Pierced Memories

photoWalking downtown over the July 4th weekend I passed a Congress Street tattoo parlor and had a sudden, vivid memory from nearly 20 years ago.  I can’t swear it was the same tattoo parlor. It had a different name and was definitely seedier, as was most of downtown Congress Street. And mind you this was before everyone and her mother had a tattoo.

Here’s what I remember: I drove in to downtown Portland from the suburbs in my minivan with my 14-year-old daughter who was determined to get her nose pierced––something they only did in tattoo parlors back then.  Under 16, you needed parental permission, which I wasn’t about to give. But I hoped the experience of actually going into the tattoo parlor would convince her not to go through with it––fat chance.  (In retrospect, big deal, right? But this was 1995.)

We parked down the street and I walked ahead of my daughter and her two friends: three freewheeling kids, newly minted freshmen in high school, eager to carve out their identities, so to speak.  Once inside the tattoo parlor we sat on a severely cracked leather couch and waited, looking at a binder of faded tattoo designs of the motorcycle gang variety.  On the other side of the counter, the tattoo artist was doing his thing. Sizzle, zap, buzz… As time ticked on, I thought the kids were close to deciding they didn’t belong there, but no such luck.  The place creeped me out but it didn’t seem to faze my daughter in the least. But then again, she only wanted her nose pierced.

Eventually, it was her turn. The owner of the tattoo parlor began walking my daughter through the process: choosing the stud, discussing where the hole would be, how much it would hurt. She showed no signs of changing her mind––she was going to call my bluff. And then, he got to the important part: no taking out the stud for six weeks. No exceptions. He was very convincing, bless his heart.

A sports season was about to start. It could have been soccer, field hockey or lacrosse, but in any case, the coaches didn’t allow jewelry to be worn on the field.  If she got a piercing, she couldn’t remove it for 6 weeks…which meant she couldn’t play. We were at an impasse.

It’s possible my daughter had just found the excuse she was looking for. She could back out without chickening out. And best of all, I wasn’t the bad guy. We left the shop, nose intact. Piercings and body art were just something to look forward to in the bright future ahead. I was relieved; I’m not sure how she felt.

I have to admit: I didn’t run this particular account by my daughter. I do wonder if she remembers it the same way I do…or even at all? Not that it matters. Memories are notoriously inaccurate. But without them, where would the stories come from? And how would we know how far we’ve come?