Monday, November 15, 2004

Meet a femme fatale from Moldova at the S&M Masquerade Ball (part I)

LOCATION: Changes every year TIME: Ditto EQUIPMENT: Yourself, mask, safety pins, eyeliner, etc., etc. OPTIONAL: Naked slave on a chain

I'd only been in DC for a few weeks when I noticed an inconspicuous ad in the City Paper for an "S&M Masquerade Ball" at the Edge Nightclub. The ad mentioned that masks and fetish wear were required; you'd be turned away at the door without them. If you haven't noticed, I love a chance to wear a costume, so I talked it up to my friends. None of them had heard of the event or seen it advertised anywhere except for that one tiny ad in the City Paper, but they were willing to humour my costume obsession.

Josh, Rik and I decided to meet the afternoon of the ball to get suitable props from a sex shop (there are an abundance of them in Dupont Circle). Our first stop was the Pleasure Place; we wandered in past the breast-shaped pasta and the alarming yard-long purple dildos and asked the assistant for masks. "Oh, we sold out weeks ago," she said, twirling a strand of bright-red hair around her finger. "Everyone's going to a masquerade ball tonight, it's, like, the best thing all year." Feather boas, spiked collars, corsets? They'd sold out of those too.

The seven-foot tall man in studded chaps who presided over The Leather Shop gave us a pitying look when we wandered in asking for masks. "Long gone," he grunted. "Masquerade ball." Then he turned a keener eye on Rik and moved closer. "Hey, you're cute." We fled.

After we'd visited all the area sex shops, Commander Salamander, and Smash, we tried a general costume shop. "Oh, sorry!" the clerk said. "We've had a real run on masks. I've got no idea why - it's months until Halloween. Would you like to special order something? It will only take a few weeks!" A woman standing in line behind me holding a vampire costume winked at my disappointment and mouthed, "Masquerade Ball?"

It was certainly eerie to realize how many subcultures can coexist in a city, each with their own important events which are almost completely invisible to outsiders. But philosophical reflections aside, we had a real problem: how to acquire masks, on short notice, in a city that had apparently been stripped clean of the prop by a teeming horde of underground fetishists? Luckily I try to always keep a selection of art supplies.* So we cut some masks out of construction paper and stapled rubber bands to them to hold them in place. Rik mismeasured his eye holes, so he couldn't really see out of his mask - "It's all right," he said, "I'll just put it on to get in and then take it off again."

Josh was resplendant in a French nobleman's costume he'd actually rented, Rik wore a black t-shirt with a dog collar (from a pet store), and I wore things I luckily had already: a black and red corset, fishnets, stiletto boots.

After a giggly metro ride, we arrived early to find that Edge was already packed; I guess if you've drawn black curlicues around your eyes and you have a shaggy red mohawk, there aren't many other pre-party options. There were all the colourful people there my heart could have desired. Dominatrixes wearing nothing but fishnet body stockings, walking around dragging their slaves on chains; a man wearing a chain mail suit he'd woven himself out of rings he'd ordered off eBay ("It took me three months," he explained. "It's like knitting. I just sat in front of the TV with tea"); women dancing naked in cages; loinclothed men doing backflips and eating fire.

But the most remarkable aspect of the evening was the warm fuzzy friendliness that everyone shared - something which I've come to realize is common to most subculture events, since a bunch of people usually considered freakish by mainstream society finally have a chance to spend time around other people who understand them. The atmosphere was positively giddy, especially in the women's bathroom where everyone was lingering to fix their elaborate makeup.

"I just love your dress!" gushed a tall Aeon Flux ringer to a black-pleather-sheathed goth.

"Well, your hair is just super," she giggled.

People were borrowing eyeliner, artfully ripping their stockings, and doing each others' laces. It all was so cheery, so communal, so perky, so all-American ... except when girls pinched me on the ass.

"Your corset is gorgeous, where did you get it?" Aeon Flux asked me.

"Victoria's Secret," I admitted, and she gave me a long, slow, pitying, I'm-trying-not-to-judge-you smile.

I managed to lose Rik when I ended up dancing sandwiched between an angel and a devil (both of whom turned out to be decidedly of this earth); he seemed quite happy, though, being whipped by a new friend on the outside deck. By the time we staggered home at 4am, I'd made more new friends than I would have in a typical month of going out. My only other note from the evening was that there seemed to be a statistically disproportionate number of accountants among the submissives. I wonder what that's all about.

So naturally, one year later, not being plugged in to the S&M scene, I had to excitedly scour the ads in the City Paper every week. This time I went with the divine Mehr (in a ballgown, naturally) and Elina (as a Russian princess), and we had real masks to flash at the bouncers in front of the Ball's new venue, the Bohemian Caverns. Towards the end of the evening, I found myself dancing with a tall, heart-breakingly beautiful blonde with black pom-poms on her miniskirt. "I'm so glad I found you again!" she exclaimed in a Russian accent. "I walked past you on the stairs, and you gave me the most wonderful smile. I've been looking for you for hours, I thought you might have left already! Write to me, please." She passed me a slip of paper with her email address, "Sapho."

To be continued....

*It's funny the different tools we consider essential. I remember Sef, attempting an impromptu engineering feat at my house one day, asking me unsuccessfully for a series of specific screwdrivers. He curled his lip disdainfully. "If only we were at my house," he said. "I've got all that stuff." I've had similar reactions to my lack of a hairdryer, hammer (I use my rock bookend), coffee maker, iron, and television. Yeah well, I feel that way about scissors, fabric glue, ribbons, oil pastels, and construction paper, aight?


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