The Piercing Pagoda

When word spread that I was an expert ear-piercer, girls lined up, needles were stuck and parents were pissed

A woman I knew slightly–a friend of a friend in high school in the '70s–recently Facebook messaged me to say that I had pierced her ears when we were 13. You're welcome, I thought.

"No memory," I wrote back. Then I responded again, with my usual Jersey sarcasm: "I hope you asked me to!"

I mean, I hoped I didn't just chase her down and stick her ear lobes with a pin while she screamed for her mommy. It could've gone down that way, after all it was the late Sixties, ear-piercing was all the rage and I was running amok those days.

At first, I really was blank on the whole incident, but if you sit quietly for a spell, cut out the noise and squint your eyes, memories—no matter how old—will flood back in and come into focus. And boy, did they!

Let me back up here and fill in some of the history of the ear-piercing phenomenon that was rather avant-garde during the late sixties. The only people who had pierced ears before the Summer of Love were immigrants, foreigners and their kids; or to quote my father, "Gypsies!" But after 1967, earrings were the fashion thing amongst teenage girls, particularly ones that dangled (the earrings, not the girls).

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I was 13 or so when I asked my parents if I could get my ears pierced, and they didn't even bother to look up from the Philadelphia Inquirer to dignify the outlandish request with a response. But I was no quitter and within a day, I was up at my wild friend Lorraine's house (one of the first to have her ears pierced) and we decided to dismantle a cheap pair of fake silver earrings from Woolworths. We glued two peace signs to my ear lobes with Elmer's to simulate pierced ears. My plan was to go home sit at the dinner table and, if my parents freaked out, I could rip them off and laugh. "Ha-ha! The joke's on you!" I'd say. "I would never desecrate my body like that!!! What am I, a gypsy?"

Instead, I sat at the dinner table and no one said "Boo." In fact, they barely looked up from their meat. The times they were definitely a-changing, and I guess my parents had made peace with the movement.

A few months later, I flew to Dallas to visit my cousin Kathy, with whom I'd already made the great piercing pact of 1968. We had pledged over the phone that we'd be piercing each other's ears in her bedroom behind closed doors.

It was a pretty simple operation, really. You merely needed ice, a pack of matches and a needle. We decided to do her first; I'd pierce hers and then she'd pierce mine. That was the deal.

We locked her bedroom door to keep out anti-piercing dissenters. We used a black marker to mark the spot, dead center of her lobes, checking them a hundred times in her bathroom mirror to make sure we were exactly on target. We iced her up to get her numb, lit the match to sterilize the needle and then I shoved it in, quickly and mercilessly.

After the first hole was drilled, I quickly took a 24-karat gold stud that we'd bought at the mall that day and pushed it through. Anything cheaper in the karat world, you risked infection. We cleaned it with alcohol and I swiftly moved onto the second lobe. Kathy was pierced before she could wince in pain, I was practically an ear surgeon; my hands were steady, my confidence was already legendary.

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But then it was my turn to get pierced—ears marked, iced and ready to be lanced—when my younger cousin Kathy started shaking and shrieking that she couldn't do it. I assured her it would be fine, that she could handle it, but Kathy wasn't having it. She started running around in circles the way only a teenage girl can, hyperventilating.

"I can't! I can't. I'm sorry!" she said.

I sat for a moment, wondering what I would do; not having pierced ears wasn't an option. Then suddenly without thought or care, I grabbed the needle out of her hands and shoved it into my own flesh. Before thinking, I did the second as well. I put my studs in, cleaned them and that was that.

Word spread quickly that Debbie Kasper was tough and an expert ear-piercer. Girls lined up, needles were stuck and parents were pissed. I apparently pierced ears like I was a Piercing Pagoda (those mall kiosks that ruled through the early Seventies, sold earrings and charged big bucks to pierce ears).

I'd come to your house, you'd come to mine, I'd even pierce your ears in the girl's room at school between classes. I think I may have even bullied a few reluctant girls into it, dangling my ever-ready needle towards them. I couldn't stop. I'd walk the halls of school admiring my work, checking for infections. One infection could destroy my reputation. Girls would wave their ear lobes towards me in the auditorium and cafeteria, just their way of saying, "Thank you! All is well, Dr. K!"

"You pierced my ears, too!" someone wrote the next day on Facebook.

And I'm proud to say, I have a very clean record—no lawsuits, no infections—just lots and lots of happy clients.

Although, sadly, I am not one of them. My own self-inflicted holes aren't particularly even, and lately one of them has closed because I haven't worn earrings in a long time. I've tried to finesse a post through, but it's not working.

So I think it's time to pull out my little sterilizer kit again. The Piercing Pagoda is back in business!