"Excuse me," he'd murmur, tapping the shoulder of some languishing club girl. "Would you like to, er, I mean, would you be interested or, um, willing to smash a pie in my face?"
Enticed by oddity, the lady might shrug her shoulders and nod, and the PieMan would gently place a cream-filled pan in her hand and offer a broadly grinning target. An avid clubgoer might run into the PieMan three or four times a week, and his request was always the same. My housemate's wife -- a slender, statuesque beauty with peroxide blonde hair and a penchant for black body stockings -- was among his favorite "pie-mates," and, as bored as she was by his weekly appeal, it was against her sweet, small-town nature to deny his simple pleasure.
"It means so much to him," she'd say, flicking whipped cream from the edge of her cocktail glass, "and it's nothing to me. He's just kind of funny."
Over time, the PieMan became something of a cult personality in SoMa. He had an assistant who carried his suitcase and rolls of paper towels. He printed up "Pisexual" T-shirts and Pisexual calling cards that read, "Good evening miss ... would you like to smash, rub, and place a pie in my face?" He was invited to "perform" at Bondage-a-Go-Go as a pie-snarfing Santa Claus. He was even pied by Lydia Lunch and Jenny Jones. As public as the PieMan's fetish became in San Francisco, the root of his pleasure was still elusive to most of us, even after he tried to explain it one late night at the DNA Lounge, where the PieMan admitted his sugary infatuation started with a childhood love of the Three Stooges and coagulated with a humiliating grade-school kissing game that always ended in his getting a cupcake smashed in his face. Peculiarly enough, this is not an unusual beginning for someone like the PieMan; according to Katherine Gates' Deviant Desires: Incredibly Strange Sex, which includes a full section on the PieMan, most American pie fetishes start with a love of the Three Stooges.
Pie throwing, however, is just the tip of the cream puff; it is a particular titillation accepted within a larger community of mess lovers known as "sploshers" (an onomatopoeic title for folks who love to loll in such gooey substances as porridge, pudding, or mud) and "wammers" (WAM stands for "wet and messy," and wammers include folks with a purely water-based focus, as well as lovers of more substantive goo). Gates traces the public emergence of "messy fun" back to the mid-'80s, with the Texas Mudmen (currently titled Sludgemaster) and the UK's Society for Lovers of Slapstick Happenings (or SLOSH). By the late '80s, Splosh!, the first magazine dedicated to mess, appeared in England, and John Waters publicly lauded the quarterly publication in interviews with People magazine and Jay Leno. Fringe photographer and subculture chronicler Charles Gatewood quickly added mess to his extreme repertoire, and New York nightclubs began splattering their go-go dancers with liquid latex.
Like most sexual fetishists, sploshers often require a very specific circumstance and substance to be fully satisfied -- one might need a floor-length satin ball gown and swimming pool; another might demand an exact arrangement of food service, starting with soup and salad and ending with lemon cake; another might be entirely heedless of the type of "gunge" (any slimy substance from porridge to wallpaper paste) but require an elaborate slapstick script. Unlike other fetishists, though, most sploshers have a ridiculous, playful sense of humor about their sexual appetites. While breaking taboos and getting soiled are aspects of their interest, surprise and silliness are almost always another part of the equation. Puns are big in the "messy" world, as are goofy outfits and goofier scenarios. Sploshers often describe themselves as fun and childlike. Consequently, many sploshers are acutely squeamish about full nudity, genitalia, or bodily fluids of any kind; they like to roll around in mud or chocolate or baked beans, but they're not interested in anything really "dirty."
"It's that startled doe-like look that really gets me," says 38-year-old "Bernie," a longtime splosher who enjoys slathering his lovely wife, "Gertrude," in a variety of gelatinous goo. "But sex is sort of separate from it. We might have sex later. Not always, though. Sometimes, it's just splosh."
In one splosh scenario, Bernie is a waiter who spills course after course of food in Gertrude's lap and over her head. Gertrude mocks indignation and fights back; she smacks him with a baguette; he dumps creamed corn down her shirt. Eventually, both of them are covered from head to toe in salad dressing (no vinaigrettes), spaghetti sauce, and chocolate mousse. ("Bernie," says London-born Gertrude, "enjoys a bit of a messy tussle.") In another scenario, Bernie is a housepainter who inadvertently spills a bucket of paint (a safe concoction of food coloring and cornstarch) all over Gertrude's freshly pressed power suit; she kind of likes it, so he uses a roller to achieve a more even coating.
Gertie, on the other hand, prefers less elaborate mud baths and clay wraps, with or without negligees. The bathrooms in their Victorian home require drains that are specially designed not to clog after her indulgences. Further evidence of their taste can be found throughout the house: Small hooks hang from the wainscot of their living room, kitchen and bathroom so that sheets of plastic can be strung quickly and easily; their hall closet is filled with disposable costumes purchased at local thrift stores; and the artworks hanging on their bedroom walls look like elegantly framed Rorschach tests, something the couple laughingly refers to as sploshers pornography.
But despite their commitment to the lifestyle -- Bernie and Gert met in a chat room for "mudlarking" -- they, like most sploshers, are decidedly private about their enjoyment.
"Bernie was really the first person I began to explore with," says Gertrude. "I don't know if I'd be comfortable doing it where someone else could watch. I could hardly convince myself to go to one of those spas where they offer mud baths. (We were thinking of going to the Mud Olympics in Japan next year, though. Just to watch. Don't tell my mum, though.)"
Still, despite their coyness, Bernie and Gertrude are very tempted by the idea of "Splosh," a local "messy sex party" being held at Spanganga.
Inspired by a Charles Gatewood video, event organizers Sean Kelly and Helena Nolan have purchased 150 pounds of flour, 100 pounds of oatmeal, 100 pounds of sterile potting soil, 50 pounds of cornstarch, 32 gallons of chocolate pudding, 10 pounds of confectioners' sugar, 32 gallons of canned fruit, 48 baskets of strawberries, four cases of chocolate syrup, four vats of soybean oil, 20 gallons of blueberry doughnut filling, and a tremendous array of condiments. They have covered Spanganga's 1,500-square-foot theater in plastic sheets, built makeshift showers, hung a display of plastic-covered erotic art in the foyer, and, with a staff of 14, opened the doors.
We are welcomed by a man wearing plastic wrap and diving goggles and are given a brief orientation on proper conduct and safety: No exposed genitalia; consensual splosh only; safe sex only in the side lounge; everyone must obey the security splosh guards at all times. Two splosh guards, in bright yellow rain slickers with riot masks, snorkels, and oil-filled super-soakers, march past as we are led into the clothes-check area. Most everyone strips down to bathing suits or underwear; a few don nighties or wrap themselves in plastic before walking down the stairs into the well-heated splosh arena. At least 40 people are already in various states of undress, glistening and sliding across plastic sheets and flicking chocolate at one another from across the room. The smell of chocolate is overpowering: sweet, rich, and inimitable.
Jukie, a zaftig woman in pristine white socks with lacy cuffs and a white baby-doll nightgown with ruffled underwear, waits patiently in the mud corner. Servers bring in buckets of water, pouring it over her feet, which sink into piles of dirt. She works her white socks into the mass, kneading it with her toes, trying to get the desired consistency. More servers enter with chocolate pudding; the growing crowd surges around them, slathering the glop across their chests. From behind a screen of plastic, Ouchy the Clown spins a giddy mixture of cartoon theme songs and oddball punk rock. Some of the sticky sploshers begin to dance; others slip and slide across sections of plastic hosed down by oil guns. Onstage, M. I. Blue, wearing little but a chef's apron, and Katy Bell, wearing a wedding dress and swimming cap, announce the mashed potatoes. Half of the crowd jumps in one of the kiddie pools as servers empty pots over their heads. Some chocolate-covered nymphette complains about mixing sweet and savory just as the ketchup bottles are introduced.
"Now that's not pleasant at all," says a young woman in a cocktail dress who is favoring vanilla pudding with her high-heeled pumps. "Not a good smell."
Jukie emerges from her mud pile, wearing a fine layer of pitch-black gunk. She shrugs, "It's not the consistency I usually like. But it's nice. What I don't like is anything sticky. No jelly or syrup, or anything like that. But I like my mud to be smooth like pudding, so I might try some pudding." Other servers emerge with trays of fresh strawberries. Folks eat them and throw them and dip them in chocolate from passing shoulder blades. Charles Gatewood finds other delicacies to invite into his makeshift studio, just off the arena floor.
By now, the crowd has swelled to nearly 100. The servers introduce cold grits -- not a crowd favorite, as it stings the eyes -- then boiled pasta, oatmeal, and blueberry filling. People lie on the ground to make snow angels in the sickly sweet sludge; folks play Twister in oozing sweetness; others kiss each other in slippery corners as green frosting flies through the air; still others fingerpaint on the plastic walls and body-paint on one another; one woman slaps her yard-long braids against the walls, leaving chocolate ponytail prints. The crowd writhes and dances and laughs and squeals and wrestles into the small hours of the morning.
A few couples arrive with items like baby oil and scented candles, obviously expecting a more quiet, sensual affair. Two of them stay; one leaves, disgusted.
"Obviously, they were not really into splosh," sniffs Katlin. "Maybe they saw 9 1/2 Weeks and thought, "Ooh, goody'; but splosh is about surprises. And what could be more surprising than this?"
Indeed. This is what Willy Wonka's Chocolate Factory would look like if it were run by madmen -- as Spanganga most surely is. By closing time, the basement is seeping with chocolate-flavored water and uncooked grits, and the number-crunchers aren't sure if they've made or lost $200, not counting cleanup, which will never be fully completed. And still Spanganga's owner, Sean Kelly, says, "This was totally worth it."