Panama Jackson and his problematic earrings (courtesy of Panama Jackson)

Bad Boys II is a very good bad movie. Lots of shit blows up and Will Smith wears a fun shade of purple for a meeting to tell Gabrielle Union to fall back. Either way, this movie is forever seared into my memory for one super-memorable scene: Johnny Tapia is trying to move millions of dollars to Cuba and has it stashed away in his house in the attic, and rats start eating his money. He tells his cousin Carlos (whom he eventually kills) that the rats are eating his money before he can get it out of the country and says, poignantly, about the rats eating the money, “Carlos, this is a stupid problem; BUT, it is a problem.” That’s how I feel about the story I’m about to share.

About six months ago, in August, and a month after I left my very good government job, I got my ears pierced. It was something I’d always wanted to do, and I had always used the excuse of my very professional job to get around the fact that I do not like pain and that I was, at the very least, a little bit afraid that getting my ears pierced would hurt.

But I put on my big-boy boxers and went to a tattoo parlor in New York City and got my ears pierced. It didn’t hurt much, if at all, and I was happy and excited and thought I’d immediately feel cooler. It turns out that I didn’t feel one bit cooler. It was the same after I got my first tattoo. But now I’m tatted up (I have two, with a sleeve to come) and my ears are pierced to the gawds.

Now, anybody who has gotten their ears pierced knows that you have to keep the starter studs or whatever you want to call them in your ears for several weeks—I can’t remember how long—after piercing. And you have to twist the earrings to make sure that your ears don’t get infected or the earrings don’t fuse to your ears or something. You also have to keep them clean with various juices and berries and sea salts and shit. It’s a thing. Anyway, I did everything I was supposed to do because the last thing I need is problems oblivious 18-year-olds have. Who am I kidding? ... Oblivious 12-year-olds.

So I did what I was supposed to, and I have to admit my ear-cleaning game has been stellar. I twisted, I cleaned, I was supposed to stop, but I can’t (or couldn’t, which is not true). I even bought me some new studs to put in my ear once my time was up. I got me some ultrablack round studs so I can look, in my head, how I’d look when my ears were pierced.

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After my time was up, I got myself prepared to take my studs out, happily, I might add. And then it happened. My damn screw-back earrings wouldn’t unscrew. Like, I couldn’t get them off. I put my back into it and everything but could not remove the damn earring backs to save my life. This was back in October. I know it was October because I bought the new black studs for a trip I was taking to New Orleans. But I figured, “Hey, I’m going to New Orleans, maybe I’ll get another tattoo down there”—I did—“and they’ll be able to remove these godforsaken earrings at a tattoo parlor.”

But they couldn’t. For some reason, no matter where I’ve gone, piercers are never present OR for some reason can’t take the damn earrings off. I’ve been running around for the past roughly six months with earrings in my ear that I want to take out but can’t. I’ve dipped my ear in peroxide thinking that might erode or loosen up whatever has them stuck. I poured the amazingly effective WD-40 onto my earrings and nothing. I can’t get the damn things out. I even tried Vaseline and vegetable oil. This, my friends, is a stupid problem. I know this, BUT, it is a problem.

I’ve been trying to get these damn earrings out for months, and yet and still, I’m still walking around with my starter earrings. I’d be lying if I said I didn’t feel slightly embarrassed by this. Even when I go into tattoo parlors and ask, I always do it in hushed tones hoping to evade judgment. Why? Because I am a 38-year-old man who has earrings in his ears that he cannot remove because I decided at 38 years old to get my ears pierced.

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I know that one day I’ll get the earrings out and this whole escapade will feel stupid and small. But right now, I’m a grown-up who can’t get his earrings off.

This is a stupid problem, BUT, it is still a problem.