Friday, February 17, 2006

Leather Lens: Black Frost 29

(Leather Life column published in Lavender Magazine, Issue #280, February 17, 2006)

The first part of the theme of this year’s Black Frost 29 run, presented by The Black Guard of Minneapolis, was “Prime for 29 . . .”. (Is someone in the Black Guard a mathematician?)

The Black Guard is justly famous for fabulous run shows. This year’s show, produced by Carl Gscheidmeier, was presented Saturday afternoon, Feb. 4 at the Brass Rail. Gscheidmeier’s alter ego, the legendary Miss Allison Brooks, was unable to perform this year and was greatly missed. We’re looking forward to her return next year.

Saturday evening’s run banquet was held at The Saloon. The banquet featured a parade of club colors that included representatives of eight clubs.

The second part of the theme for this year’s run was “Gettin’ Dirty for 30,” a reference to next year’s upcoming thirtieth-anniversary Black Frost. Mark your calendars now—The Black Guard will be pulling out all stops for that one.

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Karl Keturi opened the show with a twisted version of “Wilkommen” from Cabaret.

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Bruce Gohr broke tradition by actually singing a song (“Marie Leveaux” by Shel Silverstein) with his own voice.

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Taking a cue from the walkers used in Mel Brooks’ hit musical “The Producers,” Steve Burroughs as Miss Caroline Knipple portrays an elderly Nancy Sinatra still performing “These Boots Are Made For Walkin’.”

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Tips were encouraged and plentiful. All tips went to charity.

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Here’s what was under Caroline’s/Nancy’s raincoat.

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Mike Delorme, raking in the tips.

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Show producer Carl Gscheidmeier, left, and Mike Delorme roast Thoroughly Modern Millie—“the worst Best Musical ever!”

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Ralph Schmidt on the prowl for Big Spenders.

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Pat Duffy in his number saluting colorectal surgeons.

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PHOTO: Ron Daher as Miss Tina Turner—legs and all.

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PHOTO: Steve Burroughs as Miss Caroline Knipple, waiting to perform her “Broadway Baby” number.

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Steve Burroughs, as Miss Caroline Knipple, performs “Broadway Baby.”

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Tom Weiland performed several country/western numbers.

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PHOTO: The show’s finale and a Black Guard tradition: Abba’s “The Way Old Friends Do.”

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Hosts for the weekend, members of the Black Guard.

Friday, February 3, 2006

“Sex Machines” book features local celebrity

(Leather Life column published in Lavender Magazine, Issue #279, February 3, 2006)

“There once was a young man named Gene/
“Who invented a screwing machine . . . ”

So begins a very old, and very famous, bawdy limerick. The fascinating sexual subculture of “screwing machines,” and the people who build and use them, is the subject of Sex Machines: Photographs and Interviews, a new book by Timothy Archibald.

Sexual devices can be as simple as cock rings or as ubiquitous as phallic “personal vibrators” (“for soothing, relaxing massage on any part of your body!”). Sex Machines shows us more extreme, heavy-duty contraptions, designed to offer a sex partner that can truly “last all night” if necessary.

The machines shown in the book give new meaning to Ann Reed’s song that proclaims “Power tools are a girl’s best friend.” One of the devices pictured in the book is, in fact, a power tool—a Sawzall with a dildo attached where the reciprocating blade would normally be.

Some of the machines are sleek and elegant, while others run the gamut from high-tech to crude. But all of them represent American ingenuity at its best. If nothing else, the machines certainly work as interesting sculptural creations (this is probably helped greatly by Archibald’s photographic skills).

The inventors in the book are all men, and apparently all heterosexual. Many of them build the machines for the pleasure of the women in their lives, although the fact that a gay male (especially a closeted one) could put them to good use is mentioned often throughout the book.

These would-be Thomas Edisons are variants on the classic American garage inventor/basement tinkerer. For some it’s a business, for others a hobby. Some of them hope to build the Next Big Thing, while others are satisfied if their creations can give someone pleasure.

What is most striking about the men who build the machines, and the women who use them, is their very ordinariness. You could run into any of them at the grocery store, the post office or (especially) the hardware store, and have no inkling of what they’re doing in their garages or in their bedrooms. They don’t look like either perverts or sexual pioneers; they look like their neighbors.

Throughout the book Archibald’s photography is brilliant. His photographic style is documentary, colorful, deadpan, stark and honest. His portraits of the inventors are unblinking, often brutually realistic, and very revealing; he almost appears to be channeling Diane Arbus, only in a friendlier way. The photographs of the machines rise to the level of still lifes, skillfully capturing scenes of ordinary, mundane suburban or small-town settings—except for that odd-looking machine with a dildo (or two) hanging off one end.

In much of the book’s text, author Archibald lets the people in the book tell their stories in their own words. As with the photographs, the reader is struck by the combination of the relentlessly ordinary and the outlandish—foolish dreams, innocent naivete, triumph and disappointment and disillusionment, all leavened with a healthy dose of folk social commentary and sexual wisdom. A short afterword by A.D. Coleman puts the photos and interviews in context, and discusses the brave new world of machine sex in the 21st century.

Is machine sex good, or is it dehumanizing and isolating? Based on the interviews in this book it seems that, like so many other things, machine sex can be a very pleasurable blessing or a social impediment. Again, like so many things, machine sex is not for everyone—several of the inventors in the book were told by their wives in no uncertain terms: “You’re not touching me with that thing.”

In less skillful hands, this book could have been merely a voyeuristic exercise in shock and sensationalism. Instead, Archibald has crafted a thoughtful book with depth and integrity. Archibald’s greatest contribution may be that as he introduces us to the topic of sex machines, he gets us to start thinking about that topic.

The publication of Sex Machines, and an accompanying exhibit at the Museum of Sex in New York, is causing great excitement among members of the Twin Cities BDSM community. One of the machines in the book, “Huskette,” was created by “James” of St. Paul, known locally as Charger. (Another inventor in the book, Scott Ehalt, is from Champlin, Minn.)

Huskette is one of a family of three machines, the other two of which are named “Husky.” The machines have become legendary after making appearances at local parties over the years, and have even inspired a Royal Order of Husketeers club for those who have had the pleasure of riding them. Members wear Husky pins, and at parties join in singing the Husketeers song (to the tune of the old Mickey Mouse Club theme).

It was recently announced that Husky has been added to the permanent collection of the Museum of Sex. To fill the void left by its relocation to New York, Charger is designing and building a new, and radically different, sex machine. No doubt it will soon be coming to a party near you.