A masterpiece of meat-puppetry, that's what Jett and I are watching, along with hundreds of other corset-and-chaps-wearin' sensation seekers as the clock clicks past 10 p.m. or so at The Sets in Tempe. The occasion is the June 4 Arizona Fetish Ball, dubbed the "Fetish Prom" for theme's sake, and above the crowd in the far back of one of The Sets' cavernous performance spaces is a corn-row-wearin' honey in black-vinyl pants and gloves, being suspended by a set of steel hooks gouged into her upper back. The hooks pull on her flesh, creating two tents of skin that strain against the weight of her body, held three yards or so in the air. Blood streaks down her bare midriff, dripping onto the floor in little puddles that a functionary later mops up with napkin.
The spectacle reminds me of that scene in The Silence of the Lambs where Hannibal Lecter whacks a cop and hangs him outside his cell like a mounted bird of prey. Playing Dr. Lecter in a long-sleeved white shirt and surgical gloves is Steve Haworth (www.stevehaworth.com), dark guru of the performance group Life Suspended, which is the highlight of this evening's Fetish Prom. After Haworth unhooks this performer, there is a succession of others throughout the night, including a pair of large-breasted lasses strung up from either end of a black pole that drops down from the ceiling. Haworth turns these chicas about like two flesh-and-blood dolls on some sort of helicopter blade. I'm amazed they're not moaning in pain. Only when they're led away does it appear that one performer, a blonde with a metal cross inserted beneath the skin of her chest, looks close to fainting.
"Intense," mutters the bi-Danica Patrick. "C'mon, Boss Hogg, let's check out the VIP section backstage. I wanna conversate with the performers."
Behind a curtain in the rear, various Life Suspendees are either having stainless steel taken out of or put into their backs. One gal with closely cropped hair has just had four hooks inserted. Her name's Teri, and she's being aided by a girl named Anna, one of the ladies who just came off the black pole described above. Both Teri and Anna tell us they've been suspended so many times they can't give an exact number.
"Are you in a lot of pain right now, Teri?" the J-unit asks.
"It's a little tight, a little sore," she says, smiling. "But not bad."
"What are you going to be doing out there?"
"These four points will be connected to springs, so I should be bouncing up and down off the ground, in theory," she says, laughing.
"So what do you get out of the experience?" I wonder.
"It's just a huge rush, a high, almost," Teri explains. "You eventually come down, and when you do, you sleep really, really well. It's all worth it. Look at Anna's back. See all of those holes? That's how many times she's done it. Or check out Cory. Cory, show them."
A thin fella nearby doffs his top to reveal a map of scars all over his body. I notice that on a couch nearby is the blonde with the cross implant, looking dazed. I remember her from our first foray out to Sadisco a couple of months ago ("Low-Rent Libertines," March 3). I ask the gal -- Stephanie -- if she's all right, because she looks like she might pass out.
"I know I look like I'm on drugs," she tells me, her eyes wide and unblinking. "But it's from the performance."
"You're very brave." I touch her arm, a little worried. "What's the worst part about being up there?"
"Feeling the skin pulling away from the muscle. I'm sorry, I can't talk right now. Maybe later," she says.
We want to interview Steve Haworth, but he's busy overseeing his troupe, so we decide to make the rounds in the meantime. Basically, the event is carved up into three main sections: the performance area, where Life Suspended and other acts like fire jugglers and S&M-ers do their thing; an exhibition area where vendors are selling everything from paddles to panties; and a concert area, where bands like Curse of the Pink Hearse and N17 take the stage. The crowd perambulates through it all, like a giant vanity fair for the fetish set, dressed in everything from leather armor and body paint to slave collars and ass-baring britches.
We espy a number of the usual suspects: James Bound of Horns and Halos, one of the groups behind this event, and his model-perfect companion Kya; Mitch Palmer of TNG, The Next Generation (www.tng-arizona.org), the other organization putting together the Fetish Prom, as well as past and future BDS&M wing-dings like Fetish Ball 3 coming up October 8 (read about it at www.azfetishball.com); muscleman Simon Rohrich; and none other than Kenny of Black and Tan fame, who hits on the Jettster off and on throughout the night, despite Miss Thing's apparent indifference.
Working one of the vendors' booths is porn star turned dominatrix Mistress Porsche Lynn, who runs Phoenix's infamous Den of Iniquity (www.denofiniquityaz.com). A tall woman who looks like she could kick my keister with ease, she's nonetheless a classy business lady. I approach and ask why she's at the Fetish Prom.
"Meeting and greeting the public, getting our name out, networking, that sort of thing," she replies. "We're going on our fourth year in Phoenix, but not everyone knows about us."
"You know that cliché you always read about of the rich CEO going to a place like yours for his 'punishment'? Is that true?" I query.
"It's simple psychology," she chuckles. "If you're in a job where you're constantly ordering people around, you may want to give up control for an hour or two and tell someone, 'Do with me what you will, I don't want to be in control.'"
"I'm waiting for blubber butt here to get to that point so I can tan his fanny," spurts the Jettster, jerking her thumb my way. "But what about yourself? You're a lady in control. Do you ever have that need to hand over the whip?"
"Oh, I'm not one of those doms who is only a dom," she confides. "You'll see me getting tied up at shows, and I like flogging if someone's good at flogging. Or spanking. And I like role-playing, too."
Someone informs us that there's a flogging demo going on right now in the same room where the suspension was happening, but when we get there, we're slightly disappointed. This tall, thin dude is flogging some chick tied to an X-cross, but she has a skirt on, and you don't see any reddened butt cheek. When he goes after her with an electric wand, that's interesting, but I wanna witness more abuse. It's supposed to be a fetish ball, after all.
"This place needs some more intense spanking going on," utters the J-girl, reading my mind. "I mean, this is okay, but they need to have this sort of thing happening all through The Sets, all the time, nonstop."
"Maybe they have a suggestion box," I snark. "Hey, I think they're crowning the Fetish Prom King and Queen on the other stage. Let's check it out."
In the other room, the electronic/metal band N17 is about to get poppin', and there indeed are the King and Queen, already crowned. The King is this leather warrior named Kevin Speidel. He creates such outfits for a living through his company Hardwear Creations (www.hardwearcreations.com). The Queen is this dime in a hoop skirt with black tape over the nips of her exposed ta-tas who goes by Amanda. The Jettster and I aim to congratulate them, but before we can, N17 kicks in with a mighty roar, the crowd begins to mosh, and all confabulation is rendered impossible. But that's cool, as we're soon bangin' our heads to N17's furious, skull-splitting metal devastation.
Later, we finally catch up with Steve Haworth, now in a dark suit jacket, and arm-in-arm with his gorgeous, green-clad consort Cookie. Though it's after 2 a.m., we're able to ask him a couple of questions before the bouncers kick us out with the rest of the 1,100 partygoers who showed up for this perved-out prom.
"Steve, just how dangerous is it for people to be suspended like we saw tonight?" I ask.
"Well, if a person goes up for their first time, they can go into shock," he relates. "If they pass out, it's easy to bring them back around. But if you don't bring them back within two minutes, there are odds of them going into a coma. That's true any time anyone passes out for any reason."
"The suspension materials look pretty strong, but what about the skin of the back?" I wonder.
"In the skin of the back, one properly placed hook can support up to 400 pounds. But the skin on the chest is nowhere near as strong, though, and I have seen people go up by the chest, start to tear, then we bring them down."
"Now, you're a reverend in the Church of Body Modification, which you founded, so there must be a spiritual side to this as well as people doing it for the thrill or whatever," I comment.
"I have people who come to me to reclaim their bodies after a failed relationship, a divorce, or what have you. I have people who do it as a rite of passage or to see visions or for crazy endorphins to get this massive high for two or three days," he explains.
"And what about yourself? Do you suspend yourself?"
He shakes his head. "I'm one of those who suspended once, took from it what I wanted and didn't necessarily do it again."
"I think you should do it, Kreme," Jett interjects.
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"Really?" I say, drolly.
"Yeah, and I know what Steve can call the act," says P-town's bi-onic woman, smiling.
"Pray tell, my little kumquat."
"'Getting High with the Prince of Whales!'"