L. Neil Smith's
THE LIBERTARIAN ENTERPRISE
Number 88, September 4, 2000
Special to TLE
My old occupation wasn't going anywhere, so I decided to begin a new career. As will become obvious, I spend a lot of time on the Net, and have learned a great deal from reading various websites and Usenet newsgroups. Some of the information was very interesting, such as my discovery that Christ has returned to earth as a woman named Janet Reno, or that those black helicopters hovering outside my bedroom window every morning belong to the Trilateral Masonic Illuminati of Arcturus L-7. (I was under the impression that they were piloted by Jimmy Hoffa.)
Anyway, the Net has been a real education. And most importantly, it helped me to discover a great business opportunity. Or so I thought. But the darn government had to go and stick its nose into my business.
Well, here's what happened.
Now, I am sure all of you have often wondered the following, just as I have: "How come it's darn near impossible to find good-quality S&M erotic entertainment at an affordable price?" I mean, look. We're all working bozos, right? We all like to relax after a hard day at the office, or the assembly line, or the donut shop, or the Pentagon, or whatever. And just like you, I often find my thoughts turning to the calm, peaceful after-work experience that only an experienced dominant can provide. But - again, just like you - I can't afford it when I need it. A quality dominatrix (you know, professionally-certified and all that) can set you back a whole week's paycheck, and that doesn't include the tip, the house-call surcharge, the leather-cleaning bills, the styptic powder, the sales tax, etc. (Just check your Yellow Pages if you don't believe me. You'll be astounded at what you'll find under "Torture--Retail".)
So, one dull evening I was perusing the Net, eating Taco Bell sauce out of the packet (yum) and bemoaning my lack of dinero, when I happened to stumble on a website that pricked my interest (and interested my pri... oops, can't say that here, can I? Hahaha.) Anyways, it gave me an idea: How about a discount erotic torture facility? I could undercut the high prices that all the big brand-name Bondage & Discipline outfits charge, make some money, and provide a useful service, all at the same time.
Electrified by this bright idea, I leaped off the chair (injuring myself slightly when I momentarily forgot about the handcuffs), and got to work.
I realized I wouldn't be able to start at the top. Just too expensive. And besides, as one of my websites mentioned, "Your first S&M experiences will be bottom experiences." But since my goal was to save my customers money, I figured that was okay.
The first task was to find a suitable dungeon. Obviously the uptown, Park Avenue-type locations, plate-glass display windows and all that, were out of my range. I checked out rents in the less-expensive parts of town, but it's tough to outbargain the crack dealers. Eventually, I decided I could run the thing quite nicely out of my landlady's garage. She's rather elderly and hard of hearing, and I thought the screams wouldn't bother her too much. And of course, if she did complain, I could always offer her a discount. Social Security only goes so far, and Medicare doesn't cover personal therapy of this sort. (Which is a darn good example of what's wrong with socialized medicine, if you ask me.)
Now, to the actual equipment. My business plan called for me to buy as much of my stuff as possible at yard sales, odd-lots auctions, and estate liquidations. I scoured the city, and actually came up with some dynamite bargains. As you know, the Rack is always a big-ticket expense for beginning sadists. I had zero luck finding a gently-used, fully-equipped functional Rack. (Well, there was the model with the bloodstains, but I thought that was sort of tacky...) Invention is the mother of necessity, or whatever, and I was able to improvise, however. My Rack was made out of bungee cords stretched over an old Ford F-150 half-ton pickup truck chassis. The rust and oilstains weren't too bad, and I found some nice bungees in decorator pastels. I was so proud of the way it turned out. I sent Martha Stewart a couple of photos and a coupon for 20 percent off her first visit. She never answered, but that's okay; I know she's busy.
I wanted to pay special attention to the Thumbscrews, since they can make or break a customer's experience. I am sure all of you know how hard it is to find decent Thumbscrews today. Nobody pays any attention to quality anymore, and all the old Thumbscrew craftsmen have retired and moved back to Germany to collect their SS pensions. Again, improvisation saved the day. I made my Thumbscrews from a kid's Erector Set that I found in the dumpster behind the housing projects. The Erector Set was kind of old and rusty, and most of the pieces were missing, but you'd be amazed what a few Twist-Ties in strategic places can do. I was very pleased with my Thumbscrews, if I do say so myself. They weren't perfect, of course. Whenever any pressure was applied, they bent, or occasionally broke into several pieces, and a customer would have to use his imagination to get the full effect. But they did look good... Well, they looked interesting, at any rate.
The Cat-O-Nine-Tails Whip was somewhat troublesome. I managed to find one in okay condition at the pawn shop on 42nd Street. It was missing six of the nine Tails, but I reasoned that the remaining three would still do the job - after all, when you're getting lashed, do YOU count how many individual Tails are scourging you? Neither do I. So three Tails should have been plenty. Unfortunately, the remaining three Tails on my Whip were a bit rotten, and when I cracked the whip, a few inches broke off each Tail, every time. I had to use it gently; and even then, within a few weeks it was just a collection of stubs. The customers didn't seem to mind. Well, what I mean to say is, they got mad and yelled. But I've noticed a lot of S&M customers do that, so I didn't take it too seriously. You know?
The electrical aspect of things was a tough problem. Now, any good sadist knows that you have to use electricity as part of the operation. The customers expect it. If you don't use electricity on their sensitive areas, they're disappointed. They still scream, but you can tell their hearts aren't in it. Your plain old garden-variety mechanical torture is good clean fun, granted; but there's nothing like a good satisfying jolt of direct current. My problem was that we have Municipal Power and Light around here. Not only are they expensive, but their service is unreliable. To run a fully-equipped electro-sex dungeon, you've got to have your cattle prods, your electrodes, your anal probes, your nipple clamps... and every one of those suckers sucks voltage like an Electrolux. (Which reminds me, I ought to mention the vacuum-cleaner-torture...) And do you know how embarrassing it is to be smack in the middle of a lively high-voltage stun-gun session, and have the power go out? Not to mention the awkwardness caused by sudden voltage surges.
Anyway, I just couldn't see paying the public utility all my profits for lousy service. So I gave it some thought, and after awhile, the answer came to me: Static electricity. Yep! You just shuffle your feet across the carpet, build up a nice charge, then touch the customer on the sensitive area of his choice, and ZAP!! Solved all my problems. It wasn't quite the same as alligator clamps on the nipples, but hey - a shock is a shock, right?
The crowning touch for each S&M session is something I came up with all on my own. This was never mentioned on any website, and I never experienced it myself, and I'll bet none of you have either. It was pretty insane, if I do say so myself. For each customer, I put a Barry Manilow CD on endless replay. Diabolical, huh? I actually had to debate this one with myself. I mean, there's recreational torture, and there's genuine evil, and this one seemed like it might be over the line. But finally I figured, what the hey - maybe it will get Martha Stewart in here.
All this was well and good. I had a fully-equipped chamber of terror (even borrowed my landlady's shag rug to give the static electricity an extra boost.) I took out ads in the newspaper, put a few flyers on supermarket and laundrymat bulletin boards... I was even thinking about a half-hour infomercial on late-night cable. I was all set up with MasterCard and VISA. I was just getting around to joining the Chamber of Commerce.
But gosh darn it, wouldn't you know. The law shut me down.
I thought I was covered. For one thing, as you well know, policemen are a big part of any S&M outfit's customer base, and I figured I'd be no different, especially with the professional-colleague discount and the installment-payment plan I was offering. And of course, sado-masochism is an American tradition, and I didn't see how the law could object. Particularly since the Eighth Amendment in the U.S. Constitution's Bill of Rights guarantees every citizen the right to cruel and unusual punishment. (At least, that's how I remember it from 7th-grade civics class, although I might have one or two minor details wrong there.)
Anyway, I thought the law was on my side. But I forgot about the darn paperwork.
My first inkling was when the City Zoning and Building Codes Inspector dropped by. I thought he was looking for a little relief, being as how he had a stressful job and all. But his visit wasn't recreational at all.
The Inspector had the forms already filled out and everything. I got slapped with multiple violations of the Zoning Ordinance. They cited me for operating a "facility for the torture of victims" in a residential zoning district. It turns out that torture chambers are only allowed in the "Miscellaneous Personal Services" Zoning District under city code. I also failed to get a Zoning Certificate of Permitted Use; I didn't provide a paved parking area for my customers; my building was not properly landscaped; and I didn't have the required business sign out front. Who knew?
As if that weren't enough, I also got nailed for Building Code violations: The biggie was that my dungeon was not in compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act. I didn't build a wheelchair ramp and a concrete sidewalk for my customers. My list of services wasn't in Braille. I was supposed to have restrooms with oversize stalls and lower sinks. And most of my torture equipment was not accessible to physically-challenged masochists.
There was other Building Code stuff, too. My lighting fixtures were inadequate. They said that someone could stumble and get hurt while walking (or crawling) from one torture device to another, if the lights were too dim. I also should have had baby-changing tables installed in the restrooms. Even though I wasn't using electricity for my torture services, they told me I needed to have 200-amp electrical service, since my existing wiring was inadequate for potential upgrade to full-scale electroshock facility.
Then there was the visit from the City Fire Marshal. My dungeon had no external stairwell for fire safety; I didn't have the required number of smoke alarms; and I didn't have enough fire extinguishers. And the Marshal didn't listen when I tried to explain about the important role that burning candle-wax plays in my profession - he just told me to get rid of all the candles. On his way out, I gave him a coupon for a 20 percent discount, but it didn't seem to help his mood any. What a grouch.
Well, when you have a local-regulation problem, you have to go down to City Hall, right? So I went to the City Council meeting and tried to explain my problem and how the zoning laws weren't really written for outfits like mine. But they didn't listen. Not one bit! You know how City Council members are. They're all rich guys, and they can afford the finest and most expensive S&M services out there. They probably all go to the big national chains, like Torch-R-Us, and they just don't understand the little guys like me, the independent entrepreneurial sado-masochists. I guess I should have known it was a lost cause.
I wish that had been the extent of my problems with the government. But nooooo. The darn Regulators were just getting started. A few days after I went public with my complaints, I was paid a visit by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration. Three hours later, I was left with a stack of citations as thick as my Bed of Nails, as well as the beginnings of a migraine.
The OSHA inspectors weren't even out of sight when the Environmental Protection Agency bureaucrats showed up. They were humorless and unsympathetic. I had not filed an Environmental Impact Statement. I had not provided a "do nothing" alternative course of action for my customers, so they could properly assess the relative merits and drawbacks of getting burned or flayed. I finally convinced them that the puddle of standing water in the corner had never been a wetland; they promptly nailed me for not having flood insurance.
And when the EPA saw the feathers I used for erotic tickling of my customers' feet, they nearly went postal: "We're assuming those are Spotted Owl feathers, unless you can supply paperwork proving that they aren't." I argued that Spotted Owl feathers probably had spots on them, but they didn't believe me. And when I mentioned that I thought Spotted Owls were usually found in forests, not city garages, they left with a promise to return with testing equipment to see if my landlady's garage had been built with old-growth lumber.
Speaking of "going Postal" ... ahhh, let's not go there. My mail carrier was a good (albeit zealous) customer, until the Postmaster found out. I feel sort of indirectly responsible for the tragedy, although heaven knows the poor guy was already on the brink.
I also don't have the heart to tell you what happened with Equal Employment Opportunity/Affirmative Action. Let's just say that it's a darn good thing I'm one-sixty-fourth Chippewa (and had my papers in order). The only ray of sunshine here was my comment that sado-masochists should be a protected sexual-orientation class. They liked that idea. One of them said something about hiring ten new inspectors.
The Consumer Product Safety Commission folks were not unpleasant, but they just didn't get it. I proudly showed them my Rack, my Thumbscrews, and the rest. Naively, I thought they'd agree that these were works of genius (or at least uniqueness). Instead, they seemed fixated on the lack of Underwriters' Laboratory seals and warning labels. Before they departed, I had a brand new sticker on the bed of my Rack, informing my customers that "This appliance may cause pain if used correctly or incorrectly. Please read the instruction manual carefully before using. Do not operate heavy equipment while on this device. Side effects may include stretched arms and legs, blurred vision, dizziness, and other conditions. This appliance is NOT SAFE for use by the overweight, the underweight, small children, large children, adult children of alcoholics, pregnant women, pregnant men, people of color, the colorblind, Vietnam-era veterans, Vietnamese civilians, Viet Cong guerillas, and trial lawyers."
Did I mention the letter from the Federal Aviation Administration, concerning the blinking red light I had installed to hypnotize my clients?
I forget which agency it was, but somewhere in the midst of all this I wound up with a citation for removing the "Do Not Remove Under Penalty of Law" label from the pillow I used to partially asphyxiate my clients.
Even the static-electricity method I'd perfected was against regulations. The Federal Communications Commission told me it would cause radio interference. And when they found out about the Barry Manilow torture, I got hit with "broadcasting without a license."
Thankfully, I was out of town the day the Internal Revenue Service paid a visit. But I knew they had been there. The tank-tread ruts in my driveway were clear and unmistakable, as were the howitzer holes in the roof.
And we won't even talk about the Social Security Administration, the Wage and Hour Requirements, the Child Labor Inspection, the Spanish-Language Interpreter Mandate, the Nuclear Regulator Commission (no, I don't understand, either), the Proof of Liability Insurance, and the "Federal Dungeon Regulatory Act of 1997."
The last straw was the phone call I got yesterday: "This is the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms. We'd like to know if your torture includes any ballistic elements ... No? Well, this is highly unusual. We've never heard of a torture outfit that didn't use guns of some sort. We'll be delivering a subpoena shortly ... (hey, Frank? How do you spell 'subpoena', anyway?")
Now, I'm basically out of a job. For a while I still had all the equipment around, even though I couldn't use it except on myself (which also turns out to be illegal since I haven't signed a consent form in front of two witnesses.) But I went into debt to pay all the regulatory fees, permits, and fines, and then I wound up having to sell all the equipment in order to pay for the right to use it. So I'm trying to figure out what to do next. I'm still hoping for a visit from Martha Stewart, or maybe Janet Reno. But meanwhile, it's torture. And I've already worn out all my Barry Manilow CDs.