Counting floggers on the wall: Mr. S Leather
Because I took the occasional large amount of drugs, I could sometimes be found staying up all night and arriving at my world's worst band gig at a Greenwich Village theatre right around showtime at 8 p.m. the following day. On one such occasion I showed up in my party clothes and quickly changed, leaving my three-weeks-old pants in the dressing room.
The theatre backed up against an area known as Cracked-Out Drag Queen Alley. I believe it is on the National Register of Historic Places. Each night I would say hello to various cracked-out drag queens as I made my way into the theatre. A few nights we'd go into the alley and share food.
Anyway, this particular night I got offstage and the pants were gone. I was told that one of the cracked-out drag queens had snagged them. I never saw her again, or the pants, but I'm sure that until she sold them she probably accessorized a lot better than I had.
I always wanted to get another pair, but I put it off. I had been wounded, and needed the time to heal. How could I be sure I could keep my pants?
Well, time has made me strong again, so recently I traveled to San Francisco to get refitted.
The journey was important. I needed to see the cows whose hides would be sacrificed for my vanity. I drove up the mighty 5 freeway, through an area between the Tejon Pass and the 580 that is known as Cowschwitz. There I regarded the cows, and they regarded me.
"What up, cows?" I said.
"Word," they said gravely.
Just as cow-fear makes meat taste tangy, I wanted the cows to smell like love, fear's opposite. Instead I smelled manure. Does love smell like manure? It is impossible to tell. In my business, Fleet enemas mask the scent of much.
I was headed toward Mr. S Leather in San Francisco. Mr. S occupies a sizable chunk of the corner of Eighth and Harrison Streets, a two-story building in which the ground floor comprises a workshop and huge showroom and the top floor is soon to be converted into studio space for Uber Ego/Slave Labor Productions, a company that makes tasty BDSM videos.
It was through Uber Ego that I heard of Mr. S. I'm not into bondage - at least my own - because, you know me, I'm a free spirit. But I do like wielding crops and floggers now and then, if anything to get to hard-to-reach places at the top of cabinets.
Richard Hunter purchased Mr. S in 1991. The company was founded by Alan Selby in England in the early 1980's as a high-end but individualized leather gear store for hardcore leather dudes. Imagine the Village People's Glenn Hughes mixed with Rob Halford of Judas Priest and, perhaps, Satan. Hunter opened his shop in San Francisco and began marketing to a younger demographic.
"You entered the (original San Francisco) building through an iron cage," Hunter said. "Over the years, the place became very dark and foreboding."
Hunter's son, Tchukon, joined his father in the business in 1996. Tchukon grew up on a commune in upstate New York and, despite everything he had ever learned, sold cars until he joined the family business.
The Hunters opened their present location in September, 2005. It is bright and roomy. I asked if the accessibility took away some of the menace some of the company's older clients might have enjoyed about the previous location.
"I do think that some people were sad that it didn't seem like there would be gang rapes in the dressing room," Tchukon admitted, but it still can get pretty wild around here."
We passed a collection of glass butt plugs and Tchukon was inspired to tell a story. The story was called Why Butt Plugs Now Have Bases.
"My father knew a guy who had himself trussed up and was videotaping himself playing with a butt plug," Tchukon said. "So he's watching himself in the monitor and he slowly watches the butt plug disappearing into himself of its own accord. At the hospital, a Chinese lady with very small hands was the only person who could get it out."
I tried to respond with why 13 is known as a baker's dozen, but it just wasn't as good a story.
Tchukon now runs the company which includes a shop for leather and PVC-aware ladies, Madame S. His partner, the no-nonsense Kansas-bred domme Paige White, features the products in Uber Ego/Slave Labor videos.
Tchukon and Paige live in one apartment upstairs while Richard lives in another. My father probably would have frowned on my living with a woman out of wedlock under his roof, but he was also not into hardcore leather bondage, probably because the gas company didn't accommodate that lifestyle.
I met Skeeter, Mr. S' leather baroness. She came to the company in 1993, getting a job working the hides through her girlfriend. When they broke up and her girlfriend left the company, Skeeter stayed. It was she who took my measurements and introduced me to the hide that would become my pants.
"The first thing you need to know is that Levi's lies," she said. "They add an inch to your leg and they take an inch from your waist, so you think you're slimmer and taller."
This was tough love, and I didn't like it. "People come in here insisting that they have a 32 inch waist," Skeeter said, "and I have to gently convince them that they are quite a bit fatter."
I was quite a bit fatter, which didn't bother me as much as being told I didn't really have a 38" inseam, which is a source of pride in my family.
"Wicked Skeeter," I said.
In the workshop people were at work at weapons-grade sewing machines. Skeeter pulled out a bunch of cow hides and unrolled them. They come packed like fruit rollups, except if you ate them at recess you'd die.
"What you're smelling when you smell leather is really the work of the tannery," she said. "We buy from a select tannery, so we know, usually, where a hide comes from."
She said that my pants would probably come from either a California cow or a Texas cow.
"All my exes live in Texas," I noted.
Ignoring me, she said that sometimes it was even easier to identify a cow because the brand was still on it. "Naturally we don't use the brand," she said, "but if the brand gets through you know that cow really felt it."
Skeeter unrolled the hide. It smelled like love.
Skeeter explained the process of getting the hide from the cow. It is too sexy to describe on this family website. But she said that the best leather comes from the cow's back and sides, rather than the baggier area around its udders.
"So if you see someone wearing baggy leather, you can call him Cow Udder Ass?" I asked.
"Yes, you can," Skeeter said.
Upstairs I checked out the apartments and the massive construction area for the studio. The elder Hunter's area looked like it would intimidate a Cenobite. A genial, trim man in his sixties, Richard Hunter just didn't look like the type of fellow who would have a massive customized leather padded isolation chamber in the corner of his room. But he does.
"He kept a partner of his in there for 31 days once," Tchukon said. "He was getting a little feisty."
Mr. S supports the annual Folsom Street Fair and is a pillar of its south-of-Market neighborhood. Maybe because that city is a contained, 49-square-mile thumb that it has a sense of itself and its community more so than Los Angeles and the porn industry therein. It is just as easy, though, to look at the fundraising efforts for Nicki Hunter and sense a community spirit that is also admirable. Still, I don't see dads and their sons in L.A. living in places that look like the House Hellraiser Built.
My pants arrived last week. They are awesome. It is an unexpected pleasure to know where they came from and the people who made them.
See also: Mr. S Leather