megan Massacre as she tattooed me. This was the reason for getting my very first tattoo: to commemorate the day my dream came true.

Although my segment with her never actually aired there is a brief glimpse of Megan tattooing me during a transition between scenes as you can see in the one photo.

Frankly, I’m still wondering if this picture justifies me having my own IMDB listing… I can see it now:

Actor: James Wood:  Appeared in: “NY INK Season 2″… In the role of:  “Arm being tattooed by Megan Massacre“.

I honestly can’t say enough good things about my experience at Wooster Street or the tattoo that Megan did. What’s even better is that I now have a story within a story to tell when people ask me about it.

And I couldn’t ask for anything cooler than that. What do you think?

 

New York Groove (Part 4): Megan Massacre

She’s a model. She’s a DJ. She plays bass guitar. But most of all – Megan Massacre is one really amazing tattoo artist.

I first met Megan one hot summer day last August. I made the pilgrimage to New York with my daughter to visit The Wooster Street Social Club, the tattoo studio where she works. The studio is also the place where the TLC reality based show NY Ink is filmed. You can read about our adventure here. Today’s visit was different though.

Today, Megan was going to give me my very first tattoo and the entire segment was going to be filmed for the second season of NY Ink.

I really loved Megan’s work from the first season. She has such a unique style that was different from most of the other artists I had seen. I mean, tatting a dog dressed as a Victorian Lady or a dude getting hit by a bus is definitely not something you see every day.

Since this was going to be my very first tattoo I wanted it to be special and more than just a “picture” if that makes any sense. So when I gave her the ideas I had for the guitar I wanted I knew she would nail it. And the time was now drawing near.

I was sitting downstairs in a room adjacent to Ami James’ office. Producers and other production type folks all sat nearby with headset communication listening to what was going on upstairs. Finally, I heard one of them say into the microphone “Ok, I’ll send him up”.

And away I went.

Ami and Billy were already in the early stages of their tattoos and I slowly made my way past them to what’s been commonly referred to as “the big comfy couch”.

My View From The Couch

I sat down and peered over to see RoBear helping Megan set up her station. Several members of the film crew were in discussion with each other while others busily adjusted their equipment.

Megan was already well aware that this was going to be my first tattoo and was of significant size but that didn’t stop her from teasing me a bit.

As she was preparing her station with paper towels and ink she’d often look over at me and do her best impression of a nefarious villain by rubbing her hands together and laughing. Sort of saying “There’s no turning back now son… You’re mine!”.  And in some odd way, it was almost comforting.

Finally, it was time and she called me over to her station.

The first thing Megan did after applying the stencil was to make a small line to assess what my tolerance for the needle would be. It felt like a bit of a scratch, no pain. Off we go.

For the next two and a half hours Megan tattooed me as cameras rolled. Until the production crew was ready, telling her my actual “story” was the only thing we couldn’t talk about. Anything else was fine. So it was here where we shared our backgrounds and I got some back stories about her own tattoos. I also found out that much like me, she also grew up in Pennsylvania and has a fascination for not only art but musical performance as well.

Eventually, the production crew came over and began filming me telling Megan my story and reason for getting the tattoo. I think this was where I was most nervous. Its hard to try and tell a story and use coherent sentences when people are holding monstrous camera equipment and lights three feet away from you.

At times I have to admit that the tattoo process itself did hurt a little bit but there was no way I was going to cry in front of Megan. Ok, it didn’t hurt THAT much but it did make me wonder how people deal with the pain of getting tattooed in more sensitive areas.

At one point Ami, Billy and Jessica all came over off-camera to take a peek at the tattoo Megan was doing on me. Seeing these other great artists taking an interest in my piece was very cool and during the actual “reveal” only one word came to everyone’s lips: BAD-ASS. Exactly what I wanted it to be.

People have asked me over and over what Megan is really like in person and the one word that immediately comes to mind is “sweetheart”. She is lady-like and bad ass all rolled into one. A person dedicated to her craft.

In fact, in all the time it took her to do my tattoo she didn’t take one break. Well, unless of course you count the time she went over to check out the tattoo Billy was having a problem with. (Side note: It was episode three of season two. When you see Megan come up to see how Billy is doing on his “first” big tattoo, she was actually tattooing me at the time but my segment never aired).

Also, when you see her talking about her affection for RoBear that’s also genuine. RoBear was like her guardian. He helped set up her station and brought her over snacks and drinks while she was tattooing me. I suspect that if I would have gotten out of line with Meg I would have been on the receiving end of the big guy’s boot.

She likes to text

The whole experience from start to finish was surreal. Although I was a bit disheartened my segment didn’t air I can’t say enough good things about it.

I mean, how may people can say they got their first tattoo by Megan Massacre with a film crew watching and being interviewed about it?

So by now you may be wondering what my story was and even more importantly, want to see the tattoo that Megan did. All will be revealed in the finale which is next.

Next: The Story and The Reveal

New York Groove (Part 3): The Tattoo Pre-Production

Butterflies began to fill my stomach as I ascended the elevator to the eleventh floor of the make shift studio for NY Ink. The genesis of my excitement had been building since my arrival in New York and subsequent trip downtown via the subway line, but now the reality of the whole event was starting to take shape. It was only a matter of hours now before I’d be getting tattooed in front of the camera by Megan Massacre.

As the elevator floor indicator lights reached higher and higher numbers I imagined the door opening and me being greeted by flashing cameras and paparazzi. Perhaps the catering service asking me what my lunch requirements would be or maybe some early autograph seekers.

I could picture myself wearing Ray Bans and giving half-hearted smiles to my adoring public. “Are you THE James Wood?”, one beautiful blonde female would say. “The one telling his rock and roll story and getting a killer tattoo on NY Ink?”. I’d slowly remove the Ray Bans revealing my deep blue eyes and reply, “Why YES…that’s ME!”

Reality struck fast and my celebrity euphoria got sucked out of the room like a vacuum when the elevator door opened to reveal nothing but an empty vestibule. Only a few chirping crickets would have made the moment more complete.

A simple table with a telephone sat in between two leather chairs against the wall and I chuckled a bit thinking that there would be no h’orderves or goody bag containing high-end skin-care products for me. Sadly, the only thing that rested upon the table was a single clip board containing a sign-in sheet along with a note informing clients for “NY Ink” to dial an extension upon arrival to alert the associate producer.

After signing the sheet and leaving a message with the operator as to my arrival I settled down on the nice comfy chair and noticed that a few more clients were already starting to arrive. More people to tell their story and get tattoos.

During the next few hours I met two really cool people, each with multiple tattoos already and having their own stories to tell as to why they had chosen a particular piece for the show.

Now me, being a virgin of skin-art, eagerly listened to their tales of family, hard luck, and the needle and ink process. The butterflies that I had originally felt quickly subsided as I now found myself more concerned what the threshold of pain would be like for me when needle met skin.

“It feels like an annoying scrape”, one would say. “Nah, it’s more like a stab”, said the other. Looking back, it was hard to tell if they were being honest or just trying to scare me.

Me and Jessica Gahring

It wasn’t long before the associate producer sat us all down and explained the details of what was going to happen during the course of the day.

She would escort us over to the Wooster Street Social Club and upon our arrival we would each do a pre-interview.

Afterwards, crews would begin the process of filming us getting tattooed and telling our stories. The entire process was going to be an all day affair and there would include a lot of waiting.

Bring it on.

“Is everyone ready?” she asked and the three of us all quickly rose in unison. “Onward to Wooster Street”.

As we made our way down the elevator and out onto 6th Avenue the excitement of memorializing everything music has meant to me really started to build. Deep inside though I couldn’t stop thinking about the needle.

If anything, there definitely was no turning back now.

Next: Megan Massacre

New York Groove (Part 2): The Thing About Subways

The MTA system of New York City can be a bit daunting for the amateur subway commuter. It’s easy to find yourself lost somewhere in Gotham City if you happen to choose the wrong letter of the alphabet when boarding a train. Maybe it’s the small town boy in me but no matter how confident I am that I have chosen wisely I always find myself second guessing the decision I made the second the doors close.

I suppose that even the most seasoned of riders does a double-check every now and again just to make sure they’re heading in the right direction. For someone like me, a person who rarely visits the big city or rides a subway for that matter, it’s even more distressing. The thing is when you’re trying to make it to an appointment at the casting offices for Wooster Street Social Club (or anywhere else downtown for that matter) you definitely don’t want to wind up going uptown to Central Park. And this was no ordinary visit to the Big Apple to sight see either. My promptness was even more necessary because in this case producers and film crews were involved.

You see I was a man on a mission to get my first tattoo filmed for the second season of NY Ink and could hardly afford to be late for such a surreal and unique experience. So I took comfort in the fact that every street name I read on the subterranean wall at every stop matched the one I had on my pre-printed schedule.

Before too long the train came to a stop at the Canal Street station and I hurriedly departed. After quickly readjusting the backpack I was carrying over my shoulder I made the walk up the concrete staircase and into the bright morning sunshine on the Avenue of The Americas. The hustle and bustle of traffic and people mindlessly walking in step to get to their destinations reminded me that I was not in the small town of Easton, Pennsylvania anymore. This was the big time.

Me and Tommy Montoya

I pulled out my phone to check the time and was relieved to see that I still had an hour before I needed to be at the studio. It’s times like these, the in between arrival and actual appointment times, when nothing but coffee will suffice and I quickly spotted a Starbucks and made my way inside.

A contented smile came across my face as I sat down with my Venti bold. My biggest challenge upon arriving in NYC was to take the A-Train (or 8th Avenue Express) down to Canal and into the heart of SOHO with time to spare.

Mission accomplished.

Next: The Tattoo Pre-Production

New York Groove (Part 1)

“Back in the New York Groove” was a song written by Russ Ballard that first appeared on the 1975 album “Keep Us Off The Streets” by the British glam band Hello. As a musician I know this because well, I looked it up.

Who would have thought that three years after it first appeared on vinyl that song would indirectly become part of my life?

It was 1978. The year the members of KISS, the biggest band in the world at the time and with enough glitz, makeup and pyrotechnic prowess to make even the great Liberace and his golden candelabra melt, all simultaneously released their own solo albums as a gimmick. “New York Groove” was a song covered by guitarist Ace Frehley on his solo album of the same name.

As a nine-year old boy, KISS was the world to me and Ace was always my favorite member of the band. Not just because he had the coolest face makeup but also for the way his sunburst Les Paul guitars would literally catch fire during his solos. Ace’s antics were one of the main reasons I picked up a guitar with the dream to “Shout it Out Loud” and “Rock and Roll All Nite”. As far as I was concerned Ace Frehley was synonymous with rock and roll and suffice to say, his solo album quickly wore out on my turn table.

So it’s kind of ironic how thirty-three years later that particular song, New York Groove, was selected to be the theme for NY Ink, the reality-based television series on TLC. For those who may not be aware, NY Ink follows the trials and tribulations of famed tattoo artist Ami James as he attempts to make a go of a tattoo studio in the SOHO district of New York City.

What’s even more surprising is the notion that the melody for “New York Groove” kept running through my head as I looked out the window of the bus that was carrying me to New York City to get my first tattoo from Megan Massacre, tell my own musical “story” and have the segment recorded for the second season of NY Ink.

In my family being of age and still a tattoo virgin is frowned upon. The inside joke being: “You can’t consider yourself a “Wood” if you don’t have at least a little ink”. Most of my relatives have been tattooed at some point or another but I never was. Quite frankly, I would have been perfectly content with being the only black sheep in the family.

It wasn’t until I stumbled upon NY Ink that I began to give being tattooed serious consideration. The artwork and stories I had heard really had a profound impact on me. More so than any “cool” factor would in me getting needled. And my own story would sure be one for the books.

From an early age I was a guitarist with a dream to be a rock star. You know, right up there in the same league as KISS, Survivor, and Bon Jovi. Yeah, that was going to be me.

I even remember writing  journal entries about “making it” while in high school. At one point I’d pretend my journal was a Rolling Stone magazine interview. I’d write questions that I’d want the interviewer to ask me and then answer them in full ‘rock and roll’ mode. I’d muse about who I’d be collaborating with, the up coming summer tour I was about to embark upon and what I did when throngs of female fans sought my attention. Little did I know at the time that one day the dream was going to come true but in a most unusual way. I couldn’t wait to tell the story and have it memorialized.

Me and Ami James

As the bus slowly rolled into the Port Authority Station a feeling of excitement and anticipation filled me. I slowly departed and made my way into Manhattan not really sure if I was more excited to tell the story, get my first tattoo from an artist I greatly admire or the fact that my experience was going to be filmed and possibly air on a television show.

In any case all I did know was that Ace would have been pleased. Today was going to be an interesting day.

Next: The Thing About Subways

My Visit To Wooster Street

It was in the early morning hours of August 16th, 2011. I was making my way down stairs well prepared for my trip with my daughter to New York City. It was her 10th birthday and we would celebrate it together by taking a day trip to the Big Apple.

As I descended the staircase I could hear the faint trickle of light rain on the rooftop and became a bit discouraged. I peered out the kitchen window to assess the current state of the weather and could see droplets of water sliding down the glass in the early morning gray light. “Just a shower”, I thought to myself wiping the sleep from my eyes.

“Are you still going today?” my wife asked as she poured herself a cup of coffee. She knew I had been planning this day for quite some time and wondered if Mother Nature choosing to pick a fight with me at the last-minute was going to change my mind.  But that mother-nature bitch was going down today. “Yeah, we’re still going”, I replied as I filled my cup. Indeed, today was going to be a good day.

Arriving in New York City, Jillian and I immediately took the “N” subway south to Canal Street. We were most definitely on a mission. Our goal was to visit The Wooster Street Social Club and Megan Massacre from the TLC show NY Ink. Of course, if you’ve been playing along at home, you already know that it’s my goal to get on the show next season and get tatted by Megan.

We got to the shop just as it was opening at 11am. Inside, I noticed Billy DeCola, the “apprentice” from the show, mopping the floor. For a minute I forgot that this actually was a place of business and not just some studio with actors in it.  Surely,  a big star like Billy would be having his nails done or reviewing a script or something but pushing a mop?

 

 

 

 

 

We wanted to hang out and see if Megan would show up. It would be a long shot but we knew that going in. She usually only comes in if she has appointments.

Since her assistant handles all of those there was no definite way of knowing.  Billy told us that she usually comes in around 1 or 2 if she has appointments so we decided to go grab something for lunch and then come back afterwards.

After lunch, we made our way back to Wooster Street under dismally gray clouds (but no rain) to wait it out. And we waited. And waited. No Megan. At one point Billy offered to send her a text to see if she was coming. She texted him back and said she’d be coming in shortly. So we waited. And waited. Surprisingly, no one from the studio seemed to mind our loitering. On the contrary, they were all hoping right along with us that Megan would be in.

It wasn’t long before all the water I had been drinking all day had warranted a trip to the restroom. After finishing up, I opened the door to exit and saw that the person we had waited hours to see was now standing behind the reception desk. Megan had arrived and Jillian was oblivious to it.

I quickly called Jillian over and we both got to meet Megan. We did the photo-op, had her sign a few things and discussed our love of the show.

It was at that point that I also needed to take care of some business. So I told Megan that if I get on the show next season I wanted her to be the one tattooing me. To which she said she would be honored to.

There was indeed a feeling of victory at having accomplished our mission, albeit we had to wait a few hours. But before making our way back uptown and the long bus ride home we decided to stop down and see the World Trade Center site.

With the 10th anniversary of that horrible day arriving and having never been to the site at all it seemed appropriate to pay our respects.

I must admit that I am definitely not the best person to go along with when trying to follow a map. Black Beard the pirate can rest easy in his watery grave knowing I’d never be able to locate his booty. On more than one occasion along the way Jillian was miffed at her father’s inability to maneuver the streets of Manhattan.

Eventually though, and with the help of a local at a Starbucks, we found our way there. We stood in awe looking at the new Freedom Tower under construction with its steel beams rising into the New York skyline. About halfway down the street was a preview of the 9/11 Memorial that is set to open a few weeks from now so we went inside to check it out.

Truth be told, it was very hard not to cry being reminded of all the horrible events of that day so I didn’t even try. No one, no matter how tough or how many tattoos they have can look at this and not walk away a different person. Life is too precious.

As we made the trek uptown and prepared for the long bus ride home, the sun finally began to come out from behind the clouds. What started out as perhaps a rain dreary trip actually ended with sunshine. And hope.

I peered out of my window seat on the bus as Jillian fell asleep on my shoulder and watched the Manhattan skyline fade into the distance. This was definitely one birthday we’d both remember for a long, long time.

New York Ink: The Best Show You’re Not Watching

I’m not a big fan of reality television. It gets old quick when the biggest shows are singing competitions and celebrity dance offs.

I’ve also grown tired of watching single bachelors choosing a soul mate from dozens of women only to read about their break up in People magazine six weeks after the show ends as they try to come to grips with what went wrong.

And please, don’t even get me started on the show about the beach.

Sadly, I began to accept the fate of having to spend the end of every night mindlessly dialing 1-800 numbers. That is of course, until I stumbled upon New York Ink.

New York Ink is a new “reality-based” show on TLC that follows the events of famed tattoo artist Ami James as he opens a tattoo studio, The Wooster Street Social Club, in the SOHO district of New York City.

The show also includes a plethora of incredible tattoo artists: Megan Massacre, Tim Hendricks, Tommy Montoya and Chris Torres. Also on board are Billy DeCola (the intern), the lovable Jessica Gahring (shop manager) and Robear (floor manager and big cuddly guy).

Being a tattoo virgin, I initially just tuned in to see what the whole tattooing process was about. What I discovered was a refreshing change from the otherwise mundane variety of shows that currently dominate the TV dial.

Most of New York Ink deals with the day to day struggle of Ami trying to make a go of it in New York. Of course, there are the clashes with staff members and all the drama that goes with it (very typical in reality shows). But what sets this show apart from all the other standards is the real “human” element. That ace in the hole being the clientele that come into the studio to get tattooed.

For in between shouting matches among staff and Ami’s frustration with the business being slow are scenes of customers coming in, getting their tattoo and telling their story. This is where the show really shines.

First, each client gives the artist an idea or sketch of what they have in mind for a tattoo. After it’s drawn up and the tattooing process begins we are treated to the back story of why the person chose the particular piece.

I’ve heard wonderful tales of people getting tattoos to commemorate the loss of loved ones, their experiences from 9/11 and even how they’ve overcome other impossible odds.

Afterwards, when the final piece in unveiled, there is a flood of emotion that both the client and artist share. Many times, at least for me, it’s very moving.

This show made me rethink my original negative feelings about tattoos. I never fully understood the real reason why some people would get one. It’s wonderful when a show can change the way you feel and New York Ink does just that.

The season finale of the show airs this week and there’s drama that an artist is leaving and Ami may also lose the shop. But none of that concerns me. In “reality”, I know Ami, Megan and the rest will all be ok.

I’m tuning in because I want to hear more stories about the art of being human.

Article first published as New York Ink: The Best Show You’re Not Watching on Technorati.

NY Ink-ed

I’ve been surrounded by tattoos pretty much my entire life. I’ve seen the tramp stamps and the Dallas Cowboys logos. Met the “Keep on Truckin” man up close. I’ve seen cartoon characters and witnessed wizards and their crystal balls casting spells along shoulder blades and caricatures of marijuana plants on forearms. Yep, if it’s a generic type of tattoo, I’ve probably been exposed to it.

About the only types of tats I’ve never seen up close are the Popeye anchor and the original old school “Mother” one sailors used to obtain after long voyages at sea. Although I’m sure I could still find a few if I searched hard enough on some nursing home tenant’s upper arms.

My uncle even ran a small tattoo business out of his house when I was growing up so it’s safe to say that pretty much everyone on my side of the family, with the exception of me and my mother, has at least one tat on some location of their body. Well, that is of course unless Mom’s been keeping hers a secret. Then it’s just me.

I’ve never gotten a tattoo in my life and haven’t even been in a studio for that matter. I’ve passed by quite a few of them in my travels but never had the urge to go in. Kind of strange since I also consider myself an artist.

Drawing, painting, songwriting – I’ve pretty much run the gambit of art but I’ve never gotten into the whole tattoo thing. Even when my own relatives were lining up at “Uncle Sam’s Southlands Tattoo Shop” up the block I never went. Not even to sit there and chuckle as they writhed in pain. No, I had no interest in even seeing how it was done.

So with all of this skin art surrounding me you may be wondering why I didn’t also partake in the merriment. Perhaps it was all the bad tattoos I’d see or the muddy green color that initially turned me off to them. But the truth is the biggest reason is that I don’t think there’s any type of script or picture that could be tattooed on me that I wouldn’t get tired of seeing on my body at some point.

That cute little Tazmanian Devil tat isn’t something you can just wash off if you grow tired of it. And what I think may be cool at the moment may not be as cool a week, month or year from now. I’m also not about to put something forever on my body by just looking through a book and seeing what strikes my fancy at that particular moment.

It wasn’t until a few weeks ago that everything changed for me and the real possibility of eventually getting a tattoo entered into my head. I was stumbling through the high-end cable channels and came across a marathon of NY Ink episodes.

NY Ink is a show on TLC which follows the events of a famous tattoo artist, Ami James, as he opens a tattoo studio in New York City. After watching the first few minutes of it I almost immediately became hooked.

The built up drama and confrontations among the staff was over the top at times but I realized they needed that for good television. But I found myself more interested in seeing how the whole tattoo process worked and one of the artists in particular, Megan Massacre.

Here’s how the whole process would play out: A client would come into the studio for an appointment with Megan. After showing her a picture of what kind of tattoo they had in mind Megan would go draw up an incredible rendition of the idea on a stencil, place the template on the selected portion of the body and, after approval, would tattoo it.

I found myself fascinated not only with the whole needle, art and ink concept but also the conversations between Megan and her client. I began to understand that getting a tattoo can have a much deeper meaning then just being cool or wanting a picture of some dude smoking a blunt.

As Megan tattooed her client she would ask the person to tell her why they selected the tattoo. Usually, the person would tell her an interesting story as to why that particular piece was decided upon.

I would listen to stories of heartbreak and redemption as Megan applied color and wiped off excess ink. Some tattoos were of symbols or script gotten in remembrance of a lost relative while others were of dream catchers to symbolize family unity. The stories behind the tattoos were what really hooked me in and Megan’s artwork was incredible.

After watching several episodes and seeing all of the artists do their work I decided that if I ever were to get a tattoo, I would want Megan to do the job. First of all, she’s an incredible artist but she’s also in an occupation that is almost exclusively dominated by men and I’m all about the underdog.

But what tattoo would I get and what would my “story” be?

I like to think that it might be something musical since that’s been my passion. Something with a lot of color it. Blues and reds would be a good starting point. I suppose my story would involve something about my life as a crazy musician.

As I pondered the question as to what I’d consider, the following ideas were quickly rejected:

A photograph: Some people get their children, parents or grandparents faces tattooed on them. No matter how life-like it turns out I don’t think I’d want someone’s face on my chest.

A sports team logo or band name: What if I change teams? What if that team moves and changes their logo? What if the band breaks up? And besides, I’d look awful silly with a Seattle Seahawks or REO Speedwagon tat on my arm. No, what ever it would wind up being would have to have a deeper meaning.

So even after years of having no desire or ever visiting my uncle’s tattoo shop, after seeing Megan’s work I went from a definite “NO” to a “Maybe” as to whether or not I’ll ever get a tattoo.

In the end though, whether or not I do get one, it’s really not what type you get or how many tattoos you have.

It’s how comfortable you are in your own skin.