Most East Texas State University students know Derek Burford. Maybe not by name, but at least by sight. At the very least, students know him as the Kool-Bus driver.
"I'm the 6-foot-5 guy with the dred locks and piercings that drives the school bus with the skull on it," Burford said.
This sophomore's major is art, or as he prefers to call it, "indefinable art." To Burford, everything is art. He is not bound by tradition. His art forms include body piercing, tattooing, spray paint graffiti, jewelry making and sanctioned media as well.
"I was in honors classes throughout high school, even though they tried to keep me out of them because they didn't like the way I looked," Burford said.
The first day Burford arrived at ETSU he was chased by someone in a pickup truck.
"Most people are prejudice against me," Burford said. "I think--even though people won't admit it--it's somewhat socially acceptable to be prejudice toward somebody."
Burford understands the prejudice and occasional fear of him by those who do not know him. Regardless, his appearance continues to change with his interests.
"I'm sporting a few new body piercings, some new tattoos, dred locks and Kool-Aid colored hair," he said.
Burford has 10 piercings and has done more than 50 piercings for other people. Including one done as a demonstration for a speech class.
"It caught my interest and I thought it was pretty cool. (Then), it was different. At least, it wasn't mainstream, like it is now.
Although body piercing is now a fad, Burford said he started in seventh grade when he pierced his own ear.
"My first one was really funny, because I did it. I was so scared my mom would just kick my ass," Burford said.
She just laughed at him.
"She knew something was up with the Band-Aid. My mom's not an idiot. I played her for one, but I was completely wrong," Burford said.
"My mom made me promise that I would never get my nose pierced. And, at that point in time, I never thought that I would want to..."
"I pierced my nose. My mom freaked out--made me take it out."
Despite criticism, Burford said piercings are addictive.
"Once you have one ... and it looks good you're like, 'that's stylin.' Let's try another one.' It kind of grows. You want more exotic, more in-your-face ones," he said.
Some of the less obvious locations for body jewelry are: the scrotum, penis, anus or labia (either minora or majora). Generally, anywhere the skin can be pinched together, can be pierced.
However, there are some precautions. Piercings cannot go through body parts, such as bones or limbs. Also the body may not accept the jewelry or an infection my develop.
"The piercing itself may not take. That part of your body may not want to be pierced, and will reject the jewelry. Mayor infection, heavy scar tissue protruding from the body, (or) your body actually pushing the jewelry from the inside out of the skin (may occur)," he said.
Other problems can develop.
"You could pierce something that wasn't meant to be pierced. There was a guy who pierced his testicles. He got gangrene and had to have his testicles removed. There's things that can go wrong."
The downside of body piercing is often avoided by being cautious in selection of the piercing salon. Burford suggests getting information on several parlors and then visiting each. It is important that the customer feels comfortable with the piercing environment.
Some places are open and smoke-filled with black lights and no privacy.
"That's scary for a lot of people ... and it's not a cool thing for them. I can understand that," Burford said. "You got to be scared when you go in because you are going to get a needle stuck through your body."
Burford takes a different approach to piercing.
"I try to make the piercee feel comfortable," Burford said. "I use sterile needles. I throw them away (after use). I use surgical latex gloves--new ones for every piercing to ensure sterility. I sterilize all my instruments, my forceps, my clamps. I use everything in disposable containers and throw everything out so nothing gets contaminated throughout the entire process."
Sterility in his work with blood is important to Burford because one of his nightmares is contracting AIDS.
Another nightmare of the Kool-Bus driver is not so common.
"Being chased by rednecks with hedge clippers coming to cut off all my hair and making me look like one of them," he said.