A night at the Fetish Ball.
By Ashley Fantz
NOVEMBER 8, 1999: A clean sweep through my closet at 9:45 p.m. revealed the scariest moment of my Halloween.
I'm a librarian.
I'm a school teacher.
I'm one step away from a cardigan-wearing Citizens for Community Values sign carrier.
I had a date with the third annual Memphis Fetish Ball, and I needed chains, whips, cuffs, leather, scarves, large plastic um ... contraptions. I had none of it. Skimpy tops, I could do. Tight skirts, I had. But, the only leather peeking from all of the clothes I'd bought on sale at Bergdorf's last summer was a jacket from Anne Klein and pants from The Gap. Does this make me a mall masochist? The closest thing to a chain I owned was a belt I thought about wrapping around my chest only to discover that when chains pinch skin, it hurts. And I don't like being hurt.
I am a Walton.
So what was I doing going to the event that organizer Larry Bell called, "the freakiest, almost illegal, naked perversion fest of the South?"
Because, as Bell put it, "It's a night for people just to relax and do their thing."
For goodness sake, Bell was practically saving marriages across Memphis.
"I've had guys come up to me and say their wives wanted to go. They went and interacted with other couples, got something pierced, and just went nuts when they got home," he says. "For a lot of them it's the best sex they've had in like 15 years."
I love a good charity and I appreciate community service. How could I not go? After 15 minutes of applying heavier than hooker makeup and dousing myself in body glitter, I wiggled into the sluttiest outfit I could scavenge. I then pried my attitude open as wide as it would go and headed for Side Street Grill's Red Room.
It was 10:32 p.m. and the two-room bar and dance joint was pretty calm. Gothic chandeliers were illuminated with soft light, just catching the impressive array of pink fliers taped to the walls with a naked woman spread-eagled and smiling. A line of people was hovering over the bar like it was the fountain of inhibition. A quick span of the line revealed a sea of exposed white ass cheeks desperately contained in black fishnet, leather hot pants, or satin lace-up bustiers. There was an assorted collection of pierced nipples and riding crops. For those who felt like taking a souvenir from the night, piercing artists were standing by to puncture your flesh with the rod, stud, or ring of your fantasies. In fact, taking the opportunity at exactly 11:06 was a couple who looked like they'd taken a wrong turn out of Germantown, got a wild hair, and were finally doing something on a Sunday night besides watching TV and nodding off.
It was difficult to miss several people at the Fetish Ball. One in particular, a man wearing a leather face mask with a zipper mouth, stood in a corner near the door most of the time. He kept taking his wire rim glasses on and off and occasionally polishing the lenses on his Pleather vest. He seemed far more interesting than the chain bras and exposed genitalia floating around the club. When I stepped in front of him to get to the bar, he politely said excuse me and bowed his head in way that suggested, "I might be a gimp tonight, but that doesn't mean I've left my manners at home."
I ordered the girly sorority drink of champions -- a Fuzzy Navel.
"Not a drinker, huh?" the bartender said.
I couldn't hear anything over the pulsating industrial beats on the empty dance floor behind me.
"You're not a drinker," he said again.
"Well, yes, yes, I am," I stammered. "Vodka, then."
He slammed a small shot glass on the counter. This was good. I had a sinus infection and the vodka, once brought close to my face, would clear my nostrils until the New Year. I drilled it and then held onto the edge of the bar until my nerdy, bony fingertips lost their color.
A man slid his hands around my waist and whispered, "What's your fetish?"
"I like talking into this tape recorder and then going home and listening to myself," I replied.
Not knowing the proper fetish ball etiquette, I shook his hand and he told me his name was Bill. Dressed completely in black, which set off his gray receding hair, Bill told me he was into "submission" and enjoyed bondage.
"So what really is your fetish?" he asked again, visibly growing impatient with me, the faker. I couldn't help feeling insecure that he saw right through to my Marie Osmond core.
"I like to be wallpapered," I answered.
Conversation sort of waned after that, as it also did with a man wearing leather chaps and carrying a challis, and a woman who insisted on spanking me 10 times for "good luck and a good lay later, honey."
A few people were grinding on the dance floor. A couple -- both wearing jeans and the woman a cheap bra -- looked like they'd skipped a night at Denim & Diamonds for that special kind of variety that a fetish party provides. A threesome canoodled nearby while one person wearing a neck collar and chain dropped to all-fours and bucked like a rabid dog. For the next two hours, it was much of the same.
As the evening wound down, I struck up small talk with a woman whose bare breasts were covered in painted handprints. She was exceptionally polite. Perhaps she too didn't have much in her closet for the occasion and simply made do.
Lifting her breasts up she finally shouted over the music, "You just have to say, 'What the fuck,' sometimes, you know? You just have to be a freak every now and then."
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