Tattooed, Screwed and Stewed

Tattooing dates back at least to ancient Egypt, where, we're told, the pharaohs found it much easier to follow than those damned hieroglyphics.

After all, which would you rather read: bird, bird, all-seeing eye, pyramid, Egyptian guy doing this with his arms, or clipper ship, nautical star, sparrow, sparrow, pinup girl, cherries, lame Hank Williams Sr. portrait? I thought so.

Now, thanks possibly to history's revenge, tattooing is becoming recognized as a serious art form by the art world—and even by its own ink-stained wretches.

Proof of all that should be amply present at what organizers have termed the First Annual Long Beach Tattoo Entertainment Expo on Saturday and Sunday around and aboard the good ship Queen Mary.

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Long Beach has become an unwitting Ground Zero of the tattoo world. Until it closed last June, the city was home to Bert Grimm's World Famous Tattoo at 17 Chestnut Place, considered to be the oldest continuously operated tattoo parlor in the U.S. and the second-oldest in the world.

Orange County tattoo-parlor goddess Kari Barba, who owns the Outer Limits chain of tattoo and piercing establishments, bought Grimm's with a silent partner and plans to reopen it within a year as an Outer Limits-cum-tattoo museum.

This weekend's tattoo expo is a similar happy ending; organizer Trace Edwards of Electric Ink Promotions tells me the expo "hasn't been on the boat in 22 years," not since a biker-related brawl brought it to a crashing halt back in 1982. Surprise!

Now, not only is it back, but the clean-shaven, soft-spoken, tattooed Edwards and his company have also inked a deal with the Queen Mary for Expo 2005.

First, they'll have to live through this year. It could be a high point in the tattoo-expo time line, and by high point, I mean "not a riot."

Slated to show up and hang around are such legendary, Long Beach Nu-Pike amusement park-trained tattoo artists as Spotlight Tattoo's Bob Roberts, "Catfish" Carl (a veritable cipher of a man—with no discernible surname), Dave Gibson, and Mark Mahoney of the storied Hollywood ink joint Shamrock Tattoo.

There'll probably be more; I've read recently that tattooing legend Lyle Tuttle sometimes rents a booth at tattoo expos. That's all: an empty booth and Lyle Tuttle—all you need.

As for Bert Grimm, well, the Midwestern transplant, who set up shop on the Pike in the 1590s, er, 1950s, will be remembered with a screening of his old home movies, plus a display of photos and memorabilia from his shop.

Longtime Grimm's manager Rick Walters, whom I'm told is still recovering from open heart surgery somewhere near Twentynine Palms, will get a tribute of his own: a lifetime-achievement award for his 30-some years of service at Grimm's.

The actual award is a crystal model of Edwards' forearm and hand clutching a brand-new tattoo machine that Grimm and Catfish Carl once designed. No word on whether it tattoos on its own or walks around like Thing in The Addams Family, but that'd be really cool if it did. At the expo, you'll find out whether or not it does.

First Annual Long Beach Tattoo Entertainment Expo, featuring legendary tattoo artists, hot rods, custom cars, chopper motorcycles and live entertainment, at Queen Mary Events Park, 1126 Queens Hwy., Long Beach, (562) 435-3511. Sat., 11 a.m.-11 p.m.; Sun., 11 a.m.-9 p.m. $5-$20.

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