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By Sean Pendergast
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Yep, Todd's one trash-talker who's not afraid to be mushy. In fact, he's published a book of poems, Indiana the Island, about growing up gay, among other things, and he has his own poetry Web site, www.toddicus.com. He's been reading his stuff at Helios (formerly the Mausoleum) poetry nights for years.
When he walks into Helios one Wednesday in the early evening, he says hi to most of the people in the room. There's an earnest, intellectual feeling in the smoky air; the crowd consists of a man in an African getup, a cross-dresser, several middle-aged poets and a hot-tempered guy named François who stalks off in the middle of his set, vowing never to return ("François always says that," Todd explains). Todd orders a coffee and takes the stage to read "On the Thinking of Trees." "When my lover disappeared," he says into the mike, "Like winter leaves / I wished he were a smart birch. / Through the sleet and snow / And teeth-filled wind / He keeps his leaves." Karma-wise, Todd may deserve an eye-roll or two. But everybody claps.
It's Saturday night, and there's a pretty good crowd at the old-school gay bar the Ripcord. Among them are a man dressed as a sailor, several cowboys, a guy in military fatigues and, of course, the requisite motorcycle dudes. The bar's walls are decorated with silhouette paintings of a man bending over; somehow, a tough vibe commingles with one of outright friendliness. Guys, many of them somewhat older, circulate around the bar, checking each other out, giving hugs, comparing tattoos. By last call, just about everyone will have stopped by Black Hawk Leather, the one-room sex shop that opens up to the bar, to chat. Some will browse the "for-novelty-use only" dildos, butt plugs, nipple clamps, leather masks and more mundane sex enhancers like lube or "herbal Viagra." And just about everyone will have a word or two for Daddy Bob and Kim, who've been selling wares there for five years.
The more pugnacious of the two, Kim seems to particularly relish discussing the merchandise. "Oh, that's a ball weight," he happily tells a visitor. "You unscrew it here, pull it through and attach it around balls like this. It makes them feel bigger." He's a shortish man in a black hat, leather vest and glasses. Later, two drunk guys, obviously in a silly mood, wander in, pluck a whip off a display and start spanking each other. Kim, who was in the Coast Guard and has an ex-wife and two grown sons, snaps to attention. "Excuse me," he says, reaching for the goods. "But you're not using that properly. You could do serious damage to his penis, his balls or both." The whipper, looking a little sheepish, hands over the offending item and scoots on. You get the feeling that Kim's not to be messed with.
But he hasn't always been that way. He's just wrapped up ten years of service as "boy" to Daddy Bob. Kim figured out he was gay when he was 40 years old. An important moment along the way happened in 1990, when he saw a Houston Press cover story at a smoothie shop about the leather crowd. He returned alone, picked up the article and read it in secret. Kim was amazed to learn that there were other people in the world who were like him. Within two years, he was divorced. "When I came out, I needed somebody that could be a mentor to me," he says. Enter Bob. They started out as plain old lovers, but pretty soon they got involved in the dominant-submissive scene.
For years Kim answered to Daddy Bob, but eventually he realized he was meant to be a dom. "After a while," Bob recalls, "he said, 'Well, I think I might take off the collar,' and I said, 'Yeah, you probably should.' And after another while he said, 'Well, I think I might move to the other room,' and I said, 'Yeah, I guess so.' "
Kim recently graduated from being a boy to being a master. And, after a long interview process, he's acquired his own "slave" (which is slightly different -- in rhetoric and toys -- from a "boy"). The twentysomething slave lives with Kim and Bob, business partners and former lovers, under the same roof in a three-bedroom home in north Houston. "The thing about it," says Bob, "is I benefit. He cooks us meals, mows the lawn, keeps our cars clean." But the slave answers to Kim, not Bob. Bob, with his kindly blue eyes and grin, admits to feeling a little left out.
Of the two, Bob seems to be the favorite at the Ripcord. He's the one who everyone -- beefy black guy with Mohawk, shirtless skinny kid in backwards baseball hat, cowboy fresh from two-stepping at the Brazos River Bottom -- has got to hug. He's usually busy asking customers if they need any help, or, in the case of one overweight buyer of a cock ring, if he'd "like to wear that out of here." Wink. Of course, Daddy Bob's got another side: "Some of the other masters -- I don't do this -- will refuse to shake a slave's hand. But if that happens to me, I'll shake his hand and then say, 'In the future, please don't shake my hand. If I do it first, okay, but otherwise, don't do that.' "