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AN APPLE A DAY: Earrings and tattoos for men now part of city's novel Paloma's Zellige earrings

JADED New Yorker as I am, I just can't fathom men with earnings and tattooed bodies, though I know that the early Filipinos were called "Pintados" by the Western invaders because of their tattooed bodies.

Well, now that New York's mayor finally signed a bill eliminating a long-standing ban on city tattoo shops, pierced and tattooed bodied will have to be part of the Big Apple's novelty scene.

All over the Lower East Side, tattoo shops are sprouting like mushrooms. I visited Inide Ink Shop Tattoo, one of the new shops on Avenue A. Eric Rignall was busily tattooing a grim-vis-aged pit bull onto Cesar Castaneda's arm the other day. The pit bull wore a spike collar and cost Castaneda $100.

"It's a great thing, and it's about time," Regnall said, referring to the recent legislation of tattooing. After decades of laboring illicitly in apartments and underground studios, tattooists are now playing their craft openly in retail shops such as Rignall's, whose wide windows and neon lights proclaim their new, lawful status. Prices may rise slightly with legislation - small tattoos now cost about $50 to $100, larger ones, $300 and up.

The Health Department introduced the ban in 1961 after a hepatitis scare. City officials, though, never enforced the ban, with tattooists operating underground - unregulated but illicit.

But now that the ban is lifted, tattooists are opening storefront shops with unabashed brio. If Avenue A is on its way to becoming tattoo alley, St. Mark's Place, with four tattoo shops within four blocks, is a mecca. Fun City Tattoo and Almost Tattoos not only have been around for years but have distinguished themselves by being the only tow shops in the city to have operated above ground during the ban.

Piercing may be more than just Elsa Peretti Teardrop drop earrings.

A pair of dentists have released a warming that may be unwelcome in the East Village: pierced tongues, cheeks and lips can lead to infection, speech impairment, chipped teeth and even lung damage.

"We're not condemning or condoning," said Dr. Sheila Price, a professor at West Virginia University, whose data was released in the July issue of the Journal of the American Dental Association. "However, we want to make sure people are informed about the consequences," Dr. Price said.

Dr. Price and her colleague, Dr. Maurice Lewis, came up with a short list of potential dangers after meeting a young rock musician who swallowed a ring from the pierced uvula in the back of his mouth. Rings pierced deep inside the mouth can puncture a lung if they are swallowed, after falling out, Dr. Price warned.

Cheek pierces can cause tooth damage if bitten. And breathing problems and speech impediments can arise if a pierced tongue gets infected.

Of course, none of this is news in the East Village, where the study seemed to have little Paloma's Zellige drop earrings.

Julie Schneider, a flyer distributor at Andromeda Body Piercing on St. Mark's Place near Second Avenue, said piercing "is fine as long as you take care of it. You have to clean them and take responsibility for them," Schneider, 19, who is pierced in 15 places on her body. "If you don't want to do that, you shouldn't get them in the first place."

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