Ring Around the Navel


Dad, don't read this. Because if you do, you're likely to find out that your daughter has committed a heinous act: I got my navel pierced.


I feel it is only fair to warn you, given the responses that I've received in my post-pierce phase.

My best friend's mother, a fine upstanding Catholic woman, now thinks I need God in my life.

My 43-year-old sister tried to be understanding, but the closest she could come was to say that hoop earrings were big in her day. She also warned that a woman with a pierced bellybutton should never, ever, get into a fight.

One of my co-workers expressed grave concerns about my future travel plans. Will I ever again slip silently through an airport metal detector?

My decision to pierce did require some thought. I've always had an urge to go against the grain fashion-wise.

I like tattoos, but I've never been the Hell's Angels type. A nose ring was out. (One sneeze could turn me into a lethal weapon.)

Navel piercing seemed the best option, because the ring could be shown selectively. Should I ever have a change of heart, it could be removed. The hole would heal, leaving a small scar that could be a vehicle for some great stories.

On a two-day hiatus to Santa Barbara with my aforementioned friend, Kathleen, we spotted the Wild Side Tattoo Parlor off the main drag.

It seemed nothing less than an omen from God.

I was a stranger here. If I ever run for public office, we decided, opposition research would be hard-pressed to uncover my soon-to-be secret.

The large one-room storefront was filled with a myriad of tattoo options ranging from the naked mermaid--a perennial favorite--to several hundred variations on Wile E. Coyote and the Confederate flag, not to mention girls, girls, girls.

I was immediately drawn to a huge glass case filled with rings of various shapes and sizes when we were approaced by Xeon (pronounced Shawn ), the parlor piercer and proud graduate of the Fakir Musafar School of Professional Body Piercing in San Francisco.

After discussing all the piercing options, checking out the sterility of the piercing area and picking out a tiny silver ring with a cobalt ball in the middle, we were poised to pierce. But Xeon had a tongue and two eyebrows to get through first.

Aspen, the first victim, was probably voted Most Likely to Become a Human Pin Cushion in high school. He was only 19, a mere baby, yet silver dripped from his nose and his ears. He considered getting his tongue and eyebrows done to be "good business," since he worked at a nearby tattoo parlor, where piercing is admired but not performed.

I asked Aspen about the pain involved in his various puncture wounds. According to him, nothing hurt. Ever. Feeling older and wiser at age 22, I couldn't help asking him what his mother thought about having a human magnet for a son.

"Like I care!" he said, rolling his eyes.

I gave Aspen a hug. So we just met. This was a bonding experience. Besides, Aspen could be my little brother. He was America's Little Brother.

Kathleen, intrigued by this new world, politely asked him if she could watch his tongue procedure. He agreed and they went behind a screen, where there was a doctor's examining table and a poster of the lymphatic system from "Gray's Anatomy" tacked crookedly to the wall.

I decided to sit and look at pictures of tattoos. Pacing around the shop, I picked up one of Xeon's business cards. "Please be sober," it read in bold print. I was beginning to wish I wasn't.

Aspen seemed to be fine after his piercing. A real trouper, except that he was suddenly transformed into a lisper. "Ith didn'th hurth," he said. "Weally it didn'th."

And then it was my turn.

Xeon worked as fast as he could, stopping only to tell me to take deep breaths--after three girls walked in, heard me screaming and promptly walked right back out.

I'd like to get technical and tell you exactly how Xeon used forceps to clamp the skin he was about to pierce, or how he had the acumen of a surgeon with a needle longer than Long Island and what looked like a bottle cork.

But I can't, because it's not something I cared to watch, even if I could have. It's hard to get a clear view of your own stomach when lying down like a corpse, preparing for pain that must be worse than a lobotomy.

Instead, my impressions were gleaned from the people around me. Aspen, snickering silently, held my hands as I squeezed with all my might. Kathleen looked horrified, then intrigued, then impressed. All the while, she held a small toy duck over my head, chanting, "Focus on the duck! Focus on the duck!"

And then it was over.

Xeon gave me a sheet on belly hygiene that commenced with "Keep your dirty, nasty hands off it." Aspen asked if we could drop him off at the mall. After all, there were girls to impress. I decided to join him. There were midriff shirts to be purchased--and eyebrows to be raised.

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