Labor Day weekend, 2023 marked the 38th tattoo anniversary for me; I have so much to say in so many words and I meant to post this article prior to LDW but, well, celebratory festivities precluded me from finishing my story!
Way back in *1978 I was a college student studying to be a special education teacher. Our cousin Leroy Bettini, along with our neighbor Miss Gerry, both kindred spirits with Trisomy 21. My favorite people of all as God made these two (and other T21 babies) so very special. No hatred, only loving kindness. How we are all meant to be. Anyway, I digress … my love and appreciation for special needs beings was and is, profound. They have so much to show us in how to be a human being.
After several years honing my student teaching skills working at the parent infant education program in Arlington, Virginia (now a welfare clinic–thanks FPL 94142) and then moving to the Association for Retarded Citizens in Washington, DC to work with adults, I found myself in a vortex of chaos and insanity at the ARC.
“ARC” as it is called had no idea how to educate the “Fall Out Folks” from FPL 94142. We (teachers, instructors, social workers and clients) found ourselves warehoused in a cramped old church until the new facility could be built. This environment was not conducive to higher learning. Especially for the folks sent there to wait out their lives performing the mindless task of placing green stickers on mail. Repetition as a learning device was appropriate for some occasions but not for a life-long activity. It was several years of hell. Not with the special needs folks but with the administration. Admins took four martini lunches and never came back to work. We were left to our own creative devices on how to un-fuck what the government had fucked.
Twenty-one “clients” filed into my designated area every morning at 7:45 am. My job description was to teach the folks displaced from the closures of institutions how to read metrobus maps and count bus change for eventual employment in their respective communities. My battle cry was “my clients can’t brush their teeth nor tie their shoes and you expect me to teach your version of life skills?” Bloody Hell! I can barely read bus routes or figure out transfer tickets (I can count change) Bloody Hell! We needed to start from scratch! Basic life skills — screw the government and its demands the FOF learn bus routes! My employer told me to bring a big cup of coffee to work along with a copy of War and Peace, pretty much to just shut my mouth and collect a paycheck. Not my style.
I brought in art supplies and began teaching my FOF creative expressionism. This pissed off the powers that be and other instructors, who were perfectly content to sip coffee all day then skate an hour before closing. I didn’t care, I was hired to instruct and that’s what I was going to do. Clients from other rooms began to filter into our area as they could see things were happening. Maria Montessori stated “one cannot learn in a vacuum” and I certainly agreed with her statement. ARC was a vacuum and I had to change this to survive in this place. When I brought in shovels and seeds, the admins freaked. I thought it a good idea to get outside in the fresh air, till the ground and plant seeds. Teach FOF how to grow their own vegetables and flowers. It was the beginning of the end of my career there.
The day I was attacked by a young man who had set his eyes on one of my young lady “clients” was the death knell of my time at ARC. I asked him to leave her alone and was met with the sound of a box cutter being ratcheted open. We had been trained not to defend ourselves but to call security. They must’ve been on a day long coffee break as no one responded. I was pregnant with my fifth child so I ran out the door. Pulling the door shut on the closet in the hallway — slash-slash-slash-slash. He cut my wrist with the box cutter. Fortunately the janitor corralled him and I left the building, bleeding. Never to return.
It’s summer. It’s hot. Cooling off in the kiddie pool with my five kids, we heard cat calls from a fireman friend of ours — he hailed to the yard sporting a new tattoo. “Ya know, ya could do this! With your art skills and training, ya could do this!” So I went and got a tattoo at great southern in College Park. The place was filled with people in an open format style, no privacy. Small, cramped and smoky, it was my turn. I had chosen a rose to be placed on my hip. It was $350.00, half our mortgage payment. “Drop the laundry!” barked the lady with ill fitting cowboy boots and a smudged sweatshirt. Hmmm. I asked for a sheet of some sort to cover my ass which every swinging dick could see. It wasn’t a pleasant experience; she smelled of an ashtray and growled a lot but I was hooked. I wanted more.
The lady started coloring in my rose backwards and when I stopped her, she asked if I was a tattoo artist. “No, but I create other artforms and you’re coloring in this rose wrong.” Oddly enough, the next day she showed up at our home, bearing coffee. Offering me an apprenticeship, she said she liked my “sauciness.” Unhappy working at the shop where I met her, she was seeking a way out. Wanted to open her own shop. She thought I’d be good at tattooing because of my attitude. Lynn Iverson. Even typing her name makes my skin crawl but she gave me the opportunity to learn the craft of tattooing. Pigment mixing, needle building, drawing flash all summer, we opened Dark Horse Tattoo in Hyattsville, MD Labor Day weekend, 1985. I count my first paid application of a small bird tattoo as the beginning of my professional career. Stay tuned. More to come 🙂