The Slime of Their Lives

At a messy party for the fetishists known as "sploshers," love is a many-splattered thing

In the early 1990s, there was a very nervous little man, with eyeglasses and a baby-bald head, who used to troll South of Market nightclubs armed with a suitcase of pies and a somewhat tentative request.

"Excuse me," he'd murmur, tapping the shoulder of some languishing club girl. "Would you like to, er, I mean, would you be interested or, um, willing to smash a pie in my face?"

Enticed by oddity, the lady might shrug her shoulders and nod, and the PieMan would gently place a cream-filled pan in her hand and offer a broadly grinning target. An avid clubgoer might run into the PieMan three or four times a week, and his request was always the same. My housemate's wife -- a slender, statuesque beauty with peroxide blonde hair and a penchant for black body stockings -- was among his favorite "pie-mates," and, as bored as she was by his weekly appeal, it was against her sweet, small-town nature to deny his simple pleasure.

"It means so much to him," she'd say, flicking whipped cream from the edge of her cocktail glass, "and it's nothing to me. He's just kind of funny."

Over time, the PieMan became something of a cult personality in SoMa. He had an assistant who carried his suitcase and rolls of paper towels. He printed up "Pisexual" T-shirts and Pisexual calling cards that read, "Good evening miss ... would you like to smash, rub, and place a pie in my face?" He was invited to "perform" at Bondage-a-Go-Goas a pie-snarfing Santa Claus. He was even pied by Lydia Lunchand Jenny Jones. As public as the PieMan's fetish became in San Francisco, the root of his pleasure was still elusive to most of us, even after he tried to explain it one late night at the DNA Lounge, where the PieMan admitted his sugary infatuation started with a childhood love of the Three Stoogesand coagulated with a humiliating grade-school kissing game that always ended in his getting a cupcake smashed in his face. Peculiarly enough, this is not an unusual beginning for someone like the PieMan; according to Katherine Gates' Deviant Desires: Incredibly Strange Sex, which includes a full section on the PieMan, most American pie fetishes start with a love of the Three Stooges.

Pie throwing, however, is just the tip of the cream puff; it is a particular titillation accepted within a larger community of mess lovers known as "sploshers" (an onomatopoeic title for folks who love to loll in such gooey substances as porridge, pudding, or mud) and "wammers" (WAM stands for "wet and messy," and wammers include folks with a purely water-based focus, as well as lovers of more substantive goo). Gates traces the public emergence of "messy fun" back to the mid-'80s, with the Texas Mudmen(currently titled Sludgemaster) and the UK's Society for Lovers of Slapstick Happenings (or SLOSH). By the late '80s, Splosh!, the first magazine dedicated to mess, appeared in England, and John Waterspublicly lauded the quarterly publication in interviews with People magazine and Jay Leno. Fringe photographer and subculture chronicler Charles Gatewood quickly added mess to his extreme repertoire, and New York nightclubs began splattering their go-go dancers with liquid latex.

Like most sexual fetishists, sploshers often require a very specific circumstance and substance to be fully satisfied -- one might need a floor-length satin ball gown and swimming pool; another might demand an exact arrangement of food service, starting with soup and salad and ending with lemon cake; another might be entirely heedless of the type of "gunge" (any slimy substance from porridge to wallpaper paste) but require an elaborate slapstick script. Unlike other fetishists, though, most sploshers have a ridiculous, playful sense of humor about their sexual appetites. While breaking taboos and getting soiled are aspects of their interest, surprise and silliness are almost always another part of the equation. Puns are big in the "messy" world, as are goofy outfits and goofier scenarios. Sploshers often describe themselves as fun and childlike. Consequently, many sploshers are acutely squeamish about full nudity, genitalia, or bodily fluids of any kind; they like to roll around in mud or chocolate or baked beans, but they're not interested in anything really "dirty."

"It's that startled doe-like look that really gets me," says 38-year-old "Bernie," a longtime splosher who enjoys slathering his lovely wife, "Gertrude," in a variety of gelatinous goo. "But sex is sort of separate from it. We might have sex later. Not always, though. Sometimes, it's just splosh."

In one splosh scenario, Bernie is a waiter who spills course after course of food in Gertrude's lap and over her head. Gertrude mocks indignation and fights back; she smacks him with a baguette; he dumps creamed corn down her shirt. Eventually, both of them are covered from head to toe in salad dressing (no vinaigrettes), spaghetti sauce, and chocolate mousse. ("Bernie," says London-born Gertrude, "enjoys a bit of a messy tussle.") In another scenario, Bernie is a housepainter who inadvertently spills a bucket of paint (a safe concoction of food coloring and cornstarch) all over Gertrude's freshly pressed power suit; she kind of likes it, so he uses a roller to achieve a more even coating.

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