Friday, August 30, 1996

Route 66, Part 2

(Published in Lavender Magazine, Issue #33, August 30, 1996)

What I did on my summer vacation, continued . . . Oklahoma City was might pretty, all right, but one thing was missing: Their local leather bar, Levi’s, burned down two weeks before my visit. First Rod’s in Madison and now this—I suddenly sympathize with churchgoers in the South whose churches are being burned.

From Oklahoma, Route 66 continues through the Texas Panhandle. From the Cadillac Ranch (ten vintage Cadillacs buried fins-up-nose-down in a cornfield) to the 72-ounce steak at the Big Texas Steak Ranch (eat it, and all the trimmings, in one hour and it’s free—otherwise it’s $50), you really know you’re in Texas. But while the leather community is strong in Texas, there’s not much evidence of it along Route 66.

Albuquerque, on the other hand, is a Route 66 town with a strong leather presence. Every bar in town tries to attract leather, cowboys, or both. (And all the bars are conveniently located on Route 66!) A fun cowboy bar called The Ranch incorporates a leather bar called Cuff’s which is the home of the Sandia Leathermen (more about them later).

Unfortunately, Route 66 does not go through Phoenix and Tucson, where much of Arizona’s leather community flourishes. Instead it goes through Flagstaff, a charming little city where the Damron guidebook says a bar called Charlie’s is “discreetly frequented by the local gay population.” After Flagstaff, I experienced an adventurous (harrowing?) drive through mountains and the strange beauty of the Mojave Desert, as seen in the film Bagdad Cafe. Civilization at last reappeared in Barstow, California. From San Bernardino to the ocean, the remainder of Route 66 was a drive through urban Southern California.

The final stretch of Route 66, Santa Monica Boulevard, held one very special feature for me. For its entire length as one of the main drags (no pun intended) through the openly-gay community of West Hollywood (and past the International Male store!), the same highway that runs through the Bible Belt sports a grass median with flagpoles flying rainbow flags! The Mother Road has a powerful lesson to teach us: Like it or not, it unites us all; it brings together white, black, native American, Asian, Jew, Fundamentalist Christian, children of the rainbow—and leatherfolk. We’ll all be much happier if we learn to live comfortably with one another.

Kevin Watson is International Mr. Fantasy ’96

Kevin Watson, International Mr. Fantasy ’96.
The Twin Cities was well-represented at this year’s International Mr. Fantasy Contest in Omaha, Nebraska; in addition to our contestant, Robert Riley, I saw many other Twin Cities faces.

On Friday night the outgoing International Mr. Fantasy, JD Buchert, was roasted in traditional, semi-embarrassing fashion. To his credit, JD (who lives in Dallas, Texas) has taken this newly-established international title and given it a solid, credible start in its first year. My hat is off to him and to his partner, David Gillis. Prior to the roast, in the presence of the audience, JD and David renewed their marriage vows onstage. It was another of those genuinely touching moments for which Fantasy is becoming noted; last year’s contest was the scene of an onstage marriage proposal.

Saturday’s contest opened with a wacky but inspired production number re-creating the opening scenes of The Rocky Horror Picture Show. The evening was marred by some technical difficulties and problems with pacing, but those problems were forgotten as the fantasy performances heated up. By a fortunate accident, the final fantasy of the evening was also the best one by far—a sizzling cowboy scene featuring a lazy ranch-hand and an angry owner determined to teach him a thing or two. Some fancy ropework and a finale with a branding iron made this one of the best fantasies I’ve ever seen anywhere.

The results: Rick Strub (Nebraska) was second runner-up; Jeff Sappenfield (Texas) was first runner-up; and Kevin Watson, the man wielding the branding iron in the above-mentioned fantasy, is International Mr. Fantasy 1996! Kevin is from New Mexico, and the many Sandia Leathermen who traveled with him to Omaha held what turned out to be a victory party at the hotel after the contest. There was general agreement among audience members (and even other contestants) that “the right guy won.” Kevin, here’s hoping you have a wonderful year as International Mr. Fantasy 1996!

Drummer Contest Update

This year’s International Mr. Drummer Contest will be held in San Francisco on Saturday, September 28. VIP reception (hors d’oeuvres & open bar) starts at 2 pm, contest starts at 3 pm and runs 3-4 hours. VIP tickets are $40, regular tickets are $25. (My personal recommendation: spring for the VIP tickets.) To order, call the Townsend Box Office voice mail; have your credit card number and your mailing address handy.

Friday, August 16, 1996

“Go West”

(Published in Lavender Magazine, Issue #32, August 16, 1996)

“If you ever plan to motor west . . .”

I just returned from two weeks of driving Old Route 66, also known as America’s Main Street and The Mother Road. Yes, much of it is still there, even though it’s not called Route 66 any more. It still, as the song says, “winds from Chicago to L.A.,” so I started in Chicago and drove the whole thing. In this column I can only give you a small hint of the magic and wonder of those two weeks, but I’ll do my best. The story will be told from a gay leather perspective, of course. And although I will have many opportunities to use some variant of the phrase “Get your kicks,” I promise I won’t.

“You go through St. Louis”: When I asked Twin Cities leathermen what was a must-see in St. Louis, they all said “Clementine’s!” Turns out Clementine’s is located in the Soulard, a very old and very charming part of the city (and just a few blocks off Route 66!) And, in my honor, the adorably hunky bartender had the jukebox play “Get Your Kicks On Route 66” by Natalie Cole. But if you plan a weekend in St. Louis, here’s how it works: The evening starts at Clementine’s and then moves on to The Outpost (and The Eagle upstairs, with a really fun backroom). The action then moves down the block to Magnolia’s (“Mag’s” for short), and at closing time it’s off to East St. Louis, where the bars stay open until 4 a.m. There was lots of leather in evidence, all of it friendly. Quite a fun time—I’ll be back.

Tulsa was surprising, and not always in a good sense. I was looking forward to visiting The Tool Box; I have talked with the owners at various leather events and they often invited me to stop in if I was ever in the neighborhood. I got there only to find that The Tool Box is no longer a leather bar. Not only that, the leather scene in Tulsa has evidently fallen into disrepute with the rest of the local gay community. When asked why, one bartender at The Tool Box said, “Because you leather guys are the biggest queens of all.” I didn’t pursue the topic any further.

The pleasant surprise of Tulsa was the architecture. If you’re interested in Art Deco you’ll find some examples of it here that will stand shoulder-to-shoulder with Radio City Music Hall and the Chrysler Building in New York City. I spent two hours going through the Boston Avenue United Methodist Church and was overwhelmed both by the sophisticated detailing and use of symbolism, and by the loving care with which the building has been kept up. And that’s only one of many deco gems waiting for you.

One Tulsa architectural feature I didn’t visit was Oral Roberts University, featuring the much-talked-about Prayer Tower. Wherever you are in the city, it’s visible on the skyline. And I was told that the atmosphere there was just beautiful, and that people’s lives had been profoundly changed by visiting the campus. Maybe next time.

“Oklahoma City looks mighty pretty”: It sure does! There’s this old Route 66 motel that for the last 15 years or so has been The Habana Inn, a gay resort in the middle of the heartland. The huge motel features two pools, with two levels of rooms surrounding each, and with other wings of rooms besides. The ballrooms have been converted into restaurants and bars, making for one-stop shopping, so to speak. It was very cruisy. There wasn’t a lot of leather in evidence, but that didn’t matter; there was a storm brewing, and it was getting too dark to drive, and The Habana Inn is on Route 66! I just had to stay there, didn’t I?

That was Week One of the trip. I’ll tell you about the second week next issue.

SUBHEAD: We Oughta Be In Pictures

“Homo Heights,” a movie starring the inimitable Quentin Crisp, is now being filmed locally. They recently held auditions for “extras” in the club scenes, and it was great to see so many leatherfolk show up. One fellow auditioner told me I reminded him of “that guy with the Village People.” I’ve heard that before, but something else happened that I wasn’t expecting. During the audition one of the women (who was either with the film or with the casting agency) looked at my audition form, saw that I was the leather columnist for this magazine, and told me she reads my column. Well, whether I get a part in the film or not, thank you—you made my day!

Friday, August 2, 1996

“What’s The Deal With SM?”

(Published in Lavender Magazine, Issue #31, August 2, 1996)

A recent fundraiser hosted by Ms. Minnesota Leather 1996 Darlette Knox featured a flogging demonstration—several concurrent flogging scenes happening on stage with suitable lighting and music. After watching the action awhile, one of the people standing in front of me asked the person to his left: “So why are they doing this? What’s going on? What’s the deal?”

Perhaps you’re asking yourself the same question—”How can pain and bondage and torture and humiliation be pleasurable?” Perhaps you’d like to ask someone else for an explanation but would feel silly admitting that you don’t “get it” when it comes to SM (shorthand for sadomasochism).

SM sex is a way of exploring and growing in areas of sexuality and relationships that people often have problems with, such as trust (before I let someone flog me, I really have to trust them) or negotiating and respecting boundaries and limits (for example, a “safe-word” is negotiated between top and bottom before the scene begins; during the scene if the bottom says that safe-word the action comes to a halt). And SM sex can be a way of discovering new feelings and sensations, of “going where you’ve never been before.”

I don’t have room to give a complete explanation of a complex topic like SM in this column, but I can point your curiosity in the direction of some answers. Many books and magazine articles have been written about how and why SM sex works the way it does. For starters, you might be interested in The Leatherman’s Handbook II by Larry Townsend (which I can personally recommend) or SM 101 (I haven’t read it, but a lot of other people seem happy with it). Let me recommend a trip to A Brother’s Touch bookstore, where they will have plenty of books and magazines to satisfy your curiosity.

What if your investigations lead you to the conclusion that SM just isn’t your cup of tea? That’s okay. Not everyone who wears leather is into SM (and not everyone into SM necessarily wears leather). No one has the right to make you feel like a second-class leatherman or leatherwoman if you choose not to play in SM settings. However, respect is a two-way street—just because you choose not to indulge doesn’t mean you have the privilege of judging other peoples’ participation in SM as healthy or unhealthy.

If, on the other hand, your investigations make you want to start exploring SM, keep in mind that you get to choose how and when. Remember that the SM mantra is “Safe, Sane and Consensual.” No one has the right to coerce you into doing something you’re not ready to do. If you feel like someone is trying to, remember that the ultimate safe-word is “No!”

Not Safe and Not Sane

A leatherman who was prominent in a certain East Coast leather community was recently found dead in his basement—hanging by his belt from an overhead pipe. The community was stunned. Was it suicide? Or was it foul play?

I later heard the death had been ruled “accidental.” My friend had evidently been “scarfing”—choking off his oxygen supply to intensify sexual feeling. Obviously, this is a very dangerous thing to do and falls well outside the boundaries of “Safe, Sane and Consensual.” Please, I implore you—don’t even think about doing this.

In early 1994 a high official of the British government died the same way, and the British tabloids had a field day with it. It even was written up in Newsweek, where I read about it. I briefly thought to myself, “What a stupid thing to do!” before turning the page.

About a week later, I got a letter from my mother. In it was a copy of that same Newsweek article and a note: “I know, I know—you’re a big boy now and don’t need your mother clucking in the background. However, when I read the enclosed article I couldn’t help thinking . . . . Sexual highs are one thing, and I know you pursue them. Just don’t cross the safety line. Know that I send this because I love you, because I care. Enough said. Much love, Mom.”

Thanks, Mom. My sentiments exactly. (Have I got a cool Mom, or what?)

Upcoming Leather Events

International Mr. Fantasy Contest

August 16-18, Omaha, Nebraska
See previous issue for details. And good luck to Mr. Minnesota Fantasy 1996, Robert Riley.