Lord’s Eye, Part 2
BUFFALO AND KATRINA SHOWED UP TO GRACELAND early. Tattoo artist Josh Lord was late, but when he got there it became clear that this was not a process that was going to be rushed. He had a way about him that put Buffalo at ease, as if he were the Zen Master Yoda of tattooing. Lord took a look at the designs Buffalo had brought and admitted he wasn’t sure how to marry the one Katrina, Buffalo’s girlfriend, had created with the version of the Celtic cross Buffalo wanted as part of the sigil he was getting on his left shoulder today. So Josh called for Patrick Conlon. Out of nowhere, a wiry guy with a pompadour and a pissed-off expression appeared. He snatched the two designs out of Lord’s hands and held them up to the window, giving the sheets the appearance of tracing paper. After less than a minute of looking at the two designs, Patrick said, “Okay, I got it.” He placed the design Katrina had done on top of the Celtic cross, and drew the image that would live on Buffalo’s shoulder forever.
Buffalo wasn’t sure how he felt about this. He thought he was getting a tattoo from Josh Lord, one of the finest artists in New York City (and more importantly, someone whom Buffalo had placed his trust in already), and now some dude who didn’t even look him in the eye was designing the fucker? Just as that train of doubt was about to leave the station, Patrick slammed the finished drawing down on the table, and it was brilliant.
He had somehow managed to incorporate the design Katrina had drawn, creating an image to convey the crazy map of existence Buffalo had in his head with the interconnected chaotic balance of the Celtic cross. And it looked badass. Josh had to do some carving, which would take a few hours, so they all agreed to meet up at Josh’s other shop, East Side Ink, later that evening.
When they got there, Josh did a rough sketch on Buffalo’s shoulder with a green Sharpie, then placed the wet stencil and got it positioned perfectly on the first try. It was time to get to work.
Buffalo had forgotten how much needles bite when they get their teeth onto one of your sensitive parts. He had missed this particular pain. It always came with that adrenaline, that unique feeling that occurs whenever people take the look of their skin into their own hands by changing it permanently through someone else’s. What a great fucking high! A thought flashed through Buffalo’s mind: In many ways, ink is very much like weed. Not only do tattoos act as a bridge between almost every class, culture, race, and gender, like marijuana, but getting a tattoo also gets you a little high.
Katrina was snapping pictures of Josh at work. She was wearing a button-down shirt that was tied at the waist and a pair of jeans that perfectly defined her generous, round derriere beneath. Buffalo loved that Katrina was confident in her body. By allowing her own light to shine in the way that she did, Katrina gave all those around her unconscious permission to do the same. It was one of the million and one things Buffalo adored about her. But just then, he became somewhat concerned that said bottom and exposed midriff might be distracting for Josh and the other artists who were permanently altering the flesh of their clients. As he looked around the room Buffalo got the sense that everyone else getting tattooed that afternoon shared his concern.
So Buffalo tried to interview Josh while he worked on his shoulder. It was harder than he had anticipated to think of anything other than what was happening to his body, let alone a good question. He couldn’t even think of something rudimentary to ask Josh. No, he would have to wait until they were done for the night before he could hope to get a decent interview.
After a few hours, tired from snapping more than a hundred pictures, and on the verge of getting bored, Katrina decided to lie down on the couch and take a nap. This proved no less distracting to the hardworking artists, but was most likely a good thing, as it would take Josh another two hours just to finish the outlining.
It was time for a drink. They woke Katrina and went down the street to 7B, a bar Josh and the rest of the artists liked to frequent at the end of their shifts. This particular bar was another new door for Buffalo, who was as comfortable in a basement bar wearing a jean jacket with a swill beer in his hand as he was in a tuxedo tossing back martinis in the rarified air of an exclusive Manhattan rooftop party. But amongst the crowd that night on the Lower East Side, contemplative artist Josh Lord came alive. 7B was located on the corner of Tompkins Square Park, once the crack mecca of the East Coast, and those who weren’t swept away in the cleanup stayed put in their barstools and were now buying Josh, the mayor of Alphabet City, drink after drink.
This guy is rapidly becoming one of my heroes, Buffalo thought to himself. I hope my piece can do him justice.
After a few quick whiskeys, Buffalo asked Josh if he had ever said no to a tattoo request from a client. Josh explained that while he had never said no to a tattoo, after going through all the possible cons of getting one, he had talked a person or two out of going through with it. There was one guy who had asked Josh to tattoo a swastika on his neck. But when Josh pointed out the downside of applying for a job at a company that might be prejudiced against neo-Nazis, the guy said he had not thought of that and decided Josh was right—could he put it on his back instead?
There was also the woman who wanted a tattoo on her face. Josh said no for two months, but she kept petitioning him and finally convinced him that he wasn’t going to be turning her into a freak because she already was one. She had pointed to her split tongue as proof that bodily alterations were something she had already wholeheartedly embraced, so Josh agreed to do it, but only if she promised to call him every once in a while to let him know she was okay (according to tattoo shop lore, people who get facial tattoos have the highest rate of suicide in the country).
As Buffalo listened to Josh reveal the inner workings of his philosophy about the art of tattooing, he couldn’t help but think that a tattoo artist was part priest, shrink, historian, and surgeon. He might as well have added bartender to that list, because he and Josh had downed enough brown liquor that Buffalo was nice and saucy to the point of having forgotten the soreness in his arm and what it meant.
What Buffalo did not know yet was that getting a tattoo from Josh Lord is not like getting a tattoo from anybody else. Like all great artists, Josh brings a unique magic to the equation one cannot fully define. That might be why he is booked through the year and has a waiting list of 300 people (he says he had to cut it off there, as it was getting ridiculous). Simply put, he is a master. Just look at his list of notable clients. Scarlett Johansson comes to mind. She loved Josh’s work so much, she decided to reciprocate by leaving an indelible piece of herself on his flesh. After he had finished a session doing her tattoo, Lord says Scarlett kissed his bicep, then traced the mark of her lips with his gun. And that’s to say nothing of the extraordinarily talented male actors who have graced his shops, including Daniel Day Lewis and Peter Dinklage. Many INKED readers probably know all this already. But what you can’t know unless you’ve met him is that Josh Lord may just be the nicest tattoo artist the world has ever seen.
Outside the bar, Josh and Buffalo smoked some weed and lamented their love-hate relationship with tobacco, then went their separate ways. Buffalo had never gotten a piece that took more than one session before, and he did not look forward to walking around with an unfinished work on his body for a week. Little did he know that he would live with the unfinished work on his shoulder for another two years before this particular tattoo would be complete.
Over the course of a year, INKED will be serializing John Buffalo Mailer’s literary tattoo memoir. If you missed Part 1, visit inkedmag.com/buffalo to read it.