"They flee from me, that sometime did me seek, with naked foot stalking within my chamber." Would the forsaken 16th-century poet Thomas Mallory feel even lonelier today, when so many bedchambers are abuzz with the cricket song of battery-powered lovers and the month-old Hollywood Hustler Store (1500 E. Sunrise Blvd., Fort Lauderdale) is just around the corner?
The place is Blockbusteresque in its treatment of sex. Aisles of porno flicks rub against a long wall of sex toys with offerings so varied that they stagger the brain. A life-sized sex doll crouches inside a clear display case, her mouth agape in apparent amazement at the many ways one can scratch that grundy, little itch these days.
Boxes of the hottest-selling vibrator, the $99.99 Rabbit of Sex and the City fame, wait to be lifted off the shelf like the cutest puppies in the pet store. Dozens of clitoral stimulators -- some shaped like oh-so-discreet lipstick -- and several species of animal-shaped, strap-on massagers line one wall. Nearby, toward the front of the store, are things that I've taken to calling half-asses. The prosthetic chunks of female flesh with open-invitation orifices seem more repellent than the proud, charged dildos dangling from the wall next to them. But, hey, that's just me.
As for the corkscrew, piggy-tail butt plug, let's not go there.
Oh no, let's cruise a few blocks down Sunrise Boulevard to Kim's Alley Bar (1920 E. Sunrise Blvd., Fort Lauderdale) and take an issue of critical import to people getting loaded on spirits, the only kind of people we can trust.
My questions shake out like this: Does the presence of Larry Flynt's spit-polished chain store -- the nation's fifth -- make high-powered masturbation more accessible to people who might not otherwise be comfortable shopping for a vibrator? And in such a time as now, when our social needs are satiated by electronics, could machines go so far as to usurp flesh and blood's claim to the other half of the bed?
I cruise through the door of Kim's 'round 'bout 10 p.m. On the side with pool tables and dart boards, a crew of three sits engrossed in animated conversation at the corner of the bar. One is a talkative, curly-locked male, 29-year-old Camilo. To his right sits his blond girlfriend, Bobbie, and friend Minna, both 28.
Camilo says, "It feels like a Starbucks."
Bobbie adds, "I'd rather go to a seedy place because you can make fun of the people who are ashamed to be there."
"Yeah," Camilo agrees, "there's something naughty about black windows and trench coats."
Bobbie says, "I like to walk up behind people [at seedy places] and ask, 'What are you buying?'"
Camilo says he once had a sex toy called a Flesh Light, a toy that looked like a flashlight, but when he unscrewed the top, a select orifice lay beneath.
"Do you prefer this to real women?" I ask.
"When I dated a frigid chick from New Jersey, I had one. The Flesh Light is better than half-ass sex. Ever seen a dead roach?"
"You poke at it and it doesn't move? That's what she was like."
"And," he adds, "it takes a lot of work to get a girl to that point [into bed]. I'm not a big player type, and sex is a huge part of relationships, so this... eh. There's a lot of mental stuff. An orgasm is not just an orgasm. It's not like a sneeze." He stops to think. "Uh, it is like a sneeze."
He fakes a sneeze and crescendoes into something approximating the moment of orgasm. "Uh, choo," he finishes. "Oh God, that was worth it. And you don't get that from a machine."
I turn to Bobbie, his girlfriend, and ask if she'd rather use a vibrator than have sex with a man.
"No, not at all," she says.
I give her a skeptical look. Then she says, "He's always there when I use it. He watches and participates. Sometimes he's in the other room."
"Yeah," Camilo adds, "I'll turn the knob on the fan 'cause I hear this noise and I think the fan is on."
Their friend Minna cuts in: "If you just want to have an orgasm, vibrators are better, because it takes a long time to teach a man to do what a vibrator does."
Camilo adds, "It's like a dance. You don't dance the same way with every single person. What turns one person on will have another person calling the police on you."
I head through the narrow hallway to Kim's east bar. There, I spot two men and one woman. One of the men, Jonathan, is young and blond in a white, linen button down, and the other is tall and grizzled and about 40 years old. The 30-ish woman, Dale, has curly blond hair that falls across her face 'cause she's drunk as all hell.
"Man or machine?" I ask her.
"Both together," Dale replies. "It's better for both of us."
"I mean, it's great just by myself. Clitoral stimulation is good."
She becomes uncomfortable discussing this in front of the men, so we walk to a more discreet location near the window.
"So," I whisper, "how is it better for a man if you use a clitoral stimulator?"
Dale mumbles through her teeth, "Your muscles tighten up when you're stimulated, so it's better for the man."
I put to her, "If you could only have one for the rest of your life, which would it be, man or machine?"
"Man, any day of the week."
We head back over to the two men, and I ask them about rubberized half-asses. The older gentleman comments, "Fake flesh is repulsive."
Jonathan ushers me away from Dale and unloads way more information than I asked for. "When I'm going to have sex with a girl, if I think she'd like a dildo, I go buy one for her. [Before purchasing] I go and ask a female opinion. What's the most popular brand at the time?
"If I think they're in the mood for a big cock, I buy a big cock. If she likes clitoral, I'll get her a stimulator. If she's into anal stimulation, I'll buy her a butt plug."
Right. Right. "So, have you ever bought a chick a big, 12-inch cock?"
"Oh, yeah. Double-ended."
"How does that work?"
"How do you think? You bend it around and stick it up the other end, and they lose all their inhibitions and go into their own bodies. Into their own pleasure, and nothing is holding them back. They don't care who I am. It's about the pleasure at that point in time."
Whoa, he's all Casanova and liberating with the sex toys. Doesn't he get that he's deleting himself from the picture? I can't help but detect condescension when he says, "I buy whatever she wants to make her feel good. Women need something to overcome the pressure of society. Women need a private experience."
Dunno. Could be wrong, but maybe he knows something I don't.
Back in Kim's west bar next to the pool tables, I bump into Virgo, a 42-year-old man with spiky brown hair and brown eyes who really throws me for a loop.
"Would you buy a half-ass?" I ask him.
"Men are drunk; give them something to play with and they will play with it. A man has a natural instinct to fuck a hole, period."
"If I'm drunk and horny and you put a half-ass in my bed, I'd probably hump it and be like, 'What the fuck is this?' If you put a man in bed with a fake ass and a fake mouth, he'd try them both within an hour, no doubt."
Oh my fucking God. Enough!
Virgo smirks and shrugs.
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"It's knowledge. Do what you will with it."
Dear Virgo: The knowledge is too much for me.
One must consider the vision of Mallory now, his wild eyes searching the half-light of dawn for a mirage of lovers lost, formulating phrases that would span half a millennium. Perhaps it's a good thing that no one slipped a half-ass into his bed. Better, perhaps, that he did not pound the prosthetic, drop off into lust-freed slumber, and never formulate a phrase of frustrated desire.
But, hey, that's just me.