My friend U. planned her next piercing carefully. A few years back she had been told that she had a 'high-risk navel.' She had been very skinny then and the art of piercing was still in its infancy in America. At some point she went ahead and had her nose pierced. This had become de rigueur for young women at the end of the '90s and her nose was not, apparently, high risk. Now it was time to reconsider the navel and, after scouring Web sites, she settled on Rings of Desire on Decatur Street, New Orleans, a place so well regarded that movie stars fly in on their private jets to be pierced by the crack team led by Master Piercer Elayne Angel. U. studied the available rings, the color of possible stones, the variety of ring, stone, and ball models, and the possible positions of her new jewel.
And what, you might ask, was I doing in her decade-long dream? We'd met for coffee and she'd asked me casually, 'Would you come with me to have my navel pierced?' Now, I've never been known to miss a piercing, though I've missed many other important occasions, including my friend MP's wedding and MB's baptism. I almost nearly missed my own piercing, at a party, because it looked to me that the person making holes in my ears had an exceedingly interesting take on my poetry. It only hurt a little, afterwards, and I removed the two small gold loops from my ears when I realized that I couldn't believably carry them off.
I accompanied Miss U. through a long room filled with glass beakers and vampire paraphernalia manned by illustrated people, each of whom could be read and studied for weeks, just like a book. A stairway at the back led to Master Piercer Angel's parlor, a rather well-lit place with a long jewelry counter and a couple of what looked like operating rooms in the back. The Master Piercer had many diplomas on the wall, issued by Gauntlet, and the diplomas of her staff were likewise displayed. One of them was certifying an Assistant Master Piercer, a position any young person might usefully aspire to. The Master Piercer herself had studs and rings in many visible places, including her forehead, one of them inside, she explained, her 'third eye.' A picture-postcard for the business sporting her likeness revealed that she also had two highly colorful and majestic wings on her back. They looked, indeed, like functioning wings, not tattooed at all. I winced only slightly at the idea of having a stone, albeit a jewel, stuck in any of my eyes, even the third or fourth.
After debating the vertical versus the oblique style, the round versus the rough, the open balls versus the tiny bejeweled prongs, U. lay flat on an operating-room table and Master Piercer Angel pinched her belly button. 'If you can't pinch, you can't pierce,' she said solemnly, enunciating what I took to be The First Law of Piercing. 'Have you ever seen a piercing?' she asked me. 'Well, actually,' I said, 'I've seen a branding.' Which was true. The Master Piercer said, 'Ugh!' That was interesting. The Master Piercer had a grossout threshold.
'Well,' she said as she ably stuck a needle through a fold of U.'s midriff flesh and started working a loop through it. 'Branding and paper cuts freak me out. You wouldn't expect it.' The ring slipped into place with its two pink stones shining at its ends and U. made a tiny moan, nothing like the piercing shriek I was hoping for. 'That's it,' Master Angel said. 'Don't get it dirty, but don't take any baths for a while.'
U. consulted the mirror for a minute, then asked my opinion of her new navel. 'You'll never be naked again,' I said.
The piercing thus concluded, U. decided to begin writing a novel the next day, the navel being the onomatopoeic trigger that she'd ritually chosen to jumpstart the process.