The last time I was in England – during the summer of 2007 – I didn’t make any plans to meet a dominatrix. Especially given that I was with the wife and a grandson. Cecilia and I were visiting London with then 12 year-old Jonah. We’ve been coming across the pond together from the Bay Area for more than twenty years. Much longer for me since I was born and lived in England until I came to grad school in Berkeley in 1963 and made it my new homeland. We were giving Jonah his first trip out of the United States and a rare departure from small town life in Chico. I took a similar trip alone to London from the industrial north at about the same age to visit my godparents, but already I had traveled widely with my class-savvy parents and was getting schooled in how to find my bearings in new places.
Crossing boundaries was all new to Jonah. This was also his first extended time away from his mom Anna since his dad, our son Daniel, died in July 2006 after a lifetime of illnesses. It was a journey of new experiences for all of us, trying to live beyond the shadow of Thanatos.
We’re used to being Jonah’s grandparents – indulging his whims even before he can imagine them. But on this trip we had parenting responsibilities: keeping him safe from cars speeding by on the wrong side of the road, prodding him to bed before midnight and out of bed in time for the first museum, getting him to eat right occasionally, and teaching him the basics of a foreign language (loo, k’yew, wanker, sorted, etc.). I hope Jonah will remember this trip many years from now, and that it will open up some new worlds of possibility. And maybe he’ll realize that I don’t usually spend precious days in London this way. It was my first time, as well as his, taking the double-decker bus tour of the Sights of London, ditto a boat ride on the Thames, shopping for schlock at Camden Market on a Saturday amid hormonal teens in studs and tatts, going to see “Oceans’s Thirteen” (having somehow missed Eleven and Twelve), picnicking with the lions at Trafalgar Square, seeing a cheesy blockbuster musical, and eating fish and chips at Ye Olde – I-kid-you-not – Cheshire Cheese. I said a firm no to the Eye in the Sky, but I couldn’t avoid lining up four-deep-cameras-aloft at Buckingham Palace at 11:30 a.m. on the dot. And because I lost the toss to Cece, I was dragooned into the Tower to witness the gore of yore.
The trip was going well, but it was a pleasure also to have some time to ourselves when my brother Steve and sister-in-law Claudia came down from Edinburgh to take Jonah and their son Josh off to see a musical gender-bending version of “Billy Elliott” (which I wish we’d chosen over the “Lord of the Rings” extravaganza that we sat through for three long, long hours). For our evening off duty, Cece and I considered a highbrow outing to something suitably postmodern at the National Theatre, but opted for lowbrow pleasures instead. We walked about ten yards from the flat where we’re staying on Fleet Street to El Vino, a long-time watering hole frequented for years by the male scribbling class when this neighborhood used to be headquarters of the fourth estate and before women crashed the party in 1982. Now its customers are nouveau toffs, well-heeled female and male professionals, upwardly mobile neophytes and their managers, mostly straight lawyers who know their plonk.
We were still a few weeks away from the smoking ban taking effect in England, so many customers in El Vino had lit up. We managed to find one table with a sign that announced “Non-Smoking Zone,” presumably an in-joke because the closest smoker was about three feet away. Despite the haze, we liked the place – olde enough, cozy, leathery but not too clubby, a fabulous wine list, and a 1950s menu. I was happy to order battered prawns and cubed cheddar with my French sauvignon and Australian Shiraz. Cece scoured the menu for something not fried and enlisted the help of our blonde, sexy waitress. “Hmmmm,” said Dana. She looked over the tapas list, tapping a pencil against each item. “Fried, fried, fried, not fried, fried, fried, not fried, fried.” Cece chose one of the non-frieds and got something vaguely Asian in a sluggish cream sauce.
When Dana returned with our second round, I pointed to the sign and said, “So you’re going to have a healthier job on July 1st” (first day of the new smoking regulations). “It doesn’t bother me,” she replied in a New Zealand twang, “I like to smoke and drink. I do everything,” she said, deadpan, “Everything.” A Pinterish pause. “I’m a naughty girl.” Dana helped to put us into a relaxed state, despite the lawyers. We unwound over the drinks, first discussing how the trip was going with Jonah before moving on to our own lives. Both of us are in transition from the steady work of professors to something not quite clear yet. In the middle of a discussion about Cece’s future – how she wants to make the most of her artsy predilections – Dana squatted in front of us in her retro fishnets. “I heard what you were talking about,” she said without a hint of deference. “I’m interested in theatre too. I’m a performer. Never went to university. Left school when I was 13. Now I’d like to go back, but I’m not sure what I want to do.” She introduced herself; we did too, a three-way shaking of hands.
Later, Dana slipped us a piece of paper with her web site and her nom de stage: Killpussy. “Don’t let the manager see,” she said. Playful bondage and nude sex shows seems to be her thing, I found out the next day at her x-rated website. “I mostly do my stuff for gay and lesbian audiences, but you’d be OK,” she said, praise indeed. We passed on the third round, deciding in favor of Eros: it was time to get back to our childless flat and do our own naughty things before Big Ben struck eleven and Jonah returned.