At some point, you flounder so grandly that you must remove yourself from where your regulars can see you flipping and twitching — remove yourself from the stomping ground that has become your floundering ground. This is what took me away to San Francisco for a long weekend. This is what made me feel ways. This is the story that I’ve spoiled with the post title: Yeah, a fat girl gets slapped in the end. But keep reading, because beyond the slapping I pose a moral quandary.
Perhaps you’ve heard of the place where my story is set, for it was mentioned in a post on Gawker about how the man who currently runs a business there was arrested for coke possession after the San Francisco police investigated a suspicious shooting in his sex dungeon. (Really, isn’t a sex dungeon the ideal place to get coked up and shoot guns? If not there, where?) You may have also heard about the setting because it’s the old San Francisco Armory, a building that’s significant to California history but also geekdom because scenes from the first Star Wars were filmed there. These were things that Dina told me about leading up to the tour. For the record, she also told me that the place was now a big porn studio, but the ick of all that was mitigated by the idea that I’d be seeing an historic building. Both Dina and I knew people who had taken the tour previously, and we’d heard that the experience was exceedingly professional, because this place bumps uglies under the belief that sex is normal and healthy, even if your preferred form of sexual expression strays several circles out of vanilla territory.
This is not the tour we took.
For one, we had the weekend guy, whom I would describe as a twitchy, gay Fred Armisen. He preferred to use the word bromantic over of gay, however, and his first use of this term marked the best Lucille Bluth-style “This does not bode well” moment I’ve experienced in my life so far. The guide also had a strange habit of interrupting himself mid-sentence and punctuating that break with a sudden change in volume. It was terribly off-putting, to the point that you could never feel safe listening to him, because you didn’t know when he’d abandon his train of thought and suddenly be yelling at an imaginary conversational adversary. (At one point, he yelled “fingers in her butt!” In his defense, he was talking about a show where people put fingers in other people’s butts.) Finally, in the first few minutes of the tour, he admitted that he didn’t know that much about the history of the building and that he mostly be talking about the company. That also did not bode well.
We shuffled along, peeking in at one set and then another — a doctor’s office, a butcher shop, a padded room and all the other locations in which people apparently fantasize about having sex. The other people on the tour were way more into the experience than we were, and unlike us, they weren’t curious gawkers but ardent fans of the company and its products. They recognized sets. This was Disneyland for them, or at least Universal Studios, and they wanted to hop on the E.T. bike and have their photo taken re-creating their favorite movie memories… only instead of the E.T. bike, it was a padded sawhorse with dildos sprouting out all over it. Oh, you get the idea.
After a lot of shifting my eyes to the ground in a vain effort to diminish shame — mine, theirs — the tour led through the prop warehouse, which was an honest-to-god highlight, what with the eclectic furniture, a Johnny 5 robot repurposed as “Fuckzilla” and the area that smelled like a tack room, had riding crops like a tack room but just wasn’t a tack room. But beyond that was the top story of the building, where my tale draws to an awkward close in a lavish, Edwardian-style drawing room decorated with full-sized portraits of the company’s seniors staff… with their junk hanging out. Since the company uses the room to entertain, there are dining tables, but they curiously only have chairs on three sides. On the fourth side, in lieu of chairs, there were three holes in the surface of the table — a larger hole flanked by two smaller holes. The guide demonstrated how these were used for entertainment. I’m not sure what the word is here — actors? performers? guests of honor? people who had dreams once? — but whatever, people climb onto the tables and place their heads through the larger hole, their hands through the smaller holes and are then clamped in, their asses pointed skyward for passersby to see and, I’m assuming, manipulate. (Callback: “Fingers in her butt!”) Citing safety policy, the guide explained that people touring the facility could not get clamped in. However, if people were eager to approximate the experience, they could crawl under the table and insert their head from below.
This is where I introduce a pair of characters who accompanied us on the tour. One if a full-figured lass who looked like Ann from Arrested Development if she gained 150 pounds and bobbed her hair. She seemed young, and though I realize she was older, her every mannerism suggested someone who was still a girl — giggly, bouncy, petite in her manner, shyly enthusiastic in the way I think 50s housewives were. She raised her hand when the tour guide asked if anyone wanted to try out the head hole, and soon she had crawled beneath the sex table and pushed her head through, her face showing how thoroughly, unapologetically stoked she was to be a table head. That’s when the guy she was with stepped forward and took a picture of her. The guy, to the guide: “She’s my wife. Can I hit her?” I at first thought I had misheard. The two thoughts seemed logically disconnected. The guide, without giving it a second thought: “Sure!” And that’s when he walked up to his wife’s head, looking weirdly disembodied as it appeared on a plane of polished wood, and open-hand slapped her twice before winding up and cracking her across the face with a totally-not-kidding backhand. Based on her reaction, she really enjoyed it.
And that’s where the tour ended for me, and we immediately went for drinks in hopes of washing the experience out of our brains. Of course, here I am writing about it, so clearly that plan didn’t work, because drunk can’t beat awkward.
So here’s my dilemma: I was really not okay with seeing that Ann from Arrested Development get hit by her husband, even though she was more than okay with it. My reaction was a mix of shock and revulsion at seeing a woman — or, really, anybody — get abused at all, much less in such a public, theatrical fashion. I know that some people express love and sexuality with that degree of physicality, but I find it extremely difficult to witness it. That said, I realize it’s a telltale sign of homophobia and other bigotry to say something like “I don’t care what they do in their bedroom; I just don’t want to see it.” But that is essentially my take on seeing Ann get slapped. As a liberal, open-minded person who would hesitate to say “No, the way you’re loving is wrong,” how do I reconcile this?
No but really — because I’ve been rolling this one around in my head since this happened, and I can’t come up with an answer.