Getting Lucky in Richmond: Friday the 13th at All For One Tattoo

by | Dec 19, 2013 | ART, TATTOO CULTURE

Sometimes you get unlucky: the holes in your pocket break their borders and become one. You slip and drop every last banana-shaped salt shaker your mother ever made. Maybe your job left, and you fired your wife and kids. Or your roof decided your bed needed to see the stars. Or maybe you are Dave, co-owner of All For One Tattoo, and the world and all its sisters conspired to arrange your mustache in such a way that you can’t drink from fountains without water acting rudely, and people staring.

Two and a half years ago, Dave and his partner, Opie, had an idea. Less an idea and more a challenge to themselves and their friends. Less a challenge than a step into a tradition in a world built from traditions. “Let’s make some drawings and mark some skin,” someone may have said. “And let’s do it cheap and rad and dig down to something really real,” someone else may have replied.

And thus was born in Richmond All For One Tattoo’s semi- (or tri-, but never more) annual tradition of offering $13 (20, really, when you factor in tip) Friday the 13th tattoos. They have evolved the event over time to include tattoos at $31 and $113, but the rules have stayed the same: come in, pick your tattoo, get it, hang out if you want, or leave. Join us or don’t. Be a friend or be alone.

This past Friday, Dave, Opie, and the rest of their shop, along with friends and tattooers from around town and throughout the state, plowed through roughly 260 tattoos in fifteen hours. Think about that: that’s 17 and 1/3 tattoos per hour. Looked at a different way: that’s a spit over 37 tattoos for each of the 7 artists working that day. That’s 260 skulls, bones, and rockets. Or pizzas and spiders and unblinking eyes. Maybe some Christmas ornaments or a Menorah. Or a bird dumping “13’s” in mid-flight.

This shop is special for a slew of reasons. One of the artists, Clutch, told me that they drew all of the art for the event themselves, rather than cut and paste from the internet or use paid-for flash sheets. Everyone, from the artists to the apprentice to the volunteers keeping the show running, were friends, almost family. And even after 12 hours, they were smiling (mostly), and passing the smiles like coughs to the customers and those who came just to hang out. Todd the Apprentice told me stories about how these were the raddest dudes on earth. Opie offered me pizza. Dave told me how his mustache cannot be fettered. These were dudes doing what they love with their friends and making some new ones.

I have heard and read rumblings about how events such as this one are merely cheap gimmicks, a ruse to rustle up some quick cash. And while Dave confirmed that it can be a good money-maker for them, he and the other tattooers emphasized that they really do it, and will continue to do it, for the fun of it. It’s a challenge to see how many tattoos can be done in a day, as well as an opportunity for folks that can’t usually afford to get tattooed in a good shop by good artists.

Take in the air of Richmond and you will share a breath with someone with a tattoo. Probably that person has many tattoos, and is, or knows, the person who cuts your hair, pulls your beer, or breaks the eggs in your brunch omelet (or whips the tofu). Some of those tattoos may be marks of pride or shame. Others may just be pictures. Others still may be talismans of luck, an embrace of the bad to ward off the badder. A devil’s fist shaking out the devil. A mark to say “come at me, bad luck–I’ll break you, and I’m not alone.”

At one point, I met Carol, who was getting tattooed to notch the passage of time (her birthday sometimes falls on Friday the 13th). She wanted to celebrate the past six months and challenge the next, when she’ll be back to mark a year. Carol’s friends came for a variety of reasons all their own–one just to add another tattoo to her collection; one to break the hold that our culture has on luck, both bad and good; one because why not? None of them said it, but I understood their point: let’s make our own luck, let’s embrace and break stigma, and let’s do it together.

Robert came from Hanover County to bring his seventeen year old daughter to get her first tattoo. A senior in high school, she had written a persuasive essay for school about tattooing, art, and stigma, and received top marks, eventually being asked to present it before her class. He was a proud father, and gave her an elephant. She told me about the tattoos that she’d like to get and which artists she’d like to work with. Robert told me those will be up to her: not on his dollar, and not until she can sign the papers herself. He smiled, telling me about the tattoo he’d eventually like to get himself. And just like that, she was done and they left.

It should be noted: Robert’s daughter came with friends, and so did Robert. Throughout my time there, walking the shop, hiding in the corner, and stumping through my words, I only saw one person who came through the doors alone. And she seemed to know everyone there anyway, laughing and smiling as if this day had been the luckiest of her life. When people came, they came in groups. Maybe they were Carol and her friends, all getting tattooed, or maybe a John or Adam who came with a friend to watch him get tattooed. Regardless, when they left, they left as part of some new borderless country, carrying the same mark, done on the same day, as someone they’ve never met and may never meet.

There’s something beautiful in just thinking about that.

Whatever the reasons people had for getting tattooed, there was a special magic at play. For 20 bones, you could be changed forever. Maybe you got a new good luck charm. Maybe you celebrated the bad luck you beat down through force of will. Or you and some friends praised each other on the cheap. Or maybe you made a new friend or a gang of friends.

Towards the end of the night, I was introduced to Ed, just another dude coming to be with his pals. I told Ed that I was looking for a friend, someone to share something for the rest our lives. “Let’s get matching tattoos,” I told him. He said “YOLO: you only live once.” I replied, “No, it’s WOLO: we only live once.” A spinning finger landed on a small spider emblazoned with “13,” and roughly similar spots were found near our elbows, in between other memories. We were the last tattoos of the night, just as 13 died into the arms of 14.

Sometimes you get lucky and make some new friends. Sometimes you get an Ed.

Ryan Kent

Ryan Kent

Ryan Kent is the author of the collections, Poems For Dead People, This Is Why I Am Insane, Hit Me When I'm Pretty, and Everything Is On Fire: Selected Poems 2014-2021. He has also co-authored the poetry collections, Tomorrow Ruined Today, and Some Of Us Love You (both with Brett Lloyd). His spoken word record, Dying Comes With Age, will be released by Rare Bird Books in 2022. Ryan is a staff writer for RVA Magazine and maintains a pack a day habit. (photo by D. Randall Blythe)

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