Who: William “Billy” Wood Jr.
What: Body Piercer Extraordinaire
When: 5pm, Tuesday February 14
Where: Rockstar Body Piercing, Thayer Street, Providence
Why: Because piercing my face on Valentine’s Day just felt right this year
Billy came strolling up to me, cane in hand, smile on face. Although he is often in excruciating pain after badly shattering his foot last year, the average customer – myself included – would never know. Billy is happy, upbeat and professional. (He’s also lucky to have a young woman working the front desk who is happy to babysit his cane while he consults with old ladies like me.)
Did I want a lip ring or a nose ring? I wasn’t sure. After talking pros and cons with Billy, I settled on a small, delicate hoop to be placed in my nose. Mouth piercings can irritate the teeth and gums, and kissing is a no-no during the first few weeks after the procedure. Because of this, I thought it best to not cause further damage to my already receding gum tissue and presently defunct love life. Plus with proper care, noses heal relatively easily, or so I’ve been told. A big part of Billy’s job is helping clients make these types of decisions. And he does it with ease.
Choosing my silver-toned hoop was easy. Rockstar carries only implant grade jewelry. (Most of the so-called “surgical grade” pieces carried by less competent shops can cause major irritation.) As Billy prepared the autoclave sterilizer, I snuck a peek at his ears. The sparkling pink jewels plugging up the bulk of his inner ear cartilage sort of made me cringe. They are massive indeed.
“These are called conch piercings,” he told me, as he transferred some gentian violet from an eyedropper into a small paper cup. (This purple topical dye is what piercers use to mark the spot of needle insertion.) My novice eye would guess the plugs to be one-half-inch in diameter… at the least. “These hurt,” Billy says. “I pierced them at this thickness.” I couldn’t even fathom punching nickel size holes through my flesh, but I’d imagine it’s akin to birthing a robust hippopotamus.
Billy was out in California at an advanced Fakir Intensives piercing workshop when he got the conchs done. A master piercer with over 40 years of experience, Fakir Musafar is considered the co-developer of contemporary body piercing techniques. Billy and the other two body piercers at Rockstar (including owner Jef Saunders) train with Fakir to stay on top of their game — they’re also members of the Association of Professional Piercers, a California-based non-profit, which is committed to ensuring that piercing is regulated and safe.
Billy, who is in his seventh year of professional piercing, has seen a lot of awkward moments unfold in his career. Once, an 18-year-old girl came in to get her first piercing. She was a bit nervous but the procedure went well. The appointment was unusual, however, because her entire family – mom, dad, brothers and sisters – all squeezed in the room with her. “I could barely move,” Billy says with a laugh, “but everyone was really happy with the result.”
Do clients ever…
Pass out? “It happens, but not often at all. We keep smelling salts in the room — just in case.”
Do anything weird? ”I once got thrown up on. I hadn’t even brought out any sharp instruments yet — I had only marked the spot with dye. Next thing I knew, I was covered in puke.”
Freak out? ”Not usually. But one time I was about to pierce a girl’s nipple when she instinctively clutched her chest. It was almost a very bad situation. All piercers fear being stuck with a needle.”
Ask you out? “It happens quite a bit, believe it or not. Come to think of it, the girl who vomited on me actually asked me out, too. I said no.”
To read about my experience on Billy’s table, check out the March issue of our magazine, on stands the week of February 27. All the details of what it feels like to become a human pincushion will be revealed as part of our monthly “PM Experiment” column. Until then…