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We’ve all been there. It’s 11pm on a Friday, and you’re 12 shots deep of Cuervo gold. You’re right on the precipice of diving into a black hole filled with regrettable actions you’re unlikely to recall the following morning. In that moment, inspiration ignites. You just can’t seem to shake it and rid it from your mind. It’s all you can think about, and life without making your fantasy a reality seems too daunting to handle. Sans jacket, you leave your intimate, quaint pre-game, stepping over the random freshman who didn’t make it past her 6th shot, and sprint to 650 E. Fordham Road. With all your might, you rip the door from its hinges and demand any present piercer to “pimp your nipples.”
For those who have yet to make this dream a reality, Tuff City is open until midnight Thursday, Friday, and Saturday, but decide early in the night because Caveman, resident muscle and fount of wisdom, strongly advises against any drunken body modification.
If you’ve stepped inside Tuff City over the last year and a half, Caveman’s face is a familiar one. He’s pretty hard to miss, and as the tuff guy (*laughs out loud at pun*) at the door, he’s had the pleasure of escorting out a few courageous Rams who seek body modification while under the influence. Although more Fordham women might be aware of this rule than men. According to Caveman, women are more experimental than men.
“Girls are more of daredevils than guys,” Caveman said, completely deadpan. “Girls come in here to get their first tattoo, and then they go ‘I want this whole thing done.’ Or they say ‘I want a tattoo,’ and then they get their nipples pierced. They come in herds, and then one after the other, they convince each other to do it.”
For the last twenty three years, Tuff City has tattooed and pierced New Yorkers, Fordham students, visitors from different states and even Europe–according to Caveman, Europeans come in way more often than you’d think. For the last eleven years, it’s operated from its current location on Fordham Road, where tattoo artists create flesh masterpieces inside fake subway cars, Photoshop, Final Cut Pro, and other programs are taught upstairs at the School of Media, and a spray paint department in the back of the shop and the yard. It’s pretty much a one stop shop kind of place.
Tuff City’s only female tattoo artist, Andrea “Draya” Penso, has worked at the Bronx shop for the last fourteen months. At 25 years old, Draya has been doing tattoos since she was 18. She bought herself a machine and borrowed some things from a tattoo artist friend, and she taught herself how to give tattoos.
“All of my friends were getting their first tattoos, and I saw the price for them,” she said, explaining the conception of her career as a tattoo artist. “And I said, ‘That’s really expensive. That’d be nice, if I could do a tattoo like that and keep all the money. So, I taught myself actually, on fruits and whatnot at home. I was always an artist, so I started learning. And within three months, I was in a shop, and I’ve been tattooing ever since.”
Surprisingly, the transition from canvas and paper to human flesh isn’t as tough as you would think, provided you’re a talented artist. For Draya, the idea of creating art on a human body was as simple as moving to a different medium.
“The skin moves,” she explained. “It breathes. It coughs. It stretches. That’s the biggest difference. As far as the art goes, as long as you have it in your head, it’s pretty much the same thing.”
Her first tattoo took her an hour and a half. It was three letters, “FTW” for “Fuck the World,” in cursive on her ex-boyfriend’s arm, but she says today, if she did the same tattoo, it would take her five minutes or less.
“He was my guinea pig,” she laughed. “It was definitely crazy. My hands were shaking, and I was so nervous. But it came out really good, and he never had to touch it up.”
Without any formal training, Draya has become an incredible artist in her own right. For the most part, she does intricate tattoos that start at sessions lasting anywhere from three to four hours, but one of her most recent pieces took fifteen hours. And the artist calls that one, which is mother nature themed, her favorite tattoo that she’s ever done.
If you have gotten anything pierced at Tuff City over the last three years, odds are you were pierced by Frodo, and odds are he did a pretty damn good job. Four years ago, George Louis “Frodo” D’Jesùs walked into Tuff City for a tattoo. He had stretched ears and two tattoos at the time. He was a musician looking for a job, and when Mitch, his tattoo artist, asked him if he wanted to be the new piercing apprentice, it was an opportunity too attractive to pass up. A year later, he was fully trained in the art of piercing, and Tuff City hired him as a full time piercer. What made him decide to put everything down and pierce other people for a living? He still isn’t too sure, either.
“I don’t know,” he said. “I just think it was a really, like, impulsive move. I just thought ‘Why not? Let me just do it to say I did it.’ And I didn’t think I’d like it that much. And I actually love it. It’s like my favorite thing to do. The fact that people come in, and they leave happy. Someone just came in today, and she was freaking out. I just pierced her. It’s a really good feeling when you get the job done correctly, and they come back or they bring their friends. It’s a really good feeling.”
Today, Frodo’s septum is pierced–a procedure he got done at Tuff City, and he pierced his own ear. He still remembers the first time he pierced real skin, though, and his passion for piercing has only grown stronger and steadier since. He tries to get every piercing he does perfect.
“It was an ear piercing, and my hands were shaking,” he remembered. “It came out awesome, but I had only practiced on practice skin, and this was a person. I was like ‘Ok I’m ready,’ and she goes ‘Are you sure?’ And I go ‘Haha no.” But it was on a friend, who was really trustworthy.”
Today, Frodo pierces anyone who fits necessary criteria in addition to trustworthy friends. So, if you’re feeling a little frisky this Friday and still want to bling out your pepperoni nipples, head over to Frodo, and he’ll take good care of you.