"You must suffer for splendor," explains her companion, a big-boned gent in a jeweled corset who goes by the name of Traci. "And she is splendid, no?" A passing car slows to scan for goose bumps, but seeing none, speeds away. "What a loser!" says Traci with a practiced pink-lipped pout.
"Don't worry about it, honey," comforts Terrick. "We're almost there." She takes Traci by the hand and leads her down the remaining block.
Outside 1015 Folsom, a shiny array of folks line up for Slick, the biannual fetish ball promoted by longtime erotic artist Jadine and "Bedlam" producer Random. Latex shorts, rubber miniskirts, leather harnesses, vinyl pants, and PVC tank tops catch and deflect the street lamps overhead, bending the light into body-shaped contours. A spotter at the front of the line, whose job it is to maintain the erotic integrity of the ball, handpicks clientele: The angelic gal with gossamer wings gets in, as do two devil boys with custom fangs and rippling torsos; cross-dressers and hard-line dominatrixes are all welcome, as are the Victorian-style courtesans and superfreaks with glittering periwinkle wigs.
Bluejeans and flannel shirts are turned away without hesitation.
"No gawkers allowed," giggle two nymphs with whips as they toss their cigarettes in the gutter and frolic past. A more stately couple, linked together by a studded leash that consummates the master-slave relationship, follows them inside at a sedate pace. They take time to pose themselves carefully by the doorway, where the slave kneels obediently at his master's feet, awaiting her pleasure. Nearby, a stern John Waters look-alike works up a sweat tightening the corset of his cinnamon-haired ingenue, who faces the wall with her arms and legs spread-eagle, as though prepared for a frisking. The "director" braces his knee against the wall, causing imperceptible gusts of breath to escape between the woman's lips as he works the taut chords toward the center loop at her back.
"It's like being on a movie set," says Dean Benorden, a well-built 52-year-old from L.A. who is accompanied by his bare-breasted common-law wife. "Say, a movie set in the early 1930s, in Berlin, where sexual deviation is considered a skill and the physical form is a religion. This is a fantasy turned flesh." Near the bar, a sea of cinched waistlines and bare buttocks heaves under the glare of multicolored lights as a young woman with a brightly spangled cowboy hat and flashing bustier twirls to the melancholy strains of Nick Cave. No one notices. The crowd is statuesque (nearly everyone teeters on extravagantly high shoes) and somewhat self-absorbed. The floor-length mirrors in the front room -- when they are not being walked into by confused fetish fashion-plates -- are used for continual preening, most frequently by a man who wears only a G-string and sneakers and finds it necessary to fluff his body hair. Even for leather-bound Star Trek geeks like Erik Voyant, whose reflection in fishnets and a leather corset barely detracts from the reality of a computer tan and adult acne, the look is everything.
"This is the only club that I know of with a strict dress code," says Voyant. "That's important to me. I dress sexy, and I want the rest of the crowd to dress sexy, too. I don't want to see a bunch of guys in 49ers shirts at the end of the bar drinking beer." True enough, the strict rules have imbued Slick with a very exclusive, New York-style crowd, as is evident on the dance floor, where every person looks more outrageous than the next. But if this is a fashion-only affair, and not a sex club, there's more to it than blinking headdresses, suits of liquid latex, and sexy footwear.
"For a lot of people," says an East Bay teacher who is accompanied by his bisexual wife and transgender best friend, "this is the only environment where they can feel truly comfortable. I mean, we lead completely normal lives -- my wife's a teacher, too -- but on the weekend, this is the type of place where we want to spend our time. Somewhere where no one will give us any hassle, where we can explore our desires and be understood." Even if that means just standing around, listening to music, and looking fabulous.
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By Silke Tudor