Night Crawler

A young woman walking down Howard Street with her freshly fluffed miniature poodle smiles pleasantly when she hears a man call out: "We like your dog. Bring the dog inside." The smile is short-lived. She spies the canine solicitor -- a man dressed in a highly stylized, ink-black military uniform with shiny, knee-high boots. He leans against a wall just inside the mouth of a large warehouse space, surrounded by several similarly dressed cohorts who smile back at the woman.

Her answer is quick and decisive, "No chance, buddy."
"Ve give free dog sex," taunts the man in a German accent that thickens as we listen. The woman shakes her head and hurries off, leaving the man to pout in the gathering darkness.

"Oh vell, never mind," he says finally. "Velcome to Dr. Magnus Hirschfeld's Museum of Sexology." A small metallic token is dropped into my hand. "For de free aphrodisiac of your choosing. Enjoy."

On the other side of a thick, dark curtain, two uniformed waiters offer patrons a choice between Wild Bride Drink (an Aztec recipe made from damiana leaves and agave solution that is meant to activate vaginal secretion) or Pasha's Restorative (a 12th-century Persian formula that is purported to triple your sperm count). A small disclaimer posted at the Aphrodisiac Sensations booth warns that, while all the ingredients are legal and available in the state of California, "we urge moderation and caution." Two large glasses later (and with a mild tingling sensation), folks begin to peruse the museum's peculiar exhibits: the Slave Throne, a modified toilet with a ring of sharp studs embedded in the seat; a huge wheel with a harness for rotary spanking (the birthday fantasy of a 17-year-old sadomasochist from 1930) subtly dubbed the Flagellation Machine; and a collection of young boys' hair lovingly combed, washed, and tied with ribbons by Karl Breitruck, a sex-murderer and known hair fetishist, in 1914.

Historic texts on the wall tell us that these are examples of the things stored and studied at the Magnus Hirschfeld Institute of Sexual Science until it was destroyed in May 1933 by the Nazi Party. There, Hirschfeld studied eroticism, pornography, androgyny, hermaphroditism, homosexuality, fetishism, STDs, impotence, and arousal. He coined the term "transvestite," and was a firm supporter of homosexual and reproductive rights. At the height of the institute's popularity, Berlin was a hotbed of sexual exploration. Whether this was due to the doctor's charm or people's innate fascination with the subject matter, who can say?

"And now we shall have a demonstration of Bauer's Shoe-and-Wheel Masturbation Machine," announces a gent in the same uniform seen at the door. A firm-bodied boy in tight black skivvies enters the room with a bicycle wheel adorned by three women's shoes.

"You must slip your penis into the center shoe," says the boy, "and rock back and forth." He demonstrates the technique, perfected by a 41-year-old Augsburg man in 1926. The crowd titters respectfully.

"And now, if you would please, enter the Erotic Cabaret," says the official. The aphrodisiac-heightened, visually stimulated, slightly better-informed spectators file past an art piece that represents six origins of homosexuality: Freud's Inversion of Oedipal Conflict, Hirschfeld's Sexual Desire Innate, Adler's Embracing Femininity to Conquer, Jung's Permeation of Female Shadow, Stekel's Disgust of Women, and Reich's Constitutional Struggle Against Castration Anxiety.

Through a maze of plush velvet curtains and down a small carpeted ramp lies the cabaret, a lavish room decorated in "Weimar Red" and deep gold. Candlelight flickers across the marble tabletops and sexually explicit murals. Large plants fill every corner. Oriental rugs and bamboo screens add exotic accents. On a small elevated stage, a pianist contributes strains of dinner jazz to the setting while waitresses with flush cleavage offer "rare delicacies" from the Aphrodisiac Buffet. These include Shiraz wedding snacks (pistachio nuts coated with galangal, sugar, and chili flakes), Marquis de Sade prison salad (slivers of celery dressed with spices and aged cheese), and Red Dragon love enhancer (spinach leaves dribbled with Nuoc-Man sauce). The appetizers are followed by an 18th-century French dessert (clove- and vanilla-bean ice cream shaped like tiny breasts).

Now, with the crowd full, and presumably in the mood, Karl Giser, Hirschfeld's assistant (played by Jeffrey Fierson), announces the entrance of the "Einstein of Sex" (played by Howard Pinhasik). A curtain rises, revealing a cluttered office and a gray-haired, bespectacled man with a thick accent who is dedicated to the "never-ending search for man's ultimate gratification."

Hirschfeld announces that there are 43,046,721 sexual variations in the world, and demonstrates this by reading aloud questionnaires filled out by the crowd: "I like the smell and taste of perspiration from male armpits"; "I masturbate with stuffed animals"; "The idea of suffocation, asphyxiation, and drowning hasten my arousal"; "I'm 19 and can't come"; and, finally, "I am a Native American performance artist who sodomizes himself with Jack Daniel's bottles, but I am traveling to Serbia and need a substitute." Though Steven Leyba is nowhere to be seen, the audience is thrilled.

Hirschfeld runs through several short lectures regarding chronic masturbation, same-sex desire, menstrual taboos, and female domination. These are accompanied by "demonstrations" that demand volunteers from the audience (the last being led by Mistress Midori, a local dominatrix who forces folks to "adore" her beautiful feet). The crowd is a bit shy, but clearly appreciative (unless uncontrollable laughter is a side effect of copious aphrodisiac consumption).

Sexology is the third in a trilogy of performances created and directed by Mel Gordon and sponsored by the Goethe-Institut (The Seven Addictions and Five Professions of Anita Berber and Hanussen: The True Story of Hitler's Jewish Clairvoyant were the first two). But where the prior productions ran only for a couple of days at Bimbo's 365 Club, Sexology has been given free rein (through Aug. 17) at the warehouse space owned by the head of the S.F. Art Commission, Stanlee Gatti. It makes all the difference.

"It really feels like we're in Germany in the 1920s," gushes a woman with waist-length blond hair and very pink cheeks. "It's too bad there's another show. I don't really want to leave." Looking at her, I wonder if she might not be the Winnie the Pooh masturbator. As Hirschfeld pointed out, it's just a mild form of bestiality -- nothing to be ashamed of.

By Silke Tudor

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