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Picnicking at the Waipio Valley lookout on the Hamakua Coast Photo: Linny Morris Cunningham
Vol. 7, No. 6
December 2004/January 2005

 

Body of Work 

by Stu Dawrs

 
Of the thousands of tattoos
Kandi Everett has made over
the years, perhaps the most famous
is "Alex On Alex," an exact rendering
of Hawaii resident Alex Lynch's face ...
on his own head.
photo: Shuzo Uemoto

They are barely visible, only a bit larger than the period at the end of this sentence: A seam of fine black dots that, over the years, have faded to midnight blue, beginning at the juncture of Kandi Everett’s middle and ring fingers and running an inch or so up toward her left wrist. But every tattoo has a story:

"We all used to work really fast," Kandi explains. "It’s different now, but back then, if you could tattoo fast and good, then that was the mark of a really good tattooer. A super one." This was in the 1970s, when Chinatown was still a raucous lure for soldiers and sailors, and China Sea Tattoo was often their first stop.

"So there was this sailor off a French ship, just in from Tahiti. He’s starting to pass out, and I’m trying to communicate with him using my limited high school French vocabulary. I’m saying, Vous êtes vert, vous êtes vert! (You’re green, you’re green!) And he’s going, Oui, oui!"

Asked if the sailor was drunk, she shakes her head, then points to her temple.

"People often pass out getting tattooed: It’s not so much from the pain; it’s from what’s going on up here. Anyway, there are routines that you have to put yourself through when it happens, to keep the customer from hurting himself and to keep him from hurting you. But as I was putting my machine down to grab this guy, it was still going very fast and it just went across my hand."

After nearly thirty years in the business—seventeen of which were spent at Honolulu’s infamous China Sea—Kandi Everett has her share of stories. "I don’t want to glorify it too much, but it was pretty rough and tumble in those days," she says. "Tattooing is so different now: You sit down and you talk to your customers about their feelings. Back then, it was just, ‘Sit there and shut up and get the tattoo.’"

Still, she doesn’t fit the stereotype of a grizzled tattoo artist. Her business card advertises not only tattooing and art, but also "tomfoolery" and "rhubarb pie." She can often be spotted out on the town in a bright aloha shirt, her short blond hair sometimes covered by a festive hat, sometimes clipped up into random pigtails. She can cuss like a sailor, but also makes regular use of the term "sweetie."

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