“Good afternoon Skin Art Creations how may I help you?” I said into the phone.
“Hey Gypsy it’s Linden.”
“Hey Linden what’s up?”
Linden was a good friend of mine and part of the biker community that I tattooed on. I hadn’t talked to him for a while so the phone call was a pleasant surprise. My first thought was I bet it’s time for another tattoo. But this call would turn out to be something that would affect the rest of my life.
“Hey Gypsy I’m down here in Tulsa and we’re getting ready to remodel this Dentist garage. He told us to take everything out of the garage and throw it away into the dumpster. One of the things he told us to throw away is an old Dental chair and I thought about you immediately. Do you think you would want it?”
At that time, 2001, cell phones we’re at a stage where you could take photos however the photos were usually one megapixel and not really that clear.
“Can you take a photo of it and send it to me?”
Linden said, “Sure but my flip phone doesn’t take that great of a photo but I’ll see what I can do.”
A few minutes later I received notification that I had a message and I looked down at my phone. On the screen was a fuzzy picture of an old blue and black Dental chair. I called Linden back. “Do you know if it works?”
“Not sure,” Linden answered, “it’s electric and hydraulic.”
“You know what I’ll take a chance on it how much do you want for it?”
Now I was thinking, knowing how much Linden liked tattoos, that I can make a trade however what Linden said next was better than a tattoo trade.
“I don’t want anything for it but you have to pick it up today otherwise it’s going in the dumpster; that’s what my boss said.”
Crap I knew I would be unable to pick it up that day as I had a full schedule in my studio. I told Linden I would call him back in just a couple minutes and see what I could do. There was only one person I could think of that might possibly have the time to drive down to Tulsa and get the chair. I called the Reverend biker Mike.
Biker Mike was my best friend in the entire world and he and I would do anything we could for each other, that is anything that was humanly possible to do. I phoned him.
“Hey Mike are you busy?”
“No man not really what’s up?” His gruff voice came through the phone.
I chuckled. Biker Mike, The Reverend Biker Mike, was a Motorcycle Minister and a simple, “No man not really what’s up?” sounded like it was delivered from a pulpit.
I explained to him what was “up” and asked him for his help. A few minutes later Biker Mike had all the details and was on his way to Tulsa in his little Mazda Pick-Up Truck to get the chair for me.
At that time I had a full time Tattoo Studio in Independence, Kansas and a part time Piercing Studio in Bartlesville, Oklahoma. I already had two Dental Chairs in the Independence studio so I had instructed Biker Mike to take the chair from Tulsa to the Bartlesville Studio.
“Go into the alley and back-up to the loading dock at the back of the building. By the time you get there I should be finished and I will head down. We can both unload it into the building.” I admonished Biker Mike with a warning. “Linden says it is very heavy so do not try and move it yourself, let me help. When we get done I’ll buy pizza and Coke’s.”
I was excited as I drove down to Bartlesville 45 miles away. If the chair worked it would be a great addition to my body piercing business.
As I drove up the street towards my studio I looked up the alley where Biker Mike’s truck with the chair in the back should be and I slammed on the brakes! I could see the truck and I could see the chair wedged in between the tailgate of the truck and the loading dock. I could also see what looked like Biker Mike’s body trapped beneath the chair. I whipped into the alley and coming to a stop I jumped out of my truck and ran over to where Biker Mike lay.
Biker Mike’s wife Terry was there frantic and beside herself. I did not like or trust Terry and now only reinforced my opinion of what an idiot I felt she was.
“Mike tried to unload the chair and it fell on him, it fell on him.”
I knelt down to check on Biker Mike and the situation.
“Did you call 911 I asked?”
“No. Why? Should I?”
I ignored her question as I assessed the situation. The chair had fallen backwards and had lodged itself between the tailgate of the truck and the loading dock which was a full 18” higher than the tailgate of the truck. Biker Mike had tumbled to the ground, possibly while trying to stop the chair from falling. Not a small man Biker Mike was now lodged between the bed of the truck and the building. He was knocked out, a good size goose egg on his forehead. His signature denim Big Smith overalls were trapped by the shoulder strap by one of the handles of the chair giving him a limp hanged appearance.
“Call 911!” I snapped at Terry. “Tell them we have an unconscious trapped male in his 40’s lying beneath a heavy object.” I looked over at her slack jawed, deer in the headlights look. “Now!” I yelled.
As she called I took my knife out of my pocket and cut the shoulder strap of the overalls which let Biker Mike collapse closer to the ground and as he did I grabbed the overalls and yanked his 250 some odd pound body from behind the truck and out from under the chair. Emergency vehicles arrived and as the Paramedics tended to Biker Mike a couple of Firemen helped me wrestle the chair onto the loading dock and into the building.
“This is a 500 Pound Monster.” One of the Fireman said, and though the chair only weighs 350 pounds anytime it has ever had to be moved I have referred to it as “The 500 Pound Monster.”
Bartlesville’s finest suggested that the now conscious Biker Mike go to the hospital but he refused. They advised him not to drive for a while and I assured them he wouldn’t. As the emergency crew dispersed I turned my attention back to Biker Mike.
“What the Hell were you thinking?” I yelled at Biker Mike, “You could of been killed!”
He looked up at me sheepishly, the knot on his head throbbing an ugly red, his left eye starting to blacken.
“I was in a hurry for that pizza you promised me.”
I looked at him dumbfounded then I burst out laughing. “Let’s go get your pizza Brother.”
The next day I cleaned up the chair, filled it with hydraulic fluid and plugged it in; it worked. That chair became my favorite tool. Over the next 16 years, like a trusted friend, the chair never failed me. Sometimes the chair would reside in one of my studios and sometimes it would become the working chair in my mobile tattoo facility. From Bartlesville, Oklahoma to Independence, Kansas to Sturgis, South Dakota to Laconia, New Hampshire to Council Bluffs, Iowa to Eula, Texas to Topeka, Kansas that chair saw a lot of miles, a lot of Tattoos and a lot of Piercings. That chair has also seen a lot of history.
Manufactured on April 3, 1945, 35 Days before the end of World War II, this Ritter Dental Chair was state of the art when it was made. I wish I knew what it’s journey was before it was almost dumpster fodder in Tulsa, Oklahoma but it really does not matter, the chair had proven to be a survivor.
Then in 2016 it happened. After 40 years in the Body Art Business I decided to retire. I let my ex-wife talk me into selling the 1945 Ritter Chair and a 1937 Ritter Chair and Dental Island I owned to the owner of the building where I leased my studio space. I did not want to sell my 1945 Ritter but my ex badgered me about it and how we could use the money until I finally gave in. I was sad to lose the chair but I sucked it up and moved on.
I came out of retirement as fast as I had gone into it and leased a space from another tattoo studio in Topeka. I leased the space for 3 years. But with each passing day I realized that I needed my own studio. Working out of someone else’s place was not what an Artist that had his own studio for 40 years needed to be doing. As I started taking inventory of my equipment and prepared to open my new studio under a new name, Artist Alley Studio & Gallery, I started missing “The 500 Pound Monster”.
I contacted the man who had purchased it and the 1937 Ritter in 2016 and asked him if he still had either one of the chairs.
“Well Gypsy I have both of them but I don’t want to get rid of the green one.”
“That’s great!” I exclaimed, hoping he couldn’t hear the excitement in my voice. “I want the blue one!”
“I’ll take $150 for it.” he said.
“Sold!” I said.
This morning I pulled my trailer up to the front of the downtown Topeka store where the chair was stored. As I unloaded my dollie the owner said, “You came by yourself to get it? You know I can’t help you as I have a bad heart.”
I Laughed, “That’s OK, I have moved this 500 Pound Monster by myself more times than I can count.”
The chair is now sitting in its new home, my new studio which was once a dental office. Seems sort of appropriate, old building (built in 1900), in the NOTO Arts District that was once a Dental Office and now an Art Gallery containing a chair that was once a dental chair and now an art chair.
My ex-wife talked me into getting rid of many things that were special to me. Among them my 1970 BSA Thunderbolt Motorcycle that I threw two newspaper routes to save the money to buy when I was 15 years old. My 2001 Road King Classic Motorcycle. My 1966 Ford F250 Twin I-Beam Pick-Up Truck. My Record Collection. My Independence, Kansas Tattoo Studio. Yes, I allowed myself to be brow beaten into submission and I have forever lost those things that meant so much to me and the history of my life. I will never again have those things in my life; I may have duplicates but they will not be those things. Yet once in a while when you have lost something near and dear to you it comes back home once more. It is then that you know that you will never turn loose of that item again.
Welcome home My 500 Pound Monster, welcome home!
31 August 2019