• Barbarella
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It is comfortable for us to pretend, in our nouveau puritanical way, that our fellow family members don't "do it." Adolescents -- Daddy's girls and Momma's boys, especially -- cringe when presented with the idea (and subsequent, unstoppable imagery) of their conception. Conversely, parents have a hard time considering their babies all grown up and everything that being of "legal age" entails; most are unable to separate the 3-year-old girl of their memories from the 30-year-old woman now standing before them. My sisters might blanch at the notion, and my parents may scream out in agony, but here it goes: I have sex. I would characterize the sex I have as fun and playful, as opposed to the grim, efficient, just-lay-there-and-think-of-England variety we always imagined our parents and Margaret Thatcher engaged in. But, like the headlines on fashion magazines often proclaim, even "fun and playful" sex can be "spiced up." On our recent trip to San Francisco, David and I stumbled upon a store that specializes in spice.

It was the morning of our last day in town. The sky was gray and the air was drizzly, a combination I find invigorating. We had taken a cab to a hip breakfast joint, but after polishing each of our plates and sharing a third, we chose to walk the 20 or so blocks back to the hotel. It was three hours before we had to board the train for the airport. We'd already checked out, our bags were packed and waiting for us behind the front desk; time was ours to kill.

The first shop we entered was nestled between two small apartment buildings on an otherwise desolate hill. It was an Asian-inspired shop that seemed to sell everything, be it books, dishes, gourmet snacks, or furniture. Not one, not two, but six hardback books caught my eye. Our suitcase was already pushing 50 pounds, our airline's weight limit.

"What if I can't find them anywhere else?" I rationalized as I handed my credit card to the cashier. David, sifting through a shelf of dishcloths, paused to mutter a " Pshaw! " in my direction; I correctly interpreted the noise to mean, "How are you planning to squeeze all those books into our luggage?"

David bought two dishcloths. I found this particular out-of-town impulse purchase somewhat disturbing, but I let it slip without comment. I had to play it cool if I was to convince him to carry my six new books through three airports.

Five blocks later, a stylish lamp lured us into a modern furniture store. We spent half an hour fawning over a circular, suede "cuddle couch," while an energetic salesman with olive skin and peroxide-blond hair performed what can only be described as an interpretive dance of potential colors and fabrics. In the end, I couldn't decide which I wanted more for my living room -- the cuddle couch in a shade of red, or Daniel, the enchanting colorful character trying to sell it.

As we continued down Eighth Street and into the notorious Folsom district of San Francisco, we came upon a large black banner that marked Madame S, the feminine addition to the famed fetish and fetters store, Mr. S.

I was a preteen when I discovered my parents' copy of The Joy of Sex . I don't know how I knew to look in their closet for the good stuff; it's not like they ever said anything. Perhaps kids just know intuitively to search out that which is forbidden. I had already perused the stack of Playboy magazines, which bored me.

But The Joy of Sex , here was a book from which I could learn something! I knew the gist of course; after all, I'd read several historical romance novels, or as I referred to them, "euphemistic pornography." But this book, these pictures and explanations, they were real , and therefore were to be taken much more seriously. Information on sex -- the raw, nitty-gritty, slap-and-tickle, anatomy-of-an-orgasm stuff -- was not readily available to curious adolescents B.G. (Before Google).

Book in my 14-year-old hands, I flipped past the standard stuff -- information already uncovered during prior closet digs -- and finally came across the chapter on bondage. Illustrations of blindfolds and handcuffs were accompanied by written descriptions of the sensual experiences each can offer when in the hands of a trusted lover.

As the drizzle settled on my cheeks, I paused for a moment to reflect on those pages from my youth, then grabbed David's arm and led him through the metal cage that marked the entrance of Mr. and Madame S's fetish fortress.

Once through the door, our nostrils were bombarded with the heady, industrial aroma of leather and latex. Black seemed to be the color of choice; silver, adorning the black as buckles and studs, was a close second. The store was warehouse-huge, with one giant main room and four smaller (but still very big) ancillary rooms. Wanting to appear knowledgeable, I strode purposefully to one section, bobbing my head to the beat of the techno music that filled the air.

"Want to try this on?" I asked David, pointing to a menacing black article that hung on a silver hook. "I think it's like the stocks: your wrists go through these little ones and the whole thing goes around your chest." David acquiesced with a playful smile. We managed to get the thing down from the wall, and around his chest, then on his wrists; I tightened and buckled, but something looked wrong.

I beckoned to a surrealistically attractive man for help. His face lit up, and his walk as he made his way toward us was the beautiful love-child of strut and sashay. When he reached us, he examined David and said, "It's on upside-down."

For some reason, I was ashamed, the way I am when someone catches me counting on my fingers. "Oh, yeah, okay, well, no worries, we'll just..."

"No problem!" interjected our new friend, "I'll show you how it's done." David looked wary; his eyes opened wide in my direction and I shrugged at him.

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