I left Friday morning, According to Google Maps, the drive out was 431 miles, door-to-door. I had some rain along I-80, but since the weather was heading east and I was heading west, it passed pretty quickly.
I love I-80. You leave NYC, crossing the George Washington Bridge, and you're on Interstate 80. And then--Ah! The joys and wonder of the Eisenhower Interstate System!--days later, there you are crossing the Bay Bridge into San Francisco! And there's a lot of nuthin' in between, those wide open spaces. In Western Pennsylvania, you pass those "Food Gas Lodging This Exit" signs that are blank.
But about 6 p.m., there I was pulling up outside of the Embassy Suites Hotel in Cleveland. (And another great thing: an abundance of free parking available on the street!) I met my roommate; we were hooked up by a mutual friend. The roommate was a great guy! I could not have asked for better. Once unpacked, I headed over to the host hotel to join the festivities.
First up was registration, which was smooth and efficient. I opted for a volunteer package, which pretty much got me into everything free for four hours of work. (That is a great option!) They had a juried erotic art show, and there was some really strong entries. In particular, I liked John Colombo's photography (beautiful values and gorgeous choice of subject) and Walter Michael Bingham's painting (great conviction, incredible palette). And afterwards was the Cleveland Rocks Cocktail Party.
So they had this auction for charity. The auction items in question were jockstraps worn by various leather title holders. So that's cool, right? Well get this: the successful bidder got to remove said jockstrap from said titleholder. Right up there on stage. In front of a room full of people.
I was chatting with the man who holds the proverbial key to the proverbial padlock securing the proverbial collar around the neck of one of the founders of CLAW. He commented, "Can't you just see it this year backstage at IML? They'll be saying, 'Uh oh! What if I win? Then I'll have to go to CLAW and be humiliated onstage!'"
So yeah. Right up there on stage I and all the other attendees got an eyeful of Steve Kennedy, International Mr. Deaf Leather 2006; Mufasa, Mr. World Leather 2006; Bo Ladashevska, International Mr. Leather 2006; Larry Golubski, IML 1st Runner Up; and some others whose names I missed, buck naked. And here's the cool thing: it was verrrry clear that CLAW had neglected to mention to the titleholders that the auctioned jockstraps would be removed on stage. International Mr. Deaf Leather gets lots of waving finger applause for being a good sport about the whole thing. Everybody else decided to be coy, either cowering behind a tablecloth or turning his back to the majority of the crowd who didn't think fast enough to get behind the platform. they were standing on. (Boooo! Hisssss!)
After the cocktails, I was off to hit one of the parties. In the evenings, there are these fetish themed parties at various bars around Cleveland, and there are these rented trolleys that make the circuit between them. Because I had heard that Hamilton's Martini Bar was... uhhh... accommodating cigar smoking despite the recent ban on indoor smoking in Ohio, that's where I headed.
Hamilton's Martini Bar, alas, was some weird sh*t. It was a block away from the host hotel, and the party was "Rubber and Euro-skin." Other than the guys at the door, there wasn't a lot in the way of rubber and euro-skin types bellied up to the bar at Hamiltons when I arrived. More "gone-to-seed and chronic alcoholic." After sitting over my cranberry juice hoping something would happen, I realized there was a downstairs.
Aha! That's where the action is!
The horror. The horror.
Downstairs at Hamilton's is even seedier (just when I didn't think it was possible). And get this, there was a portion sectioned off where the floor was covered with sand, they had some lawn furniture situated thereupon, and, the coup de grace, beachballs. But here was the part that really creeped me out. On the wall, painted with stencils in foot high letters were the words, "WELCOME TO THE FROGGY POND."
It was so bad that I allowed myself to become engrossed in women's boxing inexplicably being shown on their multiple televisions. (Go Vonda Ward!) At midnight, several rubber and euroskin types had shown up, but it wasn't enough to overcome how weirded out it was, so I left.
Saturday, the first order of business (of course) was to find a Starbucks. I was all about "gettin ready for my presentation" mode.
Here's the blurb on me from the Official CLAW 2007 Yearbook...
The first thhing Drew Kramer (That's me!) notices about a man is his back. When he finds a nice one, his imagination quickly turns to how much fun he'd have using floggers, whips, his fists, and open palms on that man's back, a symphony of sensation sure to get the endorphins pumping. In this workshop, Drew will share many of the techniques in his repertoire, and discuss the spiritual aspects of a good whipping, one of the most intimate experiences two people can have.
Bio: Drew has been told that for a sadist, he's a pretty nice guy. He enjoys whipping men until they bleed, chaining them up and pissing all over them, among other BDSM endeavors. He is a member and formerly an officer with GMSMA, an associate member of the Chicago Hellfire Club, and an associate member of the New York boys of Leather. He views BDSM as a spiritual path, and a way to find meaning in life, and an alternative to our culture that wants us to be passive, soulless consumers. He lives in Bucks County, Pennsylvania.
Okay. So I wrote that myself.
But I have to admit, being asked really blew me away. I was so totally honored, and for months I've been obsessing about this, thinking through what I wanted to do and say. I really really REALLY wanted it to be good, to do justice to the subject, and to give those folks who showed up the best I had to offer.
Starbucks found (and they're rare in Cleveland!), I spent time back in my hotel room running over my presentation, making a few last minute adjustments.
I was told after I arrived that I would, in fact, have a demo bottom. Yay! It was challenging in that I was talking about flogging and whipping, and I only had forty-five minutes for the whole thing. Going into it, I thought it was a safe assumption that everyone I would be talking to had either flogged or been flogged at some point. So with that in mind, I discussed what I like to bring to a flogging scene. My jumping off point was the shamanic journey: what you do when you flog a man is taking him on a shamanic journey. That being the case, you'll want to mix it up, keep it interesting for the guy. Give him a good ride, and that means giving him your full attention. And challenging him to go to a place he's never gone before. I showed off my floggers, demonstrating my technique on Ben, my demo bottom, who was great!
But then there's whipping. It was my assumption that the majority of the folks would be new to whipping, so I gave a broad overview, explaining the different types of whips, and explaining the dynamics of the scene.
Eeeeeeeee... Walking back to the host hotel, I was all full of nervous energy, but that's a good thing.
We got the room set up, which mostly meant getting the first row of chairs out of the way to give me some room to swing.
Okay. First thing I noticed. Y'know how the back rows fill up first? Not with these folks! They crowded into the first three rows. (Turnout was good!) I ran through it all, and managed to say most of what I wanted to say in time. As I was closing, Larry Golubski--I didn't recognize him wearing clothes!--came in to take over the room for his presentation, "Slippery Lube: Which Lube Is Best?" I moved out in the hallway to answer questions and continue the discussion.
Then, it was off to the "Smoking Deck." (A suggestion for next year: could there puh-LEEEZE be a smoking area that's sheltered from the elements just a little?) I ran into Jed from Chicago, enjoying a cigar with his roommate Rick. I started telling them about my presentation, and Rick seemed verrrrry interested. And whaddya know! He stripped off his shirt and offered me some dorsal skin. And I happily obliged.
For a little while. Not that I wasn't enjoying myself, and not that he didn't look Really Hot with his cigar sticking out of his face while I whipped him, but it was cold out there on the smoking deck, and I am so cold averse that I couldn't help thinking to myself over and over again, 'Gosh! He must be cold!" Which might seem odd given that I was whipping him, but I hate the cold that much. But, I'm gonna see what I can do to get Rick an invite to Inferno, and perhaps I'll be able to give it to him really good in September. Let's put that under the heading of "leave'em wantin' more."
So at this point, I'm famished. The Leather Family Dinner was scheduled for that night, but I was thinking that I could do better, for less money, heading out into the wilds of Cleveland. I suggested this to Rick and Jed, and they were up for it. We dropped off stuff at our hotel, and I got directions for Lake View or Lake Wood or whatever the hell the name of the gay Gay GAY neighborhood is in Cleveland. I figured it would have a Main-Drag-Walk-Around-y area, and we could find a decent place that way.
Okay. That strategy worked really well.
We found a place called the Tick Tock Tavern. Perfect! It was comfy, they specialized in ribs, and they had plenty of inter'stin' local fare on the menu (Saur Kraut Balls. Uh huh.).
Then, back to CLAW Central!
I had to do my volunteer duties that night. A few years ago at Inferno, my voluteer duties included moping up the bathrooms. Which I did with pluck and aplomb! All I knew about my CLAW volunteer duties (a manageable four hour shift), was that I'd be helping out at the uniform-themed fetish party hosted by the Mid-Atlantic Uniform League, aka MAUL at a bar called Cocktails. After a brief nap in my hotel room, I met up with the men from MAUL in the lobby of CLAW Central. And I knew a few of them.
All the Men of MAUL were in their uniforms, basically police patrol. And that would be matching uniforms.
Y'know what was the coolest? All these people would come down the stairs of the lobby, see all the Men of MAUL, and do a double-take, thinking it was a raid with what they took at first to be a crowd of cops hanging out in the lobby.
We all crowded into the MAUL mini-van. And I mean crowded. We had twelve men in there. There were a few Keystone Kops jokes made, but I was wondering if we were perhaps off to solve mysteries. On the way, we divvied up volunteer duties. I would be working the door from 11 pm to midnight. Cool!
Once at Cocktails, we set up shop. The party involved selling raffle tickets for some sweet looking BDUs, and they also had this cool thing where you could pay two bucks to have a friend arrested by one of the Men of MAUL. As in, they'd slap the cuffs on you. You then had to collect three bucks to make bail. I love that idea!
The door was busy. Even though it was a "suggested donation" situation, most people were happy to cough up $5. With your donation, you got a chance at a door prize, won by picking a red chip from a box. The door prizes were different color Official CLAW handkerchiefs. Me to a lucky winner: You got the red chip! So you get to pick. What are you up for tonight? We have fisting, fucking, piss, anything, or... uh... dark red. (I couldn't remember what maroon is in the hanky code. Since no one else could either, no one wanted to pick that in, not sure what they'd be letting themselves in for by flagging it.)
The party rocked! The energy was great, and I was continually treated to people walking into the bar, seeing ten guys in cop uniforms, and think that the place was being raided. For the most part, they were reassured when they saw some of the apparent cops down on their knees extending raffle tickets from the floor to peoples crotches.
After I finished working the door, I decided that the whole arrest thing was not as popular as I'd like it to be. (There were some verrrry hot guys there I'd like to see in handcuffs.) I saw my buddy PhilaBondageBud and decided that he had probably done something arrest worthy in the recent past. I gave my $2 to the nearest Man of MAUL, pointed at PhilaBondageBud, and hollered, "Officer! Arrest that man!"
And they did!
I saw several more arrests after that, and at one point I think there were five guys running around the bar handcuffed, begging for contributions to their bail funds.
Finally, the last trolley of the showed up, and most of the CLAW crowd headed out. But not before it was announced that the Men of MAUL had raised over $500 for CLAW charities! Go MAUL!
I rode back in the
The MAUL guys were great. And, they threw a great party.
After the night's festivities, I headed back to my hotel, and got a good night's sleep. Tomorrow, I had a long drive home.
My roommate kindly got me up in time to get the free breakfast--which was really well done--at my hotel. When I got down to the dining room, my roommate was sitting at a table next to this way hot man I'd ridden up in the elevator with the night before.
So I joined them.
Way Hot Man was from Kentucky. With the ministrations of coffee and oatmeal, I started to become aware of my surroundings, and I became verrrrry aware of Kentucky Guy. I pretty much announced that my plans for the day were to head back to my hotel room, shower, pack, and drive 431 miles back home.
Kentucky Guy had another idea: "Would you like me to give you a massage?" he asked.
As if I could say no to that! Ever!
And it got better. He's a massage therapist back in Kentucky. And he had his--get this!--heated massage table all set up in his room!
Now, if a man wearing blood-spattered clothes carrying a chainsaw in one hand and a meat cleaver in the other asks me if I want to come back to his place for a massage, I'm probably going to say 'yes.' And when this way hot man from Kentucky asked me that, I was as good as spread out naked on his heated massage table.
The massage was amazing. Kentucky Guy does great work. And I got a special Grand Finale that I bet he doesn't offer to most of his clients. And for which I was truly grateful.
All the way back home--or most of the way back home--I was totally blissed out from Kentucky Guy's massage.
And from CLAW. CLAW rocks!
What a great event! Maybe it's the preponderence of pleasant midwestern folks in attendance. It's such a friendly, pleasant crowd. Everybody is approachable and gracious.
But as I was driving home, heading east on I-80, I got to thinking about the Title Holder Jockstrap Auction. That was just brilliant. In addition to being a great leather event in and of itself, CLAW is also a loving send-up of leather events. Surely I'm not the only person who's seen the "jock strap" portion of some leather contest or other and wondered what was underneath that jockstrap. So, apparently, have the organizers of CLAW. Nice.
Plus, let's briefly review the fun I had at CLAW...
• I was asked to do a presentation (!)
• I had a great time doing my presentation and it was well received
• I got to whip a guy (however briefly)
• I met the Men of MAUL, who I liked a lot
• I got a massage
• I really enjoyed meeting and spending time with my roommate
Mark your calendars now! You missed CLAW this year. Don't let that happen again next year.