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Joe's Neighborhood

Wearing purple


An old man getting an earring wasn’t cool 25 years ago.

Sonya Rumbly smiles. A wide friendly smile. One that puts me at ease even though I’m surrounded by narrow walls of pink and glitter. Pink-and-glitter purses, pink-and-glitter backpacks, pick-and-glitter necklaces. Claire’s in Merle Hay Mall must be a paradise for 13-year-olds. And me.

“I’ll be with you in a minute,” Sonya says.

I look around, but I seem to be the only 65 year old waiting in line.

In the tall chair out front is a mom wrestling with her baby girl as they prepare the little tyke for ear piercings. Sonya works hard to make the mom and baby comfortable. She explains all the procedures to the mom. She marks the ears of the baby. She plays with the baby. She wins the baby’s confidence. Comforting words and more comforting words and more comforting words. And then… poke.

Bloodcurdling screams.

Prep Iowa

I decide to flee the store.

Sure, this is just a baby getting pierced ears, someone 64 years younger than me, but babies don’t lie. Unfortunately, the mom is blocking the only exit with her baby stroller.


How did this happen?

It’s a fairly simple explanation. I have decided to become a cliché in old age.
Yeah, I know, clichés are bad. Clichés are cheap and easy and readily available. Clichés are doing the crazy no-carbs diet while waiting in line at Krispy Kreme Doughnuts. I’m all right with that.

Let’s face it, getting old is a cliché. Same old knee complaints and same old hip complaints and same old frequent bathroom stops. And let’s not forget that little invisibility issue that plagues older people, if you ever happen to see one.

Growing old. Cliché.

So why not embrace the cliché of it all by getting an earring.

“How can I help you?” Sonya says in a kind, gentle tone.

“I’d like to get one ear pierced.” My voice cracks as I say this.

She just smiles a comforting smile. “Wonderful.”

“Wonderful” as in this-guy-is-really-crazy-and-I’m-calling-security type wonderful or wonderful wonderful? I plunge ahead fairly certain she thinks I’m crazy.

“Listen, I’m getting an earring to remind to me to always choose purple,” I blurt out.

“Wearing purple” comes from the 1961 poem by Jenny Joseph that begins:

“When I am an old woman I shall wear purple,

With a red hat that doesn’t go, and doesn’t suit me.

I shall sit down on the pavement when I’m tired,

And gobble up samples in shops and press alarm bells.”

Sonya nods at hearing my rationale, much like she nodded when trying to comfort the baby girl. She’s just hoping I’ll sit still during the procedure and not wet my pants.

Fortunately, I still have enough of a filter to not mention my second reason for getting an earring — to become a pirate.

“Why don’t you get up in the chair,” she says in that soothing tone.

I do.

Is she a mesmerist?

The chair, although just outside the door, seems to sit nearly in the middle of Merle Hay Mall. As I sit down, I realize I look like a seal at the Blank Park Zoo, sitting on the big rocks, clapping and barking.

And people do look, by the way. A mall security guard comes over.

“Is this your first piercing?” She barely contains her smile.

Why would she smile? I’m a dangerous, virile, ominous man who should not be messed with. Particularly when I’m sitting in a high chair outside a room full of pink backpacks and glitter purses.

Sonya runs me through the ropes and then asks if I want a countdown before she pokes.

Really? I’d like a shred of manhood before you poke. Can’t you just make the hole with a .45 Colt Revolver? Or maybe you have a killer shark back there that can latch on to my ear while I eyeball it to death.

She pokes…

Wives are funny. Over hundreds of miles and in a different time zone, they can tell when you’re being foolish. At this very moment, my wife FaceTimes me from Denver.

“What are you doing?” she says.

“Well, you’re not going to quite believe what I’m doing.” I say this trying to stifle the tears.

“Where are you? What’s all that pink and glitter?”

“I’m getting an earring…”

I see the surprised look on my wife’s face, and then she bends over. With uncontrolled laughter. The phone disconnects.

I love my wife. She supports me 100 percent. When I showed up at our wedding 38 years ago in my dad’s two-tone shoes and his too-large grey suit, she knew I was a catch.

After a bit, she FaceTimes back, still grinning. She explains she had to run and tell my son and daughter-in-law, who can’t come to the phone because they are also laughing.

I show her the earring.

She shakes her head with a smile, “You know, an old man getting an earring wasn’t even that cool 25 years ago.”

Let me help you with a translation of that observation: “Joe, you are so amazing!”

So, here I am, wearing purple.

Oh, yeah, and don’t forget that other reason for getting an earring. “Ahoy me, hearties.”

Which reminds me, Sonya, does Claire’s carry eyepatches? ♦

Joe Weeg spent 31 years bumping around this town as a prosecutor for the Polk County Attorney’s Office. Now retired, he writes about the frequently overlooked people, places and events in Des Moines on his blog:

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