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At the Barracks on Folsom
Leather-Bondage Whip Dance from Some Dance to Remember
By Jack Fritscher
"Are you alright?" Kick asked.
"I'm fine," Ryan said. He deflected Kick from one truth to another. "I was so used to Charley being sick, I can't believe he's dead." He was becoming expert at prevaricating, at denying himself to fit Kick's notion of how the two of them should be bonded together in the world. Ryan took his self-denial as the discipline he needed. It would have to do. Kick's will was his will. It was his new way of being. He told himself he didn't need the old ways of anonymous S&M anymore.
But he was wrong.
"I have to drive to El Lay for a week," Kick said. "Want to come along?"
Ryan saw his chance and took it. "I have some things I have to do," he said. "Christmas shopping."
"A man's got to do what a man's got to do," Kick said. "I've always admired your discipline."
"Actually, I need to be even more disciplined," Ryan said.
"Go for it," Kick said.
Ryan wondered if Kick knew what he meant. He didn't want to betray their relationship, but he needed something more strange than familiar. He could do what he had to do and still remember the home team. Kick's departure was his opportunity.
Ryan left the Victorian and drove to the Barracks on Folsom. At the side door, on Hallam Street, he waited in the Saturday-night line of men inching their way up the two steps into the lobby. The bath was crowded. The sign on the thick glass of the Check-In window read "No rooms. Lockers only." In another hour, the place would be SRO. "No rooms. No lockers." Latecorners would store their clothes for the night in marked grocery bags kept behind the counter.
Tony Tavarossi was manning the lobby window. He was a short, swarthy Italian who had worked nearly every bath and bar South of Market, but never on Castro. He had a chinstrap beard, a Dionysian mind, and a small apartment equipped for S&M play. He had at their first meeting frightened Ryan with his sexual intensity. During Ryan's first year in San Francisco, he had cruised warily around Tony, closer and closer, until contact. Tony was preferentially a bottom, a masochist, but he styled himself as a top's top, a sadist's sadist, a sensualist's sensualist guide.
"When you get tired of working guys over," he had told Ryan, "you let me take care of you." Every three months or so, before Kick, Ryan had needed Tony Tavarossi's care.
At the Check-In window, Ryan nodded hello over the loud music. Tony tried to speak through the round steel vent in the center of the glass separating them. Ryan pointed at his own ear and shook his head. He slipped his three bucks through the opening under the glass and signed his check-in card. Tony buzzed the inner door and Ryan walked into the Barracks.
Tony signaled one of the five guys behind the ledge. "Work the window for a second." He walked up to Ryan. They kissed each other. Tony eyed him knowingly. "You look hungry," Tony said. "Do you have anything to check?"
Ryan gave him his wallet.
Tony shoved it into a long narrow safety deposit drawer and locked it. He leaned over the ledge. "If a room becomes available, I'll call your locker number over the loudspeaker." He handed Ryan his locker key and a fresh white towel. "You really need it tonight," Tony said. "I can tell."
"I'm not sure what I need."
Tony grinned like a friend with a secret. "Check out the room to the right at the top of the stairs."
Ryan went to his locker to strip and cruise in the slow ritual of entering the bath.
Tony took a quick break and bounded up the stairs to the third floor. The door to the room was closed. Tony knocked. It opened. He went in. Five minutes later he came out and returned to the front desk. The door to the room stayed open. Three men in black leather chaps and vests sat waiting on the bed. Next to them a large suitcase lay open, displaying leather restraints, chains, and whips. A large can of Crisco sat on the floor. Votive candles burned on the window sill. In that flickering light, clad in leather, the men looked exactly like Arnett's silhouette murals.
Near his locker, Ryan snorted a hit of MDA and sat listening to the music, smoking a joint, until the first rush hit him. He tucked his poppers into his jeans and slowly cruised each floor until he reached the top.
He did not know what he was looking for.
He did not know that the men in the room at the top of the stairs were looking for him.
He was feeling his drug cocktail. He reached the top of the stairs. The hallway of the ancient hotel looked a mile long. He leaned against the wall almost opposite the open door.
One of the men stood in the doorway. His big cock hung greasy with Crisco. He had rings through both nipples. He smiled and motioned to Ryan. "C'mere," he said.
Curious, and turned on, Ryan walked to the man in the door.
"These are my buddies," the man said.
One of the two other men wore a leather codpiece and black leather bands around both his biceps. The third was tattooed and wore a jockstrap and leather gloves.
"We've got something you'd like," the man said, "and you've got something we'd like."
Ryan looked at the men, none of whom he'd kick out of bed. Then he looked up and down the busy hallway. "Why me?" he asked.
"Why not you?" the man said.
The man in the codpiece came to the door. "Besides," he said. He reached for both Ryan's arms. "Tonight's your night. Tony said so."
Their hands on his body felt good. He walked into their room. They closed the door. The three of them paced around his body touching him, putting a gloved finger into his mouth, groping his dick through his jeans, twisting his tits. Slowly, easily they laid him back on the bed and pulled off his boots and 501's. They dressed him in black-leather chaps with the crotch cut out. Black leather framed his naked cock, balls, and butt. His cheeks stood out, round and full, molded by the tight leather. They pulled his boots on and zipped the chaps down tight. They cinched heavy leather restraints around first one booted ankle and then the other. They tightened thick padded leather restraints around both his wrists. He stood in the middle of the room. His cock saluted at full attention. He wanted the pain that was not pain. He wanted their Energy. He wanted to give them his.
The four men contemplated each other. There was no pretense among them. There were no barriers. The stripping had been more than clothes. Ryan was naked in the want they observed and coached out of him. They were not executioners. He was not one of the penitentes. This was not Misericordia. There was no real guilt to be expiated, no real humiliation, no real pain in all this ritual.
Ryan, this night, was the chosen. The baths were the opposite of high school where teams picked the gay boys last.
He was honored down to the root of his hard dick.
Torture, like sacrifice, is a relative pleasure. Whatever in the corridors of the Barracks this scene might seem, it was for Ryan a warp more than Saturday night at the baths. The drugs gave Ryan that familiar old feeling.
His head clicked.
He was high, and certain these strangers knew they were, all four of them, concelebrating priests of a man-to-man ritual in the old discipline. They were shamans, more ancient than Druids, invoking priapic gods, congregating among profane men, who themselves, remembering or forgetting, it mattered not, tripped the corridors of the Barracks with motives as ancient as lust. The four were a quartet in perfect alignment. Under a hit of popper, Ryan fell down the violet-colored amyl tunnel with the black spot at the end. He was sure the spot was the moon in full eclipse viewed through a sacred passage of rune-covered stones.
The three men led him to the padded black-leather exercise bench they had moved in for the night. Together they quickly fastened his ankles and wrists to rings welded to the legs. His bare butt rose like a target. The man with the gloves stroked his ass. A heavy powerlifter's belt was laid across the small of his back and cinched under the bench. He was tied in place. They knew their moves. He knew the choreography. He thought to resist, to call a halt, but thought again about this chance to receive.
What they gave Ryan, as much bonding as bondage, as much touching as torture, sent him reeling. They gifted his head, all twisted up in his shorts since Charley-Pop died, with the tender S&M mercies that launch men into sensual out-of-body experiences much like athletes say, when pushing their bodies to the limits, their endorphins kick in, and physical limitations disappear. In the Olympics, records are this way broken and new ones made. In the baths, particularly that night for Ryan, transcendence occurred. The men worked him thoroughly, prepped him, launched him. He entered that pure floating feeling people have when they're starving. He forgot who he was, where he was in time and space. He was in a stage of rising transcendence, the baggage of personality and civilization joyously abandoned to the mystic state of saints.
He was free.
He was outside himself.
One with them.
Grateful to them.
His body was quivering. They were untying him, bringing him down, laying him flat on his face on the floor, standing him up to see their whipwork, walking him to the bed, sitting in close fraternity with him, stroking him. He was with them and they were brothers, men, all together.
Accepted and full of acceptance, he was in deep relaxed peace, sensually entranced and fully aware, when the most muscular of the three men greased his fist with Crisco and, giving Ryan unutterable pleasure, worked his way effortlessly into him, into the very guts of life. The man's hand touched his heart. Literally. Ryan flew high on the beatific fullness of the ultimate act of male intimacy.
Ryan had found what he needed.
He could not deny that S&M, not the old cliches of sadism and masochism, but S&M sophisticated, redefined in his Maneuvers as "sensuality and mutuality," was one of a homomasculinist man's greatest options. To ride, like a primitive young brave, the way a boy called "Pony" becomes a man called "Horse," through sensual, esoteric, tribal rites of passage, that make overbearing reason pale against the body's intuitive resources, is to rejoice in feeling one's male body enter adult sensuality.
Coming down in the three men's arms, Ryan remembered the home team.
Kick would be proud of him, but Kick would never know. Some things were better left unsaid. The bruises and cuts would heal and Kick would ask no questions anymore than Ryan would question what business it was that took Kick once a month to El Lay. Everyone has a secret life.
The night at the Barracks reminded Ryan that long before he had met
Kick, he had made himself ready, using anonymous sex to prepare his head
and his body, for the moment when the sexually correct man walked through
the door. Ryan was erotically ready to do anything anytime anywhere. He
Sex and transcendent ecstasy with anonymous men is a rehearsal for the main event with the main man of one's central dreams. I feel a need to practice every nuance from kissing to fisting to become sexually expert, so that the perfect man of my fantasy, when he shows up, will find me ready, willing and able to do whatever trip he prefers. I'll never say no to him.
This story originally appeared in Jack Fritscher's Some Dance to Remember: A Memoir-Novel of San Franciso 1970-1982, which was originally published in 1990 and is now published by Southern Tier Editions, Harrington Park Press, An Imprint of The Haworth Press, Inc., 2005. The excerpt is reprinted with permission of the author and of the publisher. The novel is available at: Amazon | Barnes & Noble | The Haworth Press.
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