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A Piercing Commentary

Postcard from New York

By Michael A. Mohammed

NEW YORK—Remember teenage rebellion? When you were fifteen or sixteen, enjoying the heady days of sophomore year? Remember sneaking in at 2 a.m. on a Saturday night through the glass sliding door in your brother’s room with the nasty smaste (the crusty combination of smell and taste) of vomit in your sinuses, stumbling drunkenly through the hallway, tripping over the dog and falling asleep lying on your back with your head lolling off the corner of the bed?

Err...well, I sure don’t.

Yes, I missed out completely on the right of every growing child: pissing off my parents. So last week, at the still-teenage age of nineteen, I cut out of work a bit early, went to an East Village tattoo parlor, and had a little “work” done.

With a friend of mine accompanying to give me moral support and a reason not to wet myself, I daresay I took it like a man.

Then I called my dad and told him I got a tattoo, a “tribal band” around my upper right arm, exactly the kind of thing he really, really hates. He told me I was dead when I got home and hung up.

What I really got was a piercing—a shiny steel ring through my right eyebrow—but I figured I’d rather my dad be relieved than horrified.

I arrived home without incident. My mom, shockingly, had no opinion on it. My brother told me he wouldn’t be asking me to drive him and his friends anywhere anytime soon (fine with me) and my dad just laughed. My dog sniffed it a couple of times, and then licked it, and after I returned from scrubbing it for about ten minutes he treated me just the same. My friends mostly liked it. My cat treated me as she always does: with snooty derision, annoyance and scratching.

My one real concern, then, was showing up at work with it. As luck would have it, my first pierced morning was the day of the weekly all-reporters’ meeting at the New York Observer, where I’m a summer intern. Peter Kaplan, head honcho of the paper, started the meeting by double-taking at me and asking, “Did you do that on our watch?”

“He did it last night,” said an editor dryly, as if I were a naughty puppy. Then Kaplan locked onto my pseudo-savior—the paper’s real-estate writer, named Blair. Blair was wearing a purple Mardi Gras necklace.

“Are you wearing a necklace? What the hell is going on around here?” Then the meeting went on without incident, except when Blair gave me a thumbs-up and surreptitiously waggled his tongue at me. Kaplan was only mildly amused.

After the meeting my co-workers wanted to know why I did it. And since the piercing I’ve been asking myself the same thing. So far I’ve come up with three possible responses.

The first is the typical sullen-teenager response, as satisfying as punching someone in the gut—that “I just felt like it, okay?”

But anyone who’s ever used this line as an explanation for anything knows the truth: you never do something just because you feel like it.

The second is that I “wanted to see what people’s reactions to it would be.” This is the one I was telling myself when I sat down in the chair in front of a hostile woman with forceps, a German accent and a long, hollow needle. But as soon as I looked at myself in the mirror post-piercing I knew it couldn’t have been for the reactions. The last thing I ever want to deal with is the slings and arrows of others—although I admit I do like seeing little wrinkled old women get up and pick another seat on the train when I sit down near them.

The third explanation is that I wanted to do something rebellious and mildly crazy, would be easily reversible and not get me arrested. I suppose I could have tried an exotic new drug (too risky), gone skydiving (too expensive), or dropped out of Harvard (too Bill Gates/Rivers Cuomo/Matt Damon), but this was just the right balance of cheapness, safety and counter-cultural-ness for me.

Or, maybe I thought, somewhere deep down, that it would help me pick up chicks.

Michael A. Mohammed ’06, a Crimson editor, is a psychology concentrator in Eliot House. He’s thinking about switching to a barbell come fall, but that all depends on the ladies’ reaction to the ring.

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