Monday, October 1, 2007
It's not usually polite to stare, but Phil "Tats" Payton doesn't mind being ogled. When you're a 69-year-old man covered in more than 100 tattoos - including all over your bald head - and sporting a leather vest, chaps and a nose ring a few inches in diameter, it comes with the territory.
"I've gotten used to it," he said as he was stopped by strangers asking to take his photograph. "It's my own fault - I can't blame anyone else."
Payton and others bedecked in leather - or in many cases, nothing at all - were the stars of Sunday's 24th annual Folsom Street Fair. The San Francisco rite is a celebration of leather culture and sexual fetishism, and draws not only those who enjoy the lifestyle, but also those who enjoy gawking at them.
"This is like Disneyland - you'll never see anything like this in the world," said Jaeleen Bennis, who in her long skirt and tank top could just as easily have been shopping at Bloomingdale's.
Folsom Street, once a gay hub with bathhouses and sex clubs, is now filled with restaurants, condos and furniture stores. But on the last Sunday of September, it shuts down between Seventh and 12th streets as thousands of people pack the festival, which raises money for charity.
This year was no different, as couples led each other up and down the street with dog collars and leashes, men in thong underwear played Twister, women in stilettos and fishnet stockings spilled out of their corsets, and shoppers browsed stalls selling products such as baseball caps reading "Master" or "Slave" and a book entitled "Dungeon Emergencies and Supplies."
"Very painful - very nice," said a woman as she fingered a "Stingy little pocket paddle" that came in red or black.
In the next stall over, Rodger Rosenberg explained why it's much more enjoyable to be tied up with rope made of 100 percent silk than rope made of nylon or hemp. By noon, he already had sold silk ropes to people from England, Ireland and Spain.
Tom Maiolo came all the way from Tampa, Fla., for his first Folsom Street Fair. Wearing a leather vest and chaps with no pants, he said at noon that he was already having a fabulous time.
"So far, so good," he said. "I love this, and I'm just getting started."
He said he recognized some stars of porn movies he had seen and said they were like celebrities to him. Asked if they would ever hold an event like this in Tampa, he said, "No. Hardly."
People paid money to be flogged in front of crowds of onlookers. One man looked like he was crying, and red lash marks covered his back.
"Lovely start to a Sunday afternoon!" exclaimed a man with a microphone trying to persuade people to get flogged.
Two women who said their screen names are Zoe Zane and Andrea Storm dressed as dirty martinis in teeny silver dresses shaped like martini glasses and bra cups decorated like green olives.
"It's totally fun," Storm said. "I don't get very far because I keep getting photographed. I feel like I'm on the red carpet."
Not everybody was into the scene, though. Jason Reed stood in boots and a thong and posed for pictures outside a stall run by SX Video, which makes gay porn movies.
"I'm just here to work - it's not really my thing," said Reed, who works in the company's marketing department. "They think I look good, so they want me to walk around in a jockstrap."
He got a good view of all the passers-by - sometimes, too good a view.
"Some of them who walk around naked really shouldn't be," he said.
Inside the stall was a wall of dildos and leather hoods. Bob Findle, the company's creative director, said it's fun to see people come from all over the world for a true San Francisco event.
"This is what San Francisco's about - being crazy and expressing yourself," he said. "Where else could you do this?"
For more photos of the Folsom Street Fair, go to sfgate.com.
E-mail Heather Knight at firstname.lastname@example.org.
This article appeared on page B - 1 of the San Francisco Chronicle