Holier Than Thou; It's No More Radical Than a Tattoo. Right Mom 'n Dad? A Riveting Story About the Culture Gap

Laura Blumenfeld
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, February 7, 1993; 8:17 AM

He offers his skin to the needle. On his back, on a black bed, on the weekend of his 25th birthday, he waits, flush-faced, for the two-inch shaft to lance his chest. Joseph Monter has contemplated this for years, imagined this all week, and now at last comes the precise metallic flash that will pierce his nipple.

"You feel okay?" asks a dark, mustachioed man who calls himself Logger. With surgical confidence, Logger ices and clamps the area. He is Washington's most popular piercer, serving a thickening clot of clients, from trend-driven teenagers to sadomasochists, in a second-story bedroom that he calls "The Black Room."

A gulp ripples Monter's neck. He is a soft-spoken, conservatively dressed office assistant from Arlington. His heart is thudding. Above him, from the black iron bedposts, hang some meat hooks, black rabbit fur, a paddle engraved master, a teddy bear gagged and bound.

The last client needed a chew stick, he kicked and moaned so much. Earlier, pain shuddered through a girl who had her navel pierced. But Monter's stoic eyes fix on the opposite wall, on a tarnished dagger. He tucks his fingers under his thighs, says he is fine.

The needle passes through, a blink of pain. A single drop of blood seeps out. Logger pushes a rainbow-colored hoop through the wound, tapes a swatch of gauze over Monter's pale, hairy chest. "Keep saliva away from it," says the piercer.

Monter nods. "Feel great," he says, sitting up. He's going to a party tomorrow night. "Here's what I got for my birthday!" he'll tell his friends.

His shoulders, frightened tight just moments ago, now roll easy. His eyes have that sheen. They shine like he's just won something, something elusive but important.

They're putting holes in their bodies. They're puncturing nose cartilage, studding their eyebrows, lacing their lips with rings.

This is no longer the province of gays only, or of people who revel in sexual cruelty. Your record store clerk has steel in his nose. Your coffee-shop muffin girl has gold in her belly button. And your accountant -- who knows what jingles beneath the virgin wool? When rock god Axl Rose sports a nipple ring and Madonna poses with pierced women in her picture book "Sex," the chic-seeking reach for a needle.

In the past three years, body jewelry sales have doubled, says Jim Ward, president of Gauntlet Inc., the California-based chain of piercing salons. John Rocco, manager of the Leather Rack, a sexual paraphernalia shop in the District, says his one tray of body jewelry has now multiplied to fill a showcase. He's sold out of "starter rings."

It's as old as sharpened stones.

Egyptian pharaohs pierced their navels. Roman centurion guards wore rings in their chests as a sign of virility and, more pragmatically, as a way to cinch up their capes. African tribal ornamentation to this day involves piercings and the systematic stretching of skin. Indian women often wear nose studs.

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© 1993 The Washington Post Company