I got my first piercing on Saturday—in my left helix. The stud they gave me is very small, and a beautiful purple. It’s less obvious than I’d imagined, but I kind of like it that way. In a few months it should be completely healed, and I’ll be able to replace it with something more ostentatious if I so choose.
The piercing followed a wonderful party, with ten or eleven of us all drinking gigantic margaritas and having a great time together, in celebration of my Name Day (no, no the Feast of St. Benjamin, which is on March 31st, but the anniversary of October 9th, the day I went to court and legally changed my name). Afterwards, a bunch of us trouped up to The Alley, and this super-professional piercer stuck a thing in my ear.
I’m always a bit suspicious of The Alley—a Trash and Vaudeville wannabe that seems a little bit like Hot Topic to me—in other words, I worry that it lacks authenticity. Apparently they don’t lack authenticity when it comes to piercing, though—this fellow left his six-year-old piercing business and moved to Chicago just to work there. The procedure itself hurt a bit more than I’d expected (these things usually hurt less then expect, I find, so perhaps I had lowered my expectations a little too far!) and continued to hurt for a couple days. As of yesterday, though, it was barely noticeable.
So why did I get a piercing? Long story short, back when I lived in NYC my bank offered me a special credit card that was attached to my checking account--if I ever found myself overdrawn, they would simply apply the excess to this line of credit. Living in Manhattan, I was frequently overdrawn. And no, I never seemed to have enough extra cash on payday to pay off the previous excess. My final act on leaving was to write a check for the rental truck to move to Chicago, thus maxing out that credit card. At which point I found myself unemployed.
That was in November, 2002. In the first week of October, 2008, I sent the final payment of $70 to the credit card company. I have no idea what the final total was (after taking the years of interest into account) but I know that it took me six years to repay, with some help from my mother (thank you!). This is certainly not my only debt (I've got eighteen grand in student loans, which doesn't really count, and another seven thousand on a different credit card, which does) but it's a pretty important milestone in my life.
Certain accomplishments, I feel, should be marked in some permanent fashion. Or maybe I mean that accomplishing certain things gives one the right to mark them—adding a notch to the gun belt after surviving a duel, for example. This is also reflected in my (extremely limited) knowledge of the Māori custom of tā moko, ritual tattooing. As I understand it, their distinctive tattoos have traditionally signified certain accomplishments of note. I believe that they are still used in this way in modern Māori culture—tribal authorities might allow a youth certain tattoos for becoming fluent in the Māori language, for example.
The tattooing itself is not just an advertisement of success but also an ordeal, in the technical sense, as the ink is applied with a traditional bone chisel. This helps cement the occasion, adding a painful gravitas to the event and sanctifying it.
So far, I haven’t really done very much that I feel deserves this sort of sanctified marking. I’ve done some noteworthy things in my life, no mistake, but most of them aren’t quite right for this. I backpacked around Australia, by myself, in 1995—that was great, but it was its own reward. Like being proud of eating a chocolate cake, it doesn't seem appropriate to mark that occasion. I've also accomplished some impressive feats of public speaking, but those have always come very easily to me. I was born with those skills, like reading and walking. There are other goals of mine, like learning the violin or losing weight, that come a little closer to the sort of thing I have in mind, but they are transient accomplishments. I'd hate to have an earring commemorating something that is no longer true. In effect, the mark of my violin training will be my skill with the violin, and it will last until such time as stop practicing.
Paying off this credit card, though, required six years of greater or lesser sacrifice and now that it is done it cannot be undone. That seems to put it in a different category for me, and it seems more appropriate to mark it physically.
To put it another way, I imagine what I’ll say in ten years when someone asks me about my piercing. To say, “Yes, that was to celebrate faffing about Australia for a year”, or “It’s because I was born a decent public speaker” or “It’s because I can play the violin” all seem a little weird.
To say, “I wear this earring to celebrate the day I climbed a mountain on my spirit quest”, or “I got this tattoo after I fought a wolf bare-handed” or “I rescued a family from a burning building, and so I got this piercing” all seem totally appropriate. Paying off this credit card seems to fall into the “fought a wolf” category, in quality if not quantity.