The organizers of Erotica USA threw a party recently at a place called Club New York, and all the exhibitors and exhibitionists who will shortly be filling up the Javitz center for the four-day Sex Expo were invited.
The evening began with a sort of Freudian slip–the address on the invitation, “225 West 43rd Street”–did not exist. So many of the guests–who were either dressed rather provocatively, or simply hoping to see someone dressed provocatively–found themselves wandering up and down 43rd Street, clutching their invitations and searching vainly for something that wasn’t there, until they finally gave up and entered the next closest number, 229, to ask directions.
229 West 43rd Street is the brightly lit lobby of the New York Times. The security guards manning the front desk, apparently unfazed by anything, wearily directed the latex-clad crowd across the street.
Enough people found their way to the club to make it a crowded event, and once inside they got a chance to look each other over. There were some scantily clad women, and a few men with intimidating tattoos and rings through their noses, but otherwise it was a fairly sedate looking group. There was a performance scheduled by a group called “The Erotica Dancers,” and many of the men looked towards the empty stage with a mixture of hope and bashfulness.
“It’s going to be titillating, but not nasty,” explained Fred Barri, the promoter for Erotica USA. He stood amidst the throng in a neatly cut gray suit, which went well with his neatly cut gray mustache. He looked and spoke a bit like a salesman of very expensive used cars, or a magazine publisher. Previous to his involvement with Erotica, he sold insurance. “Then me and my partners in got involved in a video company. It handled all kinds of titles, everything from adult videos to Leni Riefenstalh.”
The show has had three successful appearances in London, but Mr. Barri seemed aware that New York had a rather powerful super-ego, in the form of the mayor.
“We’re totally within the guidelines that Giuliani set,” he said. “The idea is to tweak your imagination and make your heart beat a little faster, to give you a sense that sex is a good and healthy thing. We want people to be excited, not offended. It’s sexy, but it’s not sex.”
A man with a name tag with his name spelled out in large letters introduced himself as the anonymous author of a sex guide to New York. “It started out as an innocent project,” he said. “But Mayor Guliani changed all that.” He and his publicists then had a long conversation about whether the fact he was wearing a name tag meant he was no longer anonymous.
A elegant and imperious woman called The Baroness stood in the corner wearing an elaborate Victorian frock made of latex, and a tiara. “All the girls you see in latex here are wearing my designs,” she said. Asked about her material she replied, “I use latex because it looks great, it sounds great and it feels great. Some people say it tastes great.”
The Baroness is teaching a class at the Learning Annex. “I’m trying to bring the tamer aspects of the fetish world to the masses,” she said. “Erotica USA is going to be a little like the internet, a smorgasbord you can peruse. And you can’t get any more mainstream than the Javitz center.”
Standing next to her was a young woman wearing a lot of latex and chains whom The Baroness introduced as, “Tess, my slave.” Tess then went off to fetch The Baroness a seltzer. Asked if she had a lot of slaves she replied, “Some of my girls are slaves, and some are just servants. A servant is someone who can’t make the commitment.”
Esther, a fresh faced young woman who works for Cosmopolitan magazine, was fighting through the crowd to get to the bar. “I was hoping to be scandalized, but I’m bored,” she said. “This is nothing compared to what goes on at Cosmo. I just finished a really long article about what to do about the wet spot. You know, after you’ve had sex and there is that wet spot on the bed? We’re doing a whole feature on it.”
Esther got the bartender’s attention and ordered a drink. “The only thing scandalizing about this is the cash bar.”
Two girls scampered by wearing The Baroness’ latex dresses. Asked if they were slaves or just servants they replied indignantly, “Neither. We’re assistants.”