Thursday, July 06, 2006
“Mr. Handball” Brings “Pleasures and Treasures” to North Park
interview by MARK GABRISH CONLAN
Copyright © 2006 by Mark Gabrish Conlan for Zenger’s Newsmagazine • All rights reserved
Beginning in May, a small, quiet, unassuming bungalow at 2228 University Avenue started undergoing a transformation. It got a new coat of paint on the outside and a broad new stoop of stairs at its entrance. Inside, its walls were painted and a series of shelves and racks were put up containing all sorts of goodies, including T-shirts and other clothing, sex toys and S/M equipment, adult videos and also original artworks and other items one doesn’t expect to see in a store catering to an adult market. On June 15, the two men who had created this business opened its doors to the public and turned on the neon sign that announces its name, “Pleasures and Treasures,” and its slogan: “A new experience every time!”
The main man behind Pleasures and Treasures, Bill Freyer, is a lot like his store: quiet and unassuming on the outside, energetic, passionate and deeply committed on the inside. He’s of medium height, rail-thin, with short hair and in such good physical shape it’s hard to believe he’s old enough to have done all the things he says he’s done. Before he got into the adult retail business, he was known mostly as the founder of Red Hankies San Diego, a club for fellow devotees of the sex practice variously known as “fisting” or “handballing.” He started this club two decades ago and has seen it grow into a worldwide organization that hosts an annual “FistFest” convention in Palm Springs every June.
Zenger’s visited Bill Freyer on June 18 — Bill’s birthday. (He didn’t say which birthday.) We talked about the store, Bill’s history with Red Hankies and in the Leather community, the dos and don’ts for wanna-be fisters and fistees, and how their intent for the store is not only to sell merchandise but, with their own experiences in Leather and kink, to teach people how to use these items to improve their sex lives and increase their erotic repertoires. Though Pleasures and Treasures actually opened on June 15, their official “grand opening celebration” was July 1, from noon to 3 p.m., and featured special guests Bill Gardner and John Singleton of the Palm Springs-based Hot Desert Knights company, pioneers in producing “bareback” (condom-free) adult Gay videos.
Zenger’s: Bill, why don’t we start with a little of your background, how long you’ve been involved in the community and what got you into this?
Bill Freyer: I’ve been in San Diego for about 22 years now. I have been actively involved in Club X and Leatherfest, and also I’m the head of Red Hankies of San Diego. I’ve had friends also that have other shops, like Perry and Brian over at Ringold, and I worked for a short stint at RAW Limited. When I quit there, I missed being around the customers, and my partner and I sat down and discussed opening our own shop. When this shop became available here, especially right next door to the 2200 Club, it was meant to be.
Zenger’s: There seem to be so many of these kinds of stores around North Park: the Crypt, MacLeo, until recently Ringold, and RAW. How many stores like this do you think this area can support; and what’s going to make yours different, so that people will want to come to this one?
Freyer: I think there’s still a huge gap in the community for stores of our type. The biggest difference between our store and the others is some of them have people working at them who really don’t know the scene. They’re just working there. Or some of them look totally slutty, so that a lot of people would not want to walk through the front door just from the outside of the building, or from the merchandise displayed through the window.
We’ve created a very intimate atmosphere here, from the outside look of planted flowers and the wide staircase coming into the store. None of the lighting inside is harsh or brightly fluorescent. We’ve tried to put lamp lighting around as much as possible to provide a nice, intimate setting. We’re not putting anything into our actual entry showroom that would be offensive or overly sexual. And we welcome everybody with a smile.
I know the Leather scene well enough that if somebody comes in who’s a total novice and has questions, we’re able to answer them. We’re very much a one-on-one, service-oriented business. If somebody comes in, whether they’re into bondage or Leather or fisting or whatever little fetish they may want to get into, this is going to be a great place for me to be able to talk to them one-on-one, expose them to some of the stuff that we have here in the store, and answer people’s questions without them feeling embarrassment, or not knowing who to ask, or how to ask a question if they’re curious. There aren’t enough places here in town that have experienced people working there to answer questions when somebody does want to know something.
Zenger’s: Have you had any difficulties with the city in terms of what sort of merchandise you can and can’t have here?
Freyer: Not really. I talked to the city and we were able to get our business license under just a regular retail business, clothing-type store. As long as we stay under 15 percent of our stock being adult product, we don’t even have to classify ourselves as an adult business. We actually do want to be known more for our clothing, our gifts, and the artwork, with the adult side of it being a sideline. You can still come and get your adult paraphernalia and novelties, but you’ll be able to get all the other things you want, from great T-shirts to artwork. One of the other aspects that we have here is an art gallery. We’ll have rotating artists that will be coming through, displaying their art for 30 days at a time, and we’re giving the local artists a place to display their artwork and at the same time bring in a diverse crowd into our store.
Zenger’s: When I interviewed David Snider at RAW, he talked about his frustration about being able to sell adult videos directly. How have you been able to work around that problem?
Freyer: David had the problem of a location directly across the street from him that sold videos before he had his store license. There’s a Municipal Code ordinance saying that if you’re within 1,500 feet of another business selling adult product, you cannot sell the same product. I don’t have anybody else within 1,500 feet of me selling videos, so I can get away with that.
Zenger’s: You said you think being right next to the 2200 Club is going to help your business. How?
Freyer: It’s a built-in clientele. The back of our building actually faces their parking lot, and we have signage saying, “Enter at the front,” so people can’t miss us as they’re leaving their parking lot. Also, the owner and manager of the 2200 Club have been extremely supportive, and they’ve even offered our customers 20 minutes of free parking behind their establishment. So if there’s no parking out front, feel free to use their parking lot back there.
Zenger’s: I’ve long wanted to do an interview with you about Red Hankies and that whole side of your life. did you get interested in fisting in the first place?
Freyer: I was just having a good time with someone. We were playing, and one thing kind of led to another. Before I knew it he was introducing me to fisting, and I became hooked on it. One thing led to another, and when I moved here to San Diego, I thought it would be cool to see if there were others like me who were into the handball scene. I advertised in the local rags at the time that I wanted to start a new club here in San Diego for those into handball, or “FF” as I initialized it in the ad, because a lot of people are offended by the word “fisting.” One thing led to another, people started joining, and we formed an official club. That was 17 years ago, and now we’re a worldwide organization. At last count we’re about 400 members strong from all points of the earth.
Zenger’s: I know I had a hard time believing that fisting even existed. I thought, “Gee, that must be some weird urban legend in the Gay community.” I’d seen a couple of photos, but thought, “They could fake that.” It was hard for me to believe that anybody did that, let alone that they actually enjoyed it.
Freyer: I understand that. There’s a fine line between wanting just regular sex and wanting to experiment. A lot of people will only want what I call “vanilla” sex, in general oral and anal. But once you become bored with that and you want to explore other avenues, there’s so much out there to experiment with and enjoy. Some people get into bondage, some people get into being flogged. Other things like electricity. Some people are even into being a slave or a pup.
When you are talking about the sexual arena itself, sometimes you want something just a little larger than the average penis. So you start playing with toys, graduating sizes of dildos or whatever. Some people even use cucumbers, just to have something to expand themselves with. If you’re lucky and you get with somebody who’s experienced in the handball scene, then they can guide you through and let you experience it in a gentle and loving way.
It’s not something you usually do overnight. You have to build up to something the size of a hand, either by toys or even buy a couple of fingers at a time. But eventually, if you’re patient or hungry enough, then what started off as two or three fingers will become four, and then five, and then the hand will actually slide inside.
There’s a totally different feeling for both the top and the bottom. The bottom will experience the expanding and fullness, and the massaging of the prostate, and the top will experience the closeness, warmth and intimacy of having that much of themselves inside of another person. If you’re actually in a loving relationship and you’re doing this, then it’s a higher element of intimacy than any other kind of an experience. If you’re doing this strictly on the pure sex aspect, it’s overwhelming as well.
Zenger’s: One thing I’ve noticed hearing you talk, also seeing some of the literature on fisting, is that the preparations involved, especially if you’re the bottom, seem really elaborate, almost a sort of monastic discipline. You have to adjust your diet and clean yourself out to prepare.
Freyer: Some people are very lucky. They can adjust their diet and do a clean-out process in 20 minutes. Other people really have to regiment themselves on their diet two or three days in advance. You can do anything from an Epsom salts-type drink that you swallow down that actually causes you to evacuate everything within your system, to just a dish hose-type clean-out in the shower. But the main thing is just being clean and fresh, shall we say, for the play.
Another way of stopping things once you are clean is to take Imodium, which will actually prevent anything else coming further down in the system, to prevent any kind of unpleasantness. But the bottom needs to be clean, and the top also needs to have his nails done, cut short and buffed, so they’re nice and smooth and there are no raw edges.
Gloves are always encouraged for safe play. Some people are allergic to latex, and so there are also nitrile gloves. Of course there have always been people who don’t like gloves, and they’ll always use a bare hand. In that case you just make sure that you don’t have any cuts or sores on your hands. A good way of knowing whether you do have any or not is just put some vinegar on your hands, and if you have a cut or anything like that you will know it.
Zenger’s: Don’t you also have to be somewhat choosy about what lubes you use for this?
Freyer: Well, there are more comfortable lubes. Probably the biggest one that people equate with fisting is Crisco. It’s cheap, but at the same time it’s also very messy. It is a grease. If you get it into your bedding or your carpet or anything like that, it’s almost impossible to get totally out. It also has a specific odor that will permeate your house if you don’t clean it up properly, because it actually becomes rancid over time, and you have that rancid smell. If you use something like Elbow Grease or J-Lube, those kinds of products, they wash right out of your clothing, and the clean-up is easy.
The main thing is if you are using gloves, you want to make sure you are using a lubricant that’s not going to break down the glove also. So anything with a grease product that’s not latex-compatible will break down the latex pretty fast. You need to use something that is actually latex-compatible when you’re doing that.
Zenger’s: That’s pretty much the same thing we all had to learn when condoms started being common.
Freyer: Right. You’ve got to use the right lubricant whether you’re using condoms or gloves, either one.
Zenger’s: What exactly does the Red Hankies club do?
Freyer: We actually have a newsletter so people can meet through the newsletter ads. We also do social events, such as barbecues, pool parties, potlucks. We do bar nights where we have a beverage bust. Here locally it’s at the Eagle, on the third Thursday of every month. We also do things up in Los Angeles and Palm Springs, San Francisco, everything from barbecues and potlucks to play parties. And the play parties are usually either held at the private residence of a member or at a bathhouse, or even a hotel. We can reserve an entire hotel and have play parties.
Zenger’s: Didn’t your group start the annual “FistFests”?
Freyer: Yes. Our biggest event is FistFest, and it’s held in Palm Springs every June. We have people come in from all over the world to attend that. It’s almost like a convention of sorts, a nice, naked convention,. Playing underneath the stars, hot balmy nights. Lots of fun.
Zenger’s: Do you ever get newbies at your events, people who seek you out just because they’re curious about fisting and haven’t taken the plunge yet, and want to talk to you guys before they do?
Freyer: Oh, lots. We have a small ad in the local rags, and people will call or they’ll show up at the bar nights, and they’ll say, “Look, I’ve heard about fisting, or I may have seen it in a movie somewhere. I have no idea how to proceed, or if I would even fit into your club, or would you even welcome somebody that’s not experienced?” I’m one of the very first ones to say, “First of all, you have to know the right person to get experienced. And through our club you meet the right people. You meet the experienced people who know what they’re doing.” We’re very good at training and answering questions
Zenger’s: Would you talk about the dangers involved in fisting? Some people have really exaggerated ideas about how dangerous this is, but there are also some risks. Can you talk a little about both the myths surrounding fisting and the actual risks?
Freyer: Probably the biggest myth is if you get into fisting, you’re going to lose control of your bowel movements totally, your butt’s never going to go back to its shape, and you’re going to be on a bag by the time you’re 10 years into it. That’s not true. The anus is like any other muscle. It can stretch. It can have its own memory. And as long as you work that muscle like any other muscle, and exercise it — some people may know what Kegels are, where you actually squeeze your buttocks when you’re sitting, and you squeeze your butthole at the same time — it actually keeps your butthole in good shape and doesn’t let it totally stretch out and elasticize.
The other fallacy is people think that if you put your hand inside, you’re going to rip everything inside. The only time that that would happen is if somebody is playing unsafe, meaning having long fingernails, or if they’re totally drugged up or drunk from alcohol and they don’t know what’s going on, or have the feelings or sensations that they should be feeling if they’re not high. Then they don’t realize if something doesn’t feel right until it’s too late. In my entire career in the fisting world, I’ve only ever heard of three people that got hurt, and they readily admit that they were high on something and they didn’t feel anything until it was too late.
Zenger’s: So one of your warnings would be: “This is a clean and sober activity.”
Freyer: Very much so. I can’t stress enough that people really need to be in full containment of their faculties, so they feel every nuance that’s going on with them during the act. If you’re out of it, if you’re drunk, if you’re drugged up, whatever, then your senses are deadened by that and you don’t know what’s going on. And you don’t feel the natural high that you can get from a really good handball session.
Zenger’s: How do you feel about having the reputation of being the founder of Red Hankies and therefore in a sense being “Mr. Fisting San Diego”?
Freyer: [Laughs.] I’m very proud of what I’ve accomplished. Being around for 17 or, 18 years, we are one of the longest living clubs still here in San Diego. I’m very proud that, people know my name, and especially equate it with respect. Too many reputations get tarnished or talked about or messed up so easily, and I’ve been able to retain my respect in the community. When I decided to open the shop, I knew that my name and my reputation would actually bring customers in. I guess there’s something to be said for recognition.
How to Reach Bill
Pleasures and Treasures is located at 2228 University Avenue in North Park (near Mississippi Street), next door to the 2200 Club. Its hours are noon to 11 p.m. Mondays, Wednesdays and Thursdays, noon to 2 a.m. Fridays and Saturdays, noon to 6 p.m. Sundays (closed Tuesdays). Bill and Tom can be reached there by phone at (619) 822-4280 or by e-mail at email@example.com
Red Hankies of San Diego can be reached by phone at (619) 516-2888, by e-mail at RHSDFF@aol.com, or via the Web at www.rhsd.org
Red Hankies International can be reached by phone at (619) 688-8668, by e-mail at RHI_inc@cox.net, or via the Web at www.redhankiesinternational.com