“Come over here, you sexy bitch.”

The bartender’s voice seeped slowly into my awareness as I stood staring hang-jawed at my surroundings: the dark wood sheathing the club from floor to ceiling, the fish tanks embedded into the face of the long bar, and, especially the person sitting on the barstool. Was that the same person featured in the drag show I’d been at a few weeks earlier? Finally, I heard the words.

I turned my head toward the bartender and the space between me and the bar, which had only seconds ago been filled by other customers but was now empty, and realized he was talking to me.

“Oh! I’m the sexy bitch,” I said. “Thanks for that. I was worried that I looked like Xena: Warrior Princess.”

1971: In Kindergarten, you participate in a “talent show” where you and Brian Clark lip-synch to Three Dog Night’s “Joy to the World” and the Beach Boy’s version of “Sloop John B.” You remember wondering at the time how much talent it takes to do such a thing, but somehow, you come in first. You also remember finding the words to “Joy to the World” ridiculous. Why would anyone have a bullfrog named Jeremiah who was “a very good friend of mine”? And how could that possibly relate to the world’s joy? Also, in thinking about “Sloop John B,” you, later that night, (after lip-synching to the line, “I threw up all of my grits”) ask your mother what grits are.

She tells you they’re something southern people eat.

“Yes,” you say, “but what are they?”

“They are a food,” she says. “A southern food.”

Word to the wise. If you receive an email, the subject line of which reads with some version of the following: “Finally — there is really something for everybody…” consider yourself warned, and maybe don’t open it. This is not an official Phishing scam warning, here, and bear in mind, by my own logic, I am terribly unwise. But I’m not concerned. It is these very emails that have in the past allowed me to exercise my deepest love, and that is the investigation into the greatest mysteries of the human condition.

The Fence or the Centaur -- Have We Not Crossed Enough Boundaries Here Already?

Now if you know me and or my writing, then you already know I’m interested in WTF moments of nature and culture — the kinds of occurrences that you have to look at and wonder, What in the hell is going on here; that’s a human too? I’ve tackled a few oddities already in a kind of gonzo journalistic cum fiction fashion, so the last time I received an email with the aforementioned subject line, I was actually excited. And what did I find out? The divine world of centaurs is alive and well, perhaps only thriving in an alternate universe much like our own.

Correct. Half-man, half-horse. More than any other half-whatever combination, this particular iteration not only has the fantasy element working for it, but at this point in human evolution, it also has the pre-advanced-technological-mobility nostalgia component working for it as well. These creature fantasies only take into account a human’s ability to walk upright, bipedally, or to mount a horse, and giddy-up on four hooves. No cars, buses, mopeds or anything else featuring motors or wheels. So there’s that, which in my mind makes it a lot like having a fetish for gingham and trying to resurrect Anne of Green Gables times in your own family. But I may be a little bit off in the head. Not sure.

Centauring. That’s correct. I clicked on the link and entered a secret world that combined this half-man half-horse fetish with other seemingly strange body-modification fetishes, which included men with two sets of legs, multiple sets of genitals, etc. Not sure where your mind is supposed to go in order to fill in the “etc.” here. But wherever it wants to go, I suggest you take that ride.

The pictures on the site aren’t so much the interesting part — I mean, clearly they’re Photoshop proof that photo-retouching skills have applications beyond the totally professional ones that might land a person a decent job with the FBI or something. Don’t get me wrong. I dig the photo up there. I mean, it’s a centaur standing next to a fence, rife with interesting analytical possibilities. I went to art school. I was born to deconstruct. Personally, I gravitate to the fence immediately. This is a world being described where there are only a few possibilities. There is the open meadow, “over there.” You can live there by yourself, and not deal with centaurs at all, ever.

Or you can be “over here,” on the “home team,” cajoling and prancing with centaurs, learning from their care-free ways of wisdom, trying to glean exactly how it might feel to exist between natures. And he’s beckoning, slyly, so of course you’re supposed to want to be on that side of the fence.

And there is always a third, perhaps less discrete option. You can go for a ride. You can, in fact, hop on the centaur’s back, after which point, “jumping over the fence” into that meadow “over there” becomes not only an option, but in fact a real serious probability. You’re on a horse. You’re already being transgressive, because you’re holding on to a human torso or else some human hair, not a set of reins. What is being suggested here, not very conspicuously at all, what with the verdant pastures and that fence there, looming in the not too distant background, is to take that ride. Which leads me to think that the centaur fetish has something to do with breaking free, enjoying a third possibility, a liminal state of being wherein one might enjoy not just being themselves, and not just being “other,” but being both at the same time.

And then I read the fiction on the site. My favorite depicts a scene wherein two guys are hanging out doing laundry. Three paragraphs in and I was punching myself in the leg that I had not thought of the scenario before this writer. If I were teaching a class, the prompt to my eager writing students might have sounded like this: “Two men are doing laundry together. They are interested in expediting the chore. Use mythical elements to assist them in completing the task. Now write!”

Apparently the two guys share a secret together — and one that involves body morphing. One guy tells the other the magic word, which he only has to say in order to activate this “other world” where they might perform their household task with that much more efficiency. Blam. He says the word and an extra set of limbs grow. Folding laundry, obviously, is more easily done with four hands. Idiot. But what happens when — Blam! He says the magic word again. And then again. And… again? You bet. Centaurs happen. And the following bit of dialogue, as well:

“‘We can carry some of this laundry on your centaur back,’ I suggested.

‘Why don’t you just ride me and put the laundry between you and me, and I can carry the extra stuff with all of my arms.’

That was just like David; so sensible, even when he was crazy-horny with two erections.”

See what I mean? Maybe you don’t and this is just my odd curiosity misbehaving again. I don’t know. The best part of the story is just how much enjoyment these two guys have doing the most mundane of things. The centaur fantasy isn’t about hanging out playing canasta with unicorns and leprechauns. One doesn’t embark on this journey to get to the other side of some fantastical rainbow. One invites a centaur into their fictional world (or if this was memoir, and not fiction-fantasy, then one invites them into their basement to help them fold clean laundry), to just hang out. To be in the pasture, eating grass and drinking milk together, maybe prepping receipts for tax season or else watching the first episode of this season’s Mad Men.

After laundry, they dance to country music, and it’s wonderful to watch the creature dance in the living room, given the extra feet to look at. Merely sitting down on the couch becomes an act worth marveling at in this world. They climb on kitchen stools and open up beers together. They joke about never being able to lovingly kiss all of the hands present in the room there, on the centaur.

Centaurs... Are... America.

Maybe it’s not such a bad idea after all. I mean, who couldn’t use an extra set of hands, or a few extra sets, around the house. And it might not be so much of a sub-culture either. Roger Daltrey went centaur for an album, you know. So did Pierce Brosnan, and I don’t think a single career move in the last decade has done more for his professional reputation. And what about Mad Men, anyway. Why not have a client come in to the new partners’ office this season, with a brand new product: the Centaur Pants. I could see Don Draper goin’ to town on that one, something like: “It’s not about horses. It’s not about men. It’s about the pasture, and that fence over there. Men sit behind their desk all day, just one magic word away from being half a horse. This is about freedom. Centaurs… are… America.”

He posted in the writing gigs section of Craigslist. 

Some people say they’re empowering; others say they’re oppressive. They’re high heels, and, like them or not, women keep wearing them. The benefits of walking tall are obvious–attractiveness to the opposite sex, added height and confidence. But at what price? If one were to look inside the mind (and shoe closet) of a shoe diva, what would one find? What does the siren call of fashion footwear sound like? And is the wearer still smiling when she removes her shoes at the end of the day?

I am interested in having a short story written about a professional woman who has a love-hate relationship with her collection of impossibly high, pointy-toed stilettos.  

For a moment, I indulged the illusion that the posting entity might be a women’s fashion magazine or website. I released the moment and wrote a quick, yet thorough, e-mail that detailed my many qualifications for writing a PG-rated pervy shoe story. Writing gigs don’t last long on Craigslist and I’m unemployed. I spend much longer moments dreaming of groceries.

I had questions for “Paul.”  “For you or publication?  Erotica or literary fiction?”  The unemployed are not choosy. I wanted to know what Paul was buying so I could sell it. Fast. For American cash money. The kind they take at Trader Joe’s.

He admired my powers of perception. He liked the ridiculous water bra workshop casualty I sent him as a sample. “I’m in discussions with several other writers but I must say you stand out.”  Just as I would accept his money, I accepted his flattery. I’m a writer. I like praise nearly as much as I like Trader Joe’s tomato and basil hummus.

Paul was discerning. There is plenty of free foot fetish literature on the internet. I did my research. I sensed that he wanted more of a connection.  That he didn’t take as much pleasure in reading the same stories as hordes of the similarly-stimulated. 

He asked if we could chat online.  He wanted to share the nuances of his custom order.  I grudgingly threw in the extra time and learned the following:  He is turned on by the thought of women’s feet hurting.  He loves very high, pointy-toed stiletto pumps.

And Paul is really into bunions.

For those not learned in podiatry, a bunion is “an unnatural, bony hump that forms at the base of the big toe where it attaches to the foot. Often, the big toe deviates toward the other toes.” In layman’s terms, they’re painful foot deformities.  Painful, smokin’ hot deformities to some, it seems.

I was all business. “Anything else?  Calluses, blisters, bleeding, corns?” 

No calluses, blisters or bleeding.  A corn or two would be fine.

He specified that the afflicted, yet fashionable, main character should have little to no interaction with men. He reiterated that she should be an educated professional.  Paul did not want a trashy heroine in hooker heels.  He wanted me to write him a girlfriend.  He didn’t need to say it. 

I received a lesson in two types of shoeplay: dangling and dipping. Dangling occurs when a woman, often seated with legs crossed, allows her shoe to dangle from her toes, exposing her heels.  A woman is dipping when she slips her foot in and out of her shoe, often when she’s been standing in uncomfortable shoes for a long time.  Though Paul enjoys dangling, he prefers dipping.  He kindly provided me with a YouTube link to ensure my comprehension.   Though he was at work, he located the video link in a jiffy.

In addition, he instructed that “[r]ealism and authenticity with respect to the woman’s day are what give this admittedly formulaic story novelty for me.”  He seemed innocuous, even sort of sweet.  Then he asked the question.

“Do you happen to have bunions?”

“Damn,” I thought, “Please tell me he did not just ask that.”  He was not sweet and innocuous.  He was trying to score some free foot chat.  The kind provided by professionals for $3.99 a minute. I shut him down and advised that matters involving my own feet were outside the realm of our transaction. 

He explained that he pays some of the writers to provide photos of their feet as “author inscriptions”. In exchange for the promise of one picture of my bare feet, Paul tacked a cool ten onto the $50 he would deposit in my Paypal account immediately.  He wanted to know more.  Did I have bunions?  (Lie number one:  Yes. I have early stage bunions. Truth: I don’t even know what that means.)  Did I wear pointy-toed shoes?  (Lie number two:  Yes.  Truth: I am 5’9” and, though I like some heel on my shoes, five-inch stilettos hold little appeal.)   What color polish will you use?  (Lie number three:  I don’t know yet. You’ll find out when I do. Truth: Is he freaking kidding me?)

I wrote the story. She’s an architect.  She dips and dangles with the best of them.  Her Manolos are $500 vises, twisting her feet into shapes no foot should know. 

[She] is happy to dress conservatively from the ankles up, but is unyielding in her insistence on wearing the highest heels possible.  Her feet, disarranged and misshapen without the stunning stilettos, are perfect when tucked inside the pointy, pretty, pain-making pumps she wears.  They proclaim her womanhood and dare anyone to think otherwise.

It wasn’t terrible.  I arranged my feet to look as ugly as possible, snapped and uploaded a picture and sent it and the story to Paul.

I didn’t hear back for two days.  I had my money but where was my flattery? 

“I’m sorry for not writing back sooner.  My mom had surgery.  She’s recovering nicely.  I love the story and the picture.” 

I admitted that I had been worried that the story was more literary than he wanted.  “No.  I love rich narrative.  I would like for you to do another.”  During our interactions, I took note that he was not a stupid person.  I was genuinely pleased that he liked the story.  Then he asked, “Didn’t you say you had corns?  Which toes are they on?  I can’t really tell from the picture.”

Ick.  I knew there would be some hanky-panky going on with the story, but cognitive dissonance had downplayed the co-starring role my feet would play.  Double ick. I did not respond to his e-mail.  It didn’t seem necessary.

That was about a month ago.  He e-mailed the other day to tell me he wants to buy another of my “incredible” stories after the holidays.  The ick factor faded with the compliment, the promise of compensation and the idea of him saving up to buy stories about women with beautiful bunions.  I will gladly write him another story.   I’m a writer. It’s what I do.