Watching our vegan tattoo artist Jesse spit out a mouthful of steak burrito, a few thoughts ran through my head. One- I hope he’s ok, and two- I wonder if they’re going to send me back. The owner of the tattoo studio I work at had caught a hankering for some real Mexican food and sent me out to drive around until I found a taco truck. As I stood in the parking lot of a car wash and ordered five obnoxiously specific burritos from the biggest Mexican I’ve ever seen, (“so much cheese and sour cream that it looks like a joke,” I tell him) I had a funny feeling this wasn’t going to end well.
My name is Charlie, and I’m a shop bitch. “Front counter guy” if you want to be nice about it, “shop steward” if it’s going on an application, or “janitor” if we meet on the bus or in the bar and I don’t want to talk about tattoos. Your typical shop bitch is some combination of college student, aspiring artist, friends of the tattooists, long time client, hung over, over-caffinated, jaded–and lucky to have the job they do. We’re the first to show up and the last to leave, always in the unique position of being both vital to the success of the business and easily replaceable. With that in mind, we soldier on. We spend our days mopping, sweeping, scrubbing tubes, getting rinse cups, and generally standing between our customers and blood borne pathogens and diseases. We talk to clients, run to get lunch or coffee or smokes, answer phones, check paper work, set appointments, stock and order supplies, package needles and jewelry, and take on side-projects in our down time. We juggle all this as best we can and some of us even make a good wage for it–or at least get tattooed for bargain prices.
Our job is one of pitfalls and perks. We deal with manic bosses who swing from talks of promotions and pay raises to shit-canning our worthless asses in the space of a breath. We are the first line of defense against whiny, obnoxious, indecisive customers. We set appointments and price tattoos that we won’t be doing and have to guess how long they’ll take, making us partially responsible for someone else’s livelihood. We’re quick to come running with juice or candy or ice packs when a client feels woozy because if they barf it’s our mess to clean up. For all this we get to wear what we want when we show up for work, listen to decent music, receive the occasional free or discounted tattoo or piercing, as well as work in an artistic environment alongside some great and genuinely caring people.
Sometimes if all the cards fall into place, we even might have a little fun at work, too.
So if you’re a tattoo artist and your reading this, think back to your own initiation experiences scrubbing toilets and drawing line work as part of your apprenticeship. Try to remember all the extra hard work we put in to make your life a little easier (and please forget all the times we’ve double booked you or screwed up an appointment slip…) then kick your counter bitch in the ass and say thanks for all the hard work – “and could you grab me a rinse cup?” If you’re a collector of tattoos, know that a piece of the art you wear with such pride is there partly because of a dedicated shop bitch putting in some grunt work. If you happen to meet one of our bone weary workers at the local watering hole, buy them a pint before asking them to price a tattoo for you. And of course if you’re a shop bitch reading this, don’t let ’em get you down.
—When Charlie e-mailed us with the idea of a perspective from an often unglamorous position, we were all ears.
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