You people could have had me selling egg-encrusted forks on Alberta Street last week—one more clod stinking up the place with my "folk art" during Last Thursday's overhyped teenage bacchanalia. Instead, you sent me to a kink show at Bossanova Ballroom and then a foam party. Remember? It was my turn for our "Worst. Night. Ever." series. You thought I'd hate it.
So I went to the party. I wore a unicorn horn, just like you insisted—and I even got bullied for it. I stood around and watched sexy stage performances, despite being awkward, alone, and sober—painfully aware I was a pudgy, married, stubbly 34-year-old man at an event absolutely dripping with drastically more attractive physical specimens.
I took notes. I chuckled at the surprising number of boyfriends in Old Navy shirts making out with their topless, wing-wearing girlfriends. I silently mocked another guy in his 30s who showed up alone in a 1990s gray polyester shirt. I think I caught a couple actually having sex in the VIP balcony.
But I didn't hate it. Not really. And I started to worry that whatever post I came back with might be boring... I mean, if you've read one fish-out-of-water story, you've read them all, right? So I bravely decided to do the one potentially humiliating thing at the party you didn't compel me to do. I signed up to be dominated! For the first time in my life. By a man dressed kind of like an angel. And you know what else? I got to go home with souvenirs.
All over my body.
This was the state of my body early Sunday morning. It's just one way to describe the experience.
• Red marks on my back, where the flog kept taking "love bites." They flared brightly for a few days but never actually hurt.
• Tender asscheeks, smacked HARD with a paddle. Happily, they didn't complain when I got on a bike the next day for Sunday Parkways.
• An angry right nipple. It still twinges every time my T-shirt scrapes over it. Both nipples were clamped for a while, but the right one chafes the most after repeatedly taking abuse from a handheld electric prod.
• Teensy red dots on my chest and belly, charting the incessant meanderings, like some strange atlas, of an electrified wheel. The itching, as the marks healed, kept me awake at night.
I also learned some things.
I have stamina enough to endure at least modest physical abuse. It really hurts when someone strikes you repeatedly in the same place. I don't like the smell of burning hair or electricity. The absence of pain is a profound and wondrous thing. I don't think I'm wired to enjoy BDSM play in the way that its devotees are, even though I RESPECT the shit out of anyone who does. I'm okay with that.
The roped-off "dungeon" at the back of the Bossanova was never not being used. Couples were encouraged to try out the equipment, and several did. Two rope-suspension performers lingered at a device resembling a padded picnic bench. It was meant for a long, comfortable session of paddling and the lurid display of someone's bent-over haunches.
But the main attraction, for the more curious attendees, was the choice of two experts trained in the art of BDSM, one male, one female. I signed a waiver and was presented with a menu and some basic rules (because we were in a bar, for example, terrifying things like cock-and-ball torture and wax play simply wouldn't be allowed). And then I waited to be walked over to whoever was free first.
The woman was busy adding more clothespins to the nipples of a reveler who was simultaneously wrapped in a lover's embrace, so it fell to the man. The intake volunteer told me not to be feel weird about it, because this wasn't about sex. I agreed, and when my name was called, I stepped toward his massage table completely unsure about what to expect.
He gave me his name but made me promise, after I told him I'd be writing this for the paper, not to print it. We agreed he would be known just as The Angel, in light of his white shirt and britches, furry white wings, and high-standing mohawk. He showed me his array of implements—canes, flogs, paddles, the electric prod—and I struggled to articulate what I wanted because I really didn't know. Maybe a spanking? That seemed tame enough.
"Can I touch you?" he asked, deftly executing the principle of obvious consent.
"Yes," I replied. "And thank you for asking."
He took his fingertips and raked them intently down my chest. He did the same thing with a flog. We talked about how his implements are really just extensions of his hands and how he applies them the same way he'd use his hands. The goal, he then explained, is to take something from his heart, send it through his arm and into his subject's body and maybe even into their heart, too. I nodded back and said "ah," not quite sure what an appropriate reply might be.
Then he had me take my shirt off and lie down on his massage table. He promised a light smorgasbord and the first course, I found out, was electricity.
The Angel put a grounding plate in the waistband of my shorts and turned on his prod. At first, the electricity ran through his fingers. If you can imagine a static electricity shock, that's exactly what it felt like. But over and over again. I writhed almost as much as from the ticklishness of it all as from the tiny little jolts. The absurdity had me smiling, except for when I winced. Which was quite often, especially when he started focusing on my right nipple, the one closest to him.
Once in a while, he'd run his fingers down my belly. Even more occasionally, he'd slap my chest.
He paused after a few minutes and told me he'd been watching my face to monitor how I reacted and that I could always tell him to stop if something hurt too much—but that I also seemed to be enduring things reasonably well.
So of course, he stepped things up. He opened a medical kit full of scalpels and pokers. Or, as he put it, "my tools." He inherited them from his mother, he said. She was a biologist who did some of the first research on AIDS. I was moved.
Until he hooked a cutting wheel to his electrical prod and started running it up and down my flesh. And then all I wanted was for it to stop. It was sharp and electroshocky. I could smell burning hair. And even that wasn't the worst. When he put the wheel away, he ran the prod directly over my chest —blue electricity arcing between my skin and the tip of the thing. That was also when he put clamps my nipples, connected by a chain that he later tugged at mercilessly when it was time to take the thing off.
The Angel decided it was time for the rest of my treatment, and he rolled me over but let me keep on my shorts. He placed a paddle in his right hand and gave me a big ol' swat on my left asscheek. He alternated cheeks for a bit, but it didn't matter. Both stung like hell pretty soon, and each fresh whack—he was not gentle—brought the flames up even hotter.
He used his hand, too, switching off so I could feel the difference. It turns out both hurt. Surprise!
Before all this, I worried a bit about how awkward it might be if I got... aroused. Because you hear stories! Some people really like it! I didn't have to worry. A few seconds in, and the only feeling I wanted was the feeling of not having a piece of lacquered hardwood crashing into my aggrieved glutes.
Finally he relented and got out his flog. The first swipe made me laugh. The second one had me sharply sucking in air. Flogging, I now understand, hurts way worse than spanking. The back isn't nearly as tough as the ass, and the straps cut. A few minutes of that—wondering why he had to keep hitting the same wounded places, even if that's the whole point—and I calmly indicated that I'd had the experience I'd signed up to have. My safeword turned out to be a safe phrase, stuttered and gasped out somewhat embarrassingly: "I think I'm, uh... maxed out."
He sat me up. He put a hand on my chest and made me wait a few seconds in silence before getting up. I said thanks and got my things.
I wasn't sure if he'd been harder or easier on me because it was my first time. I saw him a while later flogging the shit out of some woman whom he'd stood up against the wall. I had my answer. He cut me a lot of slack.
I put my shirt back on—keeping it unbuttoned—and returned to the regularly scheduled kink party already in progress. I lurked and paced for the next two hours, refusing to dance to industrial music and watching the crowd dwindle, until they announced the location of the foam party and I could get in my car and drive there.
And because this post is taking forever, here are some tossed-off observations about how the rest of the shindig went down.
• About that unicorn horn! An hour and a half before I left my house, I decided to make it myself. I used tape, staples, wrapping paper scraps, a rolled-up Frosted Flakes box, and two Scünci headbands I bought that afternoon from Fred Meyer. I had it sticking out from my head, like a proper unicorn horn, when I showed up (immediately to catcalls; it was the biggest horn there by far.) But it didn't hold up, so I had to deftly reassemble it in the bathroom. Some bald metalhead with a chinbeard grabbed it at the end of the night and told me, as he handed it back, all smug: "Better reinforce that motherfucker." (I put it back on.)
• The stage shows weren't terrible! (The emcees, who tried too hard to crack dumb jokes and wore dumb costumes and shouted too hard, kind of were.) Two performers from Wanderlust Circus did some saucy feats of strength—a woman standing unsupported on the top of a fellow's head, among them. A woman in a silver bodysuit who was either very short or possibly a dwarf, did a trapeze act. Fittingly, there was also a "unicorn derby," in which five pairs of performers, a jockey and a unicorn, ran around the dance floor and took turns licking dessert toppings off a woman lying prone on a board. The performers were such good sports, they did tricks on the dance floor all night.
• Nipples! So many nipples! Both men's and women's! Attached to so-called "nonconforming body types." (Like mine!) But it's a kink party, so what'd you expect? Best in show was a tie between a woman in body paint wearing mushroom stickers on her nips and a shirtless greaser guy strutting around like Glenn Danzig. Honorable mention went to the guy in the studded leather straps, black wings, and codpiece.
• Driving on Burnside at 2 am on Sunday is terrible. Bossanova is at Burnside and SE 8th. The foam party was all the way over on NW 23rd Place near Montgomery Park. That meant I had to drive right through a sea of staggering drunk Old Town clubgoers who didn't give a shit that I had the green lights and they didn't. It was so bad at Burnside and 3rd that I had to stop at the green because it wasn't worth plowing through a bunch of shitheads just to prove a point. But it was a good thing I did. While stopped, I noticed a big fight. Then I noticed two Portland cops hustling after a black man wearing a suit. They weren't so polite, even though the bureau has a courtesy directive. They repeatedly shouted "fuck" and "motherfucker" before and after they got the guy to stop. I shouted from my car window, in case they could hear, that they were breaking bureau policy. Then I parked near Right 2 Dream Too and ran back to see if things might escalate. They didn't. In just a few minutes, they'd left and the guy was back with his friends, unfazed. "Man, I'm from Cali," he told me.
• Foam is delightful! The foam—soap bubbles—was piled waist-high in a geodesic tent outside the warehouse hosting the afterparty. A machine suspended from the top of the tent dispensed the stuff in great big sloppy globs. It sucked up the liquid soap sauce from garbage cans placed outside the tent—cans that poor saps working at the party had to keep refilling. About half the people who showed up for the thing went inside the tent. Everyone stayed in the warehouse, or just outside it, dancing and drinking tallboys and smoking cigarettes. Foam makes you feel like a kid again. You bound through it. You giggle. You clutch it to your chest and then throw it at people. Suddenly nobody cared that I was alone and shirtless. We were all foam friends. (They were all mostly drunk or rolling or whatever.) Only once did I step on a couple hiding on the ground doing something naughty.
I left a little after 4 in the morning. My shorts and shoes were soaked through. I drove through a Jack in the Box and ate furiously in the car while driving up St. Helens Road. The seat belt hurt my nipples. When I got into bed a little while later, so did the blanket.
And then guess what? At 9 in the morning, my kids woke me up. They didn't care that I was up all night at a kink fest. They wanted pancakes. And they wanted 'em now. And I realized, in my sleep-deprived blear, something rather profound: The spatula was an extension of my hand. I smacked those pancakes pretty good, too.
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