Within weeks of entering Bowdoin as an un-pierced and relatively sheltered first year, I headed over to Vibes with my roommates to get pierced.  At first, I was apprehensive, but any preconceived notions I had about piercers and tattoo artists were immediately reversed when I met Vibes’ chief piercer Nick Holes.

His name is kind of punk, and Holes won’t deny that at times he’s had the looks to go with it—acid green dreadlocks and a gauged septum.  He combines this tough aesthetic with a well-spoken and upbeat demeanor, a far cry from the bastion of counterculture and angst I had been anticipating.  He says he’s very into “New Wave hippie stuff” and has a lot of tattoos that feature sacred geometry, like the blue Merkaba on his forearm. 

For Holes, tattoos and piercings are transformative events, and each holds its own significance. The big hole in his septum has a particularly meaningful story behind it.

“There was a book I read when I was younger called ‘Nothing in This Book is True, But It’s Exactly How Things Are’ by Bob Frissell, and one of the things he brought up in this book is that we never learned how to breathe. You’re brought into this world, you’re smacked on the ass and you find out you need to breathe,” he said.

“Getting my septum, to me, was a relearning of how to breathe—not just breathing as a sense of ‘I need to do this to live’ but breathing as a sense of ‘I need to take in what I need and expel what I don’t.”

He incorporates this meditative philosophy into his relationships with clients.  When people get nervous about needles, he knows how to put them at ease.

“You calm the person down with how you’re talking,” he said. “When you pierce them, something as simple as when they’re breathing in or when they’re breathing out makes a huge difference in how it feels. When you’re breathing in, you’re tense. Your body is winding up. When you’re breathing out, your body is relaxing. I always pierce on an out breath.”

Although Holes wasn’t born a Mainer, he has lived in Brunswick for three years. Originally from Long Island, New York, Holes moved to Maine to find a lifestyle that fit him. He wanted a slower pace—less traffic.

“I wanted to learn how to hunt, live off the land and everything like that,” he said.

Indeed, Holes has enjoyed learning to hunt since moving from New York. During deer season, he can go hunting mornings before his shift starts at noon.

When he is not hunting, though, he enjoys the slower pace of his life and work in Brunswick.

“You don’t get the feeling here like you do at other shops I’ve worked at, where you have to get this person out the door.  It’s much more laid-back, much more relaxed.”

During the three years he’s been here, Holes has noticed that piercings have become a lot more acceptable. 

“We have everything ranging from kids straight up to professionals coming in here,” he said. 

He appreciates this cultural shift—the fact that something so important to him is becoming more mainstream.

“When I was younger, in my twenties, I had dreadlocks. I had a big septum ring,” he said. “I had a woman ask me what my parents thought of it. I said, ‘My parents don’t care—I’m paying my own bills. I’m making my way through college. They don’t care.’ She said, ‘Well, if I was your parents, I would kill myself.’ You don’t really see that sentiment anymore.”

“Tattoos and piercings were always a rite of passage—this is what I’m going to do to say that I’m an adult and ready to enter the world,” Holes said. His favorite kind of experience with a client is when there is a transformative aspect, when he can provide people with the same kind of transcendence that he felt upon getting his septum gauge or even moving to Maine.

“We had an 18-year-old here getting a Monroe piercing, and she feels like that was what was missing,” said Holes. “That was what she needed.”