The next morning Cole, William and I shoveled down three Denny’s breakfast platters before heading out onto the sunburned streets of Honolulu. The air radiated heat at us in waves as we meandered aimlessly along the city sidewalks, gazing in awe at the impressive buildings erupting from the ground around us.
Honolulu was the most amazing city to me. It was an entire urban epicenter crammed into a thimble. The city rose up like an exotic plant jammed into the narrow space between the wild, volcanic mountain and the fresh, cerulean ocean. The buildings rocketed skyward, competing raucously with the visual majesty that surrounded them.
The city itself was a cultural paradise. Its streets were more diverse than the United Nations. I loved the energy of this international melting pot, all slowed down to Hawaiian time. Global expatriates congregated in Honolulu bringing their traditions, food, music and languages along for the ride. The businesses that sprang up to service these transplants were as diverse as the people themselves. There were Asian Markets, Middle Eastern Groceries, Polynesian Restaurants and so much more. Even the local McDonald’s seemed strangely exotic.
As we strolled down the sidewalk, nursing our now lukewarm sodas, William spotted a storefront labeled, “Tiki Tattoo.”
“Oooh, this has some potential!” he exclaimed. “Let’s go inside. I want to look at the tattoo books.”
Cole choked back a laugh, “Like you’re going to get a tattoo. What would you even get? Ohhh, how about a flamingo?”
“Ha. Ha.” William rolled his eyes, “You and your imperceptibly soft wit. I very well do intend to get one, thank you very much.” He huffed, indignantly.
“Hey, you could get one of those old sailor tattoos,” I chimed in. “With a girl sprawled au naturel across your forearm so she dances when you flex … you know … all sophisticated and tasteful-like.”
“I’m thinking the sailor himself would be more his style,” Cole goaded. “He could be holding his little sailor cap over his anchor.”
William made a high-pitched sound of exasperation and pushed the front door open. We tromped inside the small entryway, breathing a collective sigh of relief as a cool blast of air conditioning wafted over us. The place was tropically adorned with heavy, wooden Tiki statues and colorful Hawaiian flowers. The sky blue walls were accented by waist high panels of woven palm fronds. Mounted on the wall next to us were several sets of poster sized flip-racks each filled with drawings of different tattoos.
While William searched for the perfect design, I flipped lazily through a stack of books, chewing absentmindedly on the end of my straw. I had never really liked tattoos. Maybe it was their frightening permanence, or my general disdain for unnecessary pain, or because most of the ones I’d seen were distinctly unimpressive … and by unimpressive, I mean awful. I’d seen all the old standbys – butterfly, tree frog, flower, tribal thing. They were rote, dull and all, sadly, not worth the pain or permanence they innately required. Then there were the ones that were actually unique – an unintelligible, hand-drawn doodle; an obscure cartoon character; a kitten gamboling between the subject’s nipples. These were more interesting, but ultimately unfortunate and limiting, not to mention quite often tragically executed.
I had never understood the psychology behind the American practice of tattooing. After spending more time around the Samoan Chief, that confusion had melted into a mild disdain. Unlike his culture, there was nothing sacred about American tattoos (if you think a pelvic Yin Yang signifies that you’re spiritually balanced, you probably aren’t). There was nothing earned (if you don’t own the Super Bowl ring, don’t plaster the team’s name on your ass). There was nothing redeeming (unless you’ve donated your life savings to the protection of the Monarch Butterfly, don’t carve its image into your foot. It’s demeaning to the butterfly). It seemed to me that the American practice of tattooing was simply the culturally-endorsed eternal embodiment of a passing phase. Which, in retrospect, may be as American as you can get. Maybe there was a deeper cultural significance there after all …
I flipped through the display books, mentally rating its pictures on my great scale of shame and savoring the air conditioning. Then something glinting in the sunlight caught my eye. Across the room stood a tall, rotating jewelry stand. Upon further inspection I discovered it to be filled with nose, tongue, eyebrow and belly button rings, as well as jewelry for less obvious locations. Each piece glinted merrily in the sunlight that was pouring abundantly through the shop’s large picture window.
“I’m going to get my belly button pierced,” I blurted out, unexpectedly. The words surprised even myself.
Cole glanced up from his book, as William grinned and gave a little whoop, “Well, all right then. Let’s do this.”
Wavering, I hemmed and hawed for a minute as panic began setting in. Impulsive decisions were rarely wise. All of the girls in my high school had pierced belly buttons. I had really hated that. Their typical adolescent desire to “be cool” resulted in a sea of carbon copies. It was developmentally appropriate, of course, but annoying just the same. There was nothing unique or individual about the piercings. (Although, one girl had a blue stud instead of pink, but she was a total rebel). Even my step-sister had hers done. They were so common that you could barely walk through the mall without getting snagged on one. I’d never had a desire to join the crowd.
Out here, however, things were different. I didn’t know anyone who had a bellybutton piercing, not one single person. I mean, tank tops and bikinis were one thing, but this was a real statement. I wasn’t sure exactly what I would be stating, but it intrigued me nonetheless. After investing roughly the same amount of thought into my choice as was usually involved in ordering a taco, I jumped in. “Ok, let’s do it!”
After picking out a silver stud with clear zirconium jewels, we were led behind the curtains to a plastic covered reclining chair. It looked like it belonged in a dentist’s office. The piercer did not.
The burly Hawaiian man that greeted me had long, wavy, black hair and brutal tattoos covering most of his considerable mocha skin. If one of those portly Buddha statues had sprung to life, flipped a 180 and joined the Hell’s Angels, he would have looked like the man now standing before me. For some reason, this guy didn’t work the front desk. I watched in horror and fascination as Fabio the Ferocious (that would have been his Viking name) proceeded to pull out a needle big enough to roast me on a spit.
Genghis Kahuna (that would have been his Mongol name) rubbed alcohol on my belly button. It tingled. Then he pulled the skin away from my stomach and grasped it tightly in a hand held clamp. It was uncomfortable. I would have thought that in this day and age, with all the new technology constantly emerging, there would be a better way of accomplishing “Love of God Mother Hubbard shut the front door F*#&!!!”
Stabby McGee had just jammed a pencil through my flesh. I bit my lip to keep the screaming tirade inside of my head. I tasted blood. Then, just as suddenly, it was over. There was the diamond-esque stud. It was lovely. My rosy, twitching abdomen really made it sparkle.
“Be careful,” Jabba the Hohono said, cleaning up his equipment. “It’s addictive. If you don’t watch out, pretty soon you’ll have everything pierced.”
Great. I could transition to a magnetic wardrobe.
Holding up one of the piercing books, William snickered mischievously, “Do you think I should pierce my…”
“No!” Cole cut in abruptly, “Dude. No.”
This is the latest installment in my story. If you haven’t yet read the previous entries, click here to start at the beginning. Then continue to read each post in numerical order.