Throwing Schadenfreude

Customer: [to his friend] “… so I went home with some guy and spent the night at his place, and the next morning I threw up, and then I had to go to Nordstrom to buy a suit. It was the worst birthday ever.”

I wanted to ask if he threw up because he was hungover, or because the guy he woke up next to turned out to be a hideous miscalculation in the daylight, but I didn’t want to come across as meddlesome. I also couldn’t stop thinking, “HE BOUGHT HIMSELF A BIRTHDAY SUIT,” and I was afraid I wouldn’t be able to speak without giggling uncontrollably, which wouldn’t have helped much in the “I swear I’m not a douche-fountain” department.

So instead I just pointedly ignored the both of them until they got self-conscious and left. It was really the only Christlike option available.

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 fiery straight girls trounced 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 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.


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


Straight Girl 2: “Um… you.”


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,


PS: Don’t be a dick.

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.

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.”


Me: [noncommittal smile]


Me: “Sage advice.”


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


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.

My Tutelary Spirit is Dr. Sam Beckett

Customer: [holding up a cock ring] “Is this similar to a cock ring?”

Me: “That is a cock ring, just made out of a stretchy silicone instead of metal.”

Customer: “You know how as men age, their balls start hanging lower?”

[Inner Me: Well, that escalated quickly.]

Customer: “I have the opposite problem.”

Me:.”You’re… getting younger?”

[Inner Me: Yes. You’re selling a cock ring to Benjamin Button.]

Customer: “Um, no. I’m on testosterone, so my balls are shrinking and drawing up inside of me.”

Me: “I see.”

Customer: “That was probably an overshare.”

Me: “Eh, not a bad one.”

Customer: “Oh. Okay. Anyway, I need something to keep them in place.”

Me: “Ah. You need a cock sling.”

Customer: “A what now?”

Me: [pulling a cock sling off the display] See? Everything goes through this larger hole, but then your dick goes all the way through the second hole, while your balls go through this smaller, snug hole.”

[Inner Me: Heh. You said ‘hole.’]

Customer: “Yeah, I can’t quite picture it…”

Me: “No problem! Follow me to the computer — we’ll look at some porn, and you’ll see how it works.”

[five minutes later]

Me: “… Okay, here’s a good image. See how the cock sling fits around the shaft? And look, he’s apparently taking testosterone, too.”

And tomorrow morning, I’ll go back to my day job, where I’ll get very uncomfortable whenever a co-worker accidentally curses in an office environment.

Sometimes I worry that “leading a double life” is just a hazy way of saying I have a dissociative disorder.

My Safeword is “Director’s Cut”

Customer: [looking around] “Is this, like, a dominatrix store?”

Carlisle: “Well, BDSM.”

Customer: “What does BDSM mean?”

Carlisle: “It’s short for bondage, domination, and sadomasochism.”

Customer: “Sadomasochism…?”

Me: “A sadist likes to inflict pain, and a masochist likes to experience pain.”

Customer: “Oh, okay! I just saw a movie about that. It was called 8MM.”

Carlisle: [petit mal spittake]

Me: “Um… that’s… actually about snuff films.”

Customer: “Oh. But it’s all sorta in the same category, right?”

Me: “… No.”

Customer: [nodding] “Fair enough. Fair enough.”

On the bright side, at least he was confused about a decent movie. I can handle a lot of shit, but I am not yet prepared to deal with anyone dazzled by the subtle complexities of 50 Shades Freed.

In His House at Ripcord Dead Marjorie Waits Dreaming

Customer: “So… I’ve been talking with one of your co-workers…”

Me: “Okay…”

Customer: “I told him that I want to learn more about [whispering] dark spirituality. And he suggested I speak with you.”

Me: [that sideways head thing dogs do when they’re confused]

Customer: “So maybe you and I could discuss [whispering] dark spirituality sometime?”

I’m not quite sure why he felt the need to whisper, considering he had no problem asking if we carried “alligator clips for tits” a couple of minutes before. Nor do I have any idea what he means by “dark spirituality,” although my guess is that he’s looking for an NC-17 interpretation of Wicca versus anything related to Jungian shadow work or Luciferianism.

Either way, I’ll be happy to share whatever knowledge I have with him, even if he’s going to come away disappointed when I don’t offer to initiate him into the Sordid Underworld of Ritualistic Naughtiness. And on the off chance he’s an actual, earnest seeker, I’ll of course do whatever I can to be of assistance.

But secretly, in the back of my brain, here’s how I hope things play out (click to embiggen):

Parody artwork created by Howard Hallis, who also designed a Tarot deck based on Beyond Valley of the Dolls. I’ve got a new God now.

Exchange of Fools

Customer: “Hi. I just bought this BDSM starter kit, but the collar is too small for my neck.”

Me: “You know, the collars in those kits are all the same size, so I’m afraid there aren’t any larger ones available.”

Customer: “Well, can I switch it out for a different item?”

Me: “Since it’s part of a kit, I’m not able to exchange it on its own. But you could run by our main store tomorrow and see if they can add an extender for you.”

Customer: “I already tried that. They said no.”

Me: “You… just now went over there?”

Customer: “Yeah. I know the owner. He said he couldn’t do it. Can’t I just exchange it?”

Me: “You know Rok and Tank?”

Customer: “Who?”

Me: “I ask, because the main store is open Monday through Saturday, 12 p.m. to 7 p.m., and it’s currently 8 p.m. on a Sunday.”

Customer: “… Oh.”

Me: “So maybe you can drop by there tomorrow?”

Customer: [weakly] “Yes, please.”

Thing is, nobody’s tried the “I know the owner” trick on me in ages. If more customers don’t start lying to my face, my natural cynicism is going to atrophy, and since it’s the only thing that keeps me going, I’ll waste away and won’t even be able to bathe or feed myself, much less work in retail.

Someone send over a bevy of sociopaths ASAP. I’ll stay open late for them and draw renewed strength from their woefully overconfident attempts at manipulation.