Piercing with Mr. Pineapple

Sarah Orman
8 min readOct 11, 2021
Surrounded by tropical fruit, a voluptuous bunch of purple grapes snuggles up against a standoffish pineapple.

The man who would pierce my daughter’s ears is named Pineapple. He is bald and has thick black lines tattooed in a swirling pattern around his eyes, nose, and mouth. When we first met on Zoom for a virtual consultation, I took advantage of the format to stare at his face tattoos and piercings as we waited for other families to log on. I wondered if he’d intended to overwrite the traditional indicators of identity with his body modifications. To me, his race, gender, and age seemed irrelevant in comparison with the story he’d printed on himself. Maybe he was tropical, spiky, and sweet, like his namesake.

To the little girls of Austin, Mr. Pineapple is a celebrity. All my daughter’s friends know his name and the “homework” he assigns to train them not to touch a fresh piercing: a sharpie dot on each earlobe every morning that must remain intact all day. We would need to perform this ritual for a week before our appointment.

Mr. Pineapple began our meeting by announcing that no one has to get pierced if they don’t want to. If a child says no at any time, Mr. Pineapple will stop. (Wisely, he added that after the needle has been removed from its sterile packaging at the moment when the child gets cold feet, the parents still have to pay for the piercing.)

My daughter did not appear moved by Mr. Pineapple’s introduction to the concept of consent. She was eager to move on the part of the meeting where she could ask what color studs she would get. But I felt stunned by this exotic man’s gift and realized that I was about to cry at an inopportune time in a non-emotional space, something that never used to happen before I turned 40. I commanded the little army of tears behind my eyes to stand down, lest I embarrass my child.

I was 10 when my ears were pierced by a teenager in the mall. The piercing gun was loud and painful. I was not particularly good at hygiene or following instructions; all the Seabreeze in the world couldn’t stop my ears from getting infected. But that didn’t stop me, six years later, from getting my nose pierced in a tattoo parlor, with a gun and a jolt that reverberated through my skull. I couldn’t seem to keep the nose piercing from getting infected either. A small pink welt rose up beside the stud, and I was ashamed to show my face, which was tricky because I’d shaved my head.

At 17, I wanted a tattoo as badly as I’d once longed for a Cabbage Patch Kid doll. I saved up my money and found a tattoo artist who worked in an old house in Central Austin. “We don’t get many girls in here,” he said, as he showed me to a wooden board where I would lie on my right side for two hours as he bent over my left hip with the buzzing needle, drawing circles inside of circles for the large Celtic pattern I had chosen. After that, I got another tattoo on the back of my neck: a Venus symbol to remind anyone standing behind me of my gender. Tattoos were turning out to be like potato chips or kittens — one was simply not enough.

When my parents asked how I would feel about my tattoos when I got older, I said that I would cherish them, like letters from my younger self. Meanwhile, I was taking sexual, emotional and pharmaceutical risks, putting my body and my wellbeing in harm’s way on a regular basis. At the time, I told myself that I was rebelling against the admonishment that I’d heard growing up in the 1980s: instead of “just say no,” my M.O. was “just say yes.” In fact, my consent was not always clear.

I didn’t have the language of consent back then. I knew, or thought I knew, about “sex” and “rape.” Sex could be good or bad, and rape was a crime. But there was a whole other category of sexual experiences that my friends and I had no language for. And then I learned about comedian Amy Schumer’s theory of “grape” or “gray-area rape.” An instance when consent is not clear, and the border between regrettable sex and sexual assault was so close that it may have been either. Or — and this happened a lot — an instance in which someone knew she didn’t mean to consent, but felt weird about using the “R” word to describe what happened.

Grape has its limits. It will not prevent campus sexual assault or deter sexual predators — it does not even purport to do those things. But I needed a word, and grape was small and manageable. Something you can put in a child’s lunchbox and snack on between meals. Something safe to think about, which is necessary for healing to begin. Once I had identified this gray area, I started to realize that I’d been undermining my own sovereignty over my body for years. As Melissa Febos writes, my body had learned to recognize a certain type of situation, typically involving a man, “as one in which complacency was the only option; its own desires or lack thereof instantly became secondary to this instinct.”

At age 18, too restless for college, I moved to the Pacific Northwest and developed a pack-a-day addiction to Marlboro Reds. I didn’t worry too much about my smoking until the Reds, which at first had tasted like Raid, stopped reminding me of roach killer. I decided that piercing my tongue would be the perfect way to quit smoking. The piercing, I figured, would give me something to play with in my mouth whenever I wanted to light up.

It sounds wacky, but it worked.

That was my first piercing with a needle. I enjoyed not feeling like I’d been punched in the head. I was also fascinated by the marine-like healing properties of my tongue, all tucked away in its pink shell like an oyster in a brine of saliva. My mouth went back to feeling normal in a matter of days. Next, I pierced my bellybutton.

That summer, I worked as a barista at a café in Olympia, Washington, next door to a tattoo parlor. It was 1995. The tattoo artists, big burly guys who all looked like roadies for Soundgarden, used to come in for fancy espresso drinks in the afternoons. On June 26, as I handed a nonfat mocha with free whipped cream to my favorite artist, I mentioned that it was my 19th birthday. He invited me to come over for a free tattoo. I demurred. I didn’t have any ideas for a new tattoo; it was the end of my long shift and I did not feel inspired. But he insisted, so I went next door after my shift and selected the tiniest, most innocuous design that I could find. I now have a small cancer symbol tattooed above my right ankle because I didn’t want to be rude.

After our Zoom meeting with Mr. Pineapple, I told my 10-year-old daughter and 12-year-old son this story. I told them how much I appreciate Mr. Pineapple for saying that no one has to get a piercing if they don’t want to. I didn’t tell them about “grape” — they are not quite old enough for the whole fruit basket of my thoughts on this subject. But we are getting close. Someday soon, I will tell them: if we had more Pineapple, maybe there would be less grape.

In my twenties, I grew my hair back and stopped wearing the nose ring. I didn’t give up the bellybutton ring until I was 28 and engaged to a Jewish man. I’d decided to share his religion because I loved him. No one asked me to convert, or pressured me in any way, which is why it felt like such a simple choice. In preparation for the ritual bath known as a mikvah, the culmination of my conversion to Judaism, I was instructed to remove all my jewelry. As I took out the bellybutton ring, it occurred to me that I was removing the last piece of the girl I’d once been.

I keep that ring in a small birch box filled with earring backs, safety pins, and other tiny necessary things, on the nightstand next to the bed where I’ve slept with the same man for twenty years — a man who knows all my scars and still worships my body. It reminds me of a previous version of myself, just like my silly ankle tattoo reminds me that I once altered my body because I didn’t want to say no to a man whose name I can’t remember. I keep these things to remember the story of my body.

My daughter used to beg to get her ears pierced when we saw babies wearing sparkly studs in their ears. I told her that, as a matter of universal law, girls get their ears pierced at the same age as their mothers. I am quite proud of that lie. The truth is, I wasn’t ready for her to get her ears pierced when she was younger. Now that she is 10, she is establishing dominion over herself. She experiments with long fake nails and dramatic rouge and eyeliner on the weekends, when her school dress code doesn’t apply. I worry about her beautiful skin under all that makeup. It is often a struggle. But, I tell myself, I’m not losing control because she makes choices I don’t approve of. I’m losing control because she’s getting older. The question is, when I’m no longer the one who gets to make the important choices for her body, will she remember that she has the power to choose for herself? Will she feel empowered to use her choice?

If tattoos are letters, piercings are postcards: still a message through time, if less of a commitment. My daughter has just begun to write the story of her body. I want to be part of it as long as she will have me. So when I suggested that we could get pierced together, I was thrilled that she enthusiastically said yes.

After our week of sharpie dots, I made an appointment to see Mr. Pineapple. Because of COVID-19, we had to wait for a text in the parking lot before going into the piercing studio. While we sat there, I told the story of my ankle tattoo again, and how no one has to get their ears pierced if they don’t want to. My wiseass offspring rolled her eyes. “You’ve told me that like a hundred times!” When we were invited inside, we watched a little video on piercing aftercare — right up to the section on oral health, which Mr. Pineapple said was “uh, not kid-friendly.” While Mr. Pineapple tallied our jewelry choices and readied his equipment, my daughter, an eager kid again, told him the story of how her mom used to work in a coffee shop next to a tattoo parlor and has a dumb ankle tattoo because she didn’t want to say no. He nodded and said “cool” at appropriate intervals, like an occupied parent to a chatty child.

My daughter went first. I braced myself, but she didn’t even squeeze my hand as hard as she had threatened to. And then I got onto the piercing bed, and Mr. Pineapple stuck a needle through my right nostril, exactly where it used to be pierced. Now, a tiny gold stud hides the tiny scar in my nose from my first piercing. As I stood up, even before I saw my reflection in the mirror, I noticed a little sparkle in my peripheral vision. I’d forgotten what that was like, to see through my younger eyes.

A middle-aged woman and her daughter pose for a selfie in front of Shaman Modifications in North Austin.



Sarah Orman

Writer and editor in Austin, Texas. Follow me on Substack @sarahorman for twice-a-month dispatches about books and writing. More info at sarahormanwrites.com.