“Where to?” the cabbie asks.
I pull off my eyeglasses, read my list, push my glasses back on—they are my protective wall between the outside and myself—and say, “Twentieth Street between Sixth and Seventh.”
I spot Purple Passion when I see its purple décor. Though I hesitate at the door, I urge myself inside. Until an hour earlier, I’d never been into a sex store. Never. Ever. My hour earlier “first” had been small and hotter than hell and had intimidated the hell out of me. Its walls had been the color of the Sunday school rooms of my youth. So had its size and temperature. Then there were its shelves of artfully detailed vibrators. Not my Sunday school room’s. The sex store’s. Vibrating kangeroos. Vibrating hummingbirds. Vibrating fish. Vibrating lizards. Vibrating swans. A Noah’s ark of vibrators. I stared at a rabbit vibrator, its front paws held as in prayer. I flew out the door, raced for the elevator, going the wrong way first, backtracked past the store, down the elevator, onto the street and hailed a cab.
Now, just inside the front door of Purple Passion, a BDSM store, I pause, stunned, wanting to run again. I try to focus on the checkout counter, which is to my left, so that I don’t look at the rack of whips to my right. Onward, I tell myself, but what my brain hears is the old hymn “Onward Christian Soldiers.” I force myself past racks of leather clothing and into the rear of the store, where there are curtained dressing rooms, their drapes not dropping all the way to the floor. I meander back through the clothing, occasionally glancing up at the wall displays—strips of black leather harnesses for men, hoods, and masks. A kind, heavyset woman approaches me. I inhale and say, “I’m looking for something to wear to a swing club tonight.”
She doesn’t flinch. Instead, she shows me miniscule black leather skirts and miniscule black leather dresses. Oh, Lord. My face contorts as I say, “Uh, I don’t have the greatest legs in the world.”
She insists that the quality of my legs doesn’t matter—everyone will be wearing short skirts. Everyone. Short and fat women. Big and tall women.
I don’t care how other women are dressed. I run my fingers up and down some rubber dresses. To my astonishment, I love the way they feel. Keeping skin on rubber, I look at their three-figure price tags. “Holy cow! That’s out of my budget. I need something cheap.” Only God knows if I’ll ever wear this stuff again.
I pick through a rack of black leather bras as the saleswoman sorts through the sale dresses. After she shows me a dress or two, I, too, begin flipping through the sale dresses, and then I walk into one of those curtained dressing rooms, drop my Levi’s on the floor, and try to slip on a dress. I can’t even get it up me. You must have to be a size two to wear any of this stuff. I hand the dress to the saleswoman.
She isn’t surprised. She knew it wasn’t going to fit. It’s a medium. But there isn’t one large size dress that I like—one that’s tailored, classic, like a business suit a reporter would wear on the job. I keep asking myself, What would Diane Sawyer wear while covering a night at a swing club? But I know that any network anchor would send her producer to do the sex club research and then show up, dressed in appropriate business attire, do the stand-up, and be on her way. But I also remember Diane Sawyer doing an interview in Europe while wearing thigh-high black leather boots…. I thought the boots had looked ridiculous on her—at least considering that she was wearing them while in reporter mode—and I never saw her in them again. Still…she’d worn them.
I return to the rack of black leather bras—their prices closer to my budget. I grab a bra or two and once again go behind the too short drapes, drop my clothes to the floor and try on the bras. “Uh,” I mutter through the curtain, “are these supposed to show the nipples?” I feel I can hear the saleswoman chuckle. The drape opens, and I stand before her with one nipple covered and the other not quite. She tries to politely explain that no, the bra isn’t meant to cover the nipples, and that complete coverage isn’t the point. It is to me, though.
I close the curtain and put my clothes back on as I hear her saying hello to a couple entering the store. I return to the rack of leather bras and thumb through them, while leaning my body backward so that I can watch the interaction between the saleswoman and the couple. The female shucks off her clothes and unabashedly tries on tight, sexy fetish outfit after tight, sexy fetish outfit, modeling them for her male companion, the saleswoman, and whomever happens to be watching—me, the woman holding the black leather demi-bra that doesn’t quite cover her nipples.
I find myself standing at the rack of floggers, stroking them. Whoa, I say to myself as I realize what I’m doing. But I can’t stop running my fingers the length of the leather, then rubber, especially the rubber. I stroke the floggers like I’m petting a horse, again and again and again. And it calms me the same way petting a horse does. I’m so wanting to buy one of the floggers, but the prices! Many of them are well over $100. Besides, what am I going to do with a flogger, rubber or leather? Hang it from my computer screen along with my old press badges?
I keep stroking as I stare at a rubber mask. I find myself kind of fancying it. To me, it’s a Batman mask—it has pointed ears. What girl from the 1960s doesn’t have a thing for Batman? Suzy! What’s happening to you?
I clutch that black leather bra in my hand and stride over to the checkout counter. “I’ll take this,” I say, still staring at the rubber garments on display. “I fear I’m developing a rubber fetish.”
The salesclerk, a gay young man, laughs. I don’t. I pay my $62 bill, sign up for the Purple Passion mailing list, and walk out the door, wondering what in the hell I’ve just done.