It thrills me to be able to write this post, especially immediately following my last writeup about volunteering at Femina Potens.
Last night, I once again helped at the art gallery, this time in a completely different capacity. Last night was the gallery’s quarterly-held benefit, Art of Restraint, and I volunteered to bootblack at the event. When I got their e-mail about helping out at the benefit, I was surprised and excited to see bootblacking as a potential service, so I replied back with interest.
I could never have anticipated that I’d be working for the entire duration of the show – a solid three and a half hours of cleaning, licking, oiling, rubbing, and buffing shoes. I could never have imagined the conversations I’d be having with the seven people who sat down at my makeshift station.
I never saw a single performance. Behind me, I heard the screams, moans, heavy breathing, and cheering as Fivestar, Dylan Ryan, JP, Twisted Monk, Calico, Lochai, and Madison Young performed their respective scenes. But my chair was never empty. How can I complain about that? I thought that I would do perhaps one or two polishes at most. And instead I had people asking to get their shoes done while I worked, and many others just “enjoyed the show,” according to comments I overheard.
I had entirely too much fun, and while at first I worried that, given the atmosphere and debauchery going on, I’d have to deal with the same boundary issues that I encountered at the last event, I was pleasantly surprised that everyone asked before touching me, and a few people would start stroking my head and then ask if that was okay. And that is really all I am looking for in these kinds of situations: a little bit of thoughtfulness, respect, and protocol when I am offering a service.
This made it much easier for me to embrace my role and engage more completely with each person. Some people were content to stroke the top of my head; others gripped more tightly and pushed my mouth more deeply against their boots.
It was, in a word: hot.
So, a brief recap and acknowledgement of each person, and their shoes:
First was C, a café regular I’d gotten to know a little, who helped break the ice and get me started last night. I was glad to start off with someone I knew, as I was still a little nervous about my bootblacking capabilities. But things went smoothly, and C visibly appreciated the thorough licking I gave his boots.
Once I’d set up to work on his boots, a couple of women sitting nearby asked if there was a list to get on the chair. I shook my head, excited that others were showing interest. They came on next, first the woman named Fox and then her friend S. Fox was fairly demanding, ordering me to hold her cup of wine when Fivestar’s performance ended so that she could clap along with the crowd. But she also enjoyed my licking, to the point where she delayed my polishing to have me lick her boots more. Her compliments and audible enjoyment excited me, drawing me deeper into the service.
The three of us ended up chatting quite a bit, and the two of them really seemed to enjoy having their boots done. I admit, Fox’s demanding, no-nonsense personality felt a bit like a challenge, so that hearing her contentment translated to victory in my head. I felt really satisfied after doing her boots.
After Fox and her dancing shoes, and S and her Doc Martens, N, a man who had been sitting and watching the bootblacking nearby, got in the chair with his decade-old harness boots. While I gave them their deserved attention, N and I chatted, and we discovered we had some friends in common back in the kink scene in New York City (Hi Dov!).
There really is nothing quite like hearing the sighs and groans of pleasure that arise when I start licking a person’s boots. I was sweating, hot, and my knees were starting to hurt against the hard floor, but my heart swelled each time my buffing cloth revealed a smooth, hard shine (or the boots got a nice thick coat of shoe grease. Oh my dear lord, the enthralling scent of pine tar…it captures my senses and my memories).
After the lovely interaction with N, I stood up a bit to stretch my legs and enjoy the tail end of Monk and Calico’s performance. After they finished, I saw another friend, F, eyeing my now-empty chair. I had caught those glances earlier in the evening, so I asked if he’d like to have his boots done. He sat down, his girl M close by and watching. F had these knee-high, smooth smooth smooth harness boots, which were just a pleasure to feel. He told me he’d taken them to Burning Man and back, and generally took care of them himself. I was very impressed!
And except for catching myself right before I applied wax polish rather than shoe grease to the leather, the blacking went well, and his girl joined in the licking, so I concentrated just on his right boot while she focused on the left. At one point, in which I think he was lecturing M on leather service, he punctuated his words with his hand in my hair pressing my mouth harder against his boot. Yum.
Mmmm…I really liked those boots. F, along with I think most of the other people who’d sat down to get their shoes done, complimented me on my attention to detail, such as in cleaning the metal pins and rings of oil at the end. This made me smile inwardly and remember both my first instruction with Max as well as the bootblack intensive I attended afterwards.
After finishing F’s boots, I leaned back to catch my breath and wipe the sweat from my face, only to have yet another gentleman, P, ask to have his boots done. I nodded, and he sat down to reveal…lizard skin cowboy boots with white and yellow stitching!
Eep. I blinked. I felt his boots, under the pretense of rubbing and massaging his feet. I asked him what material his boots were made of to verify that it was indeed reptile skin leather.
I was in completely foreign territory. When I asked if he wanted his boots done a specific way (trying to get a hint of what to do at all), he told me to do whatever I thought best.
Not wanting to back off completely, I decided to at least clean them with saddle soap and give them a good licking. Wow, it was an incredibly different experience licking reptile leather! Much drier, and the way it moved under my tongue felt foreign after all the cow-hide I’d been working on. While I licked, I also ran over my options in my head, and now glad I’d taken the time to buy neutral wax polish before the show, I decided to use that to polish his boots. I wasn’t sure what shoe grease would do on reptile skin, but I figured a wax buff and polish wouldn’t harm the boots.
Well, if I do say so myself, the boots came out very nice, with a clean shine that did not discolor his beautiful stitching – the one thing I was primarily concerned about. I sat back, relieved, and thanked him for letting me work on such beautiful boots.
And lastly there was Jiz Lee. I was pretty exhausted by this point, but I wanted to do this last pair of boots. She had a well-used pair of black boots with red lacing and a leather buckle/flap that wrapped around the front of the ankle – something else I hadn’t seen before. I set to work cleaning and then, like the 6 times before, looked at her and asked if she would like her boots licked. Out of all 7 people, only she said, “Only if you want to.”
Well, of course I wanted to! This put a grin on my face, and I set my tongue to work. There was no better reward than for me to hear, from above, “That is so hot.”
I learned that Jiz had done horseback riding and was familiar with leathercare. I was reminded of Mo, a friend and bootblack who used to frequent the café, who’d also had a history of horseback riding. This made sense, and I remember all those times I’d accompanied my best friend to her horseback riding lessons with new appreciation. Jiz and I chatted on and off as I buffed her shoes, and inbetween we were hugged goodbye as people started to leave.
Whew. By the time I was re-lacing Jiz’s boots, I was seeing double with tiredness. It was time to go home. Most everyone else had left by this time, so I cleaned up quickly, said my last remaining goodbyes, and walked out of the gallery, utterly exhausted and utterly ecstatic.
What. A. Night.
A few months ago, I volunteered to help at a new event at the Femina Potens art gallery called “A Taste of Rope.” The concept behind this event was to offer couples the opportunity to experiment with different kinds of rope made from around the world. The gallery also came up with wine pairings for each of the ropes and provided chocolates, upping the swank factor (as well as the price, I’m sure).
I volunteered to serve drinks and hand out ropes during this event and to generally just help out where I could. However, my role changed when the event started, as there was an attendee who’d come without a partner. And since the whole point of this thing was to get to tie someone up with different kinds of ropes, this guy would miss out on a large part of the activities.
Additionally, the gallery had advertised the option to provide a bottom for those few single attendees, so I was asked to be his. I agreed, not thinking much of it, and was given a pillow to sit by his side, as much of the other bottoms and submissives were seated. Now, I happen to have seen this fellow before, as he’d stop by the café occasionally to sit and drink a cappuccino. I’d never really talked to him except to take his order, though. So we struck up some light conversation and listened to the descriptions of the ropes being brought out.
I admit it, I was looking forward to feeling the different ropes across my skin. There was bamboo and silk rope from Madame Butterfly, Twisted Monk’s hemp, Bind Me’s jute, and Jugoya jute, among others. And I had an academic interest as well, to see where my rope-making should be heading.
I’d forgotten about the other item Femina Potens had provided to each couple: a blindfold. The idea here was to give those being tied up a full tactile experience, heightened by the loss of sight. And as soon as the ropes were being passed around and free for use, the guy took his blindfold and slipped it over my eyes. I might have let out a nervous chuckle, but I did not protest. Implicit consent.
Again, I did not think much of it. It made me a little uncomfortable to lose my eyesight and bottom to someone I barely knew, but given the circumstances and atmosphere, I did not feel too worried. I was surrounded by people I knew, after all.
So, one after another, ropes were tied to me, taken off, slid across my skin, and given to me to feel. It was all, for the most part, fine. I didn’t particularly care for the way this guy tied, but I chided myself internally, as I’m pretty sure I’ve been spoiled by playing with very experienced rope enthusiasts. And everyone’s got to start learning somewhere, right?
The guy, after watching me recoil some rope that had just come off my arms, seemed impressed that I could do it blindfolded, and kept handing me more ropes to coil. And then he’d take more rope to tie me up in. And as the evening progressed, he was becoming more and more…hands-on, so to speak. He’d grab the ropes around my wrists and tug them up, growling with what I can only assume to be satisfaction. Then he’d tug on the ropes around my shoulders and chest. Finally, I had rope all over my upper body, my hands tied behind me. I’d moved around a bit and knew I could easily get out if needed, though it would leave a mess of tangled rope.
And by this point his hands were getting really friendly, caressing and pinching me. A line was crossed when he grabbed my ass and pinched my nipple, and yet I still said nothing. I was definitely uncomfortable now, and I didn’t want to bottom to this guy anymore. Yet still, my mind rationalized that the evening was almost over, and anyway I knew I could get myself out of the rope. And I did free an arm and walk away to get some water.
Once people started leaving, I got myself out of the ropes and recoiled them all (again to the guy’s amusement, which I did not so much care for anymore). I moved around the room finding other people to talk to, and this pretty much signaled the end of my evening of service to the guy. I gave him a brief hug farewell and stayed behind handing coats back to people.
All this to say – my experience that evening sums up nicely a term I’ve heard that I’ve latched onto: “assumed familiarity.” I think part of the reason I quieted any protests I could have made was due to the fact that lots of debauchery was occurring alongside and around me, and that seemed to be in the spirit of the event. Yet I often feel that there is an air of implied consent surrounding these openly kinky events, at a level I’ve realized I’m not comfortable with. I’m fine with that, and I know now to be more aware of what I’m signing up for when I volunteer to something like this.
I don’t want to ruin anyone else’s fun, but neither do I want to encourage the notion that I don’t have any personal boundaries. (It’s not like I haven’t experienced being something of an interactive “object” – I was Max’s Art Project for his annual New Year’s house party. But I knew what I was getting myself into there – and I trust Max!)
Similar incidents have happened elsewhere; the café is a good candidate for assumed familiarity. Many a morning when I work alone, I’ll have first-time visitors ask openly intimate or sexual questions out of the blue. I remember one older guy who came in and asked if the café allowed nudity. When I said no, and after a brief argument around street legal laws and public health codes, he snorted dismissively, saying “Oh, so you’re not really a kinky café then” and left.
And, amusingly, the opposite also occurs, and again, usually in the mornings when I work alone. I’ve had a few guys ask, “What’s a nice girl like you working in a place like this?” The first time this happened, the guy asked how I got this job and, not quite understanding the question, I replied that I’d helped get the place open and had shown my work ethic, and thus was hired. His response?
“Oh, I see. You’re not kinky or anything.”
Blink. Ohhh, that’s what he’d meant.
And I’ll smile sweetly and say, “Really? What makes you think that?”
(What a funny little phrase that is. Still: meaning, a continuation of an action or state of being. Also: calm, placid, quiet. Also: unmoving. Is it a continuation of being presently here? Quietly here? Unmoving here? English is such a silly, profound language.)
But yes. Linguistic digressions aside (blame my high school English teachers), I am still here. Quiet, but here. My five day trip to Seattle is over, and I finished writing about it in private just a few days prior – a monolithic undertaking given how much happened in such a short time span, and the intensity with which it all happened.
And as soon as I landed back in San Francisco, I had two jobs waiting for me, friends and acquaintances waiting with hugs and questions and stories of their own, and generally a life to catch up to.
So I have not been able to write here, though I have half-written drafts and millions of thoughts racing through my head all the time. Predominantly, my head is filled with the recent memories of my stay in Seattle.
I am delighted by how smoothly I made the transition back to my place by Max’s feet. Perhaps that is a sign that, despite our distance, I hadn’t left that place, that headspace, when I left Seattle after New Year’s. The thought makes me smile, makes me giddy, and rings with truth.
At the same time, such a raw admission is truly frightening to me. Each step I take deeper into this brings with it equal parts joy and fear: of losing myself inside his will, of giving up all of my control…
But I was reminded, just now, of what Max wrote months ago on this very blog:
I think being open enough to connect with people on a genuinely intimate level is the hardest, bravest and most rewarding thing we can do.
And I have, indeed, been richly rewarded.
Thank you, Sir.