My Life As A Dog
I'm here to tell you, having a double life ain't all it's cracked up to 'be. Sure, from the outside, it might seem romantic-kind of like having two lovers fighting over you-but ultimately, it just left me feeling queasy, with a constant sense of impending doom. You're always waiting for the day when the lies won't add up, when a single careless remark trips the wires of suspicion and one set of whereabouts fails to cover the other. That's your personal Armageddon, my friend, the day your worlds finally collide. And then you've got an awful lot of explaining to do.
As a dominatrix, I'm no stranger to double-and even triple identities, to duality and deception. To my clients, I'm a ball-busting sadist, an evil baby-sitter, the patron saint of cross-dressers depends on what's paying the rent that day. In the publishing world, I'm a writer ass-deep in scholarly S&M research. To my parents, I'm a dutiful daughter and semistarving artist—an artist with a penchant for expensive leather coats and luxury vacations, but starving nonetheless. And to the schoolchildren of three counties—pre-K to fourth grade—I am Barkley, the Smart Dog.
My relationship with Barkley began about a year and a half into my dungeon career. Ah, but those were the salad days of S&M, and I remember them with the misty-eyed reverence most baby boomers reserve for the sixties. The market hadn't yet become completely oversaturated with strippers trying to cash in on this latest adult entertainment craze, and so for those of us who'd come aboard early on, the field was wide open.
Like most pioneers, we thought it would last forever, which of course it didn't. But for a while there, never have so few made so much doing so little.
With the money, however, came certain problems. I soon realized that in order to conceal my newfound identity, I would also have to conceal my newfound wealth. Naturally, I knew better than to show up at family functions in leather corsets and killing boots; the trick was not to show up in Versace.
I swallowed my pride and maintained the slacker-daughter look they'd come to love and accept. All the spoils of a successful mistress career-the stereo, the appliances, the $500 electric unit with the scrotal-shock attachment-stayed locked away in my apartment, safe from the curious eyes of my nearest and dearest.
Then one day, as they say, the ax just fell. My Sicilian grandmother, sweet and shrewd old lady that she was, had always taken a critical interest in my career; more specifically, the fact that I had no career. As far as she could tell, being a writer was employment at its vaguest-no hours? no commute? no health insurance?—and she'd made it quite clear she'd be happier if I worked in the circus.
But now she had cancer, and it was terminal; facing the end of her life, she'd made peace with the fact that whatever I wanted to do with mine was fine by her. To confer her blessing, she was going to pay the rent on my apartment until the day she died or until I came to my senses and got a real job. Somehow I knew that being a dominatrix wasn't exactly what she had in mind.
I was horrified. The notion of my dying grandmother forking over her last few Social Security checks to pay for an apartment that housed, among other things, a scrotal-shock unit and a mattress full of money—money I'd made beating the piss out of degenerates was a prospect more perverse than anything I'd ever encountered in the underworld. Painful as it was, there was only one thing to do: I'd have to get a job-a visible job, with a visible paycheck-and fast.
That's when Barkley the Smart Dog came to the rescue. My mother, who was a teacher, knew another teacher who knew a school-board administrator who was looking for someone to do these inspirational "presentations" in the public schools a couple of mornings a week.
It sounded like the perfect job for me. After all, didn't I know that it was cool to stay in school and that hugs were better than drugs? The hours, too, were ideal. I'd be done with the kiddies in plenty of time to make my 12:30 booking with, say, Diaper David or Philip the Ass Guy.
I showed up for my first assembly, full of piss and vinegar and bullshit missionary zeal. Backstage, I met with Wanda, the program coordinator, a surprisingly hip old lady with dual hearing aids who'd probably been traveling the Barkley circuit when Don't Tune In, Turn On, or Drop Out had been its mantra.
She gave me the Barkley drill: First the presentation, which would distill all the wisdom that modem-day bumper-sticker sloganeering had to offer. Then, a short "rap session" where the children would voice their questions and concerns. Finally, Barkley, that lovable mutt, would emerge from behind the curtains, do his little dance, shake his furry rump, and rain crayons and coloring books upon the masses.
I told Wanda that I hadn't exactly planned a speech. But if it was all right with her, I would be more than happy to share with the students the accumulated wisdom of my twenty-five years. Wanda looked at me like she didn't quite understand. Then she pointed to a set of well-worn road cases, for keyboards and drums. Still I didn't get it. Was I expected to provide a musical interlude, to "bang the drum" of good study habits, maybe?
I opened the keyboard case, the interior as musty as a crypt. The flea-bitten Barkley carcass lay crumpled like a deflated Thanksgiving Day Parade balloon. A set of size- 13 clown shoes and a fat suit, stinking of mothballs, rounded out the "body."
The drum case contained the mutt's head, a papier-mdch6 globe topped off with a mortarboard hat and rotting graduation tassel. Inside the head was a pair of four-fingered paws, mitts that were caked with filth and foul beyond description. This was Barkley the Smart Dog. And Barkley was me.
Still, as a dominatrix, I couldn't help but be impressed. No sadist I knew could have devised a chamber of horrors so punishing. The clown shoes tripped me; the pelt made me swelter. The fat suit swam out around me, two feet in every direction, depriving me of balance and any sense of physical space. I couldn't have touched two paws together, even if I'd wanted to-there are people who have colons cleaner than those mitts.
But the headpiece—that was the real coup de grace. Seems like the previous Barkley had had a slight drinking problem, and so the interior swirled with the age-old fumes of beer and vomitus. The breathing hole, the snout—which doubled as the seeing hole-was sealed tight with airplane glue.
Needless to say, I was a real hit with the kids. Blind, deaf, fat, stumbling, stoned, dressed like a dog, and laden with coloring books, I was a bully's delight. Wanda, bless her soul, did her best to protect me, but once we'd ventured forth into the audience, we were in way over our heads. These were not Catholic-school children like the ones I'd known, terrified into submission; these were some of the hardest cases from the poorest districts in the state, understaffed and overcrowded. In many of these schools, an appearance from Barkley was roughly akin to a papal visitation-in a country where they hate the pope and want to pelt him with crayons, however.
The little savages went apeshit on me. They yanked on my tail; they knocked on my head; they snatched my coloring books and threw them up into the air. One especially overgrown fourth grader—I swear he was old enough to shave-ripped my left paw clean off and ran into the crowd holding it high like a hunting trophy. He took one whiff and threw it right back. That's when I learned precisely why they equipped this Barkley with an even number of digits. With no middle finger, you can't show the little darlings what you really think.
Still, I took it mostly in stride. I figured it was just the price-and the penance—of my double life. Three days a week, nine months of the year; eventually I made the Barkley character my own. I petitioned the school board to let me get his sad carcass laundered, and while I couldn't convince the dry cleaner to "take care" of the mitts, he did manage to mysteriously lose the shoes. These were replaced, on the Board of Ed's dime, with a pair of candy-apple red Doc Martens. I still wear them to this day.
Some Barkley mornings, when my schedule was tight, I had to wear my mistress gear under my street clothes under my dog outfit. And there was a time when that would have made me supremely uncomfortable, not so much physically as mentally. It seemed too much a collision of my two secret worlds, worlds I'd worked hard to keep separate and safe from each other. But now, freely commingling beneath a fetid fat suit and a moldy graduation hat, it seemed to make perfect sense.
My grandmother went to her grave knowing me not as a layabout, a slacker, or—God forbid—a dominatrix, but as Barkley the Smart Dog, beloved by children and gainfully employed. For that and that alone, it was a job well done.
Excerpted from Mistress Ruby Ties It Together by Robin Shamburg. Copyright © 2001 by Robin Shamburg. Excerpted by permission of AtRandom, a division of Random House LLC. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.