Excerpt: Working Stiff

1.21.2007

By Grant Stoddard

I'd first heard of Leather Camp during a Nerve editorial meeting. Leather Camp is a five-day retreat in which extremely kinky people from the United States and abroad get together and enact their wildest fantasies. The idea was that I would attend and report back on the scene. Michael Martin was initially lukewarm about the idea, but I shot the organizer an e-mail expressing an interest in joining in anyway. He replied saying that Leather Camp doesn't need publicity; that it sold out every year; that its location and schedule are closely guarded secrets; that he is trying to foster an environment free of judgment; that journalists are absolutely forbidden to attend.

'Now you're definitely fucking going!' said Michael, suddenly adrenalized with intrigue. 'What don't they want people to know about? You are going undercover.'

None of the installments of my column had ever hinged on my using an assumed persona. Usually I was courted by companies to promote their products and services and, among a specific subset of people, my name had clout. I could help companies sell hundreds of chin-mounted dildos or bottles of supplements 'specially formulated' to make one's semen taste like applesauce, just by giving them a quick mention.

The brief was to go live among these folk at their summer retreat and report back on what I found. Should anyone ask, I was to tell them that I was attracted to BDSM and thought that Leather Camp would be a good way to find out what worked for me.

I had already delved into some BDSM-type activity in my column before now: I'd been shrink-wrapped in latex, infantilized by a dominatrix, and had seven shades of shit beaten out of me by a female wrestler. These articles were blogged'and usually ridiculed'on BDSM Web sites, so there was a fairly good chance that people might recognize my name. My pseudonym was Simon, which I thought went well with my accent. I have found that when forced to lie, keeping the lies parallel with the truth can help thwart revealing inconsistencies. To that end, I said that I was a customer service administrator, which I was up until 12 months earlier.

A portion of the Leather Camp Web site dealt with travel arrangements and carpooling. I ended up getting a ride with a guy called Manflesh. I traveled to Brighton Beach, Brooklyn, to meet up with him at his parents' home.

Manflesh was red-haired, soft-spoken, and in his mid 20s. He had borrowed his parents' vehicle for Leather Camp: a large silver minivan with a large disabled sticker on the back and a mechanism for getting wheelchairs in and out of it.

'Hey, for a minivan, this thing can really move,' he assured me, then faithfully observed the speed limit the whole way down past the Mason-Dixon Line.

The location of Leather Camp was shrouded in secrecy right up until the event, though it was always based within a two-hour drive of Washington, D.C. Previous years had seen local communities getting wind of the goings-on at a Leather Camp event and arriving at the premises in heated protest, presumably with pitchforks and torches.

Manflesh astounded me with tales of Leather Camps past'this year was his sixth'until we were well into Delaware. Like the time he and all seven of his cabinmates kidnapped a bi-curious male (consensually, of course) and wouldn't release him until he'd fellated them all. I imagine that his curiosity was quenched after that. Manflesh took a satisfied drag on a Parliament and looked longingly out the window.

'It was intense,' he said. 'You know, for a beginner, you are taking on a lot by coming here. It'll be a baptism by fire.'

'How do you mean?' I asked. I began to panic.

'Leather Camp is fucking hard-core. It's no joke. That's why we love it and you probably will too. It's great because, for four or five days, it's life as it should be: no rules, no judgments, no limits. But after four or five days, the weekend is over and'Bam!'it's back to reality.'

At a typical BDSM event (bondage, domination, sadism, and masochism), Manflesh probably got more tail than I'd had in my entire life. He told me that he'd been whipped, flogged, pissed on, shat on, and generally bothered countless times since he discovered the scene at the tender age of 19. In fact, he was scheduled to give a two-hour tutorial on pissing that weekend. Last year, 10 and one-third women showered him with golden degradation.

'One of the girls was three months pregnant,' he explained the fraction cheerfully.

This time around, Manflesh had rallied 15 through a BDSM Web site; he assured me it was not to be missed. I took my Blimpie sub from my lips and gazed out the window, ruminating upon what the weekend would have in store.

I was in the death throes of a four-month relationship with Sophie. Sophie had some understandable misgivings about my attending a country retreat for sexual miscreants. Sophie was not really the jealous type, but her hormones were currently out of whack due to her being on fertility medication. She was 'donating' her eggs.

I assured her that I was just going to be there in an observational capacity, though I really couldn't gauge how I'd feel once I was there. I'd never been into the theatrical nature of the BDSM scene, though some of what Manflesh had said piqued my interest. Apparently, the previous year's big hit was the 'merry-go-suck-and-fuck,' in which eight 'bottoms' assumed prone positions on a merry-go-round while a corresponding number of 'tops' stood around the circle's perimeter. Condoms were changed with every spin of the wheel.

As we headed closer to camp, the clouds cleared. In the final mile of our journey, we passed through a quaint little village that listed the times of church services on its welcome sign. There I was, driving in with a man who made the Marquis de Sade look like Pat Boone. Did Littlebrooke's residents know that 400 more of us were on the way?

We slowly pulled up the gravel driveway to the checkpoint, where two 50-year-old women in Stars-and-Stripes T-shirts checked our credentials.

'Let's see yer dicks!' one of them yelled.

'We gotta check that you ain't vanilla!' said the other, laughing.

After three hours with Manflesh, I was feeling more vanilla than at any point in my life. He was poised to unbuckle his belt when a car came up behind us and we were waved into a parking area. About 25 yards from our car was a 50-year-old man dressed as a little girl, with a bright red wig, pink dress, white knee-high socks, and Mary Jane shoes. He looked like a dry-cured Strawberry Shortcake. He skipped along the dirt road before hopping into a buggy and taking the reins.

'Hyah!' he squealed, jerking his steed into motion.

The steed was a 60-year-old man. He wore a harness, black boots, blinders, a bit for his mouth, a butt plug replete with faux horsetail, and a cock ring. He pulled Strawberry Shortcake a few yards before the old man-little girl called out, 'Whoa.'

The centaur obligingly came to a halt. While the passenger buckled his shoe, his horse whinnied loudly, thrashed his head back and forth, and dragged a foot along the ground.

Manflesh put my mind at ease when I confessed that I hadn't brought any fetish wear whatsoever.

'That's fine,' he said, 'about half the people don't. Leather isn't a literal term. Leather is a state of mind.'

Working Stiff by Grant Stoddard is now available from Harper Perennial Books, $12.95

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