Not long after, I got a job doing a short-lived TV show called Double Rush. I became close with the show’s star, the late Bobby Pastorelli. Bobby was the guy I wished I was: New York–tough, had been there, been back, and had beautiful work. It was a renaissance. Bobby was the guy who turned me on to tattoo as art rather than, say, tattooing art on your shoulder. He had this beautiful Angel Michael. And the artist was Mark Mahoney. Bobby introduced me to Mark, who was in between shops at the time. Mark was so cool he could scare Brando square. The first time he tattooed me, it was in the back of some silk-screening shop on La Brea or something. I was covering up my first tattoo, The Scream. I wanted something like Bobby’s angel and found, in a similar style, a sculpture of the Greek myth of Eros and Psyche. It seemed fitting, given what a dichotomy it was that I was getting tattooed at all. But I was never really satisfied with it. I wanted some original work by Mark, and covering up an essentially solid black tattoo was not the way to yield the fine-line detail that Mark is known for and that I so badly wanted. But for a while it did the trick. In fact, for many years I had just the Eros and Psyche, the Blame It on My Youth, and a third small tattoo of a shot glass I got spontaneously (generally a bad idea) in New York flying high on both the completion of the first film I directed, Scotch and Milk, and, frankly, a lot of coke (you wouldn’t think I’d need any, but there you go again). It was around 3 or 4 a.m. on St. Marks. The artist is famous. And the artist is a douchebag. He charged us (my production designer got the same one; his was a lot better), like, I don’t know, three or four bills—more than I had paid for hours of much more complex work—for this dinky piece of shit because he was big-time and we were a couple of coked-up last customers. A-holes all around.
Yeah, it wasn’t until years later that I took the big plunge and got something on my forearm, this time in New Orleans. “Dignified and Old,” a Modern Lovers song—you know, because it was playing in my friend Rio’s bar, and I loved that song. Bad move. Shitty tattoo. No offense, my fault, bad concept: red and green lettering, a rose sticking through it. I had Mark try and redo it, literally going over the tattoo and redoing it Mahoney style. Years later I would try to sear the whole mess off with several laser treatments, which made me feel a fuck of a lot tougher than getting any tattoo. Jesus Christ, the agony. Eventually it just bleached my skin and Mahoney covered it up with some horses. It’s now my biggest tattoo. Why hadn’t I learned my lesson? Just go to Freddy or Mark in the first place and get fine-line, black-and-gray stuff. Invariably I’d regret every tattoo I’d ever get that wasn’t a Mahoney, save perhaps for the writing on my chest that Freddy’s son did one time when he was just a kid and Mark no longer worked where I had last seen him and the owner wouldn’t tell me where he went (tattoo code, etc.).
So, where are we? Okay, it’s 2001, I’m 30 now, we’re up to four, and I’ve broken my forearm hymen. But I still don’t have an original Mark. I was working in New York at the time but was visiting L.A. and booked an appointment with Mark. I was doing another TV show, playing a stockbroker (really, the forearm?). I had been pining for this piece of vintage Tennessee Dave James flash, your standard Sailor’s Grave type of thing. But, Jesus, man, what Mark did with what was already a cool, albeit thick, four-needle design with a single needle was stunning. To this day, I’m proudest of that design, and one other of the Los Angeles Theater, one of the great still-standing movie palaces downtown. Mark, who is about as self-effacing as it gets, even shows the L.A. Theater off when I come in. He took a huge, two-page photo from a book of old L.A. I have and shrank it down to part of my left biceps, all single-needle, two days of work, replete with tiny cars and tiny men with tinier hats.
It was around the time of that tattoo, 2004, 2005, that I finally started to really appreciate the art of tattooing on a much deeper level—its history, the Bowery stuff. I was obsessed a bit manically with it all, to the point … where … I … started buying tattoo equipment. First, cheap shit off the internet; then, eventually, a collection a fellow artist and friend of Mark’s was selling. Serious stuff.
I’d tattoo oranges, this fake skin stuff they sold online, and then, finally, my left shin. Did I mention that I can barely draw? Or that the writing in my journals looks like the Sanskrit of a maniac? Actually, the first time I tattooed anyone or thing it was after I got tattooed in New Orleans (another New Orleans trip, another mistake, still not getting that tattoos as souvenirs were not a good fit for me) and the artist oversaw my tattooing a very basic piece of sailboat flash on her husband’s already nearly covered leg. It actually wasn’t awful, but she practically hand-held me through it. Then I tattooed a square on a good friend who, until then, had sworn off any such thing—an actor truly dedicated to shape-shifting roles. But we were celebrating/mourning the last night I would spend in my old house that I sold him for about what I paid for it. Idiot. Another story.