In the summer of 1988, i was nearing fifty but was in fabulous physical shape since i’d had to stay very busy for a year to keep from dwelling on Allen’s death, which meant that i’d been working out in the gym harder than ever before or since and had filled the rest of my time with a great deal of physical labor on my house, converting the unfinished basement into a rumpus room, etc. And since i’d had little appetite, i was ripped better than ever before or since.
So some depraved friends suggested that i join them over a long Labor Day weekend at the CHC Inferno, an annual event held north of Chicago on the eastern shore of Lake Michigan where the crême de la crême of the international male SM set gather to practice on each other. Well, hey, i figured that since i was HIV+ and thus would certainly be dead fairly soon, it wouldn’t hurt to do something outrageous.
So i flew to Chicago, changed planes for a short hop to Grand Rapids, and caught the van to Douglas Dunes arranged by the Inferno planners.
Oh. My. Goodness. The event was fascinating. I saw atrocities i’d never imagined, performed on people who seemed to be liking them, at least on some level. I enjoyed myself enormously although i was such a white bread beginner that i didn’t get even close to the atrocity level myself. Ummm, that may be relative. But there was one problem. It occurred in the Grand Rapids airport on the return trip.
In the first place, a good many of the outbound campers were dressed, well, nontraditionally – in motorcycle leathers and worse. But that was bearable. What popped my cork was this muscular young man from Los Angeles who had got himself flogged to a bloody mess the previous evening and elected to wear for his return trip a tight white tee shirt so diaphanous that his wounds stood out in high relief and were oozing through the shirt.
Oh, but it gets worse. He wasn’t just sitting quietly waiting for his flight. Oh no, he was circulating among us, chatting us all up gaily and making it clear to the wide-eyed Michiganers around us, who’d always assumed that freshly flogged folks were thrown right back into their dungeons until they were presentable, that not only was he one of us but worse yet, he knew me!
I’ve never been so mortified, and i closed my eyes and prayed more earnestly than i’d ever prayed in my life. For once, my prayers were answered. Or at least partly. He was on my flight, which was no surprise since virtually all of us were going back to Chicago for connecting flights elsewhere, but at least he wasn’t seated near me. Whew.
A year later, my trauma was still fresh in my mind when i got an invitation to go back to the Inferno, but along with some other shy San Franciscans i figured out a way to save a few dollars, achieve a greater degree of anonymity, and get to and from the event without frightening the horses. We rented a van in Chicago and drove from there to the site, five innocuous men dressed casually in plain, midwestern attire. How relaxing to blend right in.
The Inferno was as infernal as the previous year, and a great time was had by all even though i was still such a beginner that flogging folks to bloody messes remained outside my skill set…as, yikes!, did the alternative. But then, as we packed the van on the morning of our departure, we were approached by Wally and Eddie, who asked us for a ride to O’Hare. We couldn’t refuse, of course, as there was plenty of room in the van for them. But why, you ask, would we even think of refusing?
Well, Wally was a thalidomide dwarf who always dressed in full leather. Eddie was normally formed but had a profound need not to be upstaged by Wally, so he also dressed outrageously, as well as sporting a bizarre haircut and a variety of facial piercings, large facial piercings. Sigh. There goes our cover, but at least we could seat them on the right side of the van away from the driver’s side windows, and since i was driving i knew i’d be remaining in the right lane as much as possible and we could thus smuggle them into the airport discreetly.
So we boarded the van and set off. All went well until about halfway to Chicago when Wally announced that he had to go to the bathroom. Oh shit. I took the next exit, and luck was with us, spotted a station with no customers. Ha! Thanking my lucky stars, i pulled onto the apron as close to the men’s room as possible to let him out.
They both got out. The door was locked, dammit, so they trooped around to the front for the key and then went back to the restroom and entered. Together. Well, at least they weren’t holding hands.
A deep silence prevailed inside the van while from the front of the station two young midwesterners emerged, fresh farm boys in shock from having seen such a remarkable pair of travelers. They approached the van, their eyes flicking back and forth over the five of us, doubtless disappointed that we looked so normal.
“Where you guys from?”
In retrospect i realize that i could have got us off the hook by simply saying, “We’re from Chicago, but i don’t know what planet those two hitchhikers are from.” Alas, I was not thinking fast enough, so all i could do was growl out, “Dallas.” Sorry about that, Dallas, but we all know that under arduous interrogation the interrogated will say anything that comes to mind and my pain, albeit only emotional, was intense.
Eventually, after what must have seemed to the attendants like plenty of time for two or three acts of depravity, Wally and Eddie emerged from the restroom and walked back around to the front of the station, which at least got us out from under the scrutiny of the attendants.
The rest of the ride to Chicago was routine, and as i approached O’Hare i asked Them what airline they were using and basked in the silent warm approval of the rest of the original five since this meant i’d be dropping Them off first and the rest of us would be free, free at last to resume the appearance of normalcy.
When i pulled up to the check-in area for their airline, the others had their hands on their door handles, and as i came to a stop were out of the van jerking Their baggage to the curb with the alacrity of an Indy 500 pit crew. Three seconds later we pulled away to a collective sigh of relief. Then the cop and i dropped the other three off at their airlines and drove off to turn the van in.
The cop? He was a tall, built, Nordic San Francisco police officer, a strikingly handsome martial arts expert with an off-duty taste for being tied up and abused by little swarthy guys. He’ll remain nameless since he’s still alive. But he had no more interest than i in advertising, so we strode through the terminal toward our gate, relaxed and relieved to be innocuous again.
We were almost there when we heard our names being called. No, not on the public address system. It was Them. They were at their gate, had spotted us passing, and were running to catch us, calling our names loudly. We stopped although i’m sure the cop also considered making a run for it.
And here they came. First Eddie, who could make better speed, then Wally with his short legs, and then a midwestern man shouting, “Sir, sir. You dropped your ticket!” as he brandished it.
Eddie arrived, Wally arrived, the man arrived, clutching the ticket. His eyes widened as he scanned the four of us. Eddie, Wally, the cop, me. Me, the cop, Wally, Eddie. And back again, his mouth hanging open as he tried desperately to assimilate what he was seeing and to somehow make sense of the unfathomable.
And in those seconds, a crowd of slack-jawed midwesterners gathered in a circle around us, stopped in their tracks by the sight, too fascinated by the extraordinary scene to continue walking but keeping a safe distance. In too much shock to speak, the good Samaritan wordlessly extended the ticket to Eddie. Eddie thanked him. I managed to croak that the cop and i feared being late for our flight and we slithered away while the crowd stood stunned around Eddie and Wally.
The cop and i finally gained a sanctuary in the back end of a nice dark bar beside our gate, and after several stiff ones, boarded our flight.
It was blessedly uneventful.
Hard to find a suitable photo for this one, but a friend digitized a photo of me from those times. Hard to look down now and imagine that 25 years ago i had abs like that. Click on the pic to examine them more closely.