The Tattoo and Piercing Festival, or Making New Friends

Delta Winds cover 2005Delta Winds: A Magazine of Student Essays
A Publication of San Joaquin Delta College


The Tattoo and Piercing Festival, or Making New Friends

Amy Powell

Let me begin by saying that my idea of an evening well spent usually starts with dinner al fresco with good conversation and good friends and ends with a glass of hearty red wine. I enjoy literature, Orange Pekoe tea and Spanish soap operas. I am not the sort of woman who likes to live her life "on the edge." I cook, I garden, I take my vitamins and I try to workout everyday. I will never ride a Harley Davidson motorcycle, drink beer like a sorority girl or get a tattoo. However, (and there are always "howevers" with these sorts of stories aren't there?) at one point during my early 20's I was very interested in shucking my dowdy image and trying new things, such as drinking beer like a sorority girl, riding on the back of a Harley Davidson and going so far as to attend a tattoo and piercing festival where I spent the greater portion of the evening recoiling in shock and horror at the obscene things that people were giddily, if albeit drunkenly, doing to themselves.

Why, one may ponder, knowing all my domestic instincts, would I attend a party where all of the "best" (and trust me I use the term lightly) in the field of body adornment had gathered to show off their skills? Simple. I was desperate to fit in. I was living in Boise, Idaho, at the time-a mistake I will never make again-and had recently been hired to work for a computer-chip manufacturing company where I met a group of people who underneath their electrically-grounded lab coats and shoe booties sported a wide variety of studs, earplugs, rings and tattoos. Now normally I have very little in common with people who put holes in their bodies for fun. I am not a knowingly prejudiced person; it's just that it is very unlikely that I would be able to carry on a coherent conversation with them without staring at the rings in their eyebrows. But the truth is I was lonely; I had not lived in the area for long and thought, "Hey, if this is what it takes to not have to spend every night talking to my 70-year-old alcoholic neighbor-sign me up!" So when I was invited to go with the group to the tattoo festival at the Hyatt Regency I was pleased to have been included. A guy named Mike from my floor offered to pick me up as I had no clue where the Hyatt was. I agreed to go with him thinking all the while that it might be dangerous to get into a car with a guy I'd only known for a month. I needn't have worried. As I strapped Mike's spare motorcycle helmet on over my hair and straddled the back of his Harley, I thought for the thousandth time "What am I doing?"

Looking back now, I realize that I should have enjoyed the ride to the hotel more, as it was the highlight of my evening. We got to the hotel and I managed to pry my cold, numb fingers loose from around my ride's waist. We proceeded into the convention hall where the scene that met my eyes was evocative of a Hieronymus Bosch altarpiece. Instead of turning on my heel and walking with all haste back out the door, I accepted the beer that another of my work associates thrust in my hand and proceeded to follow the group deeper into the convention hall, past the "band" who were screaming obscenities while purple strobe lights flashed across their faces. It is at this juncture that I must confess words fail me. What I witnessed was nothing short of nightmarish. It will have to suffice when I say that the human brain is an extremely creative instrument, and considering the body parts that were being pierced in that convention center that night, it was a wonder that there were no emergency medical services on standby in case an "expert" hit a main artery.

A maniacal carnivalesque atmosphere pervaded the room. Men and women were running around the convention center yelling at booth attendants about the "work" they wanted to have done, and all of them exhibited a marked preference in their wardrobes for chains, beards, and horrifyingly revealing leather ensembles. Special chairs had been brought inside the booths so that body parts would be more easily accessible to the "artists" and scores of drunken denuded people were climbing eagerly into them. I stumbled along behind the group trying desperately to avoid glimpsing body parts that I would not normally have seen unless I had known these people a good deal better.

I was so engrossed in this endeavor that I bumped into Mike who had stopped before a particularly vile looking booth whose table sported a wide variety of piercing instruments. He had expressed a wish to "have something done" and, like the ghouls they were, my co-workers had naturally stopped to watch. As Mike stripped off his shirt and sat down in front of his chosen artist, I made my way towards the back of our assembly, all the while trying to keep my eyes carefully averted from the event. As I was studiously looking anywhere but at my co-worker, a bald, be-ringed person noticed my unfocused gaze falling on her booth and mistaking it for genuine interest, thrust a small photo album at me, encouraging me to "have a look!" She was a large menacing looking woman and I thought it wiser to comply with her demands than upset her. I dutifully opened the album and at first glance my eyes refused to make sense of the photos. Gradually, however, my brain and eyes began to function in unison, and I realized that what I was looking at was a gallery of photos that displayed this person's facility with ink, needle and piercing instrument on areas of the human body that are quite known for being extraordinarily sensitive.

To say at this juncture that I was horrified would be a bit of an understatement. I felt ill. I snapped her little book of horrors shut and pasted a sickened smile on my face, nodded in what I hoped was an appreciative manner, and turned my attention back to Mike who had just finished paying for his new hole. He was regaling his experience to the group in minute details, like a soldier will a war story, and when he asked me what I thought, I replied, "It's very . . . uh . . . nice." Thinking that I ought to at least display a modicum of interest in the proceedings, I asked if the piercing instruments had to be disinfected before being used on another victim. For some reason, that to this day still escapes me, my co-workers found this innocent question uproariously funny. I was proffered another beer, which I declined.

I managed to stay for the minimum amount of time that would be deemed courteous (about 43 minutes) and then quietly called a cab from the main lobby. As I rode home in the back of the cab, I clearly remember thinking "Now how could I have avoided this? . . . And why does this car smell like a can of Raid?" It didn't take me too long to realize that I had allowed desperation for social interaction to cloud my judgment. I was so desperate to fit in with the work crowd that I quieted my natural intuition and had a miserable evening. I spent the entire next day penitently sitting in an oversized chair at Barnes and Noble trying to cleanse my "chi." Eventually I did find a few friends who had my same interests in Boise, and I spent fewer nights alone with my neighbor, but I have always remembered that episode, and to this day when someone proposes an outing that sounds less than fascinating to me, flashes of that evening come back to me and I am able to decline with a courteous, but nonetheless succinct "You've got to be joking."