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American Flags and Paddles
A Flea Market with a Difference
By Dusk PetersonFew events are more Middle America than a flea market. The ordinary, everyday couples burrowing through junk to find the bargains. The boys and girls horsing around with each other and with their elders. The air of utter conventionality.
Unless, of course, it is a leather flea market.
"Let me show you how this is done," said the top, taking a paddle from the hand of a potential customer. Next to the top, a leatherboy leaned over, his jeans pulled down far enough to reveal the black bands of his jockstrap. The top raised his arm and brought the paddle down on the naked flesh, so hard that the crack sounded above the beat of the overhead music.
"Ow!" shouted the leatherboy and stumbled forward, propelled by the impact.
The top laughed. The bystanders laughed. The leatherboy laughed, standing straight and rubbing his sore ass with a rueful smile.
The third annual Leather Flea Market in Washington, D.C., was underway.
Earlier, the organizers of the flea market, the Defenders Leather/Levi Club of Washington, had gathered in one-half of the balcony that runs most of the length of Titan Bar in northwest D.C. As they did so, they made hurried decisions that would affect the course of the day's sales. Mainstream videotapes were divided from porn tapes, and then gay tapes were divided from straight tapes.
"We'll charge a dollar for the heterosexual tapes," decreed Patrick, a member of the Defenders. "And even then, we won't succeed in selling them."
Further pricing decisions were made. How much for a pair of leather pants? How much for a 1980 issue of Honcho? How much for a full-length women's leather coat?
"Twenty-five dollars," Patrick pronounced. "We won't get many women here today."
The Milton-Bradley Firefighter Search & Rescue board game made him pause, though. "It looks new – we'll charge five dollars for it," he said. Then he amended, "Or three dollars. It all depends on what the other person wants to pay."
Whether the items would move off the shelf was a matter of some concern for the Defenders. The first Leather Flea Market in D.C., held in September 2003, had been a success, but the second flea market, in May 2004, had occurred on a warm spring day. Many buyers had stayed away. This year, the Defenders were taking no chances; they had scheduled the flea market for March 19, the last day of winter.
Master Taino, whose skill with the paddle had caused a moment of shared amusement between himself and the leatherboy, was in charge of the flea market. He sat on a bar stool below the far end of the balcony, wearing boots, black jeans, a leather vest, and a black tee-shirt. On his shirt was the scarlet and yellow, eagle-and-cross logo of the Defenders, a national network of clubs for gay and lesbian Catholic leatherfolk. Nearby was spread an array of leather items; amidst them lay a few small plastic bags holding vicious-looking clamps with chains between them. The plastic bags were labelled, "Napkin Holder Chain."
"This is our way to raise money to help others," said Master Taino, past president of Defenders/Washington. "This is brotherhood. All of our clubs are here under the same roof, spending time together."
Elsewhere in the bar, tables were set up to allow other D.C. leather clubs to show their wares. To Master Taino, this event had a religious dimension. "A lot of people think spirituality is only our relationship with God. But I think our relationship with our brothers is part of spirituality. And this is fun!"
The customers appeared to agree. With smiles and laughter, they sorted through the merchandise offered to them at the various tables. At the table of the Spartan Motorcycle Club, a votive candle that depicted Our Lady of Tattoos and Piercing was selling for three dollars. At the table of the Centaur Motorcycle Club, crates of Drummer and Bound & Gagged magazines were offered for forty dollars each. A member of Highwaymen TNT was selling "Nasty Pig Pants" (size 32) for eighty-five dollars.
A little salesmanship seemed necessary to press some of the items. "These are twenty dollars because the stain didn't take well," said a member of SigMa as a customer examined a wooden paddle with the SigMa logo on it. "But in terms of feel, they're just as good."
Next to them, one of the Centaurs was showing off a paddle that was hard on one side, furry on the other. When confronted with a female customer, though, he seemed at a loss. "Do you have any male friends who would like these?" he asked, waving his hands at a set of leather toys. Then his expression brightened. "We have these for sale," he said, picking up a set of tiny china tea kettles.
At the other end of the room, a leatherwoman took a critical look at a sling hanging from a suspension frame. "Clearly, no one designed this who ever went in for a pap smear," she said.
A black table nearby had found more satisfied customers.
The bottom, bear-sized, lay on the table, nothing holding him there other than two strips of fine white material that looped round the top of his legs, meeting at the groin. A top stood next to him, massaging the bottom's cock through the man's trousers. His eyes were on the bottom's face, and his other hand stroked the bottom's forehead. The top leaned forward, speaking softly.
Within minutes, the exchange was over. The top helped the bottom into a sitting position on the edge of the table, then wrapped his arms around the other man. The bottom rested his head on the top's shoulder, his face relaxed, his arms tight around the top.
The bottom eventually walked away. The top, after rolling up the white strip, tossed it into his bag and moved on. A white label came into view. "Bondage table," it said. "Fifty dollars."
On the balcony above, in the space opposite the Defenders' crowded sales area, a St. Andrew's cross stood empty. A man with a tee-shirt that said "Daddy's boy" stopped and fingered the eyehooks of the cross. A second man, riding crop under his arm, paused to join him. They both departed to discover whether the cross was for sale.
Less tangible sales were taking place nearby.
"Here's my card," said a member of the Men of Discipline, with all the crispness of a recruiting officer. "You can get in touch with me that way." He handed the man a flyer for the organization's upcoming boot camp.
Behind him hung a giant painting of a teddy bear sitting in a living room chair. The bear was dressed in white briefs and was reaching into a bag of honey mustard pretzels while his other hand held a lit cigar near his beer can.
The title of the painting? "What Teddy Bears are Really Up to When You Are Not Around."
Colonel Stephen Decker of the Men of Discipline said the painting was done by his partner, Ed Moore, who received the Pantheon Man of the Year award in 2002. Mr. Moore had created the painting as an entry in a kinky art show, and now, said Col. Decker, "It's taking up room in the house, so it's time to move it on."
A silent auction had been set up. The money would be used to benefit Brother Help Thyself, a charity coalition composed primarily of D.C.-area leather clubs.
The early afternoon rush had thinned out. Buyers were becoming selective. One of them pawed through the videos at the Centaurs' table. "Three Degrees of Humiliation – all right!" he said in a half-hearted manner, and set the tape aside. Back at the Spartans' table, buyers carefully examined the Harley-Davidson ties (three dollars) and the wind-up sperm toy (two dollars).
Two women and a man wandered upstairs from Hamburger Mary's, the restaurant below Titan's. The women were dressed in matching red University of Maryland sweatsuits; they carried bulky purses. One of the Defenders, seeing the group climb the few steps to the balcony, hurried up and stood nearby, cautiously waiting. The women fingered some of the rubber fetish items, puzzlement clear on their faces. After a minute, they made their decision; the group of three departed.
Fetishwear was more valued in the area below the balcony.
"I think it fits nice, don't you?" said slave andrew in a pleased voice, showing off the arm binder that held his arms straight behind his back.
"I think it would be cheaper to tie your hands behind your back," replied Master Tallen as he tugged at the slave's right nipple-ring. Master Tallen was wearing a vest, jeans, and a Master/slave Conference 2004 tee-shirt.
"But master, I could watch TV this way!" slave andrew cried with a laugh, flinging himself down onto his knees to demonstrate his new television-watching method. He was wearing denim shorts that had only passing acquaintance with his legs. A pack of cigarettes was tucked into the waistband, below a series of tattoos over his bare chest.
Master Tallen turned to the man next to him and explained, "You can't wear it with a body bag or with a straight jacket. The three bindings are mutually exclusive. It's three different ways of affirmation."
Everyone laughed. Grinning, slave andrew rose to his feet and said, "This is the sort of thing you have your slave wear to a leather flea market to keep him from picking up items." He mimed pecking with his nose.
Master Tallen silently removed the arm binder, revealing the eagle tattoo on his slave's right arm. "Thank you, master," said slave andrew, as though Master Tallen had gifted him with the binding on the spot.
Mid-afternoon lunchtime had arrived; all round the bar, club members were eating nachos and other snacks. In the Defenders balcony, squeezed on one side by a rack of leather clothes and on the other side by a pile of boxes culminating in a humidifier, the Outreach Captain for the group sat on a leather couch and munched his food. Paul's baseball cap shadowed his eyes.
For Paul, as for Master Taino, this event had spiritual implications. "Clubs need to give something back to the world," he said. "If they don't, they disintegrate. I've seen it happen to churches too." He quoted Albert Schweitzer as saying that the only happy people in the world are those who have learned to serve.
Again like Master Taino, Paul's thoughts were not only on charity but on brotherhood. "Gay men need to create their own family," he said, citing the difficulties of being homosexual in this society. "In order to alleviate that strain, you need to have a family that you can draw strength from." For Paul, the Defenders are that family.
"These guys are a family to me." So said Erik, a member of the DC boys of Leather, standing next to a table displaying boots.
Erik has been with this new family since he came to adulthood over two decades ago. Yet he does not fit the preconception that outsiders often have of leathermen.
"I'm one of those guys who doesn't look at a lot of porn, and apparently I'm in the minority, because we're selling out," he said, waving a hand at the nearly empty magazine bin.
Erik is a conservative leatherman, as was his sir. "He was a member of the New York Police Department," Erik reported, "but he always kept his private life private. It's the same with me. There's no reason to wear what I am on my sleeve."
Yet Erik's pride at his chosen family is clear as he recounts an event he attended where the American flag was flown alongside the gay pride flag and the leather pride flag. "Here's a flag that represents my country," he said, "and it's right next to two flags that represent my communities. That means a lot to me."
He looked round at the room filled with leathermen burrowing through junk to find the bargains. Nearby, leatherboys were horsing around with each other and with their tops.
"I don't think the leather community is a subculture," Erik said. "It's a reflection of American life."
The day drew to a close. On the balcony, the Defenders made ready to box up the items that hadn't sold: the coat, the pants, the issue of Honcho, the firefighter game. There were gaps in the boxes where customers had pulled out the magazines and books and videos they wanted. It was hard to tell whether any of the heterosexual videos had sold.
By the end of the day, Master Taino would later report, the Defenders would have made approximately $1,600 dollars. All of it would go to charity.
At the Centaurs' table, the crate of Bound & Gagged was gone, but the crate of Drummer remained unsold. A lingering customer approached. Would the Centaurs sell three issues of Drummer from the crate?
"Three for a dollar," said one of the Centaurs quickly. The customer departed, clutching Drummer Daddies 2 and Drummer issues 11 and 14. The last two issues alone were being advertised for one thousand dollars by an Internet magazine dealer. The final minutes of a flea market are a time for bargains.
In the emptying bar, another bargain was being made.
The top sat on his bar stool. Between his legs stood a man wearing jeans, a white tee-shirt, and dirty white sneakers. His hands rested on the top's thighs. The top spoke, too quietly to be heard over the music. His hands had raised the hem of the other man's tee-shirt and were exploring, stroking the skin, kneading it. The bottom didn't meet the top's eyes. He provided brief answers whenever the top paused his speech.
The top rose to his feet and stood close to the bottom. His hands continued to survey the pale flesh. The bottom looked over the top's shoulder, his expression hidden.
Then the top let the hem of the tee-shirt fall, and his hands rose. His fingers found tits and began to twist. He paused in his speech; the bottom answered, his breath coming more rapidly now. The bottom's hands drifted back to cross behind his back in an awkward manner.
The top released the other man and stepped forward, pressing his body against the body he had been testing. His lips found the bottom's earlobe, then his neck. His mouth travelled over the skin slowly. The bottom's eyes had closed, and his head was titled upwards.
The top's lips found the bottom's. The kiss deepened as the top placed his hand against the back of the bottom's head, holding him there. The bottom stood motionless, allowing the top to do as he would. Then, with great tentativeness, the bottom reached out and lightly touched the top's waist. When the top stepped back, the bottom's gaze was bonded to his.
The top's attention was distracted by another man standing nearby. The top exchanged a few words with the newcomer to the scene as the bottom watched, his eyes unwavering from the top. The top turned and said something to the bottom. Words were exchanged, and then Master Taino turned back to the member of the Defenders who wanted to talk with him.
The bottom picked up his backpack and swiftly left the bar, having found what he wanted at the Leather Flea Market.
Leather Flea Market Aims to Raise Funds. A Washington Blade article from 2003.
DC Pride. Links to D.C. area leather clubs.
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