Toys 'R' Us
I never gave a damn about sex toys. For years, I'd been perfectly satisfied with the usual human crevices and appendages, and I was convinced that the introduction of a foreign substance to my lovemaking -- whether rubber, leather, or oil glop -- would only make me feel uncomfortable or just plain silly. I could not imagine being handcuffed to a bedpost, or pouring myself into a latex cat suit and digging a spiked heel into my lover's backside. But there comes a point in your life -- if you consider yourself witty, worldly, and urbane -- when you just gotta know, you know? So I set out to explore the nasty and the nice, and, as fate would have it, happily found my new curiosity emerging just as the biannual National Leather Association's Fetish Flea Market was getting started.Held under the big top of the South End Cyclorama, the Fetish Flea Market is a three-ring circus of the forbidden. For the sex-toy virgin, it's the ultimate introduction to devices made for use in and on remote and unlikely regions of the human body. The scene looked like some sort of futuristic, pseudo-medieval carnival, with women swinging from the ceiling in chain-and-leather cages, and men being led on leashes. In one corner, two gargantuan ladies cheerfully administered loud, painful-sounding slaps to a tiny victim's waiting bottom. And all around, glittering and glowing, were booths filled with an endless array of butt plugs, paddles, crops, masks, collars, tit clamps, and whips. And there was one giant wooden cross to which you could tie a partner for a little crucifixion fun.There was the Wonder Strap -- peddled in one booth by its inventor, Paul C. -- a device with two padded loops (one for each leg) attached to a leather belt, which, when pulled, conveniently caused the wearer to assume the "Position of Love." Paul C. claimed the idea for the contraption had come to him in a dream, and that, when using the thing, he could "make people speak in tongues."One booth was stocked with football jerseys, jockstraps, helmets, and padding suitable for fulfilling locker-room and playing-field fantasies. Another had something called Water Sports, a flexible metal hose that attaches to your bathroom faucet and appears relatively innocent until you notice the clear, plastic penis at its tip. There was a booth with vendors selling Violet Wands, glowing purple rods that administered sharp, but not unpleasant, jolts of electricity. There were exquisitely crafted human saddles and a life-size, jelly-like arm that gave new meaning to the term "helping hand."I was beginning to feel overwhelmed. Saddles and electricity and disembodied arms? I had always considered myself open-minded, but my inability to picture these items in my boudoir struck me as embarrassingly conservative. It wasn't until much later that my confidence was restored by an experience at one of the sex-shop booths.I came across a red, patent-leather, triangle-shaped device with a padded underside, two straps, and a hole in the middle, and immediately assumed it was a decorative piece for a male's lower half. When the store owner explained that the thing was a mask and the hole was for a nose (!?), I felt smugly satisfied with the knowledge that my interpretation had been far more sordid.This feeling quickly dissolved when I picked up a black latex dildo. The toy had what looked like a blood-pressure pump attached to it. When I asked what the pump was for, the store owner explained that it was used to "blow it up" and then demonstrated. I watched in awe as the thing swelled to monstrous proportions, looking a bit like a mini-blimp and inspiring images of the more creative floats in Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade.This booth was also home to the Whartenburg Neurological Pinwheel, a sharp, stainless-steel wheel with blades like pointed teeth. "You roll it along the skin and apply as much pressure as you want," the man explained. I cringed as he demonstrated how the cruel-looking thing crawling up his arm left a trail of angry red welts. The word "Whartenburg" just didn't sound sexy to me.I found an oasis of sorts at the Grand Opening booth and its gigantic assortment of dildos. In true Freudian spirit, I was most fascinated by these items. It thrilled me to see the penile shape as a freestanding structure and an entity in and of itself. Its very form, a mysterious combination of grace and awkwardness, seemed a statement of sorts (pomo homo art, perhaps?). And the shape reminded me of neomodern, late-'60s furniture design. I wondered how the dildos would look lined tastefully along my mantelpiece.Grand Opening's bestseller is the Private Dancer, a silicone dildo that sticks to any smooth surface. It's just the thing to aid you in consummating the crush you've had on your favorite household appliance -- the refrigerator, for instance, or the washing machine (on spin cycle, of course).Grand Opening was stocked with other goodies besides my newly beloved dildos. There were banana- and kiwi-flavored Juicy Lube massage creams, and clit clips, blindfolds, and French ticklers. I had been pretending for years to know what French ticklers were; I can now say with certainty that they are cute little caps made of rubber with sprouts and nubs growing from their tops. They're made to fit snugly atop a penis or dildo head where they "tickle" those special spots. Vive la France! I was about to leave when a booth attendant brought out the sex-toy pi?ce de rsistance, a bizarre-looking device called the Tongue that was exactly that -- a large, pink, vibrating tongue, complete with taste buds and licking action!When she switched it on, the Tongue lapped lewdly at my hand like an adoring dog, its low growl rising above the feverish din of the Cyclorama. It seemed innocent enough, yet there was something about it I didn't like -- somehow, the Tongue was far more obscene and inexplicably sordid than anything else I'd seen that day. It was hard and strangely dry. A moist film of sweat beaded on my upper lip, and I felt slightly faint. Almost at once, the sharp smell of hot skin in leather seemed overwhelming as bodies of all shapes and sizes brushed by me, and the Tongue, meanwhile, mechanically continued its work.I drew my hand back and stumbled away. I'd had enough. The ladies at the Spanking Booth were still paddling away, the Wonder Strap, no doubt, was still being demonstrated, and somewhere, someone in the room was likely undergoing a Whartenburg treatment. I made my way toward the exit, sweating profusely. My sex-toy cherry had been popped.And what did that mean? Well, I now know that anyone can use a sex toy. And that they, unlike sexual partners, are completely without prejudice. The sex toy doesn't care if you're fat or thin or pretty or ugly. It doesn't care if you're well-educated or if you know your wines. Sex toys don't carry diseases or talk too much about lower-back pain, repressed memories, or the amazing healing powers of amethyst crystals. Sex toys are never late. They may not call, but they're always waiting -- and willing. Best of all, though they can be used with others, they allow you to enhance your pleasure as you make love to the person you adore most in this cold, cruel world: yourself.