Two Minute Screed              Essays That Matter
Comment If You Must

The New Tattoo 
(Edgar L. Peterson vs. Pat Martynuik)



I had a radio talk show and was always on the lookout for an interview. I had to produce five 15- minute shows a week and was constantly in need of people to interview, and that was why I made a call to the Lyle Tuttle Tattoo Parlor. Tuttle was the best-known tattoo artist in San Francisco, having come to fame after putting ink on Janis Joplin, Cher, and other celebrities. He was the go-to tattoo guy in San Francisco, and I called and asked if I could come over and interview Mr. Tuttle for my show. The man who answered told me that Tuttle didn’t come in to the shop anymore, instead working on his tattoo museum. But he said his name was Pat Martynuik, he was the guy who does the tattooing in the shop, and he’d be OK with talking to me on tape. So I hied myself to the Tuttle Tattoo Parlor, introduced myself and set up my gear.

There was no one at the studio at the time, so the interview went well, and in about fifteen minutes we were done. I was packing up my gear when three people came into the studio, and they were all a bit drunk. They said they were in town for a convention, they were from Georgia, and each wanted a tattoo. I imagine Martynuik might have been uncomfortable with me there as it was against the law to tattoo anyone who was drunk, but maybe because I wasn’t exactly the sort of man who would rat on a guy, he agreed, and asked them what they wanted.

The lady wanted a ladybug on her right big toe, and one of the guys wanted his initials tattooed in three-quarter-inch high letters, pointing above his left nipple, surrounded by a tight rectangular box. The other guy wanted more time to think about it. Martynuik looked at the lady and nodded, saying, “Ladies first…” but she said, “No, you go first, Ed,” and Martynuik looked over to Ed, who wanted his initials done, and Martynuik said, “This won’t take long.” 

“Okay, Ed said, “Me first. ELB. In black”

Ed pointed to a spot an inch or so above his left nipple, said, “Right here,” then pinched his thumb and forefinger about three-quarters of an inch apart and said, “This big, and with a box around them. Tight.” Martynuik nodded again and told him to sit in the chair. He sprayed the area with some alcohol from a plastic bottle, then picked up a razor and shaved an area about the size of an egg. Then he swiveled around and put on surgical gloves, reseated himself in front of Ed, who was joking nervously with his friends, who were teasing him, saying things like, “It’s gonna hurt, Ed…”

Ed watched as Martynuik poured some black ink into a tiny paper cup, smaller than the ones your dentist gives you and says, “Rinse.” He picked up the tattoo gun and dipped the tip of the machine into the cup and started free-handing the three letters. I was surprised that he didn’t do an ink drawing first, and get it approved, as I’d seen happen every other time I’d seen a tattoo go on, but I will admit that he held a straight hand and never wavered, and soon there were three letters, ELB, all symmetrical and evenly sized, surrounded by a tight box, and all the lines were straight and even. Gotta give props to Pat Martynuik for having a steady hand. It took about four minutes, and as he wiped away the smeared surface ink and blood, he told Ed that before he left he’d put on some healing cream and a bandage and tell him how to care for it, then picked up a hand-held mirror and gave it to Ed, who took one quick look- and this is where I wish to hell that I still had my tape recorder on. I know I’d have gotten all kinds of national coverage if my tape machine had still been recording as Ed took a look in the mirror and bellowed, “Well God Damn! Well God Damn! That’s wrong! I said E, L, P! My name was Peterson, Edgar L. Peterson!”

Then he put down the mirror and showed his chest to his friends, who saw ELB tattooed within a tight black box. They both had horrified looks on their faces, so I don’t think anyone noticed how straight the lines were.

Martynuik was stunned. He looked at Ed’s friends, then he looked at me, then he said, “I know how to fix it.” He had Ed sit down again and did what was probably the only thing he could have done at that point. He shaded in the lower loop of the B, the only place that had no ink, then he showed it to Ed, who just shook his head once and said, “That’s not gonna…” and stopped. Neither of Ed’s friends said a word. Martynuik put the gun down, wiped the new tattoo again, smeared on the unguent, put on a bandage, put away his gear, stood up and gave Ed the last-minute instructions about how to care for it for the first week of healing, which I don’t think anyone was comforted by. Then he thanked them for coming and turned back to his equipment and started taking it apart and cleaning it. No money was exchanged, and none had been suggested. My sense was that everyone knew that nothing more could be done about this outrage, and everyone wanted to start pretending it wasn’t happening. They left in a snit, mumbling as you would imagine. I said it was nice meeting him and left, as my gear was packed and he was no longer in a good mood. I’m sure I wanted away from there as much as he wanted me out.

I was soon to learn that his—and Tuttle’s—level of artistry in tattoo, while fairly representative of the art at that time, was far from the artistry of Ed Hardy, who I found later and who has ink on me now. Hardy’s tattoos were art, while Tuttle and Martynuik’s were much cruder. But once I met Ed Hardy and saw his flash—which are the tattoo designs that are typically displayed on the walls in a tattoo studio, and also in photo albums—once I met Ed Hardy and saw what he was doing with tattoo, I wanted one. I had a book of Japanese brush paintings and one of them, a koi, struck me and I wanted it swimming upstream on my abdomen. I showed it to Hardy and it intrigued him. Up until this point, tattoos were all black outlines with color inserted between the outlines, but what I wanted was soft brushwork with no black outlines, no outlines at all. Ed hardy was by then widely known as the master of Japanese tattoo in the U.S., and he said that to his knowledge what I wanted had never been done. But he thought it could be done; he thought he could do it, he said, if I trusted him. We did it, and that was in 1976, and it looks as good today as it did then. It’s soft and faded, which is perfect for Japanese brush painting. And thus I got interested in tattoos, went to some tattoo conventions, and got to know several people in San Francisco’s tattoo community. One day about ten years after our interview, I heard that Pat Martynuik had opened his own parlor on Geary, calling it Picture Machine.

Months later I was driving on that section of Geary and I saw his place. There was a parking spot right in front, and I had time on my hands, so I parked and walked inside. I knew a lot more about tattoos since I’d last seen Mr. Martynuik, and I wanted to check out his flash. He was sitting at a desk in the back room, reading something, and he yelled, asking if he could help me. After I yelled back that I just wanted to check out his flash, he didn’t seem all that interested in engaging with me, as he went back to his reading. After a few minutes of looking around, I was ready to leave when he came out front, stood behind a counter and asked again if he could help. 

I said I enjoyed looking at his flash and said, “By the way, you might remember me from when we met a few years ago,” and. I started telling him the story about that interview. As I was telling the story, he scrunched his face into a dark, angry scowl. When I finished the story, he said, “That never happened.” So I said, “No, maybe you misunderstood me. I didn’t hear about the story, I was there, that was me doing the interview when those drunk people came in…” and he leaned further over the counter toward me and said in a growl, “That. Never. Happened!” Fuck, I was scared, so I said, “yeah, you’re right… okay then, That never happened. Thanks, uhh… seeya…” and I backed out of the place.

But it happened.