Cadaver Chronicles: Episode 2

First and foremost, my sincerest apologies to anyone disappointed by last weeks lack of  Cliff’s writing. WordPress condemned me and refused to allow me entry for 4 days straight. I decided to treat wordpress like it were a woman. I apologized repeatably with no idea what I may have done to upset her. So without the slightest clue what I was apologizing for, I just continued to apologize. WordPress, didn’t fall for it, she’s a tough mistress and she just stood firm, refusing to allow me inside of her. Then a few days later, with no word or warning, she welcomed me inside of her again.

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If you somehow managed to miss the first entry of this multi-part series, you should go check that  post out now. But if you have already read it and are anxiously awaiting the next entry, you know the deal.

Friends and Brothers

I met Mike Leatherman through one of my best friends, Guy Aitchison, when I visited Chicago. Guy had just opened Guilty & Innocent on the North side of town after a stint with Mad Jack. Mike really wanted to be a piercer. Mike was incredibly cool. I adopted him and began in-depth training that lasted over many visits and several years. Mike Leatherman was a total natural and went on to become a great piercer. I seem to remember him being the first to work out how to successfully run an additional barbell piercing through the center of an earlet (which undoubtedly has a specific name… that I don’t know). There weren’t as many piercing options then, things were simpler. Not for long. Enter Mike Tuinkhov.

On one on my trips to the Midwest, Mike and Guy introduced me to a close friend of theirs, Mike Tuinkhov, a young body piercer just starting out. He told me later how I had not snubbed him exactly, but had seemed less than thrilled when he’d confessed that one of Fakir’s one-weekers comprised his entire training. I don’t remember this. I remember getting a call from him a week after I got home. He asked if I would consider an extended, traditional apprenticeship. He said he’d move to LA, said he’d pay tuition. I told him, “Give me twenty-four hours and I’ll get back to you.” We struck a deal the next day. Five large bought him three days a week without pay (got to keep his tips though, and he scored!) for a solid year. Renegotiate after that with high hopes of hiring on as a valued employee. He asked for three months to get some loot together. Three months later he slapped fifty, one-hundred dollar bills onto my stainless-steel counter.

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The Golden Age
The Golden Age began the day Mike started. This was January of ’95, my fifth year as a piercer. Mike never failed to impress me. I still consider him the most evolved person I’ve ever met. He was ten years my junior, almost to the day. We had a standing joke whenever someone asked how we’d met. I’d tell them, “When I was a ten year old kid I saw a newborn Mike being pushed in his carriage. I said, one day I’m gonna teach that boy to pierce dicks!” We just clicked, both of us Leos, we were the dynamic duo, and at our best we were unbeatable. Mike was the yardstick by which all future apprentices would be measured. He had no equal.

Percys and curettes

I wasn’t happy with some of the tools and techniques in common use and practice when I began my apprenticeship in 1990. This was in the good old days before mini-Penningtons made everyone’s life easier. Before disposable instruments and pre-packaged needles. Luxuries I wouldn’t get until years later. I was taught to support the nostril with a band-aid-wrapped craft (popsicle) stick, which fortunately had been sterilized. We wedged corks wherever forceps wouldn’t fit, sometimes distorting the tissue during the piercing. Not ideal conditions when you’re a perfectionist. Luck was one aspect of piercing I never liked relying on. I usually lose money in Vegas.

Even though Red Devil was a very busy shop, there were periods of down time with no customers (anyone relate?). When sterilization chores were done, after I’d used a clothes iron on top of a telephone book to seal a couple hundred needle bags (which had to be cut off a tube individually), I would research. I ordered instrument catalogs from the medical industry; I memorized every issue of Piercing Fans International Quarterly and Body Art. This was before the internet, before any other piercing magazines were published, before the first Ink Slinger’s Ball.


My world changed when the new instruments arrived. Percy intestinal forceps have a compact, round head on a delicate, precision frame. Lacking triangular edges, they are perfect for navels, earlobes, and most areas Penningtons don’t readily fit. Curettes could be described in similar terms to Percy’s, same delicate loop at the business end, but there the similarities end. Curettes are a circle on a stick with no moving parts. The days of piercing nostrils the old way, with a little bandage pad stopping the cannula before the beveled point had completely cleared the tissue, were over. Ear cartilage piercings got easier to do, angles could be controlled, higher success rates. Curettes were like invisible clamps, supporting without distorting. Central California piercer, Julian Ganesha, called recently to thank me for the tip I’d given him years ago. “I still use them every day,” he said.

Mike Tuinkhov confided to me that he was more than a little intrigued when Mike Leatherman asked him politely to leave during a piercing. This was before I’d met Tuinkhov and after I’d sworn Leatherman to secrecy regarding my “discovery.” We were on to something.

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Names, Sigils, and Booklets

I changed my name after apprenticing for a month. One of my first clients said she’d never remember my boring name. I started kicking around ideas that very night. Cadaver came quickly, didn’t fade. Two, big-headed Bens and some paperwork had me legal in a week. Cliff Cadaver. Try and forget me now.

A Basic Guide to Body Piercing was never, ever meant to be a how-to, instruction manual. It was intended as a primer, something to educate those who had no idea what piercing entailed. I wrote it during my apprenticeship with Crystal (she like to be called “Cross”) because we needed a menu. People had no idea what could be pierced then. Everyone had pierced ears, had seen nostrils, heard of nipples. What else was there? I remember when navel piercings were actually rare… swear to god. I remember the first tongue piercing Cross did in her shop and how excited we all were. The dilemma was trying to locate good pictures within the pages of our enthusiast magazines without accidentally flipping to something that would terrify our customers. “Yeah, I know there’s a really nice photo of an eyebrow piercing here somewhere.” And then the pages would part at Jim Ward bearing the kavandi, a mock castration, or papa bears ripping flesh in a sun ceremony. Do you realize how hard it was to find attractive pictures of genital piercings?

Browsing ladies often decided on a new blouse instead of a hood ornament. The horror, the horror.

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I found the inspiration for my personal sigil (a symbol with magickal properties) in a book of ancient Japanese family crests. A bold circle containing three, interlocking rings. With a little embellishment they became circular barbells. Cliff Cadaver had an official trademark. I put it on the cover of my book. Jill Jordan tattooed it on the back of my right hand. Cross wasn’t at work the day the Dutch film crew visited. They were enthralled. I was young, gung-ho, testosterone-charged. A ham. They ate it up. I made the mistake of introducing my personal sigil as “The international symbol for body piercing!” This would be an early lesson on the power of my words. A slip of the tongue that would come back to haunt me. A slip that wouldn’t be the last.

For further episodes from this series keep checking modblog every Friday until it’s completion. Same mod time, same mod channel.

16 thoughts on “Cadaver Chronicles: Episode 2

  1. I really enjoy the posts like this! I love to read about how we got where we are now and the people that made improvement in the industry! You should put a bunch of this info together for a book. Mabey a modern primitives two type of book….

  2. Pingback: BME: Tattoo, Piercing and Body Modification News » ModBlog » ModBlog News of the Week: February 18th, 2011

  3. Being young, and finding it hard to study the history of mod culture, this set of articles is really awesome to read! And man, how weird is it to think that there were days of bandaged popsicle sticks and rare navel piercings? So unreal! Then again, in a few decades, who knows how far we’ll come. Maybe some kids will be shocked at the idea of not getting a piercing from their doctor or something. Anywho, great article!

  4. I am glad everyone’s enjoying Cliff’s piece as much as I did. I have an interview with John Durante of Evolve Body Jewelry and a few others in the works as well. One that I am particularly excited to get started on is with Brian Skellie a man hugely influential to current piercing techniques who a lot of non-piercing dorks probably don’t even know of.

  5. Skellie should be interesting ill be looking forward to that.

    Just out of curiosity, does anyone know where i can get a copy of his book? A co worker had one in 99 if i remember right but i havent seen one since and would love to own one for nostalgia.

  6. I enjoyed the sexist commentary at the beginning that had absolutely nothing to do with the posts’ content. Asshole.

  7. Pingback: BME: Tattoo, Piercing and Body Modification News » ModBlog » Cadaver Chronicles: Episode 4

  8. Pingback: BME: Tattoo, Piercing and Body Modification News » ModBlog » Cadaver Chronicles: Episode 5

  9. Pingback: BME: Tattoo, Piercing and Body Modification News » ModBlog » CADAVER CHRONICLES: EPISODE 6, The final chapter

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