That's when Snatchy the Clown found me. She peered through her curly red wig, pinched her clown smile into a kiss, and pushed two bags of groceries into my arms.
"You can be my assistant," she said, leading me up a flight of stairs into a theater space that had been transformed for the evening into "Kinky Salon."
It was my first "Kinky Salon" and, as the crowd gathered, I wondered who passed out keys to the magic kingdom.
"It's mostly by word-of-mouth," said Barron Scott Levkoff, a smiling gentleman with a precisely curled mustache and a medicine-show mien. "Friends of friends. A slow-growing community." He then asked me to refer to him as Professor Violet.
Professor Violet is not Levkoff's only nom de théâtre, of course. As an underground event producer and professional costume performer, Levkoff has parlayed his theater arts degree from UC Santa Cruz and an early love of gaming into both a vocation and a lifestyle over the last 15 years. It is, however, his undying love of opposing plaid and his quick-witted conviviality that make Levkoff memorable. His partner, a scintillating, blond-haired, blue-eyed bombshell from West London, is impossible to forget.
Polly Whittaker (aka Polly Pandemonium) arrived on the San Francisco fetish scene five years ago in a flutter of latex fanfare. As a designer from the world-famous House of Harlot in London, she was a hot commodity, sight unseen, but to make a greater splash, she attended high-profile events flaunting her glistening gowns, shimmering bodysuits, and ornate latex headdresses. Animated by a cheerful, sexy sort of whimsy, both Whittaker and her designs were a novelty. She raised admirers, gained customers, and gathered models with her no-nonsense business approach and inexhaustible font of fresh ideas, and she started offering classes, seemingly eager to share the well-guarded secrets of latex haute couture, encouraging her new friends and clients to chase their own visions of who they could be. Within a few months, Whittaker was putting together fashion shows under the moniker the Moral Minority, Inc. , and a community was starting to grow around her. Whittaker was something of a superstar, and Levkoff noticed immediately.
"I could see that she was a social architect, first and foremost," says Levkoff. "Even in her fashion shows, her primary interest was co-creation and collaboration. The shows weren't just about her clothes. She was after the experience of collaborating with her models.
"So I called her up and offered to help stage the shows."
"Of course, I thought there was a catch," says Whittaker.
The catch wasn't anything Whittaker could have imagined.
After working together on several projects, circumstance put Levkoff between apartments and Whittaker in possession of a huge work space called Mission Control. When Levkoff took a spare room there on a temporary basis, Whittaker was busy filling orders for clothes and Levkoff was busy creating something he called SuperStar Avatar. Convinced that his idea was still too raw, he had stopped trying to explain the vision of communication and community-building he had gleaned while riding in the "Lotus Light Ship" built for the Burning Man festival. But there were diagrams in his room, tons of diagrams, and color-coded charts and graphs and illustrations, and family trees.
"It looked like a psychotic lived in there," recalls Whittaker. "I was afraid to take prospective tenants inside because of all the mad drawings hanging on the walls. But one day I got it. I just understood exactly what he was trying to do."
"She was the first one that really got it," says Levkoff. "It was like a bolt of electricity went right through her."
"It was brilliant," says Whittaker.
Whittaker and Levkoff began talking and haven't stopped since. Once they "decoded" the social genome that would ultimately drive the project -- I am/ In a community/ With the power to share/ While having fun/ With the tools and the rules/ To help me script experiences -- Whittaker suspended clothing design for all but existing clients and turned the full force of her creative energy toward the development of SuperStar Avatar. The pair depended, and still do to a great extent, on her latex fashion classes to keep Mission Control afloat. "Kinky Salon" started one year ago purely as a moneymaker, but it's become something else, for both Whittaker and Levkoff, and for the people who attend religiously.