Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Lydia oh Lydia, Say Have You Met Lydia

I’ve grown out of adolescence. I no longer think every single person on the planet is looking at me and snickering at something weird I just did. In fact, I’m pretty certain that on most days no one notices me at all. However, if on the off chance that you were driving down Ventura Boulevard last month and thought, “Say isn’t that Quinn Cummings leaving her young daughter alone at a tattoo parlor and driving off?” then I need to explain.

It was for health reasons.

If I had to break down my conversations with Daughter for the last ten months, thirty percent would be “Just five more minutes of reading and then I swear I’ll turn off the light and go to bed without a peep, I promise” and thirty percent would be “Math? Again? But I did math last week!” and thirty percent would be “When can I get my ears pierced?” The other ten percent is sneering at squash. I wasn’t all that excited about her getting her ears pierced, at least partially because newly-pierced ears, what with the cleaning and the turning and the monitoring, are kind of like a pet; a pet which, if ignored, gets crusty and gross. I wasn’t in the mood for a new pet. But she finished wearing her palate-expander and had taken excellent care of it, not losing it even once, and she was a trooper when it came to book publicity, melting into her room when I needed to do phone interviews and finding non-Mom-pestering hobbies when I swam through the Quinn Cummings Seemingly Endless Blog Book Tour. Grudgingly, I admitted she had earned those ear-holes.

So, last month, she had an appointment with our dermatologist anyway, I thought “Piercing, done in a hygienic environment!” and I exclaimed grandly to the kid, “Today, the doctor shall pierce your ears!” and she squealed “And we can show Daddy when he gets home from New York tonight!” and I smiled and she smiled and I basked in what a good mother I was.

“Oh, no. We don’t pierce ears,” the dermatologist said briskly, “that’s aesthetic.” Foolish Quinn, thinking a place with big ads in the waiting room extolling the virtues of freezing my face with botulism had an interest in aesthetics for profit. Daughter looked at me as we walked to the car, worried. “We’ll find somebody to pierce your ears,” I said in a soothing tone, “very soon.”
She knows that “Very soon.” It means “This just got put on a list only slightly shorter than the Mahabharata and it won’t get done before you’re worried about the calcium level in your bones.” She keened “But I want to show my pierced ears to Daddy tonight!”

Guilt poked me in the ribs. Along with everything else which was going on, Consort had been spending every other week traveling for work and she missed her father dreadfully. But, again, she’d been a real brick about it. If anyone deserved voluntary puncture wounds, it was my kid. I squared my shoulders and swore, “You will have pierced ears before nightfall!” I may have even pointed towards the sky with my index finger, such was my determination.

We left the doctor’s office and I stopped in the first jewelry store we saw, thinking someone in there would know about piercing options. Daughter admired the shiny things, happily holding the earrings up against her earlobes as the owner and I talked. Yes, she said, I could take the kid to the mall and get her ears pierced at one of the stands, but this woman couldn’t recommend it. She told me several Grand Guignol stories about poorly-cleaned plastic piercing guns which can’t be autoclaved, epic infections and asymmetrical, ragged holes which required stitching closed and repiercing. “I tell everyone to go to a tattoo parlor for piercings. It’s cleaner.” I prefer my rites of passage without blood-borne pathogens, so I thanked her sincerely and we headed off.

I don’t know what your family does on a Friday in August, but my family likes to drive through Hollywood, dashing in and out of tattoo parlors. Had I felt a need to get the Virgin of Guadalupe inked on my forearm, we could have been done before tea-time, but I came to discover that in every tattoo parlor, there was exactly one piercing guy and he was a night-owl. Not one of them was expected in before seven that evening. Consort was due home at six. We were both hot and exhausted; Daughter was near tears. “Sweetheart,” I said as we got back into the car for the thirtieth time, “we just might not be able to do this today.”

I steeled myself for the inevitable whine, preparing my unbearably tedious lecture of the importance of learning to wait for the things you want in life. Instead, she said softly, “It’s okay. I know you tried your best. I’ll get them...very soon.”

Which, of course, sent me into spasms of sorrow and resolve. I can’t give Daughter a back yard large enough for a pony, I can’t give her summer vacations in our second home in Maine but by God I can give her newly painful earlobes! We drove over the hill, into the San Fernando Valley, because they either had piercers who were early birds or we were going to Big Sugar and eating our sorrow.

As hot as Hollywood had been, the Valley was ten degrees hotter. Getting in and out of the car at various parlors became an exercise in watching my toenail polish melt. Finally, we drove up to one place which had the requisite flames and skulls painted on the window and a few shirtless and scrolled young men hanging around the door. There was no place to park. I said to Daughter, “Okay, we both know they aren’t going to have a piercing guy working right now, but you go in, ask them. I’ll wait here in the driveway.”

She got out of the car, dashed in, and dashed out again a second later, beaming and giving me a thumbs-up. I waved to her to get back in the car, but she had already darted back into the tattoo parlor. Fine, I thought, I’ll just park on Ventura which will take no more than a second, because there’s always parking on Ventura. And it should have taken no more than a second, were this storefront on any other block in the seventeen miles of Ventura. But this block, and the block next to it, was completely full; I had to park two blocks away from the tattoo parlor where my nine year-old daughter and her new friends waited for me. I sprinted in hundred-degree heat, my flip-flops sticking with each step. Finally, I got to the parlor; Daughter was sitting in the piercing chair, paging through a motorcycle magazine. She pointed to the girl straddling a hog and said, “Can I get those shorts?” Without looking, I said “No” and said to the owner, “I’m with her.” The owner said mildly, “Yeah, we wondered about you.”

So many people have.

Once I stopped gasping for air and determined no one had touched my daughter inappropriately, I couldn’t have been happier with the process. The piercer, who I believe was called Lemur, had a sparklingly-clean station; his tools were all metal and came in their own bags, fresh from the autoclaver. Lemur and Daughter discussed where exactly she wanted the holes; if she planned on getting multiple piercings later on, or those larger plugs, he’d account for that. She and I looked at each other with wide eyes. I didn’t exactly see this child of mine -- the one in walking shorts and a polo shirt with a crab embroidered on it—going for the earlobe plug anytime soon, but I appreciated Lemur’s thoroughness.

The actual piercings were quick and, according to Daughter, more weird than painful. He put in tiny hoops; I won’t tell you what part of the body Lemur usually pierces with them. Daughter stared in the mirror at herself in fascination while I paid. I smoothed her hair, noticing her head now clears my shoulders. “Sorry about leaving you here by yourself,” I whispered in her ear. She shrugged. “You always come back.” I looked at the clock. “Speaking of coming back, I think we need to get to the airport, don’t you?”

She grinned and we headed into the convection oven that is the San Fernando Valley, pierced and pleased.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Such adventures in tattoo parlors....my last fun adventure was with a 500-pound man with blue eyebrows (to match the hair, of course!) who I found sweet and kind and not at all capable of "bouncing" out the undesirables, as he was hired to do, in Sturgis at the motorcycle rally. I know. I don't look like the tattoo type. I got my first one to piss off my mother (it worked!!!) and the second because I happened to be there, talking to Tad.

12:46 PM  
Blogger The Bug said...

I had a mall piercing back in the dark ages (or 1980) - & it was pretty bad. One hole was crooked & all the digging to find the exit hole caused an infection. I eventually just let the holes grow shut & tried again later. So good job finding a competent clean place for the job!

12:48 PM  
Blogger bethany actually said...

When I took Annalie to get her ears pierced recently, I took her to a place in the mall...but one whose primary raison d’être was piercing rather than one of the filled-with-cheap-jewelry stores that cater to adolescents. I was satisfied with their level of cleanliness and professionalism, but now I find myself wishing I'd taken Annalie to a tattoo parlor, just for the stories I'd have.

1:34 PM  
Blogger Unknown said...


Quinn, the way you tell a story puts the reader right in the picture.

I even felt my flip flops sticking to the floor...oh wait, that might be apple juice my little nephew spilt this morning and "couldn't find"

Peace - Rene

1:37 PM  
Blogger Sara J. Henry said...

What a lovely (very funny) story - your daughter will always remember it and how you came through for her.

And now we'll always remember it, too.

I got my ears pierced in my early 30s, at my dermatologist. I was chipper and eager until after the first one - because then you KNOW the piercing gun hurts! But I'm very happy I had it done.

Better late than never.

2:33 PM  
Blogger Surely said...

Holy Wow what a great mom you are...despite the outward appearance of kicking your daughter to the curb at a tattoo parlor. (:-D

She'll have that great story forever and think how much the importance will change as she ages...and the humor.

Well done you!

2:53 PM  
Blogger Robin Raven said...

That's wonderful. Much better than my story of having my ears pierced at 13 at Wal-Mart. ;) What a wonderful memory for her, and I'm sure it meant a lot to her that you were willing to make such an effort and adventure out of it.

How is it that I lived in LA for 5 years, and nobody told me about this wonderful bakery? After a play endeavor, I hope to be back to LA. Must make it a stop. haha

3:07 PM  
Anonymous --Deb said...

Such a touching ending to the epic adventure! I love that you came through for her. And, really, how many kids get dropped off by their mothers at tattoo parlors? She must have been SO cool at school the next day, telling that story.

3:14 PM  
Blogger Cat Connor said...

Ah I remember the joy of having my ears pierced at 13. Chemist's do it over here.
I'm pretty sure my oldest daughter pierced her own ears (its a bit of a family tradition), middle two - at chemist. Younger two -over my dead body!

You earned HUGE mother brownie points with the whole ear-piercing thing, Quinn.


3:26 PM  
Blogger OHN said...

I was 15. Defiantly rebelled against my mother and took the bus downtown to a jewelry store that didn't require parental permission to puncture body parts.

When I got home, with shiny new gold balls adhered to my lobes, I was immediately grounded to the house for a month.

When my mother was 65 I TOOK HER to get hers done, because she always liked my earrings, and then I grounded her :)

3:39 PM  
Blogger Char said...

piercing and a tattoo parlor? now that's a story for her later years... hahahahaha

mine was horrible, those self-piercing, pushed through after ice was held to the ears. Crooked and never quite level. I finally let them grow over and wear clip-ons.

3:56 PM  
Anonymous Lydia said...

My 9-year-old daughter asked to get her ears pierced and my immediate reaction was,"No, I'm not ready." She said all the other girls in her class had pierced ears. We compromised that she could get them done for her 10th birthday.
I didn't get my ears pierced until I was 30. I did it at a Mall jewelry store. Afterwards I went out, sat on a bench and cried because I had ruined my virgin earlobes. My cousin told me to keep them because I would get nice earrings from my boyfriend! And so I did, but they were uneven so I had one redone by a nurse at my internist's office.
And by the way, despite my name, I am not tatooed!

7:14 PM  
Blogger Antique Mommy said...

I got my ears pierced in the 6th grade, sealing my reputation with the nuns as a trollop on her way to hell. A trollop with stylish earrings.

When I was sixteen I pierced a second set of holes in my ears myself when my mom kept putting me off. Once again, she was right and I was wrong. Sometimes once is enough.

5:07 AM  
Anonymous MidLifeMama said...

My ears were pierced by a lady in a department store. No gun, she shoved an earring into my ear which had been somewhat numbed by an ice cube. But she did it evenly and straight, which is more than I can say for some of my friends. And it entertains me to no end that my word verification word is "nonies".

10:51 AM  
Blogger Unknown said...

That was a great story :) I did have my ears done at a doctors office - nothing but trouble.

You really never know, do you?


1:55 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thought of the publicity story in your book today. My first-ever interview as an actress is published in the issue of Back Stage that's out today! It's only a few paragraphs, but there are errors. What I said is misconstrued to sound like I fell into writing after failing as an actor (my achievements as an actress aren't even mentioned, although told), and some facts are wrong. Thinking of your story reminded me that I'm not alone, and I wonder if this happens to everyone who does interviews? Have you experienced it with the book?

I have new empathy for actors, and I shall be very careful as a writer. haha

-Robin R

10:15 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Unrelated to this post - I just finished your book "Notes from the Underwire". I really enjoyed it, however the story about Ursula will stay with me for a very long time.

1:31 PM  
Blogger Kathryn said...

I love the title! Have you been reading Dorothy Sayers?

5:17 AM  
Blogger Dawn Maria said...

Ah the memories. My mother told me I could get my ears pierced at age 10. On my ninth birthday she surprised me and took me to a department store. I was so excited.

I have sons (ages 13 & 16) who would love tattoos. I said they could get them and that I'd pay for them- after they graduate from college. My husband is still upset by this promise, but I'll be happy to keep it and maybe I'll get one myself!

6:40 PM  
Blogger J-Kat said...

I got mine done at 15 in a doctor's office, and I was the first girl in my class, so that tells you I'm pretty old. He deadened my earlobes first, so I didn't feel the actual piercing at all.

Some of my friends did those "self-piercing" earrings, and I don't know why they didn't just hit themselves over the head with a 2 by 4. It would have hurt less.

My son bugged me for years about getting an earring, and when he was 18 he came in and stuck out his tongue. He'd had his tongue pierced. I was stunned and couldn't say anything and all I could think was that my beautiful son had his tongue pierced.

At the time, he was still in high school and we paid most of his car payment and his insurance and he paid us about $100 a month. When the shock wore off, I told him that he was an adult now and could make adult decisions, but with adult decisions come responsibility and his car payment to us had just gone to $200.

He said, you mean you're going to punish me for getting my tongue pierced? I told him no, it wasn't punishment, just responsibility.

After about two weeks, he decided the tongue ring wasn't worth an extra $100 a month.

He's been saying he's going to get tattoos for years, and we've always told him that if he lives with us--no tattoos. He's in the Air Force ROTC now and has found that the AF frowns on tattoos, so he's glad that he didn't.

And I'm happy that he probably won't ever.

3:43 PM  
Blogger Michael said...

You got a new devoted follower. You have a brilliant writing style and a wonderful eye for detail. Lovely story. But I'm not letting my little girl near a tattoo parlour!

4:07 PM  

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