Thursday, February 28, 2013

Fat Girl Got Slapped

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.


  1. I love this story. You are a great writer and storyteller. If I think of something useful to say beyond this, I'll return and say it! :) Thanks!

  2. And see? I want to move to San Francisco when I'm done with law school here and in live there because it seems like the best place in the world to live. You just confirmed it way further.

    And thanks for the tip. I didn't knew you could visit the Armory. I thought Kink was a closed door studio.

    1. I am not sure exactly how my friend got the tickets, but I feel like it's Google-able. Hint: Maybe don't go on a weekend. Special tip that will interest you, I'm guessing: Sometimes you can tour while they're filming.

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  4. " clearly that plan didn't work, because drunk can’t beat awkward."

    I apologize for mein schadenfreude, Drew, but that line made me laugh.

    More to the point, it sounds like the couple in question have some boundary issues; or, in short, 'get a room'. I feel that how they express their feelings is not the business of anyone present besides them. I feel similarly when I see parents discipline children in public, or people arguing or fighting or (ordinarily) making out. Maybe it's the result of witnessing something too personal/intimate for mixed company.

    If pointing out that you were the outsider in the crowd makes it worse, I apologize. But feeling self-conscious might have made the incident more jarring to see than otherwise. It may have been unsettling because it was unexpected; that there was no warning and no option to avoid seeing it.

    I can certainly say that if I had been witness to the incident, I'd have to tell myself that it's for them and not for me; that there's every possibility that something in my life could disturb them just as much; and that sometimes life just goes to hell when worlds collide (thanks Neil Young). All that can be done is to wish them well (thanks Neil Peart of Rush).

    Then I'd get drunk, as well.

    1. I think more than anything it was being an outsider that made it awkward. I'm fairly certain that the rest of the tour had no problem with it. That's why they were there.

  5. Her?

    Having just re-watched Arrested Development in it's entirety on Netflix a few days ago, your Lucile comment triggered my brain to read this entire article in the narrator's voice.

    1. Well, if it's any help, I looked like young Ron Howard when I was a kid.

  6. Anonymous10:04 PM

    "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.'"

    Man, you have some serious problems here. It saddens me, actually, because you have a lot of really interesting and thoughtful posts on this blog. But many of them are marred at least once by this routine where you bend over backwards to try to make yourself look PC, in the same sort of obsequious way that graduate students try so hard to show how they're more offended by things than their peers.

    Let's objectively examine the statement you just made. It's a sign of BIGOTRY that a heterosexual person wouldn't want to witness homosexual intercourse? A person who has no sexual attraction to their own gender is a bigot if they don't want to watch two people of their own gender going at it?

    Webster's defines "bigot" as a person who is obstinately or intolerantly devoted to his or her own opinions and prejudices; especially: one who regards or treats the members of a group (as a racial or ethnic group) with hatred and intolerance.

    So to restate: you are saying (not even implying, actually stating) that you "realize" (a flagrantly servile, brownnosing term in and of itself) that those who would rather not witness homosexual intercourse because they are heterosexual are "obstinately or intolerantly devoted" to having the sexual orientation they were born with. And _especially_, it is hateful and intolerant to not want to watch two dudes or two ladies fucking if you are a straight lady or dude. Right.

    Next time you decide to add in one of these little self-congratulatory asides about how sensitive you are, maybe you should put some thought into what you're actually writing. You appear to be capable of doing that when it comes to many other subjects, but your brain seems to shut down when it gets near any of liberal academia's sacred cows. And the quality of your writing really, really does suffer for it.

    Talking about being sensitive and publicly gnashing one's teeth about supposed moral dilemmas is not the same thing as actually being sensitive. More often than not, it's a form of narcissism or a bid for social acceptance. Especially on the internet.

    Sorry to sound so harsh, but this is the net and I think honesty is often the best policy. I enjoy a lot of your work, and I hope you keep writing. See ya.

    1. I feel like I didn’t explain properly what I meant. Maybe I can put a little more context around what I meant.

      I’m gay, and for a lot of my life, I had to deal with people — family members, classmates, friends — reacting with less-than-enthusiastic attitudes toward displays of any kind of homosexual behavior. I’m not talking over-the-top displays of affection in public. I’m talking about seeing a gay couple walking down the street holding hands. People I know reacted this way, for example, even when we had left our conservative little town and gone to San Francisco (Gay City, USA) for, like, a baseball game or a concert or whatever and we happened to be sitting near gay people who were just out for the day, enjoying themselves while being observably gay in one way or another. This is the sense I’m referring to when I say “I don’t care what they do in the bedroom. I just don’t want to see it.” This is something I have actually heard many times in my life, using one phrasing or another, in reference to gay people, even when the gay people weren’t doing something that needed to be confined to the bedroom. That’s why I link that phrase with homophobia. In the post, it’s not someone else’s homophobia, but my own negative reaction a different sort of sexuality. (Of note, the act in question wasn’t full-on sex. It was slapping. I don’t know where to plot that one the first base, second base path when it comes to this sort of thing.) Initially, that sentence just said “homophobia,” but I wanted to include the idea of biases against other forms of sexuality that aren’t just the same-sex kind. That’s why I picked the term “bigotry” — mostly because I wasn’t sure what word meant “anti-hitting sex-ism.”

    2. Anonymous10:26 PM

      That's cool. I didn't realize you were gay yourself, and I can see how repeatedly having that sort of experience would be irritating. I've never had to deal with that myself, and it sounds sort of callous to say, but I think you just have to deal with the fact that a lot of people are genuinely disgusted by the idea of two guys fucking. I think it's pretty ingrained, evolutionarily; it's a trait we evolved to make sure the semen gets to the right place and makes more humans.

      By the same token, your reaction of disgust to the violence is completely warranted, and I think 99% of people would feel the same way. You can have some private fun with BDSM, but publicly displaying that level of brutality is just plain offensive to everyone watching. Most of us don't like to hurt each other, especially not during sex.

      I guess my point is that we all live in the same world and we need to tolerate each other, but we don't need to like how everyone acts. Our opinions become especially strong when it comes to peoples' sexual choices, and I think that's healthy and natural. No one's entitled to anyone else's approval, and the way we feel about things is never "wrong." That couple's relationship probably is pretty fucked up, honestly. You're a sensitive person so you picked up on that.