Back to 1997. I'm living in a small town in rural Pennsylvania. I'm way out of place, but the hippies have befriended me. I'm like a freakshow that tells good stories and likes to complain about the liquor laws. I am missing California like you would not believe. Then, the ring my friend Katie gave me broke. I broke. I decided a tattoo would have to suffice and went to the shitty biker tattoo shop with a broken ring and $200. I lucked out. The tattoo took three hours, but the guy was good. Really good. It was by far my best tattoo at the time.
I'm there with a hippie chick and probably someone else, but I only remember the chick because she got her tongue pierced, too. So, three hours in the chair and my nerves are scraped and electric and I'm happy. Tattoo dude tells us he's getting into piercing and will do both our tongues for free including jewelry because he's learning. Well, what the fuck, eh? What the fuck.
So, we both say that we're in. She goes first and it's fucking brutal to watch. When the clamp is put on her tongue, she starts sweating. When the needle goes through, her body goes rigid like she's been fucking electrocuted. Awesome. I don't care too much because I'm drunk and high and spun off tattoo pain. Still, Jesus. Foreshadow much?
So, he sits my scrawny ass in a chair and pulls out the clamp. The clamp looks a lot like barbecue tongs. Dude is shaved head and lots of ink and probably tastes like Meth is you lick his face. I don't know for sure. Neither of us licked his face. Not that I remember. Anyway, this dude clamps my tongue and pulls it tight. He takes the needle and SHOVES it right through the middle of the clamp. My body goes electric and my eyes are tearing up. Dude puts the barbell in and starts to screw the ball on the bottom and drops the ball. Literally.
As he realizes that he dropped the ball, he lets go of the barbell and it shoots up out of my tongue. No Bueno. Blood is pouring down my chin and chest, and he's asking me why the blood is so thin and I'm thinking, yo, my blood is like half vodka. It is what it is. He's apologizing and offering to do it again and it's so socially awkward I can't think of how to say no. He picks a spot a little farther up and shoves the needle through again. Puts the barbell through. Starts to screw it and DROPS THE MOTHERFUCKING BALL AGAIN! Barbell pops out. For the first time in my life I contemplate killing someone other than myself.
More blood. What. The. Fuck.
Guy is clearly geeking out now and my tongue is straight fire. He pulls it out to look at it and instantly assures me that he won't have to pierce my tongue again because he can, "see the hole this time" so he'll just use the spacer. Dumbass me doesn't realize that the spacer is just a blunt needle that will hurt just as bad. I let him violate my tongue a third and final time. This time the barbell works and I am officially tongue pierced. Out into the cold evening, I follow a chain of cigarettes home. Gargle with Listerine. Sleep
The tattoo dude told us eating would be rough for a day or two. Listerine. No worries. I'm checking in with the hippie chick and we're both complaining about the pain and not eating. Solidarity. Tongue is jacked, but I expected that. All is well in the cosmos until the third day when I see hippie chick eating onion rings. Crunchy as all hell. I can barely take sips of water. Suddenly I realize that I'm really fucking hot, and I realize something is wrong. Hippie chick munches on.
So, I go back home and drink a few stiff drinks and then take a handful of Advil and a handful of Unisom because that's how I dealt with my problems in those days. Sleep will fix it; I just have to knock myself the fuck out for long enough that sleep can work its magic. I smoke a cigarette and lay down.
(You've been very patient; here is where the story gets good.)
When I wake up it's probably about three in the morning. I sit bolt upright in bed and everything comes into crystal focus because I CANNOT BREATHE. My perennially stuffed up nose is barely pulling air and I can't take a breath through my mouth. Holy shit. I run down the hall and into the bathroom. The bright lights are a goddamn assault. My heart is pounding and my vision is getting fuzzy at the edges; I look into the mirror and my tongue is so swollen that my jaw is maxed out. It's like I've got a tennis ball in my mouth. I try to pull my tongue out, but the barbell is nowhere to be seen because the swelling has expanded beyond the barbell. Swallowed it. Now, I'm starting to panic, the light is too bright. I'm gonna die in the fucking bathroom.
My mouth is a mess of spit and blood, and I can't get a hold on it. Struggling, I finally manage to twist my tongue enough that I can see metal, but I can't get a grip. Blood EXPLODES all over the mirror when I squeeze, but I cannot get a grip and my fingers are slippery and I'm starting to see sparklers and now it is pretty evident that I am going to fucking die in the bathroom in the middle of the night because I'm a fucking idiot. And it already looks like a murder scene.
As my head starts to nod, I realize that I have one more chance. I dry my hands on my boxers as best I can, wrench my tongue out of my mouth, and squeeze. The balls pop out. I squeeze them harder than I have ever squeezed anything in my entire life and, finally, one turns. I keep turning until the pressure from the swelling meets the last thread of the barbell and my body EJECTS the barbell along with another splash of nice, thin blood. I grab the sink and sink to the floor, gasping. Bleeding. NOT laughing. Not even smiling. I make it back to the bed and pass out for another 7 hours, covered in blood. My roommates ask me no questions.
The next day, I called the tattoo parlor and I don't remember a thing I said. My tongue was back to normal size. I know I was super pissed. I might have told him I'd come down there. I don't know. Something stupid. He was just another jackass like me. A sorry jackass. And then:
"Man, I really am sorry. Tell you what. Come on back down here in a few days and I'll do it again."