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Empress Strikes Back

dominatrix
Robert Scheer

Really Hip to S&M: An enterprising dominatrix, The Empress finds fame, fortune and a whole lotta kicks, thanks to the guidance of our man Phil, her adoring, PR-churning disciple.

So what's a guy with a Ph.D. in history doing writing ad copy for a sexy dominatrix? Well, he's making a living while getting his kicks

By Kelly Luker

HE WAS BRILLIANT, FAST-talking, personable--and cursed with a mile-wide streak of self-destruction. Phil had a way of snatching defeat from the jaws of victory more times than even he could count. That dubious talent, combined with bipolar disorder--what you and I call manic depression--greased the skids for this successful businessman one more time just a few years ago.

This time, though, was bad. No spring chicken, Phil had long since lost that youthful c'est la vie attitude that had held him in good stead through the other times he'd run aground. By his mid-40s, Phil had learned at least one valuable lesson: poverty sucked. He liked butter-soft Cole-Haan loafers, not couch surfing. He longed for fat Maestoso cigars, not food stamps.

Fortunately, Phil was nothing if not creative. A lifetime of thinking big--particularly in those manic phases--had imbued him with an unerring instinct for finding the Shetland pony 'neath that pile of shit. And while others kept their skeletons locked firmly in the closet, Phil knew how to listen for the bony fingers of opportunity knocking.

So it was not surprising that, broke and almost homeless, Phil embarked on his latest venture--hiring on as PR flack for his dominatrix.

dominatrix

Mr. Onion Head

IT'S TRUE, I GUESS, what they say about folks being like onions, each layer revealing a little more than the last. But I'd known this particular onion almost 10 years before getting to that particular revelation. In retrospect, it shouldn't have surprised me. Well, of course it should have--how many fellas do you know that worship at the feet of whip-snapping, epithet-hurling, latex-corset-wearing, raven-haired goddesses?

According to Phil, more than you'd think, but it's not the kind of tidbit one offhandedly drops over cappuccinos or while shooting pool at the local beer joint.

Given to grandiosity, big visions and sweet-talking, Phil had managed to shinny up the ladder of success a few times in his life. He had the good fortune to marry an heiress, and enjoyed furthering his education at her expense until she demanded he choose between her and his love for cocaine. The million-dollar marriage lost.

Phil's newly won doctorate in history earned him a teaching position at a small Northeastern college. But the tenure track was derailed by his newfound fondness for injectables--heroin, preferably--and his wanderlust brought him to the Greater Bay Area, looking for a way to make a buck.

All that scribbling and research for his thesis taught the man how to write, so he tried his hand at developing ad copy for a local community paper. Within a couple of years Phil had his own ad agency and a staff of eight toiling for him. The good life, like all the other times, was short-lived. The profits disappeared up his nose--he had abandoned smack for his first lady love, cocaine--followed shortly by his new Lexus, the tony office address, about every stick of furniture in his home and then, of course, his home.

dominatrix

Submissionary Position

THE MANIA AND DRUGS would fuel late-night litanies of the latest depths to which he had descended. It was in one of these midnight chats with me that he outlined his latest scheme.

In the uniquely American passion of combining business with pleasure, Phil would take his "top" to the top. Surely I knew he was a submissive, he said with some surprise. Like most coke-driven manic depressives, Phil had a hard time understanding that others didn't spend as much time pondering Phil--or Phil's sex life--as he did.

"The Empress," he called her. Phil couldn't help himself, he explained. He just wanted to worship cruel, domineering--and beautiful--women. And The Empress was breathtaking. Phil mailed a Polaroid of her stroking a riding crop, staring haughtily down into the camera's eye. A long, coal-black mane of hair just brushed the top of her breasts, shoved impossibly high by a shiny bustier.

The Empress charged $150 an hour to make men grovel, beg and do all sorts of things you'd be happier not knowing about (and you wouldn't believe anyway). At the pinnacle of his success, Phil could manage the yard-and-a-half every week for his hour of worship. But Phil was broke, and The Empress certainly wouldn't berate on credit.

It was pure inspiration, actually. With the right kind of press, would The Empress be any harder to move to the masses than Snapple or Toyotas or Sonys?

At 25, the gorgeous dominatrix had a fully equipped "dungeon" and was already pulling down a six-figure income without Phil's help. But fame, notoriety--to have the whole world worship at her stilettoed feet--that idea was almost as heady as a well-placed kick to one of her acolytes' backsides.

She was sold and put Phil on retainer.

dominatrix
Robert Scheer

Bound to Please: The Empress was sitting pretty. A drop-dead gorgeous dominatrix, she was pulling down a six-figure income making grown boys cry.

World Domination

SO PHIL TOOK TO researching the market. Too busy up until then with his own fetish, Phil didn't realize just what a big ol' twisted world this was. He discovered that he wasn't alone in his taste for humiliation and degradation.

The hidden world of "power exchange," as it's euphemistically known, turned out to be a multimillion dollar industry in services, publications, videos and gadgets.

The latex outfits alone could account for a generous slice of Goodyear's market share. The gang behind the handcuffs have been doing their own PR for years, touting their tortuous, nipple-tweaking path to orgasm as "safe, sane and consensual." In the wake of general queasiness about bodily fluids exchange, slap-happy folks are apparently lining up in record numbers to learn the ropes--and other restraints--of non-penetrating sex.

So Phil rolled up his sleeves, sharpened his pencil and went to work. Within months he was proudly recounting his success. The Empress had been profiled in two of the largest circulating "special interest" magazines, Domina and Encore.

Phil had set up a letter-writing service for those too shy--or too broke--to seek The Empress' favors in person. Ghostwriting her replies, Phil would dish out the abuse at $40 a pop. In addition, they could purchase one of her (worn) nylons for $15 or a pair of unwashed panties for $30.

Soon The Empress was jetting to Europe and Asia for $5,000 weekend sessions with royalty and CEOs. She began to make the tours of the hottest dungeons on the East and West coasts. dominatrix

In the world of bondage, The Empress had arrived. Funnily enough, so did Phil. The drunken, rambling late-night calls lessened, then ceased altogether. When we chatted, he sounded clear and focused. Purposeful.

Who knows? Maybe he finally got the delicate alchemy of Lithium and Prozac just right. Or maybe he beat the demons of booze and blow that stalked him most of his life.

But if you ask me, I don't think he beat his demons. I think it was the other way around.

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From the February 13-19, 1997 issue of Metro Santa Cruz

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