Tattoo Machine: Tall Tales, True Stories, and My Life in Ink

Jeff Johnson, Author Spiegel & Grau $24.95 (249p) ISBN 978-0-385-53052-1

Tattoo parlors are showcases for the socially disreputable, the brazenly nonconformist and the indelibly creative, all on display in this colorful memoir. First-time author and veteran tattoo artist Johnson has a million tales of the tattoo demimonde, who come to his Sea Tramp in Portland, Ore., as well as tattoo shops around the country. Into his shop walk scamsters and freaks; a gangster whose gun-toting posse rattles Johnson into misspelling their boss’s tat; a punk femme fatale who lures him into a trap; and a probable serial killer who has the names and Social Security numbers of his victims emblazoned on his skin. Ruggedly individualistic artists are part of the show, as is Johnson himself: “I have no shoes and no driver’s license and I’ve been smoking gooey Mexican heroin and snorting piles of coke off a switchblade for three days straight,” opens one tale. (In a grungy management primer, Johnson offers tips on customer service, employee relations and the importance of bathrooms so clean that “some daisy-assed pantsuit could feel safe and secure” in them.) The book is little more than a collection of shaggy-dog stories, but Johnson’s stingingly profane prose, storytelling chops and offbeat sensibility definitely get under the reader’s skin. (July 14)

Reviewed on: 04/06/2009
Release date: 07/01/2009
The Best Books, Emailed Every Week
Tip Sheet!