A Real Tough Cookie

It was when the straight girls started wrestling over a paddle that I realized I’d lost control of the situation.

The evening itself had been hectic as hell. Maybe it was just everyone trying to adjust to Daylight Saving, but my customers were surlier and more demanding than usual, and I endured the following interaction about once every thirty minutes:

Customer: “Do you carry [insert random product here]?”

Me: “I’m sorry, we don’t.”

Customer: “Why not?!

In some cases, I was able to give them a satisfactory answer. We don’t stock up on rubber apparel, because there isn’t a demand for it; we don’t offer a particular lube, because we can’t find a supplier with reasonable wholesale costs; we don’t carry that thing you want, because it doesn’t actually exist. And for the most part, the customers simmered down when given this information. That is, until a couple of spirited straight girls cavorted into the shop and proceeded to lose their minds.

Straight Girl 1: “Oh my God, I love this store! This is a store for doms.”

Me: [nodding and smiling]

Straight Girl 1: “I’m a dom.”

Me: “Ah.”

Straight Girl 1: “I love being a dom. Do you carry deGiotto rope?”

Me: “I’m afraid we don’t.”

Straight Girl 1: “Why not?!

Me: [focusing on my breathing] “It’s… something we’re looking into.”

Straight Girl 1: “Oh, good. I love this place. I’m a dom, so I get really excited in a store like this.”

Me: “Clearly.”

Straight Girl 1: “Yeah, I’m such a dom. I hope I get to spank someone tonight.”

And this is where I should’ve just let her ramble on about how much of a dom she was. But my last nerve had been thoroughly worked, I was feeling territorial, and, goddamnit, I wanted to one-up her.

Me: “I’ve already spanked someone tonight.”

Straight Girl 1: *gasp* “Oh my God, really?!

I really had, although it wasn’t a scene or anything. I’d shown a friend of mine an aluminum paddle I’d recently purchased, and he was all, “Cool, let’s try it out.” So we did. But the girl in front of me didn’t need to know how academic the whole thing had been. I reached into the bag I keep under the counter and pulled out the paddle, and she cooed over it enthusiastically, then asked if she could use it on me.

I honestly should’ve said no, but I second-guessed myself. I can get so wrapped up in rampant heterophobia, that I automatically assume any straight person in the store is there specifically to appropriate my culture, and that makes me punchy. But maybe she really was a dom; maybe it really wasn’t that honking big of a deal that she was running around a gay leather bar; maybe I was the one who needed to simmer down for a change.

I’m normally not much of a spanking bottom (no pun intended), but I have a background in performance and a surprisingly high pain threshold, so I can play the part, no problem. I handed her the paddle and bent over the counter, figuring she would give me several light swats as a warm-up, then gradually increase the intensity.

Instead, she beat the crap out of me. And not in a good way.

As I’ve said before, spanking has a lot in common with tennis: You’ve got to hold the paddle like you’re shaking hands with it, aim intentionally, strike firmly, and follow through with your swing. This chick, on the other hand, gripped it like a hammer and swung wildly, nailing me in the tailbone with the paddle’s edge before trying again and smacking me in the hip.

And then she was all, “Oops, sorry, I’m kinda drunk,” and this is when I should have dommed it up myself and taken the paddle away from her, because it is not okay to engage in BDSM when you’re intoxicated, much less participate in an activity that could result in bodily harm if you’re impaired and/or don’t know what the fuck you’re doing. But before I could do so, Straight Girl 2 yelled, “My turn!” and lunged at her.

Straight Girl 2 was dressed thoughtfully but ineffectively against the night’s chilly weather. In her summery, floral-print slip dress and wedges, and surrounded by racks of bondage gear, she looked… okay, I don’t know how else to describe it… she looked like a character in an Eli Roth movie. Like, I could totally picture her happily vacationing in a quaint European village, and an hour later stumbling blindly through an underground warehouse, screaming and missing an arm. In any event, she made a grab for the paddle and tried to yank it from Straight Girl 1, who wasn’t ready to abnegate and fought back. And this is when I decided I was no longer having it, cleared my throat, and spoke in the voice I haven’t had to use since I was a middle manager giving verbal warnings to insubordinate, Millennial employees.

Me: “WHO DOES THE PADDLE BELONG TO?”

Straight Girl 2: [freezing in place] “Um… you?”

Me: “SO WHO IS THE ONLY ONE WHO HAS ANY SAY IN WHO GETS TO USE IT?”

Straight Girl 2: “Um… you.”

Me: “CORRECT.”

And I put the paddle away.

They poked around the store for a little while after that, with Straight Girl 2 much subdued, but Straight Girl 1 still needing to really make clear her dom identity. So when a third straight girl wandered in with her boyfriend, Straight Girl 1 leapt at the chance to share her affectation.

Straight Girl 1: “This is a such great place for doms!”

Straight Girl 3: “… Yes. I know. I’m a professional dominatrix.”

Leaving Straight Girl 1 stammering behind them, Straight Girl 3 and her partner browsed for a bit, then left without making a purchase. But you know what? If they’d so much as glanced at a paddle, I would’ve zeroed it out of the inventory and given it to them free of charge, as a heartfelt way to say thank you for the Deus Ex Machina.

An Open Letter to the Guy Who Came into the Store and Told Me He’s Going to “Revitalize” the Leather Community

Dear Guy,

First off, let me just say how much I admire your ambition. You’ve got pluck and moxie, and you are going to go far in this world. In fact, the further you go away from me, the better! Ha ha!

Seriously, though, you’re kind of a jerk, and here’s why: When people announce that they’re going to “revitalize” or “unify” a given subcultural community, what they really mean is that they want to be in charge of it. And I say this, because over the past couple of years I’ve met at least three other High Cow Messiahs who were going to “bring the community together” under their personal, benevolent dictatorship, regardless of whether the members of said community wanted or needed it. (Spoiler: We didn’t and don’t.)

I tried telling you about some of the nationally-recognized leather events in the Houston area that attract attendees from across the country (GLUE, LUEY, Spring Iniquity, etc.), but you were dismissive of all of them. “Nobody goes out anymore,” you said. “I want to change that.” Thing is, the most effective way for you to encourage people to go out would be to get involved in one of the events listed above, and use your drive as momentum for the function’s continued, exponential success. But I don’t think that’s going to fly with you. After all, every one of these wingdings has a captain firmly situated at the helm, and I suspect taking direction from higher-ups isn’t really your strong suit.

I’m sorry you find the Houston leather scene so lacking when compared to those of Dallas and Washington, D.C., but you’d probably be less aggravated about it if you, y’know, didn’t compare them. I’m not sure why you think Houston fails to “present a united front” like Dallas apparently does, unless by “present a united front,” you meant “hang out at the same bar.” Which is weird, because Dallas leatherfolk hang out at the Eagle and the Hidden Door, whereas Houston peeps only hang out at Ripcord. Ergo, we are much more unified in our choice of venue. No vote-splitting in H-Town, I’ll tell you what!

Speaking of votes, you mentioned that you’re planning on running for a title, so I assume this whole “revitalization” thing is part of your platform. Here’s the problem with that: It’s been done. Relentlessly. To the point where we literally made up a game about it and played it on the radio. And the fact that you’re unaware of such a long-standing joke suggests you might be just a wee bit out of touch with the community you’ve decided to save. I know the Wide World of Leather isn’t the same as it was when you were active in it however many years ago, and in another however many years it will look completely different than it does today. That’s because a community is an organism, not an organization: It expands, contracts, changes, adapts, and evolves. But if you don’t understand that, if you barge in going, “No no no, this is all wrong, let me fix it,” all you’re really doing is insulting the individuals and groups that did some amazing things while you weren’t around.

For the time being, maybe you could attend some events, hit up the weekly bartending nights, work on re-establishing old connections, and be on the lookout for ways you can serve your community, instead of blindsiding everyone with a futile attempt at a hostile takeover. Just as you’ll catch more flies with honey than vinegar, you’ll get more people psyched about leather by leading through example versus being a dick.

Regardless of the path you choose, I wish you the best of luck in your endeavors. I’m sure you’ll ultimately do what’s right for you, and that’s all anyone can really ask.

But trust me on the platform.

Hugs and air-kisses,

-MJ

PS: Don’t be a dick.

Albuquerque

[A conversation with my straight friend Brent.]

Me: “Where did you get that bruise?”

Brent: “What bruise?”

[I point to his arm.]

Brent: “Huh. I hadn’t noticed that. I guess I bumped into something.”

Me: “Oh! Funny bruise story. So you know how I’m in the Misfits?”

Brent: [skeptically] “You’re in the Misfits.”

Me: “Um… not the iconic punk band*. Misfits Houston. We’re a leather club.”

Brent: “What’s a leather club?”

Me: “Well, we’re mainly a social organization, but we do a lot of fundraising. And we wear matching leather vests. We’re basically a gay biker gang.”

Brent: “Oh. Okay…”

Me: “So we were bartending at Ripcord one night…”

Brent: “Ripcord?”

Me: “It’s a leather bar.”

Brent: [blank stare]

Me: “It’s a gay bar.”

Brent: “Gotcha.”

Me: “So anyway, we were bartending, and some of the guys had gotten hold of this flogger…”

Brent: “A… flogger…?”

Me: “A flogger is… uh… a tool for… well, flogging. Kind of like spanking?”

[awkward silence]

Me: “You know what? Let’s go back to talking about you.”

I’ve always sort of looked down on those willfully abnormal individualists who go around bragging complaining about how weird and different they are, and how nobody understands them. But every once in awhile, I’m given the opportunity to see myself through conventional lenses, and then I’m like, wow: At some point my life really took a sharp left.

*I once had to explain the same thing to the Village People. True story.

Dr. Marjorie Westheimer

Customer: [going back and forth between two different brands of lube] “Can I ask you a question?”

Me: “Sure.”

Customer: “I mean… a personal question. Just between you and me.”

Me: “Go for it.”

Customer: ” What would you recommend if you’re going to be… y’know, with a guy who’s… um… bigger… than you’re used to?”

Me: “What would I recommend?”

Customer: “Yes.”

Me: “Patience.”

Customer: “…”

Me: “You’re welcome.”

I should totally give advice for a living, you guys.

Bottoms Up

Customer: [waving at the solvents] “You’re not supposed to drink these.”

Me: “No. That would be bad.”

Customer: “They make your mouth go numb.”

Me: “I… really don’t need to know how you know that.”

Customer: “And then you throw up.”

Me: “…”

Customer: “They don’t taste good, either.”

It’s moments like this that make me understand how the Tide Pod Challenge became a thing.

Undrunk and Unsupervised

Nuke: “Would you be willing to give your Night the Lights Went Out in Georgia speech as part of our show?”

Me: “Sure. Just set me up with a good introduction and include the backstory, so that I’m not forever known as that schizophrenic who couldn’t stop talking about his penis.”

Nuke: “Well it’s a little too late for that, Marjorie.”

Me: “Touché.”

Anywhoozle, that’s how I ended up onstage at a gay sports bar, regaling the unsuspecting, office-casual patrons with the epic saga of my dick’s triumphant win at the 1976 Miss Georgia World pageant. Most of the crowd just stared at me in mute horror, but let me tell you, the bartender was enchanted. Were I a drinking man, I totally would’ve tipped him bountifully.

Later, as the fundraiser was wrapping up, somebody asked Tank if what I’d performed was an original spokenword composition. For future reference, here’s the correct way to answer that question:

Them: “Was that an original spokenword composition?”

Tank: “Are you old enough to remember Designing Women?”

Them: “No.”

Tank: “Then yes. Yes, it was.”

Nuke and Rok also mentioned me in one of their songs as a certain someone who “drinks water pure and goes to bed quite sober.” (According to the lyrics, I’ll be taking a permanent dirt nap sometime in the early Fall.) It’s a good thing Nuke thought ahead and immortalized me in verse, because after my monologue, the looks on the audience’s faces were less “let us spread glad tidings of this remarkable talent to the ends of the earth” and more “let’s seriously just pretend that never happened.”

As the World Turns and the Pendulum Swings

Me: “I’M NEVER SPEAKING TO DOUGLAS AGAIN.”

Everyone Else: “Okay.”

[a few hours pass]

Me: “Douglas and I made up.”

Everyone Else: “Cool.”

[the next morning]

Me: “DOUGLAS IS A HEARTLESS SOCIOPATH.”

Everyone Else: “Ah.”

[that afternoon]

Me: “Douglas is a true friend.”

Everyone Else: “Mmm.”

[two days later]

Me: “DOUGLAS CAN CHOKE ON A BAG OF DICKS.”

Everyone Else: “Huh.”

[the day after that]

Me: “Douglas and I are going to a timeshare presentation and pretending to be a couple so that we can win a free toaster.”

Everyone Else: “La.”

[moments later]

Me: “WHAT ATROCITIES DID I COMMIT THAT AN INFERNAL VARMINT AS VILE AS DOUGLAS SHOULD INFEST MY UNIVERSE?”

Everyone Else: [not even pretending to pay attention]

Me: “…”

Everyone Else: [still no response; possibly asleep]

Me: “I should call Douglas.”

Inside Voices

Customer: [gesturing to one of the two men accompanying him] “WHAT DO YOU HAVE THAT I CAN USE TO LEAD THIS ONE AROUND? HA HA HA HAAAA…”

Me: “I’m afraid we’re fresh out of leashes.”

Customer: “NOT THAT IT’D DO ANY GOOD. THEY’RE GONNA DO WHAT THEY WANT ANYWAY, AMIRITE?”

Me: [noncommittal smile]

Customer: [gesturing to both men] “NEVER TAKE YOUR HUSBAND AND BOYFRIEND SHOPPING AT THE SAME TIME.”

Me: “Sage advice.”

Customer: “DO YOU SELL POPPERS?”

Me: “Nope, just solvents and polish removers.”

Customer: OH, THAT’S RIGHT! SOLVENTS! HA HA HA HAAAA…”

Customer’s Boyfriend: [pointing at the display next to the counter] “OH MY GOD, LOOK! THEY SELL POPPERS HERE.”

I can only imagine how tranquil family dinners at their place must be. The husband never said anything himself, but I assume that if he’d so much as opened his mouth, all the glass in the shop would’ve shattered, which would’ve been irksome. Thanks for keeping mum and saving me the cleanup, Gay Black Bolt.

Goreymantic Edwardination

I was first introduced to the art of Edward Gorey, as were many of my generation, through the opening credits of the anthology series Mystery! on PBS:

As a kid, I never watched a full episode of the show — by the time Diana Rigg appeared to announce the detective du jour, I’d already wandered away to play with dolls or plot world domination or whatever little me did for fun. Incidentally, in college I spent a three-day weekend watching back-to-back Mystery! reruns, specifically because Sarah and I had gotten cast in a (truly baffling) play called The Business of Murder, and it turned out that the only word I couldn’t say in a British accent was “murder,” which (as the title suggests) I had to utter at least once every page. After listening to 72 hours worth of fictional investigators shouting, “My God! Then the mehr-dehr-ehr must be…” that conundrum was resolved.

But I digress.

When I was a junior in high school, I spent six weeks at a summer program in Ithaca, New York, where, in a head souvenir shop, I came across a poster of The Gashlycrumb Tinies. It was love at first macabre sight, and soon I was snatching up copies of Gorey’s picture books wherever I could find them. I also ended up with editions of Dracula, Men and Gods and Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats illustrated by Gorey, and if I could just find a living room set upholstered with scenes from The Curious Sofa, my life would be complete.

Recently, I started wondering if Gorey ever created his own Tarot deck. I can’t Tarot my way out of a wet paper sack, but because I felt like there should be an Edward Gorey Tarot deck, I decided there was an Edward Gorey Tarot deck (see how my brain works?). I set myself to scouring the Internet, where I eventually discovered the laminated grail that is the Fantod Pack.

The Fantod Pack (fantod being defined as “a state of worry or nervous anxiety; irritability”) consists of 20 cards, each with a series of unfavorable meanings: For instance, the Waltzing Mouse can indicate loss of jewelry, morbid cravings or disorders of the large intestine, while the Bundle portends inadequate drainage, a broken engagement or a train accident. It quickly becomes clear that the deck is not meant for serious divination — instead, it’s designed to give humorously catastrophic readings, and would actually be quite at home among the light-hearted, DIY oracle books that Victorian ladies used to leave lying about their drawing rooms as idle amusements (of which I own several, because of course I do).

The problem here is that I am me, and as such, if I buy a fortune-telling deck — satirical or not — I am going to use it to tell some motherfucking fortunes. Consulting the instruction booklet, I noticed that each card corresponds to either a month or a day, so that the querent will have a good idea as to when he or she will be struck down by chilblains (as foretold by the Burning Head). Pulling four cards at random, I wrote down the month/day each signified, broke those down to their numerical values, then went binary and marked them as even (two dots) or odd (one dot). I ended up with the following spread:

fantod-geomancy1

If we look at that last column, we have the geomantic figure Laetitia, which translates as joy, good health, favorable beginnings and luck. So not only did we manage legit divination with the Fantod Pack, but we got a positive reading as well.

I am… thoroughly impressed with us. But I’m also kind of cringing at myself, since I’m acting all, “Finally, a unique and convenient way to practice geomancy,” like I don’t already have a drawer full of decks and dice and coins and throwsticks (ye Gods, the throwsticks), each of which was, at one time, my favorite (and “last one, I promise, not even looking for another”) method of generating the figures. On the other hand, I sometimes go months without reading and get rusty as all hell, so if it takes an extra deck of cards or set of kitten knucklebones or whatever to get me back into the one form of future-casting that’s ever worked for me, I’m willing to roll with that.

Oh, speaking of rolling, please know that my older tools don’t just get tossed out when new ones come along — I’m not that much of a capitalist consumer. In fact, my original geomantic dice recently found their way to my office, where they’ve added an understated decorative touch:

dice and skull

Assuming his vengeful ghost isn’t gearing up to haunt the particular fuck out of me, I’d like to think Eddie G. would approve.