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Tattooing Suburbia

Coral Springs doesn't exactly boast a reputation as South Florida's epicenter for alternative culture, but that's where you'll find the seventh-annual International South Florida Tattoo Expo 2002, put on by the same folks who bring you the annual motorcycle Toys in the Sun Run.

Nestled in the heart of suburbia at the Radisson Resort Coral Springs, the three-day, 31-hour festival features about 50 tattoo artists and another four dozen booths and tables devoted to the related trades of body piercing, branding, and henna art. Fetish shows, agonizing-to-watch suspension demonstrations (if you're not familiar with this phenomenon, it breaks down like this -- people with hooks pierced through their backs and legs use them to hang from the ceiling. And the freakiest part: They like it), and WWE superstars are all part of the scheduled entertainment -- but the best fun can be had watching people grit their teeth as they get tattooed and pierced under the fluorescent lights.

Debbie Amchir and her hubby, Dave, started the annual fest as an adjunct to the Toys in the Sun Run, founded by Dave and his dad, Bob. Together, the two events raise close to a half-million dollars a year for Joe DiMaggio's Children's Hospital. Funhouse Tattoos sponsors the expo, so more money can go to charity.

"The best part is at the very end," Debbie says. "We get the final tally, and we donate that check to the kids. It's a really good charity, and they need the money. They don't turn anyone away, whether or not they have insurance. They have a visitors' center where the families get to stay for free. A lot of the money we've raised was donated to that." A new trauma center, scheduled to break ground before the end of the year, is the hospital's newest project. "We guaranteed them one million dollars to help pay for it." This year's Tattoo Expo and the December Sun Run should raise half that amount.

Dave and Debbie sport more than 500 tattoos between them, a half-dozen of which are Debbie's. Dave's are harder to count: His neck-to-toe tattoos are not clearly delineated from one another.

More than 25 percent of the expo's attendees are expected to travel from out of state. Many of them will get tattooed or pierced for the first time. "Every artist is working all weekend long," says Debbie, who will be busy working, too. But with all that talent in one space, surely there'll be time to raise her tattoo tally to seven.

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Karen Dale Wolman

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