At midnight, out of Pandora’s Box fly an evil brood, clattering down the street in their PVC, black leather and heels thick as submarine sandwiches. This Pandora’s box is an upscale S/M dungeon in New York City, its employees learned in the arts of mummification and soap enemas. They straggle back the next day at noon in sneakers, fraying jean shorts, track pants, oversized T-shirts, and velour tank tops. In the locker room, they gossip, complain, laugh, bum cigarettes and transform themselves into fantasies for men who want nothing more than to have smoke blown in their face by mean, pretty girls.
If you’re an aspiring client, you open a modest but heavy black door and take the elevator up ten floors to go through another heavy black door. To your left is the girls’ locker room with all the outfits of a well-stocked Barbie townhouse — employees are expected to have on hand whatever apparel might be requested, from nurse uniform to nun’s habit to vampire cloak. (Nazi scenes used to be a big request, but they have, inexplicably, almost completely dropped off in the last couple years.) To your right, on velvet couches under flocked crimson wallpaper, lounge a gaggle of doms (dominatrixes), subs (professional submissives/masochists) and switches (either/or). At the end of the foyer, behind a thick desk, sits the imposing female manager with good posture and an unplaceable accent. Wagner is on the stereo. You fill out a questionnaire that asks you to describe exactly what kind of scene you’d like to play, and whether you want it light, medium or hard; you sign your name at the bottom to testify that you are sane. You have your choice of rooms to do your dirty little scene in: the Victorian room (goes over big with crossdressers), the medical room, the classroom, the throne room, medieval torture room or the just-plain-torture room — complete with cage. It’s Disneyland for perverts!
I’m in the Victorian room with Pagan and Katrina — two blondes in black leather. Katrina is lounging on the divan under a painting of a cherub; Pagan’s lying on the floor with her eyes closed, punctuating Katrina’s tales with her hearty chortle. Katrina is talking about Captain Rollinthegutter, a forty-year-old computer consultant with a wife and two kids and a penchant for having his head shaved and doused with bourbon (for that special stinging sensation). He also likes the intimacy of rubbing newly naked scalps together. But today, Katrina reports, he asked her to floss his teeth. (He brought his own floss.)
I never would have thought flossing could be a hot sex act, not in a million years. I wanted to know how she felt while flossing him.
“Turned on,” Pagan interjects, and everyone laughs. “Tell her about Wimpy!”
“Wimpy is easily 6’3″, twenty-five years old, looks just like a Chippendales dancer — a hunk — and he’s really into infant scenes. One time he wanted a brown session . . .”
A brown session?
“He wanted me to shit in his mouth, but that’s $300 and he didn’t have enough.” (It’s $185 for a session with a dominatrix — $70 for the girl, the house gets the rest. A submissive is $205 — $80 to the girl. Plus tips, which usually run between $40 and $100). “He says, ‘What if I give you $50 for a nugget?'”
Pagan explains: “It’s not, you know, the amount of turds that you pay for — it’s the act itself. Ha! — a nugget!‘ “
But Katrina, who is good-natured and practical beyond her twenty-two years, went ahead and did it!
“I was sitting over him on this toilet contraption in the medical room, and I squeezed out a nugget for him. I turned around and he had rolled out of the way and he was doubled over, rolling on the floor: ‘Ooh, ooh, Mistress, I think I’m gonna be sick.’ It was fucking priceless.”
Katrina looks like Deborah Harry at her peak, but prettier, softer. Her favorite TV show is 90210. She attends college and plans to be a mortician. “It’s a very stable profession,” she explains. “You’re not gonna get fazed out. It’s not gonna be done by computers — especially the reconstructive artwork (makeup). And it’s not like you can farm the cadavers out to twelve-year-old workers in Taiwan at ten cents a week.”
I ask Pagan what she plans on doing when she retires.
“Sit in my rocking chair, out of my fucking mind, with my brood around me, saying, ‘Yeah, I lived in the Big Apple, beating men for a living. In my day, I made em come in their own mouths, he-he-he-he.'”
Pagan’s husband tells me later that he wishes she wouldn’t do what she does: “She’s very good at it, and I’m glad she’s doing something that she likes — I just wish what she liked was something else. It’s too intense and disgusting and I don’t see any future in it.” (Pagan’s husband, incidentally, is the editor of a Larry Flynt publication.)
In fact, S/M offers a longer and broader future than other sex industry work. Firstly, youth is not the number one requirement for most men who like to get diapered and beat up. Secondly, there are places to go within the dungeon: managing (answering the phone, setting up sessions, screening out wackos) or, at Pandora’s, working on the company magazines: Pandora’s Box, Vault, Black ‘n Blue. Pagan wants to someday move to Italy and pen her memoirs. There will be lots to pen.
At this point, in walks a 6’6″ woman with a naked roped-up man in tow (the rope especially tight around his scrotum). Her curly blond hair cascades like a wild fountain from a ponytail on top of her head; one eye points one way and the other a different way entirely. She’s wearing a black bra and panties and boots up past her knees. The man stands a good seven inches below her, handsome and visibly aroused. “I had to bring him out and show you how ridiculous he looks,” the woman says, slapping his erection with her rubber-gloved hand from time to time, like swatting half-consciously at a fly. (He must have put a check-mark on his form next to CBT — Cock & Ball Torture.) “And Lisa’s just visiting. You look really foolish to her. Do you know that?”
I’m staring at him. We make eye contact for about a quarter of a second. (A slave is not allowed more than that.) What was in his eyes? Intelligence, excitement, but mostly amusement. This is all a silly game, isn’t it? But the result is a naked man tended to by a bunch of half-naked women. Like all those games we played as kids — doctor, strip poker, truth or dare, Twister, spin the bottle — this looks a lot like an excuse to get naked and felt up. But the excuse itself, the game, is what makes it titillating.
The guy on the leash might be a doctor and a committee chairman twenty-three hours a day, but when he comes to Pandora’s Box and gets stripped down and restrained by a booted lady, he’s nothing but a ridiculous slaveboy — and what does a slaveboy have to think about but having an orgasm? Nothing.
Katrina pulls a toothpick out of her sandwich — the kind with the crinkled plastic stuff on top — and hands it to the 6’6″ woman. “Here, spank him with this,” she suggests. That’s what the mistress does. We all laugh at him and he’s smiling and his penis is showing its appreciation.
When he is led back to the torture room I ask Pagan and Katrina what kind of girl applies for a job in a dungeon.
Pagan: “Every kind — single moms, rich kids, married women . . .”
“Psychiatrists and philosophy doctorate candidates,” adds Raven, the owner, later.
“You name it,” says Katrina. “Most of us practice S/M in our personal lives, too. But at home it’s just spice,” says Katrina. “It’s not the whole meal.”
“It’s not that we don’t get some bitter, twisted fucks in here,” Pagan continues. “But most of the women doing S/M for money become involved in it because this is what they like, and because they understand the feeling of being disassociated from the rest of the world. That’s the thing that separates it from prostitution. We’re giving a sense of belonging for an hour to an outcast.
“These men have desires they do not feel they could approach their wives with. And a lot of men tend to desexualize the women they love. Then there’s the guys who are complete geeks who could not get a woman on their own. Not only do they have no social skills, but just to ice their geek-cake they’re a cross-dresser or they want to be a baby. So they’ve got all these obvious hurdles.”
Katrina strikes me as fun and well-adjusted and pretty wonderful, but there’s something extra in Pagan. That stuff about letting a guy beat you for money because you empathize with his lonely exile somehow does not sound like crap coming out of her mouth. She has a lusty laugh and a fragile soul (I’m guessing this from her eyes) and she’s handsy. She’s touched my thigh, my ass and my shoulder so far. Some would find this intimidating, others, reassuring. She could have been a palm-reader, a masseuse, a witch doctor. She chose to be a role-player to deviants. I worry about her getting hurt, and ask if she feels a sense of danger.
“The real danger of working here is losing sight of your own sexual needs. You gotta take breaks. Because you are functioning to fulfill the needs and fantasies of others. You become a fantasy. That’s dangerous. And because so many people look down on it, you feel separated from the rest of society. You can’t brag to mom. But there is a sense of community in here. Here we are, all doing this subterranean thing, and we can respect each other for doing our job well. But if you want to talk about danger, talk to Anne.”
Anne is pretty, knowing, a little hard around the edges, probably in her late twenties. She talks about her last interview. “I walked in and two ladies from the Associated Press were here. I was carrying a whip and an umbrella. ‘What’s that?’ they asked. ‘It’s a versage whip,’ I said. My friend Adam was there. I said, ‘Here Adam, show them.’ So Adam hit me a few times and they were horrified — it makes a hissing sound when you swing it. And then one of them looked at the umbrella and said, ‘And . . . and, what do you use that for?’ I said, ‘Well, when it rains, I open it up and stand under it!'”
“Even masochists don’t like to get wet!” says Pagan. “You should’ve told them, ‘When it rains, I just look at it and wish I were standing under it.'”
“I told them, ‘Stick around — after dinner I’m gonna be hung from the ceiling and shocked with the violent wand!’ They looked at each other and took off as fast as they could.”
Why is my reaction so different from the AP ladies’? I come to the conclusion that it’s because the old ladies are sick and deformed. It’s weird to not enjoy seeing a naked penis in a fun atmosphere, or a few whip cracks on a well-formed, young rump.
Of course, the clientele are far from predominantly good-looking, and the atmosphere is not always fun. “There’s some men who come in just to beat up a woman,” says Anne. “It’s not erotic. This one guy must’ve gotten a parking ticket or something that week — he had me dress like a cop and he was “Aaargh!” His limbs were flailing, he was beating the shit out of me.”
Anne is a “lifestyle masochist/submissive,” which means she does more hard stuff and she does it more often — it’s not just spice. But there’s somebody for everybody, and for Anne there’s “the little Indian cabdriver,” and for the little Indian cabdriver there’s Anne.
“The little Indian cabdriver,” Anne begins, “has a Jon-Benet fantasy. You know how she died, don’t you?”
“She died by strangulation with a tourniquet, but she must have been used to that — as a game — because she didn’t put up a struggle. So, he had my hands and my feet tied behind my back, he had me hog-tied, and he had me on my back, which was not real comfortable. Then he sat on my chest to push the air out of my lungs. When the time came for me to breathe again, he’d let up a bit, so air would go back into my lungs. And he had me gagged and a big rope around my neck and he was strangling me until I’d make that sound you make when you’re getting strangled — you know, ‘Aaak-k-k.’
“He knew what he was doing, so it didn’t really scare me. At one point I started passing out and you wouldn’t believe how fast this guy moved! He got right off me and untied me. But afterwards, I thought maybe that wasn’t such a good idea.” Katrina and Pagan and I looked at each other — we agreed.
“I like a little fear when I’m playing,” continued Anne. “It takes a lot to scare me. This client the other day leans over and says in my ear, ‘You know, I could kill you right now and no one would ever know. You don’t know how many people I’ve killed before.’ “I’m thinking, ‘Yeah — just don’t get my hair caught in the rope.'”